Concert Review: Deerhunter, October 19, Opera House

There are a few bands in this world that can do no wrong in my eyes. One of them is Atlanta’s Deerhunter, being headed by the most prolific songwriting duo since, well, maybe ever (Burt Bacharach and Hal David?). What I like about the Bradford Cox / Lockett Pundt songwriting partnership is that they let each other exist, nurture each other’s independence, and support the band’s collaborative creative growth. Most of all, they don’t appear to take themselves too seriously at all, the key to anyone’s affability.

Let me just start off by saying that even though I have been looking forward to this concert since the end of August, I had once again overbooked commitments and had to rush back from a week in Ottawa, cabbing it to the Opera House with all of my bags in vain hope of catching the band’s entire set (I would’ve liked to have seen Real Estate and especially Kentuckians Casino Versus Japan, but it just wasn’t in the cards). I have to give props to my gracious cab driver at this point, who floored it all the way down Queen to get me there in ample time. I had a duffel bag and backpack with me, and after enduring searches more thorough than anything I ever get flagged down for at Pearson International Airport, checking both bags looking like a traveling transient, and grabbing a beer, I still had about five minutes to spare before grabbing a prime spot on the floor for the sold out show. Again, happy to see them selling out larger venues now as a headliner even if it must’ve been a slowburn.

Ladies and gentlemen, I think I have finally mastered the art of perfect show timing. It seems that if you bank for a 20 minute block inbetween openers, and after the door time, maybe a 30 minute block before the headliner, you should be golden. Of course you can always skip all of this guesstimation by simply calling the venue ahead of the time, but I had forgotten my cell phone at home. The universe was either self-aligning itself to absorb my lack of foresight or it was just plain dumb luck. Either way, I guess my determination paid off.

When the band took stage, it occurred to me how shocking it is to see Mr. Cox live and in person if you have never seen anyone with Marfan’s Syndrome before. It’s a natural reaction to seeing anyone that thin/gangly and a guy in the group standing beside me had remarked “He looks like a scarecrow.” True enough. Good thing it doesn’t matter what he looks like, since it’s always been about the music. The band’s wide appeal should be obvious to anyone taking a cross-section of the crowd from last night as well as folks looking for extra tickets outside. BROAD age range, dress, look, and feel, all enjoying consistently excellent music.

As for the music itself, I’m going to do a play-by-play recap of the setlist from last night:

  1. Desire Lines (Halcyon Digest) – I was hoping they’d open with this one based on other setlists I’d seen from previous dates on this tour. It’s the best thing off Halcyon Digest, and that instrumental jam that starts at the 3 minute mark was one of the highlights of the show for me. That guitar line is, for lack of a better word, “sick”. Everything about the long ending and its progression is a reminder of how good this band is at build-up execution. Not too much in the way of variation from studio performance, but again I go back to hearing the long ending live. Even though the acoustics at the Opera House were kind of shitty that night (at least close to the stage), it still sounded amazing.
  2. Hazel Street (Cryptograms) – Glad they are still incorporating this one into all of their setlists. Pleasant surprise for me. Has always been one of my favorites off one of their best albums (though it is becoming more and more difficult for me to rank them in order). Again, no ambient reorchestration going on at this point, but these shorter, punchier numbers were needed to balance out the long, drawn-out noisy reworkings.
  3. Don’t Cry (Halcyon Digest) – One of the best off the new album and got a bit of a vocal makeover as many of the more duwoppy numbers did. Although my short-term memory is fading, I think it sounded more energetic than what we heard in the studio, if nothing else.
  4. Revival (Halcyon Digest) – As many other fans have remarked, I wish this song was thrice the length that it is. It is the best Cox penned song off Halcyon Digest and you never want it to end. The same goes for their performance of it.
  5. Never Stops (Microcastle) – Another upbeat number to keep the flow going. Not as good as I remember from their October show at Lee’s in 2008, but this is a different tour and a different year.
  6. Little Kids (Microcastle) – Part of me wishes they had done a variation on this by performing the demo version (my favorite of all of their demo versions, and may have softened the crunchiness we heard in the venue). No matter though, this one was a crowd favorite that actually got heads bopping.
  7. Memory Boy (Halcyon Digest) – This one got a slight vocal makeover; couldn’t hear if there were any back-up vocals coming through but this is a pretty prominent feature of the song that kind of got lost.
  8. Rainwater Cassette Exchange (Rainwater Cassette Exchange EP) – By far, the highlight of the show for me, and one of the reasons you go to see bands like Deerhunter live. WOW. The 80’s patina gave this song a complete makeover that pretty much blew my head off to smithereens. Completely unexpected, and an awesome gift.
  9. Fountain Stairs (Halcyon Digest) – Unexpected crowd fave–another Pundt song that has hopefully cemented him as one half of the songwriting duo.
  10. Nothing Ever Happened (Microcastle) – Probably the highlight of the evening for the rest of the crowd, and indeed it brought the house down. Bradford really got into the distorted guitar jamming at this point and just when you thought it might never end, it did…and you wish it hadn’t.
  11. Helicopter (Halcyon Digest) – I heard someone complaining outside that this was an “Atlas Sound song, not a Deerhunter one.” While I could see his point, I think this was also one of the best performances of the evening due to the extended remix treatment it received.
  12. He Would Have Laughed (Halcyon Digest) – The last song in the main setlist, and I can understand why they would’ve chosen it to end things off on. The extensive layers and ambient noisiness = license to experiment, and the last third of the song where it morphs into a ballad gave them a nice clean ending to walk off to.

