Deerhunter‘s reputation has grown to such an extent over the years that certain prices have to be paid: namely sell-out crowds characterised by a little too much aggression and drunkenness. The late kick-off in the Button Factory only exacerbates things – a bit of rowdiness is perfectly fine at, say, a Titus Andronicus gig, but it’s not ideal when you’re dealing with a band whose layered sound demands immersion. Still, Deerhunter deliver for the most part tonight with a set that intersperses tunes from last year’s Halcyon Digest with older material.
Hipster Youth are first on support duties tonight, with Aidan Wall taking to the stage in a Wounds t-shirt (note: more bands should wear other band’s t-shirts on stage). Large stretches of Teenage Elders grated on these ears, which may have been the production more than anything else, but tonight Hipster Youth go down a treat. ‘Pop Song For Those With Short Attention Spans’ sounds fantastic, as do a couple of other tracks where the hooks are still off-kilter but a lot less harsh. There’s some new material that sounds a lot heavier and beefier, some infectious 8-bit grooves and a Sonic Youth-gone-chiptune noise freak-out. Bradford Cox is suitably impressed but recommends that they change their name: watch this space. Second support act Lower Dens, meanwhile, are apparently Cox’s favourite band, and it’s not hard to see why, with a psych-tinged sound characterised by hypnotic, intricate guitar lines.
It’s sometimes forgotten how much of a collaborative project Deerhunter is, so it’s nice that the first song they kick off with tonight is ‘Desire Lines’, penned and sung by guitarist Lockett Pundt. Its cyclical guitar melodies and dreamy vibe give way to an engrossing jam, emphasising what distinguishes the band from Cox’s more introspective solo forays. That leads into the sublime ‘Hazel St.’, a track from Cryptograms that remains one of their finest, building from patient ambient hum to a buoyant central hook. It’s one of the great contradictions of Deerhunter – along with many great bands of the past – that their sound seems so uplifting and even anthemic at times, despite a lyrical sensibility that’s often fixated with death, decay, and self-effacement. In the live setting the paradox only intensifies. The superb ‘Never Stops’ is a good example, inducing communal rapture despite its supremely troubled lyrics.
‘Helicopter’, a song apparently ‘inspired’ by a young Russian boy sold into sexual slavery, is one moment where the melancholic elements become overwhelming and undeniable, particularly when Cox sings the line “no-one cares for me/I keep no company” with disquieting conviction and directness. Elsewhere, ‘Nothing Ever Happened’ remains as thrilling as ever, with its propulsive first half and the delirious, joyous freak-out that follows, while the entrancing soundscape of ‘Octet’ rubs shoulders with the straight-ahead classicist vibes of ‘Memory Boy’. Towards the end of the set things meander a bit – with a little too much ambient noodling – but overall it’s a night that re-inforces Deerhunter’s formidable reputation.
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