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June 17, 2009 | by  | in Music |
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Deerhunter – Live at San Francisco Bathhouse (16/06/09)

I ’m not sure what was more saturated. My scarf or Deerhunter’s instruments. The band’s guitars, as well as Bradford Cox’s vocals, were wet, but only metaphorically, soaked as they were by the delay that flowed from their effects pedals. Sadly, the liquid that had contaminated my scarf wasn’t quite so figurative. It was cask wine, and it stank. So did SFBH, which was packed. Even before the band hit the stage you could smell it. The scent of expectancy, mixed with BO and the reek of hard liquor. Deerhunter have been a buzz band for a while, and it was obvious that many of us were hoping to witness something remarkable. Live, their sound was more immediate, more direct than on their recordings, as one would expect.

The bass was binary. A pulsing post-punk rhythm that went on/off, on/off, forming a tight lockstep of synchronicity with Moses Archuleta’s propulsive drums. And over the top, the haze. Bradford Cox and Lockett Pundt are clearly disciples of the Kevin Shields school of guitar tone. Though Cox’s guitar may have been a touch more abrasive, and Pundt’s perhaps a little more melodic, on the whole they sounded united, and generally switched between two modes of operation: ambient wash or distorted churn. Given all the hype about dresses, self-mutilation and fake blood I had expected some kind of visceral visual experience, but the band appeared focused and professional, not punk-rock and provocative. Even Cox’s gaunt physique (he suffers from Marfan syndrome) was softened by a large jacket, which he wore throughout the entire set.

The gig was never really going to be about visuals though. Mesmeric music was what we had come for, and Deerhunter did not disappoint us. Cox’s voice, which he occasionally augmented with sustain and delay, was a thing of beauty. Although he generally blended in with the guitars, almost like another instrument, he would sometimes push his vocal chords up into a higher register, and soar above the instrumentation to powerful effect. He claimed to have a cold, but still sang with conviction and intent. Favorites like ‘Fluorescent Grey’ and ‘Nothing Ever Happened’ brought delight to the crowd, and although we didn’t need any winning over by the time the encore came around, Cox, who spent a good five minutes engaging us with cheerful and entertaining banter, even made the wonderful gesture of asking us what we wanted to hear for their final songs. Somebody requested ‘Operation,’ a jangly, disturbing number from Weird Era Cont, which they duly delivered, followed by the title track off Microcastle, which concluded proceedings for the evening. Seldom have I seen a band treat their audience with as much generosity and warmth as Deerhunter did last night. They were remarkable. In fact, they were so remarkable that I almost don’t want to clean my scarf, in vain the hope that a few last remnants of their arresting sonic formula might somehow still be preserved within its gentle fabrics.

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