ENCORE

  1. Cover Me (Slowly) (Microcastle)
  2. Agoraphobia (Microcastle) – Two of the best songs off Microcastle that again served as a nice break back to shorter pop songs, although all of the encore songs were along those same lines.
  3. Spring Hall Convert (Cryptograms) – Bradford dedicated this song to the Opera House and I thought it would bring the house down. Probably their best song period, and just damn fine rock ‘n roll music.
  4. Wash Off (Fluorescent Grey EP) – Kind of surprised they chose this one to end off on once and for all. It’s a fast, punchy song, but I was sort of really hoping for something mindbogglingly majestic, like Calvary Scars II/Aux. Out.

Some general notes about the show. Bradford did a better job than most connecting to a local audience by describing his day in the Annex shopping at Honest Ed’s, Sonic Boom, and eating at Pizza Pizza (I am guessing they either know someone from Toronto or loved exploring the area all of the times they have played at Lee’s Palace). While people loudly applauded the first two stops, he noted far less for Pizza Pizza, which he told us we should be proud of. It’s good, cheap pizza, and better than Domino’s. Thank you Mr. Cox. As a loyal Pizza Pizza customer I feel completely validated and think the Bloor/Bathurst shop should have a signed black and white glossy with your endorsement.

He also shone the spotlight on Pundt a couple of times, but he seemed quite a bit more wallflowerish. It must be tough not to make Cox look gregarious onstage, but I can appreciate that bantering with the audience just isn’t really his thing. Cox jokingly referred to Pundt as George Harrison, Joshua Fauver as Paul McCartney, and Moses Archuleta as Ringo Starr; instructing them to “stop gossiping!” They just looked like they were having a good time for the most part, and in a sudden fit of rock ‘n roll impulse, Bradford slapped down the microphone stand. His stagehand jumped right back up to reset it.

While the acoustics up front left that familiar ultra-crunchy nails-on-chalkboardish sound sometimes, it was still a great show that I’ll remember.

If anyone has reviews of Real Estate or Casino Versus Japan, post ‘em here.

Deerhunter – Fluorescent Grey by defacto

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Posted on by Allison in Concerts, Everything, Music

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4 Responses to Concert Review: Deerhunter, October 19, Opera House

  1. Paul

    As for the Sonic Boom, Honest Ed’s and Pizza Pizza references, sure they might know someone in Toronto, they might have explored before a Lee’s Palace show … or maybe they’re just Scott Pilgrim fans.

  2. Allison

    Based on how many times they’ve played at Lee’s and their taste in film as revealed on various stoner tracks (they like River’s Edge), I would have to say no.

  3. Paul

    Hey, I like River’s Edge and Scott Pilgrim. Who’s to say they don’t too?

  4. Allison

    In other news, Paris Hilton showed her hoo hoo again.

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