In fairness, I didn’t know too much about this band when I chose to review them. In fairness, due to a confusing, baffling set, I still don’t. But that’s no criticism…
Date: June 26, 2013
Many journalists have tried to pigeonhole and label San Franciscan four-piece Deerhoof in the past. All have failed. Since their formation in 1994, their existence has baffled music journalists and fans alike. Too tight for noise-rock. Too awkward for art-rock. Too batshit crazy for noise-pop. It’s a waste of time and energy trying to stick labels on them and categorise them when the band themselves don’t know what music they want to make from one record to the next.
No surprises, then, that this gig at the Bodega is a dazzling kaleidoscope of bent eclecticism and leftfield eccentricity which is as confusing as it is compelling.
Deerhoof’s fans thrive on the fact that, to paraphrase Forrest Gump, “you never know what you’re gonna get”. From histrionic tapestries of noise pollution, to glitchy, convoluted experiments with the abnormal, it’s what keeps people flocking to see them, and the Bodega is packed tightly to witness their next incarnation, the Break-up Song album era.
On record, the album is short, sharp and choppy but lacks cohesion. On the live stage it comes alive. Odd time signatures clash with bizarre song structures and weird codas. At times it’s almost like two songs are competing with each other at the same time, and when a tune threatens to break out, it’s violently beheaded and dismembered with a swift, incisive change of direction or a frenetic bout of drumming from Greg Saunier.
It’s he who provides the only respite in the noise. When a photographer steps on stage he playfully questions her motives, assuming her to be a spy and hence embarrassing the poor girl with his interrogations. It’s awkward for her, entertaining for us.
And at least he was audible, because for the most part, leading lady Satomi Matsuzaki’s vocals are too low in the mix. She’s a diminutive figure, fair enough, but the sound quality she emits sadly matches her physical constraints. It’s almost timid the way in which she sings, and as one disgruntled punter points out, “It’s not very loud, is it?”. This could’ve been sarcasm pertaining to the fact that the band are indeed very loud, but my guess would be it’s a tiny complaint about Satomi Matsuzaki’s frail larynx.
It’s a shame because it lets down what is otherwise a masterful display of distortion. To the untrained eye, their maniacal drumming and noise-rock muscle may seem unhinged. But to perform so disjointedly and to create such a confusing, dissonant sound actually requires a lot of skill. Next time, though, crank up the mic.