Deerhunter, Extra Life, Baby Venom
Alex Cocks 18/05/2009
On record Deerhunter invoke a sense of wilful and selfless abandonment, a hypnotic, chiming effervescent fog amongst ambient drones and distorted walls of noise. From the garage squalls of Turn It Up, Faggot! and Cryptograms to the growing sophistication of Microcastle/Weird Era Cont and the sumptuous 'pop' of Rainwater Cassette Exchange and varied other recordings, their canon contains a wistful and doomed romanticism. For a group who constantly sound as though they are on the brink of being consumed or obscured by the music they create, the task at hand will be to create something tangible live.
First band to perform on the night were Maryland based trio Baby Venom and they do so with an unmistakeable verve. Unfortunately they are let down by technical deficiencies and the formless nature of some of their compositions which undermine their otherwise charming naivete, although they slowly begin to win over the sparse crowd. Extra Life hail from NYC and peddle a combination of Gothic avant-pop and progressive post-rock. No amount of labels placed on them can describe how painfully awful they are as a live proposition. The first line intoned by frontman Charlie Looker is “I remember when you couldn't cook your own dinner...” They never really recover. Looker's vocal affectations place him somewhere between Maynard James Keenan and Mark Greaney of JJ72. In a strange sort of cultural exchange the vocalist talks with an American accent but sings with an Irish inflection. The over elaborations of their set are not matched by technical ability, and much of what they are striving to achieve doesn't come off.
So after two underwhelming (and unrelated - neither band are on tour with the main act) support acts Deerhunter take the stage to Bruce Springsteen's classic outsider anthem 'Born To Run' and immediately conjure up walls of shimmering, ethereal noise. The intensity is not slackened at any point during the early numbers, as songs bleed mercilessly into one another. Vocals as texture, rhythm, repetition - these are all key facets of Deerhunter's recorded output and are equally as vital to the live 'experience'. Sound design (courtesy of their sound engineer) allows them to add space and dynamic to the performance, for Bradford Cox's vocals to be drenched in reverb, elongated and subsumed within the soundscapes. 'Fluorescent Grey' and 'Wash Off' are particular highlights.
Biggest cheers of the night go to the Microcastle material, with previous single 'Nothing Ever Happened' the first to be aired. Driven by its propulsive rhythm the urgency and immediacy provoke the heartiest response from the crowd. The new tracks aired provide further evidence of the growing maturity of the Deerhunter sound. Given that both Bradford Cox and Lockett Pundt have used side projects (Atlas Sounds and Lotus Plaza) as outlets for the more experimental side of their musical personae it is no surprise that the new material has a more straightforward sound, although the demarcation is not as obvious. The title track from their latest EP Rainwater Cassette Exchange is played, showcasing their appropriation of various strands of 60s psyche-pop, doo wop and girl group into their song structures. 'Saved By Old Times' is stylistically similar in both mode of delivery and sonic adventure, until the outro is drowned in a sea of noisy melodrama which is near deafening.
After a brief interlude they retake the stage and launch into 'Cover Me (Slowly)' and its companion piece 'Agoraphobia', which is sung live by Bradford Cox rather than Lockett Pundt who sings the album version. 'Agoraphobia' in particular is a real gem, with the harrowing tale of constriction and abandonment translating successfully to the live arena.
Deerhunter are gradually settling into their role as an important band, with an impressive back catalogue to draw from. They truly were on top form, with Bradford Cox keeping the crowd constantly entertained with banter and breaking into half-formed cover versions. However it is the band's effortless renditions of the waking dreams their songs inhabit that is the star attraction.