By Jack Erwin
The Music Hall of Williamsburg is two blocks from the East River. They’ve got swanky new condos on the water over there now, plus a pier that juts out into the water. It’s real, real purty to sit out on the pier and watch the river for a few minutes before a show. Yes, the river is nice, but, no, the river is not your friend. Because the river will Fuck. Your. Shit. Up. How high’s the water ma?
Deerhunter is a drone blues band with a white soul singer. I’m guessing this is the first time the group and Bradford Cox have been called that, but that’s what I’m hearing.
Rivers play a big part in blues music. Deerhunter is a drone blues band with a white soul singer. I’m guessing this is the first time the group and Bradford Cox have been called that, but that’s what I’m hearing. They’re touring right now behind their bluesiest album yet, Monomania, and they played New York this week, a night in Williamsburg on Tuesday and a back-to-back set at Webster Hall in the city on Wednesday and Thursday.
The Tuesday show across the river was a clinical display of awesomeness. Aside from a few stray rock star poses from Cox, Deerhunter doesn’t play to the crowd much: lead guitarist Lockett Pundt will occasionally rotate 45 degrees or so, but new members Frank Broyles and Josh McKay are in forward-facing lockstep and longtime drummer Moses Archuleta simply pounds his kit with his hair in his face. But just because the group isn’t mugging doesn’t mean they don’t absolutely bring it.
Deerhunter starts with great songs, but a skilled band can make mediocre songs sound good live, by sheer dint of volume and showmanship. As mentioned, Cox and co. largely dispense with the showmanship (they’ve got the volume in spades, they’re the rare group that sounds much better with earplugs), but the fun thing they’re able to do is make their already pretty songs sound even prettier live. Pundt’s finger-picking on Monomania standout “T.H.M.” sounds even more delicate live; a new, double-time walking bassline breathes new life into Halcyon Digest’s “Fountain Stairs.” It’s no mean feat for a band to reveal nuance in their songs at 100+ decibels.
The showstopper on Tuesday, as I imagine it is at most Deerhunter shows, was “Nothing Ever Happened,” off 2008’s Microcastle. It’s a song with no fewer than four sections that’s more clipped than pretty, but it reveals the full range of the band’s musical spectrum: punky and danceable, melodic and angular, and yes, bluesy. Live, the group held the segues into the various outro guitar lines much longer than on the recorded version, building to the inevitable deranged cascading synth break that closes the song. The blues on a Tuesday night in a hood that feels not very bluesy never sounded so good. Just don’t get wet.