ADHD Rock At The Black Cat
Deerhoof, Feb. 11
Deerhoof came to D.C. to answer the age-old question (if you're my age), how does a band blend pop music with noise rock? By bridging them with prog, jazz, post-everything and more.
The band's all about change of direction. From album to album, from song to song, from minute to minute, Deerhoof's hyperactive music refuses to follow the same path or idea for more than 60 seconds in a row, so if you hear a groove you like, enjoy it while it lasts -- it won't be there long. But in a 60-minute set, there will be 60 different grooves in which to revel.
Guitarist John Dieterich keeps the music moving and the sound changing. On record, his axe is low in the mix, providing the base over which bassist Satomi Matsuzaki sweetly sings, drummer Greg Saunier wildly pounds and countless other instruments bob and weave, but his riffs are plentiful and alternately heavy, searing, playful and mind bending. In concert, he takes center stage, both literally and figuratively, turning up the volume and bouncing from avant garde jazz to heavy rock to '60s garage to danceable pop.
It was appropriate, then, that his silhouette was the one cast upon the Electric Rainbow Machine. Saunier, in one of his several between-song trips from his kit on the right side of the stage to Matsuzaki's mic on the left, introduced the light show, a spinning, three-armed contraption making its debut. The Electric Rainbow Machine lights up with the music, creating a full spinning disc of color when the band was playing in full or blips of broken light when the music was broken up and quirky. It was hard not to watch and a pleasant gimmick for the stage show.
As expected, the band played a lot from their last two records, "The Runners Four" and "Friend Opportunity." The latter, released last month, extends the path of the former but eschews the sprawl of "The Runners Four" for a more compact delivery. These two are the band's most accessible -- and adorable -- albums to date, but accessible Deerhoof is still more absurd than most music.
On this night, the highlight from "Friend Opportunity" was its opener, "The Perfect Me," with its concussive drumming and bursts of dissonant guitar. But with Matsuzaki's childlike vocals, it comes across as schizophrenic pop. Ditto "+81" and its more-straightforward rock guitar; steady, moving beat; and playful "choo choo choo choo, beep beep" chorus.
But the songs from "The Runners Four" still make a bigger impact live. "Twin Killers" starts with Dieterich's lonesome twanging but quickly gives way to another groove, falling in line with the driving beat of the bass and drums. Dieterich takes a couple of moments to freak out, then rock out, but always comes quickly back in line with the rhythm. "Wrong Time Capsule" is aptly named. "Skip the waves, syncopate, forwards backwards," Matsuzaki sings, and the song sounds like it was recorded in the year 2105 for a 1960s B movie.
As intriguing and fun as it is to watch Dieterich and Saunier play through the jazzy songs and segues, in the live setting, Deerhoof is most inspiring when they just flat-out rock. Putting away the quirks for a minute, they are just awesome when they blitz, and nowhere was that more evident than on "You're Our Two."
When Deerhoof did dip into its noisier, more eclectic past records (hard to imagine a band being more eclectic, but this one has been), many of those songs were rearranged to fit in better with the new material and maintain the groove.
The music industry is blessed to have such a creative, original band working these days, but the innovation and unpredictability that makes Deerhoof great also distances the band from so many listeners, makes their music hard to grasp. So D.C. should take pride that there are enough geeks in the area to sell out the Black Cat for a show like this.