Deerhoof & Underground Railroad - ULU, London - 2/12/08
03 Dec 2008
"only a few seconds pondering over deerhoof's accomplishments is required to come to a few life-enhancing conclusions. such as? well, sh*t, there are guitar chords yet to be discovered! music made by this combination of these ancient instruments is still entirely relevant and exciting! hey hey, my my! rock and roll will never die!"
Underground Railroad certainly seem a snug fit with their record label, One Little Indian. Label bosses can proudly, loudly proclaim that this is what bands on their roster sound like, without doing a disservice to any of their other acts or selling the vision of their imprint short. This is in part down to the fact that UR's sound is a very varied one born of a wide eyed approach to life's catalogue of things to see and hear, an ethic that ensures there's often something quite captivating about watching them go about doing what they do.
The band - who according to Deerhoof drummer Greg Saunier have been coming to every Deerhoof show in either of their respective home cities for the best part of a decade - are from Paris and from London, two cities linked by (well spotted!) an Underground Railroad. Yet they sing a song about New York which displays such an NYC influence to its squall that it's as if the Eurostar had taken them directly to Williamsburg instead.
To look at, Underground Railroad exude an air of cool sophistication, professionalism without being at all dull - rather the way they carry themselves is entirely fitting, injecting each thwack of each respective instrument with just enough emotion to ensure that the audience feels like the band means it, but not so much that it comes across as overly theatrical or takes anything away from the sound. That sound, if comparisons are your thing, is reminiscent of a meatier Pavement at times, but it's thrillingly rare to see a band so clearly lead by their drummer who aren't taking a further step into the recesses of their own bowels with every drum struck. The emphasis here, you see, is not on muscle but on melody, and what can be done to bruise it so as the most interesting blues and purples start to shine instead of repulse.
Deerhoof of late have also become interested more in more and being an ever prettier band. But towards the start of this, their only UK date of the year, they just seem oddly... quiet. They're a clever band - they've always required that their live sound is mixed in a way that it leaves room for them to add subtle flourishes and display a lightness of touch, but in their loud bits, they've always been pretty bloody loud. So what's up? Is it the usually fine-sounding ULU's fault, or...?
Perhaps we can put it down to this being a different Deerhoof line up, doing things in a different way. New guitarist Ed Rodriguez was added to the line up around the time recording began on most recent LP Offend Maggie, and though the decision to have him playing what seems to be exactly the same guitar on exactly the same settings as founding member John Dietrich is a curious one that might have something to do with the initial, slight flatness of the sound, there's no doubting that the boy can wail. The pair are certainly enjoying the whole duelling guitars thing. And is Saunier just the most gosh darn fun drummer in the world? You can enjoy yourself just by watching the dude's silhouette! Tonight, Deerhoof are getting off on unveiling what amazing musicians they all are, even when their sound is stripped of a lot of the chunkier guitar effects, all the brass parts and each and every synth addition they enjoy on record.
When '+81' and 'The Perfect Me' get the airings they were always going to, it strikes me that the Friend Opportunity material is still decades ahead of its time, whilst the Offend Maggie material, though still splendid, is less so. The fact that Maggie opener 'The Tears of Music and Love' bears such a resemblance to earlier signature song 'Milk Man' is testament to that. But it's not as if the band care, playing both songs very near each other, opening with the former and dropping the latter as their third tune. Tom Waits refers to couples of tunes like these as "sibling songs". And if he can come up with a way of making tunes that sound pretty identical a justifiable exercise, I'm more than willing to go along with it.
Deerhoof are a band who want to be lovely rather than loud just now. And they're still just about the most loveable band on the planet - singer Satomi Matsusaki spends her whole time jumping, or squeaking, or choo choo choo choo beep beeping. Her gift is to do this in a way that is wholly endearing rather than brash or downright annoying. By the end, she's orchestrating the whole band in mass leap-alongs. They look like Busted. Much about Deerhoof could grate, but only serves to entice you more. Tonight, they're quietly amazing - which isn't to say they're any less impressive than they have been before. It's just with their current, perceived lack of urgency and favouring of calculated precision and melody rather than all things raucous, it might take a few people a little longer to realise that they are indeed something to cherish. And so, the cosmic injustice that is the fact that Deerhoof aren't the biggest band on the planet continues for a little longer. Curse you, world! Why won't you just play fair?
Let's go back to '+81', as its rendition tonight perhaps sums up the mindset in which Deerhoof currently make music best - there's nothing shoved down your throat here, no fanfare, even for a song that on record actually does begin with a fanfare. Its genius is there to discover if you want it. And only a few seconds pondering over their accomplishments is required to come to a few life-enhancing conclusions. Such as? Well, sh*t, there are guitar chords yet to be discovered! Music made by this combination of these ancient instruments is still entirely relevant and exciting! Hey hey, my my! Rock and roll will never die!