Friday, 8 April 2011

Live Review: Deerhuner, Lower Dens

Oran Mor, Glasgow
Monday 28 March

If you can judge a band by its audience, then Deerhunter have come a very long way. A few years ago Bradford Cox’s crew would have been coddled by a harem of skinny-fit hipsters, all scratching bearded chins while basking in their own sense of self-worth. But the punters flocking to Oran Mor’s decadent surroundings are of an entirely different ilk. Tonight’s demographic is a melange of the young and the old, the bald and the mohaired, the hip and the hipless. Somehow, amidst all the hype and all the controversy, Deerhunter have become a band of the people. In fact, make that many people.

In terms of aspiration, support act Lower Dens seem focused on re-enacting the rise of tonight’s main draw. Trudging on to stage with the kind of demoralised apathy you’d expect in a Lib-Dem campaign room, the Baltimore quartet roll out ice-glazed melodies with stoic determination, if little charisma. Wheezing with slouching guitar and lolloping bass, each misty effort tumbles along like airless Beach House off-cuts, led by Jana Hunter’s codeine mew. To put it simply, if Deerhunter were to reproduce, this would be the result.

At their best, Lower Dens skilfully architect waves of dreamy psych-pop. When Hunter’s tender intone rises above the rainbow-coloured washes of instrumentation, she apes a bong-struck Patti Smith ; part tortured gnarl, part wistful purr. Yet nesting within these highs are the sort of ambling, monotonal chords and dreary atmospherics that causes ripples of discontent in a steadily expanding crowd. Despite the lulls, this rosy-cheeked, ambitious outfit have done enough to prove they have the ammo to turn out a formidable live show. Sadly for us, it’s just not tonight.

Thankfully, our headliners have no such worries. Led to the stage by the towering Cox, Deerhunter’s arrival is greeted with the kind of reception reserved for those of a much grander stature. But, right now, the Atlanta four piece are very close to being that kind of band. The ear-pleasing effect of last year’s Halcyon Digest resonated outside muso climes; its retrograde sways coaxing in an audience more taken with jaunty, foot-stomping melodies than grass-chewing stoner dazes. Sure, the record is nuanced with typically intricate flourishes, but the up-tempo tones carved out a new direction and brought with it a swell of late-coming admirers.

As if to counteract this new found devotion, Cox kicks off proceedings with a freshly written number (so fresh it was apparently penned in soundcheck). Temporarily entitled ‘Glasgow 90’, the three minute rush of crunching guitar and guttural drums sets a fast pulse that rarely settles for the next hour. This is not the languid, pavement-gazing Deerhunter of Microcastles and Cryptograms. No, tonight, Deerhunter exude aggression, as if an ethereal veil has been lifted to expose a rabid, snarling mongrel of clattering, grey matter-gnawing sound.

Of course, the most rousing and immediate moments are laden with hooks. ‘Desire Lines’ is a pirouetting whirl of sunblushed tune that soars skywards with spine-tingling optimism; ‘Memory Boy’’s punching rhythm rattles out as a beat-up rock‘n’roller; while ‘Nothing Ever Happens’ is an electrifying neo-punk epic that has Cox teetering on the brink of the crowd while rampant swathes of acid-stained distortion buzz from stage. It’s a thrilling, heart palpitating ride that, at times, finds Cox in the unseemly and rather curious position of knife-edged rocker.

For all this boisterous musical girth, the tender-hearted flurries pull hardest. ‘Agrophobia’s quilted guitar flecks make a gorgeous, quilt-covering encore and the immaculate ‘Helicopter’ is equally lush, melting into a blur of glooping melodic strains. But twinkling reverie ‘He Would Have Laughed’ is the real knock out. Building on a rhythmic gallop of percussion, its tautly plucked notes rise into a jaw-plunging kaleidoscopic trip that eventually topples under its own weight as Cox croaks “I don’t need nobody on my bond” with crippling despair.

Such a sonorous climax highlights exactly where this mesmerising ensemble sits in 2011. Make no mistake, this is a band at the height of its musical powers; a band not scared to push beyond comfort zones or boundaries. And while the crowd may stretch from far and wide, tonight they stand together in unison, singing from one rhapsodic hymn sheet: Deerhunter’s.

Photo: Su Anderson

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