Washington, DC is no stranger to heavy music. With thriving hardcore and metal scenes, on any given weekend there are usually a bevy of options for those of a headbanging inclination. Nonetheless, you’d be hard pressed to find any band quite like Deafheaven around DC—or any city, for that matter. With their unique meld of post-rock and black metal, the San Francisco group has garnered extensive praise from within and outside the metal community, making their shows a hot ticket usually filled with a varied audience. Deafheaven’s show last Friday at the Howard Theater, along with openers Tribulation and Envy, was no exception and provided the crowd with the sort of layered, high-octane experience for which the band has gained a reputation.
As has been the case for other stops on the current tour, Deafheaven treated fans to a play though of its recently released album New Bermuda in its entirety, interrupted only by the inclusion of the 2014 single “From the Kettle to the Coil” in between “Baby Blue” and “Come Back.” The new album roared, and seeing the band live helped accentuate the disparate elements that contribute to the band’s sound, as the transitions from pounding riffs to gentle melodies are even more stark in person. Nowhere was this phenomenon clearer than in “Come Back,” arguably the high point of the set in large part due to the beautiful, sublime interlude, which expertly dialed back the intensity of the track before ramping it right back up. Of course, the band’s calling card song “Dreamhouse” was also a standout, closing out the night with a cathartic blend of singer George Clarke’s best vocal performance and guitarist Kerry McCoy’s soaring melodies.
Clarke’s stage presence was a show in and of itself, consisting largely of his oft-noted imposing, theatrical movements alternating with emotive swaying during the song’s quieter segments. The sheer physicality of his performance was nothing less than impressive, his furious movements and impassioned screaming leaving him so soaked in sweat that his black button up looked synthetic and shiny by the end of the performance.
While certainly exciting to see Deafheaven gain enough of a following to warrant bigger venues, the space did leave something to be desired. At least for me, the rather roomier, posh interior of the Howard Theater did not seem to foster the sort of raw intensity seen at other Deafheaven shows in smaller, jam-packed music clubs. This atmosphere was also largely a product of the crowd, which for one reason or the other seemed to fail to reciprocate the intensity offered by the band. Save for the encore consisting of fan favorites, the audience did not seem to demonstrate much energy throughout the show; while I’m not suggesting that the show needed non-stop moshing, a little more engagement would have been nice. While a bit lethargic, the crowd nonetheless seemed engaged, showing that the band was hitting its mark.
Overall, Deafheaven’s live performance lived up to the hype, offering an intense yet strangely relaxing musical experience. For fans new and old alike, Deafheaven’s live show, if nothing else, helps one realize the artistry behind their imposing wall of sound.