Last Night: Deerhunter at the Great American Music Hall

Categories: Last Night
deerhunter 2008.jpgDeerhunter
Monday, Nov. 22, 2008
Great American Music Hall
Words by Jennifer Maerz, Photo by Chrissy Loader

Better than:
Getting yet another eyefull from Pitchfork about how great Deerhunter is.

On record, Deerhunter is a band that can easily sound like precious ambiance. I mean that in a complimentary way. Frontman Bradford Cox and co. tuck you into their world of hazy feedback vapors, vocals so gentle they'd barely stir a sleeping infant, and arrangements that pool everything together with layers of synths and distortion until the instrumentation nearly crests over Cox. It's all so pretty, so delicate, so airy and arty ... except, well, except when it's not.

Hidden inside all those subterranean chimes and romantic post-punk guitar lines lie many tiny daggars, shards of broken glass texture that slice as much as the rest of the Deerhunter sound soothes, and nowhere is that dichotomy more obvious than when you watch the Atlanta act perform live.   

Last night, Deerhunter headlined a sold out show at Great American Music Hall, and midway through their set, the group got into a fight. Although the spat's disruption to the overall performance was relatively minor as band fights go, it was an apt metaphor for how violence pokes into and through their music, only to be absorbed back into the general momentum of things. One moment everyone in the band's stoned on this ethereal guitar pop, and the next the drummer's broken his stick -- a chunk of which goes flying up into Great American's balcony, and Cox is turning around to reprimand the drummer. Something dark is brewing all of a sudden, but from the outside you can't understand what exactly is happening....words are exchanged, but they're somewhere deep inside the sound of three guitars and a bass. Tempers flared, and next thing you knew Cox was gone -- his bassist sarcastically asking "Who knows the words to this one?" as they started into the next song.

As soon as it welled up, though, the fight was absorbed into the evening, into the music, not to totally disrupt the set again. And of course, the argument could've just come from too much time together one the road, all five members crammed into their van day after day. But these unexpected flares poke out non-verbally, more subconsciously as well... when the new female guitarist rhythmically swung her instrument towards the speakers to provoke feedback. Or the times when Cox sounded less like a young Bono (or Perry Ferrell, to whom he's been recently compared) and more like Iggy Pop on "Dirt," his voice hinting at a decrepit punk blues crawl.

Punk rears up from a number of Deerhunter songs in a live setting, as all that My Bloody Valentine/Sonic Youth energy pops the cork off these dreamy jams, spewing so much white noise into the atmosphere. As the group played much of the new material off their latest release, Microcastle,the crowd reacted like we were at a punk show, performing that time-tested centerfuge as bodies slammed into one another at faster and slower tempos alike.

By the end, the weaponry had won out it seemed, and the band pulled a MBV move in finishing out an encore with more and more and more feedback. The audience sections already dancing got more frienzied. Those who hadn't invested in ear plugs stuck fingers in their ears.

But unlike MBV, unlike most noisy post punk bands, and unlike the sorts of acts at war with one another on stage, Deerhunter ended with the tender. As the rest of the band funneled off the stage at the end of the night (the bassist stopping for a row of politician handshaking from the stage), Cox was in charge of the final notes for the evening. And when it all came down to him, the lasting, luminous melody from his guitar was back to gentle, a lullaby after all that quaking and sparring sent us a bit more softly out into the night.   

 
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