There’s something not quite right with Bradford Cox. Tonight specifically, I mean: what begins with a late start and some fairly surreal musings ends with the sound-tech lining-up receptacles for a threatened up-chuck by the front-man.
The last time I saw Deerhunter make their waves of big noise it was in broad daylight, in the afternoon shift at the Deaf Institute. The crowd was slightly thrown but enthusiastic, although considerably smaller than that at Club Academy tonight. Having worried that the group might struggle for atmosphere in a venue I’ve only ever experienced a quarter full it’s busier than I’ve ever seen it when I arrive just before showtime – I must have been seeing the wrong bands.
The four-piece has only re-released one EP since that last Manchester gig, nearly a year ago, so I assume it’s the success of Cox’s second album as Atlas Sound, Logos, which has pulled people in. This might explain the slight bemusement that seems to greet Deerhunter’s spirals of fuzzy guitar, which sit a fair distance from Logos’ more melodic immediacy.
I’m a fan of the band’s 2008 album Microcastle, and have a reasonable knowledge of its predecessor, but I struggle to pick out more than about five tracks from the layered distortion, reverb and echo that pervade the set. I’m clearly not the only one and, by the fifth song, Cox is starting to worry about the lack of feedback from off the stage. He’s jet-lagged, however, as he explains to excuse the slight randomness of his comments, and certainly grateful to be playing to people as interested in the stage as the bar.
There’s definitely a polite curiosity emanating from the floor, despite the lack of an obvious connection, but how does one connect with a sound like Deerhunter’s? Most of us are a bit past the shoe-gazey down-turned head-sway, though I spot a couple of brave attempts; I try tapping a foot to the songs’ thumping backbone but I’m on a high stool so it doesn’t really work.
I certainly can’t sing along, at least until Nothing Ever Happened airs half an hour in, but suddenly familiarity flies at me from all sides. Not only is this one of my favourite Microcastle tracks but the first guitar solo reminds me of early U2, and I’m just getting over the surprise of that when Cox stages a Live Aid-style foray into the front row. The next minute, he’s whooping like he’s about to launch into In God’s Country – these are not comparisons I expected to be making.
Twilight at Carbon Lake plods rather by comparison, despite another crescendo of reverb. Apparently anxious to bond with the audience Cox starts chatting, but I’m not sure he helps matters: he recognises a fan from Paris, he doesn’t like Foals…
“I’m a little out of it, you know,” he admits. We know.
The janglyness of Operation resumes the pace and in places I’m reminded of The Wedding Present, until Cox once again starts whooping like a mid-career Bono. Perhaps he can’t help it: returning to the stage for a two-song encore he confesses a mounting nausea, blamed on a pre-gig feast at a certain global burger outlet.
Thankfully the threatened puke doesn’t materialise, and Agoraphobia finally sees me lost in the dreaminess I associate with Deerhunter’s studio sound. My reverie’s short-lived – it’s 11.15 and the lights click on before the band’s left the stage – but I just about got what I came for, from the outfit my other half deems “prog’s noisy shoegazers”.