REVIEW: DEERHUNTER @ The Annandale Hotel (20/06/09)


Reviewed for FasterLouder – visit them, they’re great !!!

Tonight was a special evening for the Sydney indie crowd who had missed Deerhunter at the Manning Bar a week earlier, such was the hype and anticipation that has been built up around this tour. Tweets and bloggers have been foaming at the mouth over the the band’s visit and so for someone who hadn’t yet been wholly convinced by the band’s recorded material it was a good chance to see if Deerhunter measured up live.

Straight Arrows graced the stage first with their gleefully ramshackle garage punk n roll. With Circle Pit’s Angie on bass the boys played a typical breakneck set of lo-fi songs, mostly counted off with a 1,2,3,4 before they all collapsed into the music and proceeded to deconstruct themselves with fantastically sloppy solos and disheveled snotty vocals. It works wonderfully, mainly due to the obvious fun they have playing. Grins and adrenalin seem to be key ingredients to their sound and fans of Black Lips should make sure they catch Straight Arrows next time they are playing.

Traps were an interesting choice of support act in that they represent the cleaner guitar pop side of indie. Their songs are carefully written and arranged and there is a distinct British sound to them. Arctic Monkeys, Radiohead and Editors all raise their influential heads at different times and though they absorb and filter their idols extremely well there was a nagging sense that it was all too planned out. They perhaps suffered from following the rawness of Straight Arrows and not sounding too straight against the experimentalism of Deerhunter.

There is no denying Traps have some catchy and marketable melodic rock songs like The Calling Cure but the missing ingredient of an enigmatic personality and stage presence may hold them back from building a solid fanbase.

Atlanta’s Deerhunter have cleverly built up a reputation around themselves for intense live shows and devoted fans. This has stemmed from their diverse music and the outspoken, ‘heart on sleeve’ frontman Bradford Cox.

The Annandale was packed to the gills for their second Sydney show and Deerhunter were in a playful and chatty mood for the last night of their tour. They played a wide selection of songs from last years Microcastle and the earlier Cryptograms. Hearing the songs in the live setting was an ‘I’ve got it!’ moment for this writer. The full spectrum of their sound was played out across their set. The overt Pavement and Strokes influences were strong but there was also the long and winding krautrock sections where they stretched out, added loud, quiet and louder dynamics and built a swirling intensity that at some points could have gleefully carried on forever.

Never Stops bounced out of the speakers like a quieter cousin of Spoon, subdued but utterly infectious. Agoraphobia wooed the audience with its seductive mumbled vocals and lullaby guitar melody while Little Kids stepped out of this dimension with its trippy shoegaze folk. The song Microcastle was one of the tender highlights toward the end of the night with Cox lulling the audience into silence just in time for the rest of the band to kick back in with the euphoric and uplifting second half of the song.

Cox is undoubtedly the star of the show with quite an amazing varied vocal style. It could be soft and cooing one minute and the next it is a delay-laden scream, infinitely more assertive than you would expect from someone of his physicality. Cox was also in a chatty mood with the crowd. His conversations ranged from his affinity for the herb lavender to the stoush between Atlanta rappers Gucci and Young Jeezy. Witty and sharp as a tack, Cox proved that though their music can often be hazy and dreamy, they don’t fall into the stoner, shoegaze stereotype in any shape or form.

Deerhunter showed that indie music can be tough and challenging and still be full of soul and emotion. They seemed to love performing and the crowd reciprocated. Listening to Microcastle again today I’m hearing things that I wonder why I didn’t hear before, a sure sign of how seeing a great band in person can erase previous misconceptions. I’d go so far as saying Deerhunter was one of the more satisfying gigs so far in 2009.

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