Last night to a sold-out crowd at the Triple Rock, black metal outfit Deafheaven provided definitive reasoning for Minneapolis's recently instated earplugs ordinance.
The five-piece band hailing from San Francisco is widely recognized for its ear-shattering sound, led by the animal-like shrieking of vocalist George Clarke. True to form, the show was at a decibel level that put all of the glass in the venue at risk.[jump]
Wreck and Reference, also from California, opened the night. Its two members were dwarfed by stacks of amplifiers crowding the stage. The songs were marked by the tortured wailing of various electronic elements, like a demented brother of early CocoRosie. A laptop hid within a guitar case on stage offered samples to offset the unsettling loudness of ringing guitar notes and vocalist Felix Skinner's deep, scornful voice. Combined with Ignat Frege's drumming, W&R moved effectively from loud to soft, expertly juxtaposing elements of chaos and control.
Pallbearer took the stage next under dim lighting, implying the illusion of intimacy even in such a crowded and fairly sprawling venue. The thickened audience responded enthusiastically to the four-piece's zombie-like movements, as they manipulated their instruments to keep the tension slowly mounting in a patient crawl toward catharsis -- only to disintegrate yet again back into cautious foreboding. Bodies thrashing and twitching, Pallbearer churned out a carefully constructed metal sludge that moved sluggishly yet menacingly. The music was strangely hypnotic, luring the listener in with slight repetitions of chord patterns, creating a sense of familiarity that led directly into irresistibly catchy hooks. Their playing, taut and controlled, conjured emotions ranging from frenzied and panicked to triumphant.
Later in their set, the mood became somewhat more melancholic and the music began to set a reflective tone. Frontman Brett Campbell's low, booming voice complemented the fury of instrumentation nicely, although it is possible that it was difficult for him to hear himself over the wall of sound being constructed by the rest of the band. The strategically placed vocals did not translate very well from their recordings to this live performance.
The last few songs had a cinematic feel to them, each one an intricate composition of complicated structure. Sometimes, doom metal can have a difficult time holding the attention of audience members in a live setting, especially when songs hover around ten minutes long. In this case, though, the crowd remained engaged. At the end of Pallbearer's set, people clapped and whistled appreciatively, holding their metal fingers in the air.
After just a brief intermission, the moment had arrived: Deafheaven. Vocalist George Clarke, dressed in head to toe black like the rest of the band, stood eerily illuminated by dull stage lights behind his mic stand. He leaned menacingly over the audience, mirroring drummer Daniel Tracy's playing with abrupt arm movements and pausing often to tilt his chin upwards, eyes closed, bathed in light. There was no definitive break in between songs; short, beautiful interludes filled in the empty spaces.[page]
Clarke moved as if possessed by the sound, reaching upwards, twitching violently, stalking the stage and leaning heavily on his mic stand. It was like the rest of the band was a symphony, and his antics were that of their dark conductor. The crowd reveled in his frenetic energy. They reached forward to grab at him, screaming along.
Clarke's voice is an entirely different beast in its own right. For such a soft-spoken man (Gimme Noise interviewed Clarke before their show and found him to be very mellow and polite) he sure can scream in agony. At times it seemed like he was retching violently, as if the monster from The Grudge had decided to front a metal band. And the voice never faltered, no matter how far he reached within himself to grasp for more air to keep the sounds coming out. His shirt quickly became soaked almost entirely through with sweat. He calmly ignored the stage divers slowly beginning to grow in number around him. The rest of the band stood behind him, coolly nodding along with their playing, eyes mostly focused downwards, entranced by their instruments.
Using just five songs, Deafheaven proved that they deserve all of the glowing reviews they've received for Sunbather thus far. Somehow, they seamlessly blend elements of black metal and shoegaze to create a sound entirely their own. Hearing the music live gave it a sense of urgency, injecting it with color. Seeing the band on stage in the flesh as they delivered these songs to us presented the opportunity to absorb their art in its most vulnerable state: raw, peeled back, bleeding, beautiful. Beautiful, but not necessarily intending to be so. The shoegaze elements put a wash over everything, like seeing things through the fogged edges of a soap opera. It was oddly pacifying.
Without any further words the band walked offstage, leaving their guitars leaning on the amplifiers to create a sea of feedback, giving us the impression that they would be back for more. We were correct. "Hey, we have time for one more," Clarke said. "This song, this whole tour really, is dedicated to Wreck and Reference and Pallbearer." They performed an encore song off their first album, Roads to Judah, called "Unrequited." With a quick change in tempo at the end, this was a good song to finish with. It's safe to say, though, that most of us left still wanting more.
Personal Bias: I'd been in kind of a doom and gloom mood before the show and it really felt appropriate to be there experiencing that music. I was a Deafheaven fan but once I actually saw them live I have a whole new appreciation for them.
The crowd: Lots of men.
Random notebook dump: How the fuck does he scream like that? He puts Leftover Crack to shame.
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