After the films of shark-fighting cowboys and gyrating spider-women, after the singer who taped cutout pictures of busses and drinks to his microphone stand to illustrate his jumpy acoustic guitar songs, after the modern dance troupe, after all of these things, Deerhoof took the stage.
By then the audience, thinner and interspersed with clusters of seated concertgoers during the earlier acts, had uniformly risen and pushed slightly towards the stage. Above, on the semicircle of balcony ringing the Bowery Ballroom’s interior, people clutched the railing and their drinks, peering down in anticipation. The opening acts (for once, “opening bands” is not going to cut it as a description), though varied and unpredictable and exciting, seemed to have irked a few among the crowd, but as Deerhoof’s four members filed out, all attention was focused on the stage.
In a recent interview prior to the release of The Runners Four, I recall reading that the band said it wanted to play the sorts of tunes that would cause audience members to turn to each other and say “I love this song.” They appear to have succeeded. Since I last saw the band a year ago, (this was their fourth appearance in New York City since then, and yet they still sold out Bowery a couple weeks before the show), they seem to have tightened their set, making each piece more purposeful and songlike than in the past.
Whereas it could be difficult to guess a piece from its opening bars last time around, here almost every song was met with instant audience recognition and enthusiasm as it began. While “This Magnificent Bird Will Rise” and “Flower” on, both from older Deerhoof albums (Reveille and Apple O’ respectively), may seem like odd choices to kick off a show in support of a new album, they seemed consistent with the band’s new modus operandi: these are songs that people know and love.
There is a bit of a trade-off in effect, though. In order to keep their songs more instantly recognizable and more comparatively intelligible, the controlled chaos that has characterized Deerhoof in the past has been reined in a bit. Of course, any restraint the band displayed was not as compared to a normal rock band, it was as compared to Deerhoof.
The songs were still nearly as noisy and just as compelling as ever. Drummer Greg Saunier—who in defiance of rock band tradition sits front and center in line with the rest of the band—still plays as frenetically as ever, hammering out blinding patterns as unpredictable as they are rhythmic on a kit consisting only of kick, snare, and hi-hat.
Singer Satomi Matsuzaki, while not wielding any stuffed fruit this time around, still served as a spontaneous and child-like counterpoint, at times grinding, distortion-loaded guitar and bass lines. And (perhaps due in part to the superior Bowery sound) that guitar and bass, the meat of any Deefhoof set, seemed more powerful and dynamic than ever.
By the end, Deerhoof had rolled through a full complement of “I love this song”-worthy pieces, both old (the epic “The Last Trumpeter Swan” and wheeling, now guitar- rather than string-driven “Spiral Golden Town”) and new (the jazz-driven “Running Thoughts” and perfect pop of “Spirit Ditties of No Tone”). They may have taken the edge off of their exhilarating unpredictability, but the tightened sound is really no loss. As ever, the band is able to jump effortlessly and instantly between dissonance and melody, cacophony and quiet.
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