DEERHUNTER @ WEBSTER HALL, NYC AUGUST 23RD 2011
I’d been in New York for around seven hours and there had already been an earthquake. I was feeling pretty zombiefied from a day of planes and taxis and no sleep for Hell knows how long, but I figured that if the ground was gonna crack and swallow me up in the next few days then I’d regret not going to see Deerhunter play NYC.
I spent the majority of Eleanor Friedberger’s opening performance zoning out and daydreaming about her guitarist: wondering how he spent his days, whether he lived in New York, what he was like with his friends, whether he knew he was cute, etc. It felt weirdly pleasant to have the waking world hanging against the sleeping one by a couple of lusty threads.
I was glad to not be overly familiar with the work that Friedberger had soldiered away with as one half of Fiery Furnaces over the last few years, as it meant I didn’t automatically start rating her solo stuff against her previous work. I couldn’t hum or name a FF song if you asked me. As it goes, the songs she played last night (which I presume were from the Last Summer record that I saw at the merch table) were perfect for my aforementioned zoning out. Encouragingly hard to pinpoint, Friedberger’s songs were jangly and imbued with a subtle drama that hinted at various emotional sources; some nice melodies too. Gonna check out the album, for sure.
Maybe the tiredness attributed to a certain level of impatience (and of course there was a large amount of anticipation, with the headliners being one of my favourite bands of recent years) but it seemed like Deerhunter took a long time to make it onto the stage; a couple of road crew pottered around the stage several times before the smoke machine started up and the in house CD faded out and four figures sauntered onto the Webster Hall stage.
The first confusing moment was trying to work out who the guy holding Bradford’s guitar was, and the second was wondering where Bradford was. I’m very good at recognizing faces that I’ve seen before but often pretty bad at working out where I’ve seen them. Eventually it clicked that I’d actually seen the “new” guy in Deerhunter photographs from a while back, meaning that he was not “new” at all. In fact, he was Colin Mee, who played on both the band’s first two records before leaving under a cloud around about four years ago. Surprise guest Mee (who has gone on to perform in Hollow Stars) and Lockett Pundt began making fuzz-drenched blankets of sound as Moses Archuleta and Josh Fauvner combined to lay the seeds of a rumbling undertone that would be consistently deep and simultaneously thrashing for the rest of the show.
After enough of the drone had passed, Cox made his way before the audience. Looking like he was in 50s pin-up mode – with greased back hair and vintage shirt – he was soon in full-on unnerving mode. Changing the mood rapidly from reunion celebration to some kind of delicious black mass, Bradford stalked back and forth glaring into fans’ eyes with a look, that was at best disarming and at worst possessed. There was a sense of drama that suited perfectly the opening set of songs which taken from the Fluorescent Grey EP and Cryptograms – a particularly death-obsessed, morbid corner of Deerhunter’s career. For the record it was a fucking joy to hear those songs, as they’re a rarity, not to mention having Mee there to perform them too.
Colin departed and handed the guitar back to Bradford and the band hit hard into a set that was comprised of tracks from most recent LP, Halcyon Digest, and its predecessor, Microcastle.
The last time I saw Deerhunter was on their UK tour when they played Manchester back in March. I guess they must have been on tour on and off since then. It definitely shows – there’s an intensity (not to mention a tightness) that only comes from playing solidly for months (or I guess in DH’s case, years) and a self assuredness, that for whatever reason seemed to be best summed up by the way that Josh Fauvner swayed around, going from rhythmically bouncing on the spot one second, to ferociously hammering into his bass the next. It’s hard to nail down what the contributing factors are, but it really feels like Deerhunter have now become the band that they always wanted to be.
Jamming freely into some of the most beautiful noise imaginable – both in-between and during songs (with one of the extended improvised passages transforming Nothing Ever Happened into an impromptu cover of Patti Smith’s Horses), Deerhunter are clearly a confident and immersed group of musicians who play off each other superbly. However they are also able to match their technical ability with an emotional range that can switch from ethereal to visceral without a blink.
New York City and I got a treat.
Nothing Ever Happened
Twilight at Carbon Lake
Calvary Scars II
*with Colin Mee