I want to believe that Bradford Cox is a normal guy. It would be encouraging to know that the parallels I’ve drawn between the Deerhunter frontman's music and my life are rooted in the idea that we’ve faced similar struggles. That’s what makes the power of lines like, “Feed me twice a day / I want to fade away,” so potent on the song “Agoraphobia.” Hearing the Microcastle cut during Monday's encore at First Avenue was a refresher of all the reasons I’ve gone to see Deerhunter so many times.
Sadly, this positive taste of the past was in spite of some of the weaker moments. Many of the cuts from this year’s Fading Frontier fell totally flat in the Mainroom. It was easy, for instance, to see the look of distaste from (usually spectacular) drummer Moses Archuleta as Cox insisted they restart the botched intro of “Snakeskin.” By the time it finally got going, I was scratching my head about how overblown and messy the otherwise airtight and funky song was.
But these new songs don’t deserve to be held in the same light as the old ones. They’re happy. “Living My Life” got a tropical facelift to its already soothing textures. Cox’s “frontier” became more detailed in performance, and my mind equated it with youth. Accepting his younger self’s desirousness, he’s just glad to be “off the grid” here on the other end of things.
A lot has changed since the chittering musings on death we heard from the Atlanta band's 2010 album Halcyon Digest, though I still got to hear the now-classic “Helicopter” as chosen by a show of hands from the crowd. It sounded excellent as ever with its wrecking ball chorus crashes. I embraced my sober, Monday-night tiredness, bent backwards in a stretch, and concentrated on my breath. In this final moment of the set, I felt plugged into my inner-self, and only came to when I opened my eyes and once again realized that it was the good old Deerhunter boys making me feel this way.
Cox did digress significantly in the middle of the encore, giving what could only be called a 20-minute improvisational comedy set. It was hilarious, but discussing it takes away from the intensely affecting psych punk the band puts out. I’d rather focus on the eerie and formless tones that came from the band during this hiatus. Cox insisted two times that they stop while he continued his story, but they refused to be bullied. Their music added a foreboding air to the monologue, since we all know what the guy is capable of doing.
It was a relief when nothing remarkably bizarre went off during the show. Cox delivered a more reserved weirdness with his banter, which ultimately played to his favor. Basking in his coolness and ingenuity on the outro of “Don’t Cry” was enough to reconcile any feelings of past loss, whether his or my own. My neck is still aching from the sprawling 10-minute version of “Nothing Ever Happened.”
Something has happened to Cox and his band, but it looks a lot like the things we’ve seen throughout their career. Except things now live in the brighter, present tense of songs like “Living My Life” and the dancehall waltz of “Take Care.” Fading Frontier may be the ultimate proof that Cox is, indeed, like the rest of us. We’ve all done childish things in the past, and still are those people in conjunction with our present selves. As age takes effect, elements of maturity blur these lines.
Thankfully for punk rock, Cox remains an impeccable describer of these complex versions. Whichever one is up there on stage will continue to have an audience with me.
Critic bias: I’ve seen Deerhunter four times now, so some of the first-timer glow was lost on me. I pined, perhaps unfairly, for the lineup from the 2010 tour.
The crowd: The closer you got to the stage, the younger the crowd was. Some guy shoved through a bunch of people to jump to the front during “Nothing Ever Happened.” Others were headbanging gloriously or smoking weed instead of drinking heavily. For the most part, the introspective music produced an introspective crowd whether young or old.
Random notebook dump: Bradford Cox is much better at guitar than piano. Lockett Pundt’s voice is still massively underrated.
Living My Life
Rainwater Cassette Exchange
All The Same
Nothing Ever Happened
Cover Me (Slowly)