Photo Credit: Robert Semmer
Elf Power, the opener at the 40 Watt Saturday night, was very good. It was no surprise; Elf Power is usually very good. But I'd like to take a quick minute to talk about Deerhunter, because Deerhunter was fucking great.
I've seen Deerhunter live a dozen times or so, but until last weekend I hadn't caught the band in several years; my early memories of Bradford Cox and company revolve around catatonic, defiantly narcissistic vocal drones and noise-laden kraut-freakouts. But as the band has matured, so has its live presence. Sure, there's the occasional bizarre Coxian performance piece here and there, but for the most part, Deerhunter has transformed itself into a real rock and roll band.
That rock power was on full display on the group's latest LP, the brilliant Monomania, the first record to feature bassist (and Athens guy) Josh McKay. Live, McKay and longtime Deerhunter drummer Moses Archuleta act as the band's secret weapon, as breathtakingly motorik a rhythm section you'll ever find but unafraid to groove, too.
Aside from a 15-minute version of "Nothing Ever Happened," the hard-driving centerpiece of Microcastle, and a couple tunes from Halcyon Digest—including the Lockett Pundt-sung "Desire Lines," a song I find dull on record but which was muscular and engrossing live—Deerhunter's tough, tense new album made up the core of its sprawling set Saturday night. ("Sprawling" is really an understatement: my timekeeping on Twitter was unofficial, but I'd be willing to bet it's correct within 15 minutes or so.)
But it was all a ruse. Cox—who, it's worth noting, seems to have softened, finally content to let his bandmates take center stage, literally and figuratively—used the encore as a chance to exorcise some of those old noisy demons, inviting local mainstay John Fernandes and his magic violin onstage for an invigorating improv workout.
"We wouldn't do this in New York City, 'cause they might write about it in the newspaper," Cox joked. (Joke's on him: we'll write about it here, too.)
In contrast to the rest of the set's propulsive pop, this sickly, decayed ending was downright shocking to the senses. The shit was mesmerizing. It was also a friendly reminder that, as Deerhunter veers farther and farther towards tunefulness—skewed though it may still be—those old, indulgent impulses are still intact right under the surface, ready to consume the band and, in turn, anyone who happens to be in its vicious vicinity, at any moment.