I definitely drank the Kool-Aid early on with Deerhunter. After a brief period early in the year when I was finding Cryptograms impenetrable, it wound up as #3 on my Best Albums of '07 year end list. I managed to catch the band three times last year, with two of the three performances resting firmly within the top 10 best shows I saw in '07. Seen 'em three times so far in '08, and I'll be checking them out at Music Hall of Williamsburg when they come back in November. To quote the burly dude from the movie The Deer Hunter (no relation), "Fuckin' A."
My first Deerhunter show was in April '07 at a sold-out Mercury Lounge, with the performance accompanied by all the hype drummed up by Pitchfork's gushing review of Cryptograms, and the band totally delivered by managing to out-creepy the album versions. Part of this was due to me being blindsided by the striking live show, which featured Bradford Cox wearing a sundress, chewing blood pellets, and (lightly) physically abusing his bandmates. At this show, bassist Josh Fauver grabbed the glasses right off of my fat face (I was front and center as usual) and wore them for a good portion of the set. It was also at this show that Karen O spat beer all over me (yeah, I know, take a number) and I got to shake a visibly uh, "moved" David Cross' hand afterwards.
Second time I saw them was at Bowery in July, and the set was solid (as were the openers, Blues Control and Ex Models), with a now-legendary Bradford-onstage-meltdown occurring post-set prompted, in his words, by a saucy alprazolam and whiskey sour combination. The third time I saw them was at my favorite show of last year's CMJ, which also included splendid sets from Dan Deacon and No Age.
So, September 9, 2008 was to be the third time I've seen them so far this year, too (first time was at the free McCarren Park show with King Khan and Black Lips, which was as revelatory a set as I've seen all year, and second at the quasi-secret Mercury Lounge show about a week later). I already have tix to see them again on their next swing through in November, after the official release of their new album Microcastle. I absolutely love what I've heard of the new one, and if it doesn't crack my the top 5 of my Best Albums of '08 list, I'll eat my hat.
Got to (le) poisson rouge just before 11 and waited briefly for my buddy Sluggo to show up before heading in. He got there a little later and we immediately began firing it up. I'm really liking this venue, and although I saw the Lou Reed/John Zorn show here last week this was the first chance I'd get to see the (le) poisson rouge light show in full effect. For the record, said light show matched Deerhunter's psychedelic shoegazeyness perfectly.
The set was opened with what's IMHO Bradford Cox's finest composition, "Calvary Scars," and many of the evening's songs trod similarly swirling, krautrockish territory-- trance-inducing, melodic, and wholly danceable. The set continued with songs from Cryptograms ("Hazel St.," "Spring Hall Convert"), the Fluorescent Grey EP ("Dr. Glass," the creepiest funk song ever, and the title track) and a generous helping of new songs, including the fantastic "Never Stops" and "Operation."
The stage banter was clever as usual, with one particularly funny story involving Bradford wanting to meet Lou Reed, who had performed at the venue earlier in the evening, but missing the chance encounter by minutes because he (Bradford) was purchasing a Velvet Underground compendium at the nearby Strand Bookstore (haha, that's irony for you). At one point, guitarist Whitney Petty led brief jams on Skynyrd's "Simple Man" (not "Freebird" as the crowd had implored) and Tom Petty's "Last Dance With Mary Jane," which brought a rise.
Although the band suffered through several equipment malfunctions, Bradford managed to pull off the lemons/lemonade thing with funny, self-deprecating patter.
I've noticed this year that the band has begun to distance itself from the clammy creepiness of their '07 output a bit, (no "Wash Off" for the third straight show, and less droney/instrumental pieces) and towards a more palatable/less harrowing direction. Nothing embodies this shift more than set closer "Nothing Ever Happened," a fairly straightforward, awesome rock song complete with a stunning finger-tapping-centered (!) coda. Many of the new songs do have a more classic rockish feel, and just as Bradford has ditched the sun dresses and blood pellets, so has the band's sound come to rely less on the macabre and sound trickery.
For the encore, the band emerged and jammed briefly on a speed metal theme, claiming, jokingly, that "this is on the new album" before closing out with the bittersweetly hopeful "Strange Lights." Man oh man, this is a great fucking band.
Prob'ly not heading to another show until Friday's Jazzmaster 50th Anniversary show (with Thurston Moore, J. Mascis, Tom Verlaine, Lee Ranaldo, Nels Cline, others I'm probably forgetting) at Knitting Factory. But holy fuckin' shit, my dance card will be pretty full from that point on with shows by A Place to Bury Strangers, Mogwai with Fuck Buttons, Bobby Bare Jr., and, finally, BOTH My Bloody Valentine Roseland shows over the following coupla weeks. Yowza. Till then, Muddd outward.