By Michael Brooks Cryer
Watching Deerhunter's bassist, Josh Fauver, stare into the audience is like watching Donovan have a dream about bemusement. Of course, Deerhunter isn't trying to confuse - they're trying to transcend. Saturday's show at Modified did exactly that. It didn't showcase sex acts, dresses or fake blood; instead it featured a mature band that can choreograph a show into a beatific experience for the audience.
Modified sold out so that meant making strategic location changes throughout the show to find holes in the audience through which to view the bands. It's obviously not difficult to see singer Bradford Cox anywhere (enough has been said about Marphans) but to get a look at the instrumentation was a little more difficult.
Cox half-joked during the show about missing one of his "transitions." He was partly serious because Deerhunter prides itself on moving an audience through an entire evening. The band can shift effortlessly from roaring dissonance into simple pop as they did when they dropped into "Never Stops" after about 20 minutes of powerful noise.
"Never Stops" is a microcosm of what makes Deerhunter so successful. The song lifts off from Dick Dale-like picking into a disquieting atmosphere and then settles back down again. Moments such as these are eagerly accepted by the audience as they act as respites between songs that rely on dense barrages of sound. Deerhunter builds energy not only with their clever juxtapositions but also with repetition.
When closing out "Nothing Always Happens," Cox began to loop a finger-tapped riff on his Les Paul that had the conflicting effect of both animating and lulling the bouncing crowd. Modified's warped, plywood floors made you participate even if you weren't persuaded by the music to move.
One thing I could do without is the vocal effects. Cox is haunting enough without the added atmospherics. On "Wash Out" he uses something that is a dead ringer for the effect in the '80s horror film Poltergeist - think Carrie Anne calling out from inside the television. The effect is a cliché and distracts from the band's uncanny tone.
Contrary to Internet gossip about Deerhunter, their live shows are better than their recordings. Surely if Cox had decided to "entertain" the crowd with means other than his music (if I want to see a blowjob, I'll logon to redtube) it would have been a let down, but the band had obviously contemplated the set they played and the lucky ones in attendance were allowed to participate.
Any rumor that this band is an Internet-created phenomenon is total bullshit.
Times New Viking
Even though Deerhunter and Times New Viking are very different bands, they both have an affinity for repetition. Beth Murphy's simplistic, whiny keyboard melodies on "Call and Respond," accompanied with Jarred Philips' fuzzed-out Strat and Adam Elliot kicking the shit out of his tiny drum-kit, made a fantastic racket, easily competing with Deerhunter's salvo.
The keyboard was a little overwhelming, but that was just a sound issue. It was a telling moment to watch Times New Viking pack up their gear. Beth shoved her keyboard into a canvas bag - the kind you might use as a return shopper at Sunflower Market. No pretense here.
Last Night: Deerhunter and Times New Viking at Modified on Nov. 29.
Better Than: Franklin Gothic Demi
Personal Bias: Too much reliance on atmospheric gimmicks.
Random Detail: Everybody knows Cox has Marphans, but did you know he also has a third nipple?
Further Listening: '70s and '80s punk.
By the Way: Hurray for Marphans!