Set in the gorgeous Manchester Albert Hall, the Strange Waves Festival offered fans a reasonably priced ticket (with unreserved seating or standing options) to see a variety of acts for a fraction of the cost of seeing them separately.
Although Unknown Mortal Orchestra were the headline act of the day, the real intrigue came from the two preceding acts – Black Lips and Deerhunter. Black Lips, playing a hurried set as they were late to the stage and in disarray as to unchecked instruments, were nonetheless as magnetic and raucous as ever – maybe moreso, as they seemed to be playing everything on the fly. They powered through a blistering set, the highlight of which, Family Tree, seemed to fly by in seconds.
Before Deerhunter took the stage, there was a palpable sense of excitement in the air. A Deerhunter show in the UK has become a relative rarity recently, and the promise of new material made it an even more exciting proposition.
As it is, there was no need for new material to entrance the crowd – but Deerhunter, led by the effervescent Bradford Cox and the solemn, stoic guitar maestro Lockett Pundt, played a set that relied almost entirely on their universally recognised masterpiece Halcyon Digest and the kaleidoscopic new material.
While there was little love for any of their other records in their criminally short 45-minute set (one track from the glorious Fading Frontier, none from Monomania or Cryptograms), the new material shone and created some new fans in the hall.
Of the older songs, the set-opening Cover Me (Slowly) and Agoraphobia were met with rapturous applause. The trio of songs from Halcyon Digest were carefully curated, from the set-closing melancholia of He Would Have Laughed (their glorious ode to Jay Reatard) to the amped-up power of Desire Lines. The other selection from Halcyon Digest, Helicopter, was masterfully selected – its psychedelic, transcendent qualities matched diversity of the new material perfectly.
Conspicuous by their absence were some of the more recent Deerhunter classics – no room in the set for Pensacola, Leather Jacket II, Breaker, Snakeskin, Living My Life… also conspicuous by its absence was the ever-present stage banter from Bradford, who appeared to be tired (yawning throughout the set, despite being shocked numerous times by the microphone).
Sure, Deerhunter were subdued, and less than their usual selves. However, the unveiling of new material more than made up for these seeming deficiencies. The stretched-out, gaunt Stereolab feel of Death In Midsummer contrasted beautifully with the choppy new wave stylings of Futurism – which is probably their purest attempt at a pop song ever. Take Bradford off it, and you could realistically sell it to someone as being by Shaun Mendes or James Bay. It’s crystal-clear guitar pop with a bouncy riff and tightly-wound rhythm.
All things considered, Deerhunter were great value – but this felt like they were contentedly playing second-fiddle because they were the penultimate act. Bradford’s fatigue seemed to be playing a part in the proceedings, but ultimately this was just a warm-up for something greater down the line. We can only pray they start playing things from Fading Frontier again.