Deerhunter, The Fresh And Onlys

Simon Jay Catling 04/05/2010

A sterile student union basement isn't, perhaps, the finest venue in town to witness a group who thrive upon stretching out the fingers of their own twisted atmospherics to pull in whatever surrounds them. The Deaf Institute down the road provided the perfect charismatic backdrop for Deerhunter's last shows in Manchester a year ago - the charming Victorian dance hall first embracing then helplessly submitting to the four-piece's all enveloping murals of sound - the Club Academy in contrast feels a little sleepy, despite the game efforts of supporting surf-rockers The Fresh And Onlys. The generally lacklustre feel of the evening isn't helped by Bradford Cox's own admission that the band are feeling more than a little jet lagged. Many of the crowd, meanwhile, evidently still aren't entirely aware of Microcastle's sister LP Weird Era, judging by the odd non-plussed look exchanged during some of tonight's set. But, readers, but...

...the reason that Deerhunter are never anything less than captivating live is that, even tonight - when you can justifiably argue that they aren't firing on all cylinders - they remain a band whose personalities are wonderfully apparent onstage; pretty unique in a dream-pop field seeded with faceless characters hidden behind loop pedals and swathes of reverb. This year, too, they seem to be a band whose four different vines seem to be growing in closer tangents than they have previously; for a band who haven't always looked comfortable in each others' presence, there's a notable central direction they're all pulling in tonight. Twelve months ago it was Cox who stood clearly as the leader, whilst bassist Josh Fauver jumped around eagerly trying to attract attention and Lockett Plundt frowned away at his guitar amp, unconcerned or simply uninterested at what was going on around him. Such different reactions to their own blend of flower-pop indebted haze fascinated in a way that made you ponder how such apparently different people seemed to be able to musically come together so seamlessly. Tonight however they seem on the same wave length and, though maybe they lose a bit of edge as a result, there's a far more infused sense of togetherness. Bradford Cox stands away to the left, rambling anecdotes kept to a minimum, instead allowing Fauvre to take centre stage- his intense stare replaced by polite bows and a generally more at ease demeanour. Heck, even Plundt has turned about 30 degrees more towards the crowd, and a smile occasionally dares to flicker across his lips like, y'know, he might be enjoying himself.

As mentioned, the set draws mainly from Weird Era and Microcastle- though 'Flourescent Grey' makes a welcome introductory appearance- and whilst it's those from Microcastle that seem to resonate most strongly with those in attendance, tracks like 'Operation's' tight-to-slack and then back again dynamics show that the Atlantans best stuff can often be found in their less heralded work. And there is, in truth, a stodgy feel to parts of tonight's proceedings -something a few hours sleep probably sorted for the next night's Leeds date - but by the time of 'Nothing Ever Happened's' extended spiralling outro we're ticking along nicely and "ticking along nicely" by Deerhunter's standards is pretty much head and shoulders above most others of their ilk. It's the way that, when they break down into periods of ambient white noise between numbers, you never sense they've lost their direction - you simply peer through the fog and await to see what's coming next. It's how some moments, like the aforementioned 'Operation,' still bare resemblance to the dark serrated past of all-but-forgotten debut LP 'Turn It Up, Faggot,' yet at the same are a million miles removed.

And it's the way that, though he isn't always the key focus tonight, Bradford Cox remains one of those increasing rarities- a fucking great front man. Yes, there's his distinct physical appearance, but it's not all about that; it's more about how he seems to breathe the very music he creates, how he can get lost in it more so than his audience (and then snap out of it to tell us he's about to throw up from tiredness. Cheers for sharing, Bradford.) This is exemplified perfectly when, after an ear-shattering encore of 'Strange Lights,' band members gradually depart despite a slowly swirling tumult of noise building up around them. It's Cox, kneeled on the floor, hunched over his pedals, eyes shut, utterly lost to his surroundings. It goes on for five, maybe ten minutes; and though a fair few leave, many stay, staring transfixed at this lone crouching figure holding court over his mechanic subjects, having them shriek and wail at his every command. Ah, so maybe he is still in charge then.