At a Deerhunter show, you live and die by Bradford Cox’s guitar. While the remaining three members hold each song steady, Cox submerges the atmosphere in rushing distortion and sporadic soloing, all laced with incredible technical skill.
When the Atlanta-based band stopped through Cleveland last night in support of their fourth album, Halcyon Digest, they played a set list heavy on their new tunes, mixing in older audience favorites like “Don’t Stop.” As they ripped through their opening song, “Desire Lines,” Cox lifted his guitar straight up into the air, deliberately picking a soaring riff while rhythm guitarist Lockett Pundt held the vocals. Cox took over the mic for most of the set, with Pundt reappearing later in the night with “Fountain Stairs.”
Halfway through the set, “Memory Boy” and “Rainwater Cassette Exchange” were rendered short, punchy, and rhythmic-based, striking a contrast to “Don’t Cry,” where the pace changes several times and crescendos hit the crowd like sledgehammers. At the end of the song, Cox proudly told the audience he wrote it as a tribute to Cleveland’s own Pere Ubu.
At times, the guitars felt like weapons, Cox moving his hand impossibly fast across the bridge and rendering a ‘60s surf vibe into something scarier and more ambient. Yet Deerhunter also released the crowd into a relaxed trance, closing with an extended version of “He Would Have Laughed,” the last song on Halcyon Digest.
The contrast between clean and dirty sounds, both in terms of feedback levels and melodic succinctness, was a constant reminder that Deerhunter cannot be pinned down. While most of the crowd walked out of the ballroom dazed with the show’s intensity, Cox remained on the stage, his ax aside, to talk with fans.