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Deerhoof, Whelan's, Dublin

  • Written by  Marky Edison

Deerhoof - Dublin

It’s half eight on a Wednesday and the crowd is building in Whelan’s. The topic of debate amongst them is who from the band has picked the contemporary classical pre-gig music that is incongruously sounding through the main room. There’s a tangible excitement about the imminent arrival of San Francisco’s Deerhoof.

The music fades and Ireland’s reigning kings of misanthropic punk, So Cow, take to the stage. Greg Saunier from tonight’s headliners produced the Tuam- based band’s last album and they tear through half that album in under half an hour. They even throw in a few old favourites and vocalist Brian Kelly enjoys some banter with the crowd.

As soon as So Cow finish, there is no messing about. Deerhoof are straight on stage setting up their equipment and mopping up the sweat of the energetic opening act. It’s a well drilled team and they are ready to go in under 10 minutes.  Then they leave the stage and the room is filled with anticipation. It’s that rare feeling when you are at a show and have no idea what is about to happen.

With no fanfare they reappear ten minutes later. Throughout So Cow’s set there was very little elbow room. Hardly room enough for a pogo. But now it gets properly bunged as crowd suddenly compacts. Those summoned from the beer garden by the opening song bring with them a funk that would give Novak Djokovic a headache.

Deerhoof are musician’s musicians. They’ve been going for 20 years, and nearly as many albums. The dancefloor is a who’s who of the indie scene. The first song sounds like nothing I’ve ever heard before. Ditto for song two. Each song is unique, like it was written by another band. No riff is repeated. It’s as if they have been given the sheet music for a wedding band’s set and are playing all the right notes, but not necessarily in the right order.

Concepts like verses, choruses, and such musical conventions are studiously ignored. They obviously know the regular structures of songs but are deliberately subverting them. It’s as much performance art as it is entertainment. If you tried to explain the concept of pop music to an alien species but without them actually hearing it, they might come back to earth playing like Deerhoof. There’s an element of Stockholm syndrome in appreciating them. You need to surrender to it. Then the strange structures, rhythms and melodies start to make sense. It’s plain to see why sonic youth and their ilk are so fond of them.

There’s a reverential feel to the show that reaches a head when drummer Greg Saunier gives a wee speech between songs. Everyone stops and listens. It is partly a poem, partly a mystical incantation, partly a disassembly of the art of stagecraft, and partly the ramblings of the guy who won’t leave the library even when he is asked. It goes on for such an unfeasible amount of time that even the staff stop working and stare in wonderment and incredulity, waiting to see where it is going. The massed throng are still and silent. His voice is the only sound.

The reverie is shattered when a gruff, authoritative voice from the bar demands that he “get back to the tunes, kid!” The response to this dismissive heckle comes not from the speaker, but from the guitar. The moment in the Steve Miller Band's 'The Joker' when the guitar wolf-whistles was the first time I heard a guitar ‘speak.’ The few phrases from John Dieterich’s brightly coloured axe put the space- cowboy in his place. It sounds wounded and plaintive on behalf of its colleague. Sympathetic and aggrieved. It’s bizarre to hear a guitar emote like that and further demonstration, if it were required, of the band’s immense skill and talent.

Deerhoof are a genuinely unique, and sometimes bizarre, proposition. There is no other band like them. They are easy to admire, but difficult to like. Their live show is like that strange movie that you watch the whole way through and then wonder why you watched it. But then you spend half the next day with scenes from it rolling around in your head. I’m not sure that I like Deerhoof’s music but I sure as hell enjoyed the show, and am unlikely to forget it anytime soon.


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