Within the liner notes of Deerhunter’s latest release, Why Hasn’t Everything Already Disappeared?, the words “Nostalgia is Toxic” are placed next to the song “Futurism” in the track listing. This is an interesting statement, seeing as many of Deerhunter’s earlier records revolve around a reflective and ultimately nostalgic sentiment; reflections upon growing up, teenage memories, and a wide variety of autobiographical experiences. Not saying these earlier albums and songs aren’t expressive and well constructed pieces of music, but Deerhunter as a cohesive group have undeniably evolved with the times that they live within. This is clearly reflected in the bands live performance, and although this is the first time I have ever personally seen them in concert, I can sense a vastly different energy pulsating beneath the dreamlike, yet somehow heavy vibrations they produce compared to their older recordings, both live and in the studio.
There is a sense of urgency in all of the songs Deerhunter perform on this cold, rainy night at the Union Transfer, and yet there is an undeniable comfort within this somewhat unstable aura. It’s as if there is a sense of apocalyptic dread gathering speed while within the eye of this storm, there remains a calming acceptance of this imminent doom in the washes of ambient noise that surround the songs. Starting with an incredibly tight and frantic take on their sophomore albums opener, Cryptograms, Deerhunter set the scene of an interesting juxtaposition within their body of work, one that simultaneously assumes the form of ethereal, dreamy ambiance and cutting, distorted energy. This is exemplified perfectly in the next song they perform, a solid run through of the latest albums first cut, Death in Midsummer. Elements of the song swirl in a pastoral, psychedelic fashion (synths and guitars with washes of reverb and delay) whereas other elements cut through the mix, with a pounding rhythm section of drums and bass and a heavily fuzzed out guitar, tearing its way through the wall of sound. One can already tell these songs translate incredibly well into a live setting, and though they aren’t exactly as they are on the album, the renditions are a comfortable balance between being faithful to the recordings and tasteful interpretation and change.
Deerhunter continue to ebb and flow in energy, from more upbeat, poppier tunes such as Element, to a more sprawled out, dynamic build on songs such as Desire Lines. One of the most powerful songs of the night is an epic performance of Take Care; seeing as it takes the original recording and builds upon it to make one of Deerhunter’s softer tunes one of incredible power and emotional evocation of something like an incredibly vivid dream, somehow more real than the waking life we occupy. In addition, Bradford Cox’s banter between songs is both hilarious and sincere; he goes from joking about a band t-shirt he spots out in the crowd to handing a tambourine to the concert goer next to me to play along during one of their songs. Deerhunter are undeniably conceptual in a sense when it comes to their performance, they are there not just to entertain, but to reflect what they observe and feel and translate it into their own unique and eclectic style.
There is no shortage of shock value at the very end of the concert, though. For after their encore, the last song being a ferociously loud and furious rendition of one of their most punk style songs, Monomania, the whole sonic backdrop dissolved into some of the loudest and most raucous feedback and sheer noise I have ever heard at a concert. The rest of the band wave and leave the stage as the noise continues to grow more in intensity. The amps are all left on, infinitely feeding back, creating washes of distorted sound as Cox lays down to seemingly “sleep” upon the monitors. This continues for half an hour after the concert has seemingly ended; just impressively loud waves of feedback winding around the venue, resulting in everyone looking at each other in both amusement and utter confusion. Finally, Bradford Cox stands up, looks around with a confused expression on his face as if he forgot why he was here in the first place, and stumbles off the stage to exit. The amps continue to roar until a stage hand comes and turns them off. We all applaud, though no one is left standing upon the stage; clapping for the void that Deerhunter seem to embrace in a sense. It was all a performance of energy, sensual in a way, perhaps even meditative, and ultimately incredibly heartfelt. I would highly recommend anyone to see this band live whether you actively listen to them or not, you will not be disappointed.
By Noah Miller.