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Deerhunter at Fine Line, 9/9/13

Deerhunter at Fine Line, 9/9/13
Photo By Joanna Fox

Deerhunter
With Marnie Stern
Fine Line Music Cafe, Minneapolis
September 9, 2013

Over the years, Bradford Cox has proven himself to be utterly unpredictable and entirely fascinating in a live setting, creative traits and tendencies that ultimately make Deerhunter's (as well as Atlas Sound's) performances so compelling. Last night at the Fine Line, Cox and his talented Deerhunter cohorts delivered a brazen, experimental two-hour set that found the band balancing tenuously between blissful pop numbers and brutal, deafening sonic excursions. Each raw, untamed number proved to be entirely absorbing, with the band assuredly making rock 'n' roll savagely exciting once again, if only just for the night.

See Also: Atlas Sound at the Cedar Cultural Center, 3/02/12

After a bizarre stream of pre-show music that bounced among thunderous garage rock, radical experimentalism, and the tranquil sounds of waves crashing, the band finally took to the darkened, smoke-filled stage, and eased into the ethereal pop churn of opener "Earthquake," as Cox quickly joined in the fray, sporting a messy black wig and a Cramps T-shirt. He peppered the rather somber song with dramatic yelps, encouraging the group to expand the shadowy edges of the hypnotic number as it dissolved into an MBV-like squall during a long outro. Cox strapped on a guitar and lead the band through a dynamic, pulsing "Cryptograms," while diffidently shielding himself from the blinding spotlights on the stage.

Cheering between songs was a mostly futile effort throughout the night, as Deerhunter typically let piercing feedback ring out during the mercurial transitions from one track to the next. It was more like an art installation that we were merely observers of, not in any way participants in, with the band's only real connection with the crowd the spellbinding music they were offering up to us. A haunting run through of "Cover Me (Slowly)/Agoraphobia" kept the strong start going, with the group switching things up from recent shows and playing a song they typically have been saving for the encore. The band really stretched out on this version, with Cox shredding on guitar above the track's intoxicating rhythm.

After a fitful first half-hour of the show, Cox finally addressed the crowd with a cursory "Thank you!" before guitarist Lockett Pundt took over lead vocals on a poppy version of "Desire Lines," which gradually unfolded into glorious noise with Cox and Lockett's deft guitar interplay taking the song in a bold, exploratory direction. A raucous, shambolic rendition of "Don't Cry," quickly followed, seamlessly leading into "Revival," which ignited the middle portion of the set.

Deerhunter at Fine Line, 9/9/13
Deerhunter at Fine Line, 9/9/13
Photos By Joanna Fox

Cox then went on to tell a long, grim story of the last time the band played Minneapolis: "I believe we were on this very same stage. I have a very unique memory of the last time we played here. Hold your applause," Bradford said ominously. "It's kind of dark, but I'll share it with you anyway. Our tour manager was an African American gentleman, and he was trying to pull out of the alleyway after the show. From what I understand, certain parts of this area are filled with undesirable clientele, and one of those people accosted him and shouted a racial epithet at him. So I jumped out of the van with a blunt object ready to take this guy out, but violence met with more violence doesn't ever really solve anything. Our manager shouted at me, 'Get the fuck back in the van,' before he stepped up to this guy and said, 'Let me pass.' So the white guy scrambled out of his way like the little chicken shit that he was."

After that slightly acrimonious detour, Pundt then led the band through "The Missing," which was given a bit more an urgent bite due to the story that preceded it, an edge that carried over fluidly into a wistful, searing version of "Hazel St." that blossomed into a din of experimental noise as smoke and feedback filled the room. "T.H.M." built on that progressive churn, as Cox stepped to the edge of the stage to scream the song's final lyrics as the band whipped up a frenzied racket behind him.

 

"Well, we come from down South," Cox proudly proclaimed. "And we'd like to play for you some of our down South boogie music." And with that, the band launched into a dynamic, sprawling 15-minute version of "Nothing Ever Happened" that proved to be one of the night's most indelible moments, with each member of the band adding his own distinctive layer to the song's simmering, expansive arrangement. It was utterly enthralling, with both the group and the audience completely lost in the boundless spirit of the song.

Deerhunter at Fine Line, 9/9/13
Deerhunter at Fine Line, 9/9/13
Photos By Joanna Fox

"Sleepwalking" seemed a bit tame at first in comparison, but the band eventually locked in to a groove and the slow-burning song gradually took flight before giving way to the garage-rock charm of "Back to the Middle," which flowed tempestuously into a feral, uncompromising version of "Monomania" that closed out the main set in an intense wall of noise. Cox tore off his wig and hit himself in the head with the microphone before the repetitious conclusion to the song exploded in echoey discord and riotous punk fury. Cox left the stage minutes before the rest of the band, who left thunderous, deafening feedback ringing in the room throughout the lengthy encore break, perhaps testing the sheer will of the audience to see who would leave and who wanted to stick around for more.

While the crowd did thin out just a bit as the strident noise washed over us all, those who did stay were eventually treated to an animated run through of "Neon Junkyard," which morphed into the seething start of "Fluorescent Grey," which began with a tribal-like drumbeat from Moses Archuleta blended harshly with what sounded like twisted, deranged yodeling emerging out of the swelling guitar feedback. Cox spent the first half of the song licking and stroking the microphone suggestively, lewdly fellating it as the song built in energy, while occasionally punctuating the track with random yelps and moans.

Someone took Cox's wig at one point, and he jumped into the crowd to quickly get it back as the "fan" was briskly led out of the club. That seemed to enliven the band, who stretched the experimental song out well past the 20-minute mark, with both Cox and Lockett lying on the stage at one point, adding layers of discord to the growing din. The song meandered on endlessly, bringing the show to an end in an entirely self-indulgent fashion. But it was also a defiant, intrepid sonic gesture by a riveting band that has never had much interest in convention anyway.

Critic's Notebook:

Personal Bias: Show conflicts have caused me to miss Deerhunter's last two local headlining performances, and I've only seen the band open for Spoon in the last five years, so I was beyond psyched to finally get to see them play a show of their own.

The Crowd: A packed house filled with people who have been under Bradford Cox's spell for years, mixed with curious music fans who filed out when things got too loud.

Overheard in the Crowd: "Let that be a lesson for you -- never mess with Bradford's wig."

Deerhunter at Fine Line, 9/9/13
Photo By Joanna Fox

Random Notebook Dump: Opener Marnie Stern put on an inspired, expressive opening set that really set the stage well for the headliners.

Setlist:

Earthquake

Cryptograms

Cover Me (Slowly)/Agoraphobia

Desire Lines

Don't Cry

Revival

The Missing

Hazel St.

T.H.M.

Nothing Ever Happened

Sleepwalking

Back to the Middle

Monomania

--Encore--

Neon Junkyard

Fluorescent Grey

See Also:
50 cool facts about the Minnesota music scene
Top 20 best Minnesota musicians: The complete list
Top 10 must-see Minnesota music videos this week

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