Deerhunter Danforth Music Hall, Toronto ON, February 21
Published Feb 22, 2019Compared to their contemporaries of late '00s and early '10s indie rock, Deerhunter are an enigma, incomparable to the likes of Vampire Weekend or the National. Instead, the Atlanta band have straddled the line between experimental noise-rock for reclusive music nerds and psyched-out anthems for a sizeable fan base, while remaining just inaccessible enough to not be one font size bigger on festival posters.
But Bradford Cox and company don't care, and they've continued to make albums that have satisfied their own creative will. And their fans, while some have been divided on their recent releases, have largely followed them with great loyalty.
At their Toronto show in support of their eighth album, Why Hasn't Everything Already Disappeared?, Deerhunter proved that their core sound is the same as it ever was. Cox started the set on the ground at his pedalboard, layering his vocals into an indecipherable churning swirl before the five-piece nervously edged into the vibrant "Cryptograms," with the lanky, grey-suited Cox clutching and swaying with the mic stand like a late-night crooner.
The waltzing quality of their new songs had an uptick of urgency and crudeness compared to the recorded versions. The ending of "No One's Sleeping" eroded into a strenuous extended jam and turned into a shimmering chasm of guitar interplay by Cox, Lockett Pundt and Josh McKay before crystalizing into "What Happens to People?" Both Why Hasn't Everything Already Disappeared? songs contain some of Deerhunter's poppiest hooks, and the band still effortlessly fit in some jarring interludes of noise that they've become known for.
When drummer Moses Archuleta began the recognizable dripping beat of "Helicopter," from 2010's universally acclaimed Halcyon Digest, it garnered an enthusiastic response from the crowd as the band relaxed into a blissful trance. The bubbly cynicism of "Revival," from the same album, followed in a more ragged manner as Cox yowled the chorus, "Freedom, silence, always! All this darkness, always!"
At one point Cox asserted, "There's a nice ringing in here and it reminds me of when I was 16 years old and saw Stereolab," alluding to the fact that Stereolab just announced a comeback show at the same venue a day earlier. "I don't know if you know, but all of your skin is a big part of reflecting our sound waves," Cox continued before handing over the lead to Pundt on the kinetic "Desire Lines." Stoic but nonchalant in his guitar mastery, Pundt's fluid vocals naturally gave way to its propulsive denouement as taut, dexterous guitars dilated and flickered into a hypnotic expanse into the crowd.
"Coronado" was sparked by an outstanding performance from Javier Morales who played keys as well as the saxophone, which he also brought out for harpist Mary Lattimore's opening set. The scintillating number induced some herky jerky dance moves in Cox before the band briefly left the stage prior to the encore. Then, the final part of the show started with the tremendous one-two punch from Deerhunter's consensus fan favourite album, Microcastle, from 2008 — the translucent flares of "Cover Me (Slowly)"and the chiselled dreaminess of "Agoraphobia" were euphorically nostalgic.
Despite sometimes being a polarizing, unhinged character over the years, Cox has remained one of rock's most provocative and compelling songwriters of his generation. His stage antics have been tamed recently, but the audience saw a glimpse of it during the final song of the night, "Monomania," where Cox ambled around the stage and into the crowd screaming the frayed chorus. He walked off during the ominous finale and came back wearing a hooded winter jacket, yelled something, and quickly waded through the crowd toward the exit as feedback still engulfed the stage.
As Cox put it towards the end of the show, "We're Deerhunter, so we're all having an existentially good time and that's all we can really offer." Deerhunter have carved out their own weird and wonderful legacy and they're showing no signs of letting up anytime soon.