DEERHUNTER at BLUEBIRD THEATER | 9/7/13 The other members of Deerhunter were set up ready to go when Bradford Cox made his way on stage clad in some kind of vest with a lot of buttons and/or patches. He was also wearing a Cramps T-shirt, and that was fitting because he also had on an all black wig with a forelock covering his eyes that made look like a cross between Lux Interior, Ian McCulloch from early era Echo & The Bunnymen and Ronny Moorings from Clan of Xymox. It was an unusual and compelling look that added to a dreamlike, sometimes nightmarish, set of music ahead.
Beginning with the lushly hypnotic, gently whorling melody of "Earthquake," Deerhunter had some surprises in store for hardcore fans with songs like "Hazel St." from Cryptograms and the title tracks from both Rainwater Cassette Exchange and Fluorescent Echo included in the set.
On "The Missing," Lockett Pundt took over lead vocal duties and wove together with the guitar parts of Cox and Frankie Boyles seamlessly. If you closed your eyes you couldn't tell where the two rhythm parts began and ended, with leads flowing over each other and carrying the melody atop the waves of sound. Josh McKay set the pace on bass, while Moses Archuleta added the sonic flourishes that make this band work so well and sound so organic, without interrupting or otherwise steering the sweep and the flow of the band's soundscaping in an overt way -- surely the sign of a truly great drummer.
Between songs, there was occasionally an abstract musical section into which someone in the band dropped hints of what was to come, none more so thrillingly obvious than the prelude to "Nothing Ever Happened," when Cox let loose with a noisier, amped-up riff of chaos that faded slightly right before McKay came in with the signature bass line. With that song, the band also stretched out quite a bit in the middle and created a hypnotically repetitive section of music that went on and on but then ended at the perfect moment.
The main set ended with "Monomania," and for the first time, Cox took off his wig for a few moments before putting it back on. During the song, someone in the band sampled his feral cry and used it as a rhythmic device for the end of the song, and the rest of the band used controlled, even sculpted, feedback to create something shy of an unholy wailing.
This band can do this sort of thing because it's so clear that the group's music is inspired by experimental rock music and noise, and as such, this is merely a part of the outfit's sonic and creative DNA. About then, the strobes became more intense and at times were bright enough to obscure vision, adding to the exciting sense of disorientation from the sounds coming from stage. As the members of Deerhunter departed the stage, the sounds were left running.
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That chaos and dissonance concluded when the band came back on, with the players harnessing the power of those sounds and performing a three song encore ending with "Fluorescent Grey." For the rest of the show, Deerhunter took all its sonic tricks and reinvented them, inverting and mutated them into different realms of noise, including some creative use of delay and perhaps pitch shifting that created a scintillating cloud of melodic tones.
At various points Cox also engaged with some young people at the foot of the stage directly in front, either in some kind of group hug, or a mock dismissal of their attempts to touch his hand after earlier pressing flesh. Couldn't tell which. But then that was the pretty much how the show itself was: part inviting and vulnerable, part heightened dreamstate-like and part amped up reality.
Wymond Miles opened the show with James Barone on drums and James Yardley on bass. Much of the set drew from Miles's excellent previous releases, including the chillingly beautiful and Bowie-esque "Strange Desire," the lonely "Pale Moon" and the menacing yet moving "Run Like the Hunted."
More than on previous occasions, Miles seemed very confident, and his singing was stronger and richer, and the emotive distortion in his crooning carried well. Miles has always been good at the slow builds that unfold subtle but decisively into expansive, drifty melodies with a bit of power behind them. This set just showcased just how well the guy has honed that quality with people that are more than capable of making that happen, too.
Personal Bias: I have liked Deerhunter since Cryptograms, and I've loved the band since Microcastle. I think they're one of the most innovative guitar bands of the last decade and a half. They're true experimentalists in the best way. Random Detail: I ran into Tim Perry formerly of Weed Diamond and Yellow Elephant, Luke Thinnes of sleepdial, former Floorfreaker Anton Krueger and A.C. Proletariate's Jared Stapleton at the show. By the Way: Monomania grows on you, and hearing that music in the context of the live show deepened my appreciation for the record considerably.