Monday, May 25, 2009

Deerhunter - Andrew's Lane Theatre, Dublin. May 22

(This article was originally written for the website Muso's Guide,

Considering their position as alt-rock figureheads du jour as well as their ever-growing fanatical following, it’s slightly odd to witness Deerhunter performing in the relatively quaint surroundings of Andrew’s Lane Theatre. Odder still is the gnawing sense of anti-climax that I can’t seem to shake after the last echoes of feedback have dispersed; then again, expectation levels tend to be raised when you’re dealing with a band whose gigs Karen O has described as being akin to ‘religious experiences’.

It’s not all that, but it’s still mighty impressive. As the Atlanta, Georgia four-piece take the stage, enigmatic lead singer and main creative force Bradford Cox politely asks if they can begin with a new song, and so we’re treated to a rendition of the title track of Deerhunter’s brand new EP, Rainwater Cassette Exchange. The lyrics are a continuation of the themes that have so far dominated Cox’s considerable output (disease, dread, erotic obsession), while stylistically it sees the band further develop the classic pop influences that became more evident on last year’s double set Microcastle/Weird Era Cont., with a waltz-like rhythm and Cox’s woozy crooning. A spectacularly malevolent-sounding ‘Cryptograms’ follows. Much of the beauty of Deerhunter stems from the way their often poignant, desperate melodies and themes of dislocation are frequently buried under waves of guitar dissonance and enveloping drones. It’s a heady brew that they recreate well live. Having said that, Microcastle saw them taking a less impressionistic, more anthemic route at times; an enthusiastically-received ‘Nothing Ever Happened’ is one such example, a tight, spirited performance giving way to a thrilling extended jam. On the other side of the coin, ‘White Ink’ smothers the audience with a loud, disorientating swell of noise that plays hell with your senses. In a good way, of course.

It’s not the only thing it plays hell with. Already slightly concerned by the partial deafness in one ear I’ve suffered for the last couple of weeks, and mindful that I’ve got a date with My Bloody Valentine in less than a week, I decide to spare my eardrums from unnecessary damage and move back a safer distance from the stage. Perhaps due to less-than-ideal sound quality within the venue, there’s a loss of intensity from this vantage point, despite renditions of ‘Hazel Street’ and ‘Never Stops’ that showcase the group’s knack for rousing melodies. After some bizarre rambling from Cox on the subject of ‘dead babies’, the gently chiming ‘Agoraphobia’ follows, it’s “come for me, comfort me, cover me” refrain making for a slightly uneasy singalong. They round things off with the closing track from Weird Era Cont., ‘Calvary Scars II/Aux. Out’ (unfortunately the only track to feature from said album tonight), it’s disturbingly self-immolating lyric eventually drowned out by a grandstanding, frenetic climax that ultimately collapses, leaving a hazy trail in its wake. With Deerhunter, it’s hard to know sometimes whether you’re being immersed in a transcendental dream state or being plunged into the deepest nightmarish recesses (it may well be a bit of both), but whatever, it’s a compelling experience all the same. If not quite a religious experience. Maybe next time...

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