At this point in Deerhunter’s career, it’s safe to expect the unexpected. An antsy tension brewed as the Rickshaw’s audience shuffled stage-ward to a smooth jazz-fusion playlist. Two gents next to me discussed what audience moves would be appropriate later: “You gonna mosh, or do some swaying?”
As if to stir the pot, opening band Cindy Lee took the stage unceremoniously and brusquely unleashed a squall of feedback on the audience. Doing his thing in drag, the defunct Women guitarist, Patrick Flegel, led his band through some moody, avant-garde punk blues in tune with the Velvet Underground’s more abrasive moments. The audience, maybe unsurprised by a man in drag at a Deerhunter show, seemed nonplussed by Cindy Lee’s shambolic, experimental set. Framed by the harsh, dark walls of the Rickshaw, Flegel’s wiry guitar lines and reverb-buried vocals worked up a tension indeed.
Deerhunter then took to the stage to, as one audience member put it, do “the most awkward sound check ever.” The band stumbled through mic feedback, aimless guitar noodling and Bradford Cox’s jam on “Rumble.” It definitely came as a surprise when after a brief rest, Deerhunter returned to thoroughly rock the opening of their set with the krautrock onslaught of “Wash Off.” Rapt with sprawling feedback and driven by Moses Archuleta and Josh McKay’s tight, punchy grooves, it was a sudden, cathartic release of all the pre-show edge. The ever-composed Lockett Pundt even got his sway on—though by this point, much of the audience was beyond swaying and in the throes of moshing.
Energy dominated the rest of Deerhunter’s show. The band’s three-guitar army proceeded to churn out caustic riffs and burning shoegaze with equal aplomb. All the while, Cox swaggered around his bandmates in some form of his infamous Connie Lungpin persona. The first half of Deerhunter’s set was characterized by a saucy punk attitude, marked by cheeky classic rock clichés. Cox played the rebel to match. He spat petulant lyrics (as well as spitting literally) while co-opting Pundt by cranking his amp and going back-to-back for big guitar parts.
Mid-way through the set, when the band reached the sinister “T.H.M.,” the tone of the set shifted. Cox sung through seething clenched teeth, bringing a weight to the line, “ever since I was born / I have felt so forlorn.” As the band soon dove into Monomania highlight “Back to the Middle,” the show’s energy moved noticeably from sass to starkness. Cox slid his wig off for the first time in the set as if to cast away any doubts of theatrical insincerity from before. After a thuggish take on “Monomania,” the band left the audience in a daze of feedback, drowning out the cheers for an encore.
What made Deerhunter’s show so unique was Cox’s performative dynamics lead the audience down multiple emotional paths. Whether its impudent rock ’n’ roll theatrics or harsh post-punk candor, its easy to expect Deerhunter’s passion for both.