It was the best of venues, it was the worst of venues. Yeah, it was, like, Deerhunter ‘an all. Wednesday night wasn’t a tale of two cities, so much as a tale to two bands.
Literally every band, post-punk, that has ever dared to breathe and pick up a Fender has been compared in some fashion to the Original Manchester Band, Joy Division (apologies to the Hollies, Buzzcocks, Magazine, The Fall et al). Happily, that kind of comparison isn’t going to be made here. Sure, musically, the two bands aren’t miles apart. There’s an introspective tendency and rebellious intent to what Deerhunter do, but it’s without the splenetic intensity of an Ian Curtis; and, crucially, his and Joy Division’s proclivity for improvisational-by-gut theatre. Joy Division, like The Doors before them, were intent on conjuring drama, not merely music. The idea was not to have spectators leaving the venue humming a tune. The idea was to shock and electrify so much that leaving the venue and carrying on a normal life felt like an exercise in sheer survival.
While this night was perhaps a little short on the theatre quotient, there was something in the air that recalled the real dawn of the music age we still find ourselves in. Literally in the air was the ceiling of tonight’s venue, Sound Control. Nestled in the loft of one of Manchester’s classic dingy city centre buildings, the low metallic beams of the double howe roof spoke of this city’s proud industrial past and created an atmosphere and sense of occasion that the average black box venue simply can’t. The fact that Sound Control is the size of venue Deerhunter were capable of filling before Halcyon Digest can either be annoying or amazing, probably dependent on whether you’re a young and pretty student or an old(ish), wisened music hack. Let’s just say the Apollo might have been the wiser option.
It says quite a bit about Bradford Cox’s main music project (there are so many, it warrants distinction) that Sound Control is a little too on the snug side. Standing cheek-by-jowl with members of Doves and The Fall is further evidence of the Atlanta band’s skyward trajectory, something that started with the recruitment of guitarist Lockett Pundt and his influence on 2007’s Cryptograms and beyond. A decade ago the same band probably would have been playing to more people in bigger venues, but would the scene have produced them? Like Joy Division and obvious key influences like My Bloody Valentine and The Jesus And Mary Chain, Deerhunter crept out of a crap post-nothing guitar rock scene more like a band duty-bound to improve things and inspire others to get off their arses than a band that simply chose to get together and make records.
If Deerhunter are feeling the weight of any duty, they do a great job of masking it. The lengthy live set is as tight and polished as it gets. Save for the odd false start, Halcyon Digest is played pretty much perfectly and in its entirety. Extended renditions are the norm. The swirling, warm-hued psychedelia of what sounds like significantly more than two guitars swarms around the cosy loft, providing colour and texture that neither the Bar Mitzvah-grade lighting or the metallic surroundings are able to provide. In between songs, Cox is surprisingly upbeat and willing to share little bits of banter with the crowd. Any inadvisable-to-start-with Ian Curtis likenesses can stop right there, then. Cox is, in fact, brilliantly camp. A little like another Rufus Wainwright that chose to take a more non-operatic path to the stage (darling). It might change some people’s idea of who he is. But for most it should offer further proof that the impossibly gifted needn’t always be cruely intolerable.
Deerhunter, then. Brilliant, inspiring, on the crest of a wave. And not really like Joy Division.