Deerhunter @ The Corner Hotel, Melbourne, 12 June 2009
This was Deerhunter’s first visit to Australia and anticipation in the jam packed, sold out Corner Hotel was intense. The place was full by the time second support act Beaches took to the stage and did their swamp rock thang. Judging by the number of nodding heads in the audience, Beaches have a hold on plenty of people’s hearts.
Bradford Cox and co. arrived with no hello or fuss. We barely had time to cheer before they launched into Cover me Slowly, the opening track off their most recent and critically praised album, Microscastles. The sound was gross; Bradford’s mic wasn’t working and the band were complaining about fold-back issues. A few songs in all of this had been rectified and the band hit their stride.
Deerhunter straddle a fine line between retro pop and ephemeral noise, and tonight they gripped both aspects of their sound and merged them into a 90 minute journey. Taking cue from their fucking amazing Cryptograms record, Deerhunter linked every song in their set with experiments in guitar based noise and self-sampled montages of Bradford’s voice. Every time the crowd started to fidget during one of these jams Bradford would nod his head and the band would kick into another pop-rock gem.
They mined all of their recorded output with the exception of their debut, and for the most part the tunes were richer and heavier. The bass hook on Nothing ever Happened was gutsy as fuck; they cranked up the jerky anxiety of Lake Somerset; Hazel St was as sweet and syrupy as ever; and Fluorescent Grey became a dream-like 10 minute jam. The highlight was the title track from their latest album, which appeared from left field midway through the set. Its melancholic intro, featuring Badford solo with his his guitar, gave Deerhunter’s frontman the chance to prove his chops. And boy did he shine, singing with such heartfelt sincerity that the crowd started cheering.
You could argue that Bradford’s a control freak, but watching him live you can’t deny that he has some serious skills. Besides taking on vocal duties and much of the lead guitar work, he also used pedals to sample and place effects on his own voice, and trigger some of the incidental samples that appear through their recorded output. Dude’s brain must be working at a million miles per hour while he plays but he never missed a beat.
It was clear that Bradford was driving the show. The rest of the band acted upon his signals, and late in the set it appeared he was even in control of what songs were played and when. For me this is where the show failed a little. The dynamics on stage were odd to say the least. Guitarist Lockett Pundt stood side-on to the audience for the entire show, looking bored. A couple of times I saw him take a deep breath and lean his head back as if he couldn’t wait for the ordeal to be over. Between songs, Moses on drums had a lost puppy look on his face, waiting for orders from the top dogs. And while bassist Josh Fauver was the most animated of the group, he was preoccupied by people back stage for the whole show, and keep talking to Pundt during songs (and Pundt continued to remain emotionless during these conversations). Bradford stayed with his array of pedals.
I can only imagine how hard it must be in a band where one person (i.e. Bradford) is responsible for all songwriting duties and ends up as the front man. The Smashing Pumpkins are a perfect example of this, and there was a touch of that situation in this show. As if the three remaining members didn’t have enough of a relationship with these songs to tap into and let go. Which meant we in the audience had difficulty getting lost in the experience too. It was this minor gripe that made the show really good, but not quite great.