Deerhoof beamed into Vancouver on February 2nd to play a set for a sold-out crowd at Richard’s on Richards. Locals Hot Loins christened the proceedings, ripping into an impressive set of damaged synth-punk and noise. Alternating between terse and restrained passages with emotive drunken caterwauls, and then releasing the tension with crashing, combative guitars and keys laden over powerful drum fills, the boys made a lovely racket. Perhaps a step or two out of their comfort zone, they’re probably best seen in an East Van dive where they can preach to the converted, but a strong set nonetheless. (Banter – Crowd member: “Where’s your lead singer?” / Donruss [Vocals/Guitar]: “Wow, I don’t even have a comeback for that. [pause] I killed him.”) Good guys.
Los Angeles’s blackblack hit second and offered juxtaposition to the anger and catharsis of Hot Loins. After they set up, I thought the trio were too good-looking to be any sort of credible noise band (the bassist/vocalist and drummer might as well have been Mischa Barton). They returned dressed as a tiger, an African Sikh, and Jeff Daniels’ character in The Purple Rose of Cairo (a safari theme) ready to show up my prejudice. Turned out they weren’t really a noise band, (I didn’t hear any “black metal” as advertised on their MySpace page) instead playing gentle, child-like pop. The set was fairly lacklustre, the band a bit restrained by their own whimsical pretense. Often when bands employ that sort of pageantry it’s to accent some eccentric dynamic residing within. Here it didn’t quite ring true and came off a bit like a school play. I’m being a bit hard on the fresh-faced starlets, likely out of jealousy. They did have charm, and the occasional bright chorus, but the performance wasn’t great.
Deerhoof did not disappoint, delivering an astonishing performance. Their set was made up of songs from nearly all their albums, showcasing the many facets of their dynamic music. The highlights were numerous, but the seamless opening salvo of “The Eyebright Bugler”, the new single “+81”, and particularly “This Magnificent Bird Will Rise” was sensational. The power trio format played to their strengths as performers, and keyboard parts from the records were filled in aptly, either by guitar or drums. Satomi Matsusaki anchored the performance with sturdy bass, her distinctive vocal style, and expressive hand gestures to match the lyrics. It was appropriately cute, but never cloying. In fact, Matsusaki’s vocal styling and the band’s overall pop craft provide the perfect framework for Dietrich and especially Saunier to lay out their explosive, improvisational attack.
Deerhoof live is the work of three musicians pulling in different directions until it sounds like they’re about to fall apart, only to come crashing together at the band’s poppiest moments. What masks as chaos is undeniable synergy. This, coupled with their infectious exuberance, make them a premier live act.