Live Review: Deerhunter and Atlas Sound at Showbox at the Market 10/21/15

Live Reviews
Jacob Webb
photos by Beth Crook (view set)

A Deerhunter show is never just going to be Bradford Cox and company playing songs for two hours. This, as they’ve established in the past decade, is just not how the Atlanta band works. The gig might not always be as chaotic as the now-infamous “My Sharona” show and Cox might not run offstage, leading and snarling at a cameraman through back hallways, but a Deerhunter gig will absolutely never be predictable. And early reports from the band’s tour behind their latest album, Fading Frontier, have confirmed that even though they’re touring behind their most (relatively) serene and gorgeous album to date, Deerhunter are as mercurial as ever, and while there were no potted plant-related incidents when they came to Seattle for one of the first shows of the tour, there were more than enough notable (and quotable) moments in the nearly three-hour show to keep Cox’s reputation for quicksilver greatness more than intact.

Cox has touted the decision to have Atlas Sound “open” for Deerhunter on this tour as a purely practical one, and while there’s some validity to that, it’s hard to deny that the Atlas Sound set also served as an opportunity for Cox to be onstage for an additional forty or so minutes and indulge in his more experimental work – which is exactly what he did. Although he arrived fifteen minutes late (on top of doors already being pushed back for half an hour), all eyes were on Cox when he arrived, slowly pacing onto the stage with a humorously short cane and trench coat. And, in the first sign that Cox was in rare form that night, he proceeded to play one of the more disorienting sets the Showbox has hosted as of late. Singing exclusively through heavily processed vocal filters, Cox’s opening set was essentially forty-minutes of incredibly liberal reinterpretations of the Atlas Sound catalog, all of which consisted of processed beats, ambient noise, and looped spoken word samples that were mixed just as loud as Cox’s vocals. (At one point, apropos of nothing, Cox played the drums for three minutes. Somehow, it didn’t seem even the slightest bit out of place.) But when his Deerhunter bandmates arrived on stage, a switch flipped in Cox’s brain, and he turned from broodingly performative to loveable weirdo the second he switched off his noise loops. (Completely silent up to that point, he started the second set by cheerfully exclaiming ,“We’re Deerhunter!”) And for an hour, Deerhunter’s set couldn’t have been any more unlike Atlas Sound’s. The band steadily ran through the setlist, which mostly focused on Fading Frontier, going in and out of gauzy, extended versions of “Agoraphobia” “Revival”, and “Breaker”, among others while Cox shot off quips in between them. (“This next song is dedicated to [guitarist Lockett Pundt’s mother] Linda Pundt, the sweetest lady I know.”)

But, of course, it all went weird eventually, and the turning point in this particular show was after the 15-minute version of “Nothing Ever Happened” (which featured Cox bringing a fan onstage to play a section of the song on his guitar and extensive quoting of the lyrics to Patti Smith's "Land".) It wasn’t the songs so much that changed – the songs were still mostly extended takes of the album versions – as it was Cox’s onstage persona. Although he was moderately talkative up that point, a switch flipped inside his brain and he suddenly became endlessly garrulous, riffing with guitarist Frankie Broyles (or, as Cox dubbed him that night, "Dr. Dracula Cumstain") about spices while attempting to tell a story about a Craigslist purchase he’d made which, due to drummer Moses Archuleta frequently interrupting Cox with an “ocean noise” sample, ended up taking 10 minutes to tell. This is to say nothing of the myriad asides that followed, and even less of the tangent Cox went on after – and this is a phrase I would have never expected to write in a million years, not even in a Deerhunter gig review – the band started jamming on the bassline from Collective Soul’s “Shine”. (It turns out Cox is a fervent Collective Soul apologist.) But as chaotically meandering as the show’s second half was, the band never lost musical form – an incredibly loose, started-and-restarted “Snakeskin” gave way to a stellar rendition of “Helicopter” to make the encore one of the show’s highlights – so considering that Deerhunter are a tight live unit (when they’re actually playing songs), any chaos that may ensue must be purely by choice, which can either be brilliant or infuriating. And Cox, who maintains that none of his music or performance is calculated, knows that. Consequently, he makes no concessions for anyone who isn’t on board – he dedicated “Snakeskin” to some fans who had complained about the chaos of their LA shows online and, in a moment that put the fear of a 45-minute rendition of “Shine” in the entire audience’s heart, snarled that “the internet tells me you don’t like long songs”. The latter moment was Cox’s single best line all night, cleverly self-aware and knowingly baiting the audience, who came to the Showbox that night expecting anything from a meltdown to a revelation. It turns out, they got a little bit of both.

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