Deerhunter in The Button Factory, Dublin, on November 1st 2015
Bradford Cox shares some fond reminiscences with The Button Factory crowd as Deerhunter boot the weekend out in style in the Temple Bar venue. Dublin, he tells us, and Whelan’s, had been early appreciators of the Atlanta band long before all the usual cosmopolitan hotspots wised up to their sound. Their abrasive debut ‘Turn It Up Faggot’ seems a lifetime ago – ten years in fact – in light of their recent ‘Fading Frontiers’ album, one of their airiest and most hook-friendly so far, and a sold-out show attests to the undiminished seal of approval.
Cox takes on support duties himself under the moniker of his long-standing solo project, Atlas Sound; tuning up with a yawn, triggering the percussive backing track, and layering on the clamour of guitars, synths and vocals. He augments the beats with a shaker, eyes closed at the microphone with one hand reaching behind him to manipulate the keys. Sounds flit between dance-y and dark to folky interludes and back as Cox picks out heavily treated, squealing notes over the constant deep drones. He moves behind the drumkit to play along to the backing track’s programming, a syncopated beat that becomes a looser, more improvisational set of rolls and cymbal washes that drifts aimlessly into the arena of indulgence – even more so on the ambient keyboard noodling that follows it. “This is some Terry Reilly shit right here” enthuses Cox, as Atlas Sound seamlessly transforms into Deerhunter and the night ascends to a higher plateau.
An undulating drone links the sets as Cox’s three bandmates walk on and add to the sonic mire. A bassline solidifies out of the lengthy squall but as the drums kick in guitarist Lockett Pundt’s singing is barely discernible, and the song is stopped in its tracks to sort a dodgy mic issue. “Just live people playing broken instruments” jokes Cox, offering to play some “good old American country and western honky-tonk music” in the interim. When Desire Lines finally does come to life it’s with renewed purpose and an onside crowd, and it marks the beginning proper of the finest Deerhunter performance we’ve had the pleasure of seeing.
The song’s tonight are muscular, the volume loud, and the venue hot and sticky – there’s a mid-set discussion on weather and air-conditioning, or lack thereof, with Cox observing that “it might be November but it’s 19,000 degrees up here.” All The Same’s subsequent “air-conditioned to the bone” line doesn’t go unnoticed, as Cox and bassist Josh McKay lay down the song’s dual vocal. McKay swaps his bass for keys on Ad Astra while Cox assumes responsibility for the low end, everyone switching roles as the curfew beckons and the calls for more songs come from the crowd. “When I was younger I would fight that fight with you”, Cox grins, an older and more curfew-conscious performer these days, eventually closing things down with ‘Microcastle’s opening pairing of Cover Me, Slowly and Agoraphobia.
It’s that album’s extended pre-encore Nothing Ever Happened, though, that proves a set high point. A vocal sample leads into an elongated noise build-up more in keeping with the earlier Atlas Sound section, before stretching out into a bass-driven Can-redolent number. On and on it goes, with hissing guitars and a relentless, cyclical riff from McKay. At one point it seems like it’s about to sputter to a halt, before rebuilding and moving back up through the gears as Cox taps out a crackling solo.
From Atlas Sound through Deerhunter’s selection, sounds both synthetic and organic and the deep, fuzzing reverberations create a cohesive towline through an often-hypnotic set. Deerhunter’s live muscle has clearly been getting its workout in recent times, the heft behind the songs unambiguous even on the poppier asides. “This has been a very fun gig” Cox tells us at the end. Fun, intense, motorik, kinetic…it was all of the above. Deerhunter have grown into a formidable live outfit.