Deftones at First Avenue, 4/28/11

April 28, 2011
First Avenue, Minneapolis

There was a time when the so-called nü-metal seemed like it would be crowned the new king, the genre that would create the paradigm shift that grunge once did. Bands like Korn and Limp Bizkit were suddenly on the precipice of the Next Big Thing. Deftones were along on the ride, as well, though they never really fit in with the rest of the movement--they were the bookish thinkers amongst a roomful of potheads. Their lyrics actually meant something, they weren't filled with cartoonish fantasies or hackneyed metaphors. The music has always been tight and crisp, not the sludgy miasma of downtuned guitars that became the both the badge and the curse of nü-metal. Ultimately, the genre went nowhere and, like Saturday morning cartoons, is slowly dying off.

Deftones, however, have survived on their own terms and weathered a terrible tragedy as well: their original bassist, Chi Cheng, now lies in a coma due to a 2008 car accident and has been replaced with ex-Quicksand bass player Sergio Vega. An entire album of recorded material, Eros, was shelved due to the accident and may never see the light of day, but Thursday night Deftones showed a packed house at First Avenue just what survival looks like.

They began with the thunderous, post-hardore-ish "Diamond Eyes" from their 2010 album of the same name, and that song coupled with "Rocket Skates" from the same album were representative of a new hopefulness not present in any of their previous work--odd, given the circumstances surrounding the band currently. But it's much the same musically: cathartic and raw, lead singer Chino Moreno (who is down at least 75 lbs. as of late) alternately barking the lyrics and singing in a voice almost worthy of a Brit-pop band. Moreno had a long bench upon he jumped up and down throughout the set giving the crowd a better view of him, while the screen behind them flashed everything from an animated version of the owl from the Diamond Eyes album cover to unsettling, avant-garde black and white film.

Deftones at First Avenue, 4/28/11

Moreno crawled out onto--yes, onto--the roiling crowd during "My Own Summer (Shove It)", howling the lyrics while the crowd nearly drowned him out as they screamed them back. They slowed things down a bit with a the unsettling, almost prog-rock-like "Digital Bath" from their stellar 2000 release White Pony, and followed that with the one-two punch of "Korea" and "Knife Prty." They largely ignored their underwhelming 2006 effort Saturday Night Wrist, which was just as well. This show seemed to be a "We're hurting, but we'll deal with it. We're ok for now"-type show, and Wrist is filled with the darkest, most disturbing imagery in their canon. 

They burned through "Feiticiera," a song about a kidnapping but takes it's title from a Brazilian game show, and turned in a fantastic version of what is possibly their most abrasive song, "Engine No. 9," during which it occurred to me that something has been with this band from the beginning that makes them so appealing: when the songs are quiet (or at least get quiet for a short period) they seem much more dangerous and explosive. The songs that burn from the start are great but seem somehow less menacing, and that is possibly the key to why Deftones are appealing to such a wide audience, though I'm not sure what answer lies on the other side of the lock. 

They wrapped up the 100-minute set with "Back To School" and went back to their 1995 debut, Adrenaline, for the two-song encore: "Root" and "7 Words," ending essentially where they began some 16 years ago. It seemed it was maybe no accident, those last songs; Deftones have been though a lot of adversity in the past few years and indeed over the span of their careers thus far. It helps to look back to where you began to keep everything in perspective.

Deftones at First Avenue, 4/28/11

Critic's Bias: Deftones' 1997 release, Around The Fur, is still the only album for which I've waited in line at midnight to purchase.
The Crowd: Lots of tattoos, piercings and creative facial hair.
Overheard In The Crowd: "I'm with the band, seriously, let me in." From a woman who jumped the line at the front door and seemed believable enough that security waved her in.
Random Notebook Dump: I love that the song "Knife Prty" could be either "Knife Party" or "Knife Pretty."

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