Deerhoof might not have ever broken free from their small label status, but the fact that they’ve stuck with Kill Rock Stars this long reflects their refusal to ever conform. Since forming in the mid-nineties, their concert performances have become something of legend, due to their high energy and improvisational style. To see them live is to be “Deerhoofed.” And while I don’t know what it’s like to be kicked by a deer—or any hoofed animal for that matter—now I have a pretty good idea.
From the start, when all four band members sauntered onto the stage holding forest themed masks over their faces, they had the crowd in a trance. Performing songs from a range of albums, including their newest Deerhoof vs. Evil, they used each song as a framework during which to improvise their faces off. For most of the concert, this yielded something much closer to noise-rock than to actual music, and at times it was difficult to know what was and wasn’t improvisation. But the cohesion between band members was remarkable, and when they all came together to make something even slightly harmonious, the crowd rocked out hard.
What really characterized the show was its enormous range, musically and emotionally. Although each band member contributed his own brand of energy, it was singer Satomi Matsuzaki who had the crowd in the palm of her hands. At times the crowed danced, at times they moshed, at times they were spellbound, and at times they were perplexed, but all of it was at the whim of Matsuzaki. More than once, she picked up the microphone and danced laterally across the front of the stage, pausing only for the audience to echo back her every word. Part of the reason I wasn’t able to take a half-decent photo the entire time was that I couldn’t get close enough without putting my life in the hands of the psychedelic mosh-pit at the foot of the stage.
When drummer Greg Saunier paused early in the set to thank openers Chain and the Gang and Ben Butler & Mousepad, a few audience members yelled for the volume to be turned up. To this Saunier responded, “I’m the only one in the band without knobs. I cannot be turned up. I cannot be turned down.” As for his comments on Chain and the Gang, although he ended by thanking them, he prefaced it by grumbling for a full minute about their not being a local band as he was allegedly informed.
They might not be for everyone, but those in attendance (mostly dudes with beards and glasses), were digging the dissonant, mind-bottling music that is Deerhoof. For them, just one encore wasn’t enough: even though the first ended with a reinterpretation of “Pinhead” by the Ramones, a second encore was necessary to appease the bearded masses.
The setlist for the show is online here.
-Adam Greenberg, host of dc ba Mondays 9-10pm