Photo credit: Felicia Esparza
On Friday night, Atlanta-based, experimental indie rock stalwarts Deerhunter
played Paper Tiger—the critically celebrated crew's first ever stop in the 210. Since 2001, Deerhunter, led by the troubled, brilliant, and unpredictable Bradford Cox (who also makes insanely good music as Atlas Sound), has constantly grown the sonic spectrum of its swampy, noisy, emotionally threadbare, and idiosyncratic brand of rock music.
With each new album—2015's Fading Frontier
was the band's seventh—Deerhunter has matured markedly, pushing its sound from blatantly avant-garde and jagged-edged, to pastoral, wistful, and even polished. As Cox and the band shift shape, his talent for turning his chaotic inner world into sprawling and arresting songs that flirt with pop (or adult contemporary) postures, only to withdraw into flourishes that pack emotional wallop, like exposed nerves, peeking out from beneath a skin of beauty and bravado.
But, Cox devotees or no, we had to wonder, heading into the show: would the delightfully talented and spontaneous Bradford show up, or would we perhaps, as others have complained of before, witness another meltdown
For all intents and purposes, this question was immediately put to bed moments after, with the band already at a full gallop, Cox swaggered onstage, grabbed the mic, and burst into passionately crooning "Rainwater Cassette Exchange." From start to finish, the six-piece, as an impressively cohesive unit, was tight and emphatic, loose and funky, cocksure and amiable, as they sauntered through a twelve song setlist that was a live take on a "Best of Deerhunter" compilation.
Photo credit: Felicia Esparza
From "Rainwater," the boys played one of their most instantly danceable jams, the driving "Revival" from 2010's Halcyon Digest
. As Deerhunter began a bass-heavy and dreamily meandering "Breaker," from Fading Frontier
, I noticed I was worked into a lather already, and I was struck by the fact that, in the live setting, with the raw crevices of their sound exploited mightily, you really remember that this is, after all, a rock band from the American south.
If the whole affair was on point in terms of execution, that's not to say it wasn't also balls out
After cruising through "Dream Captain," from 2013's Monomania
, showgoers joining in a communal session of aggressive swaying, as the band delivered "Helicopter," from Halcyon Digest
, in easily one of the highlights of the evening. By this point Cox was just knocking this shit out of the park, slouching and lurching about the stage like some mangy big cat, his performance at once searing and devastatingly sincere.
How can someone who specializes so much in matters of the interior, whose music is often gloriously insular, get so intimate with an audience? Before the show was over, he even told us that we'd been a "fantastic group of people to perform for"—but I bet he tells that to everyone. Sigh.
After four more songs, and reaching a few crushing crescendos, the band headed off stage after absolutely ripping it up with its raucous rendition of Fading Frontier
's "Snakeskin," Deerhunter's most stone-cold groove.
Though only two songs long, the encore lasted at least twenty minutes, with Cox and company delivering hefty and unhinged takes on "Agoraphobia" and "Nothing Ever Happened," both from 2008's Microcastle
(arguably the band's magnum opus to date).
Closer "Nothing Ever Happened," in particular, was a roaring and cathartically drawn out crowd-pleaser. TBH, it was a bonafide fuckin' jam sesh, with more sex than some nerdy and frail guero, lookin' like he walked out of an orphanage in a Faulkner book, should be able to pull off.
Before we left, we were happy to find some of Cox's paintings
(apparently a recent development) for sale at the merch table. Below, you can see the piece we picked out.