As I descend into the basement, I feel tired, edgy, and actually a little bit morose. Vague memories of the excesses of the weekend haunt my consciousness.
Deerhoof emerge without much ceremony, and seemingly without much charisma. The drummer takes a seat to the right, unsmiling singer stands to the left and two guitarists in the centre. And they start playing.
Art rock, math rock, experimental rock – in its quest not to be cliché, it can become exactly that. It can become frustrating, it can become obvious. But this, this is urgent, it is erratic, it is beautifully inconsistent. Greg Saunier’s manic drumming is filled with power, but not rage. It is perfectly controlled in its exuberant abandon. It does everything you expect a lead singer to do – ebb, flow, reach out, draw in, pause, return.
The pauses. Again and again we pause and then re-emerge from the pause, slowly, quickly. If a singer was to lead such changes of rhythm, direction and pace, it would be nauseating. Led by Saunier’s drumming, they are exhilarating.
So what is the singer doing? Satomi Matsuzaki’s inexpressive face is accompanied by an inexpressive voice, but high-pitched, dreamy and reminiscent of Japanese pop. With her comically energetic dancing opposite the mesmerisingly energetic drumming, I initially don’t realise the importance of the guitars. The boys in matching T-shirts, John Dieterich and Ed Rodriguez, are powerhouses of melody and bass. Their variations of rhythm and pace are less obvious than Saunier’s on drums, but equally affecting – some sudden, some evolving, some graduated. Some subtle, some less so. Their playing is jagged at times, while other riffs seem to draw from influences as broad as Hendrix, Steppenwolf and the sweet sounds of bubblegum pop. And of course, metal. Metal hardened by Saunier’s virtuoso drumming and softened by Matsuzaki’s unreadable voice. Urgent, erratic and wonderfully inconsistent.
Before their final tune, Saunier stands to make a speech thanking the support band, Milk Maid, for playing at short notice, and thanking the audience for coming. The cadence of his speech is stilted, filled with pregnant pauses. He speeds up, slows down, plays with the sounds he is making and the effect they are having on us. His speech mimics how they play, but less expertly. Deerhoof are playful, droll and full of ideas. Their set is a maze of compositional complexity created from the sounds of pop and rock.
Urgent. Erratic. Wonderfully inconsistent.
Words: Piyush Pushkar [Piyush also writes for Doctor Magiot]
Images: Courtesy of In House Press; photography by Sarah Cass