BY KENT VASHAW AND MERRICK MARQUIE
When Deerhunter first took the stage September 22 at Cat’s Cradle, the audience exploded. It was clear that everyone (or at least few very vocal members) of the audience was fulfilling a life goal by attending this concert. Before the band had even started playing, Bradford Cox, Deerhunter’s enigmatic frontman, shushed the audience for ostensibly making too much noise.
The first notes played were the beginning of “Earthquake,” a beautiful song that opens their 2010 masterpiece album Halcyon Digest. But they weren’t going to just play one of their “prettier” songs without turning audience expectations on their head. “Turn it up!” Cox commanded, and when that wasn’t up enough he commanded it again. After the sound people had fully turned it up to Cox’s standards, this song was a full-on assault to the ears of the audience. I know that sounds like an insult, but it isn’t. Seeing a song you love in a completely new light is a gift, and the energy that the band put into this first song was the perfect precursor to the rest of the performance.
Interestingly, as it was the last stop on the tour, the band decided to do a show of just requests (although a few times it seemed like they were just playing what they wanted to). All in all, they seemed out to have a good time, and to help the audience to have a good time. That didn’t mean they didn’t challenge the audience, or that they were always smiling. But it was a good vibe nonetheless.
Let me be perfectly clear: Bradford Cox is crazy. But he’s crazy in the best possible way. I’ve heard people describe him as “attention-seeking” and “childish”. And I guess that I can see why some people might come to that conclusion. However, my own impression was nothing of the sort. Cox berated both audience members and members of his own band throughout the show. At one point, when someone laughed during the opening of one of his more touching songs, he stopped singing mid-note, and addressed the audience, taking mock offense to the jest. “Look, go back to school and become a fucking accountant! Leave the emotional singing to me!”
The thing you can’t get from interviews and reviews of Deerhunter that may cast Cox in a negative light – in fact, something you probably can’t get from anything except actually seeing him live – is just how charismatic he is. His personality dominates everything around him. And yet, even while he is the center of everyone’s attention, he seems to almost intentionally alienate himself. And that comes across both in the way he carries himself as well as in the songs themselves, which, especially performed live, are a potent mix of deeply personal emotion and alienating weirdness and noise.
Especially fantastic were Deerhunter’s performances of “Dream Captain,” a raunchy garage-rock anthem with an energy that translated perfectly to the loud, energetic performance, and “Helicopter,” one of the most emotionally cathartic moments of the entire performance.
Deerhunter, live, was even better than I thought they’d be. Between Bradford Cox’s magnetic personality and his back and forth with the audience, which was going on the entire show, as well as the punk-rock energy that the band threw into the performance, made the show a night to remember.