Deerhoof etc

Went to the Cat’s Cradle in Carrboro last night to see Deerhoof play, along with openers The Abraham Lincoln Brigade, and Pleasant. I’d only heard rave reviews of Deerhoof shows, and was eager to see how crazy things could get. But first, there were the openers.

Edit: Now with great photos courtesy of Josh, thanks. For the full set, see Mr. Behrend’s facebook albums.

The Abraham Lincoln Brigade took the stage first, a band comprised of two tenor saxophones, an alto sax, a guitar, and percussion. The group looked at each other, lifted their horns, and just blew the roof off the Cradle. This was completely chaotic free jazz, Interstellar-Space-style, cranked up all the way to 11, with the three saxes just blasting through. Halfway through the first song, the tenor saxes leaped off the stage and started wailing their way through the stunned crowd. Truth be told, I was blown away, pretty much literally and figuratively.

Once the raucous din finally subsided, the group revealed that the piece they’d just performed was actually a Deerhoof cover. Go figure. The crowd was likely split between those who were impressed by their technical prowess but not the impenetrable wall of sound they created, and those who were more pretentious and pretended to really get into them, like me. Their original material was possibly even more chaotic than the opening cover, culminating in the final song. At one point, each of the sax players put down their horns and just screamed at the top of their lungs, and later in the piece one of the sax players played a tenor and an alto sax at the same time, Rahsaan-Roland-Kirk-style.

I feel that these guys were the absolutely perfect opener for Deerhoof, illuminating many of Deerhoof’s free jazz elements, in that both rely heavily on organized chaos and a tight group dynamic. Really, Deerhoof are just a melodic free jazz group who play rock instruments instead of saxophones, while The Abraham Lincoln Brigade are just a textural spazz rock group who play saxophones instead of guitars (plural). I went ahead and bought their self-titled album, curious to hear their studio sound. I was really surprised to find that it’s extremely similar to their live show in many respects, giving me a nice little memento of their unique and excellent performance.

Next up was Pleasant. I didn’t think there was any way these guys could top The Abraham Lincoln Brigade, and I wasn’t really proved wrong. As their pedestrian name implied, the group was a fairly pedestrian indie pop/rock band, featuring a nerdy male guitarist harmonizing with a female bassist over late Sonic Youth guitars. I was a huge fan of the drummer though, who looked like a middle-aged office drone who just drove straight to the Cradle from his cubicle, but completely rocked his kit with incredible intensity. Mr. Behrend also tells me that he’s one of the few rock drummers he’s seen using a classical grip on his sticks.

By far the most unique aspect of the group was the old cello player they had on stage for a few of their songs, playing his parts from sheet music on a music stand. But you couldn’t hear him at all. Even when Mr. Behrend ventured up to the very front, he reported that you still couldn’t hear the cello. Tragic. It reminded all of us of the Cary Academy All-Stars, one of the more embarassing aspects of our esteemed academic institution, in which a prodigal conservatory-bound cellist was somehow involved in a boring high school stoner-rock band.

And for two songs, Pleasant was joined by a trumpeter and another sax player, not from the ALB. Both looked incredibly awkward on stage, looking down at the floor while nervously fingering notes and checking for sticky pads or valves as the rest of the band played yet another song that sounded like the last. But when they started playing, oh man. Pleasant suddenly became this incredible band, worthy of any and all praise possible; it was a glorious sound. I’ve never seen/heard such a dramatic transformation in quality; a boring indie rock band suddenly emotionally transcended music itself in the space of a single song. But as Bill Simmons eloquently stated with regards to the SNL Lazy Sunday skit, it was probably just a case of context. If you had to sit in a gym watching a basketball dunk contest between area hipsters for about three hours, you’d probably be lulled to sleep, but if Josh Smith somehow entered the building and then dunked blindfolded from the free throw line, the place would probably riot. I feel that’s an accurate representation of my feelings towards the wind entrances for Pleasant.

Sadly, it just lasted for just one song. The trumpeter left after that one song, receiving a solid amount of applause from the crowd. On the next song the saxophonist just played some long trills, nothing fancy, but it still blew away the rest of the Pleasant material by a good country mile. The band only played for about half an hour, but it seemed more like five, and not in a good way. I just stopped listening to their music after the wind and cello exits, and watched the faces of the band. They looked tired, and resigned to their fate as indie rock also-rans, never destined to reach any sort of stardom or fame. They all seemed to know it too, and that struck me as really…sad, I suppose. So why were they trudging on, or touring much less? For the fun, the enjoyment of making music in a band? I suppose so, and I guess that’s what counts, right? Maybe.

So then finally Deerhoof took the stage. As expected, it was completely ridonkulous. Tightest band I’ve ever seen perform live. Somehow they pulled off every arrhythmic start/stop absolutely perfectly. They were incredibly fun to watch too, as each member had such unique personalities and styles, obviously led by Satomi Matsuzaki’s bizarre hand gestures in the middle of songs.

The between-song banter was hilariously awkward as well, with Greg Saunier leaving his drum kit just to clumsily trip over to the mic and say “Thank You” and return to his kit. It was sort of fitting, coming in the organized chaos of their set. The all-too-short setlist was dominated by the recent Runners Four material, with just a few older songs thrown in to keep the diehard fans content. I don’t really have too much to say about Deerhoof, the show went off exactly as I thought it would, as a louder and more jagged take on their studio records, which was absolutely fine by me, as it was one of the better shows I’ve ever been to. Please see this band if you ever get the chance. They are truly one of the few innovators in rock music today.

Nothing’s been going on back home, which is sort of nice actually, it’s incredibly relaxing. The flipside to that is this massive cache of links that I’ve been stockpiling. I usually try and sequence my links in some sort of semi-cohesive flow, but that’s just not gonna happen tonight, sorry. Hopefully this will be enough to last for my few weeks away. I hope the rest of your summers go well! This is my Sandanista!:

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One response to “Deerhoof etc

  1. Gabriel Birnbaum

    Hey, this is Gabe from the ALB. I just wanted to say that I really appreciated what you wrote about us, it totally made my day when I found it. And i’d be interested to hear any other thoughts you have on the record, which is basically all live recordings. We’re going to be recording a studio one soon, so It’d be nice to have some impartial input. you can find us on myspace, or email me at gabriel.birnbaum(at)gmail.com.

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