My love for Deerhunter is kind of personal.
I won't get into it too much, except that I was a scared kid living in a foreign country. A very strange foreign country, one whose once-comfortable Socio-Capitalism has now become the upturned joke of the worldwide economic crisis: Iceland. Poor, bankrupt, canary-in-the-coal-mine Iceland. I was working as a music writer for a paper out there called the Reykjavik Grapevine
, a little English newsweekly that got off on using the county's liberal publication laws to rag on the negative sides of Icelandic culture and politics. And there are many. I was sick of writing about music (I know, boo-fucking
-hoo, right?), of listening to the same Icelandic bands ripping off the same American bands, of going to shows with the same cold Icelandic hipsters and using the same old, tired adjectives. I was sick of music, of musicians, of music journalism. Then a friend, now the editor of the Grapevine
, showed me Deerhunter; suddenly, I believed again.
Deerhunter's theatrics have changed over the course of the three times that I have seen them live. I won't go into too much detail, but when I saw them over a year ago at the Doug Fir during MusicFest 2007, they were just four guys who hopped onstage, played with everything they had, and hopped off. No pretensions whatsoever, despite everything I read about how insane singer Bradford Cox was—how supposedly the band had posted kiddie porn and pictures of their own feces on its blog, and pissed off a whole ton of people at some show in the Northeast. When I saw them at this year's MusicFest, things were a bit different: Cox rallied insults with the crowd, preferred making noise with his myriad of vocal processors over playing actual songs. Can't blame him for fucking with the people who go to see him for a festival show, but then again, maybe you can.
This Saturday, things were a little different. Deerhunter came on with some kind of Conan O'Brian/Daily Show
cheesy sax intro [I think it was the opening to “Born to Run” –Ed.], the boys (and new third guitarist Whitney Petty) filing out and waving to the crowd as they strapped up. And that was pretty much it. For almost the rest of its nearly flawless one-hour spotlight, Deerhunter played a solidly anti-theatrical, anti-dramatic set. The boys kicked off with the undeniable "Cryptograms," a straightforward jam that displays the band's first record's tasteful basslines and controlled rockouts. Most of the material, however, came from the band's latest release, Microcastle
—with a specific nod to '70s Portland punk with "Nothing Ever Happened," which Bradford Cox codenamed "our Wipers jam." It wasn't the only reference to proto-punk: When Bradford Cox asked if the New York band Television had played at the Hawthorne Theatre, some blessed Portland record store nerd sounded off from the back by shouting "they played at My Father's Place." The usual jokes about My Father's Place ("Who's your daddy?" "Your father's got a music venue?" ad nauseum) ensued. The band punctuated the set with a heartrending version of "Microcastle," a guitar-and-vox lullaby a la the Replacements' "Answering Machine." The level of rockouts seriously folded after this point, and I was a little disappointed that the band didn't play "Fluorescent Grey," "Little Children," or "Strange Lights," but that's never a fair complaint.
At one point Cox asked the sound guy if they could get higher levels (read: more pure volume), to which the technician responded: "Listen, it's loud enough. In fact, the Hawthorne Theatre just turned the cops away for a noise complaint."
One bizarre thing about the show was the encore setup. The audience and the band did their usual little dance (the audience pleading, the band teasing), but after a couple minutes or so Bradford Cox's offstage voice came on the overheard speakers, saying something to the effect of "you paid good money to see this band, and when a band doesn't give you what, then you haven't gotten your money's worth, have you?" Strangely, each pause in Bradford's speech was followed by a loud, arena-like cheer that obviously couldn't be coming from the small crowd at the Hawthorne—giving away that the whole thing was a recording set up specifically for encores. Before giving the audience enough time to let the art of this settle in, the band came back on and played a couple more (somewhat anonymous) songs. At the end of the set Cox smiled and waved. Good night and good luck.
Photo by Loreana