O2 Shepherd’s Bush Empire – November 7th
If there’s one word that has dominated cultural discourse throughout the teenies, it’s ‘pop’ and the idea of what it should sound like. So trenchant is the discussion around it now, that epithets that once designated popular forms of music, like ‘rock and roll’ for instance, are rapidly being put to bed, or used to market vapidity to underage beer-swilling nippers at a Vaccines or Palma Violets show. In our obsession with it, ‘pop’ has become something all-encompassing, as much crassly commercial as it is avant garde, and always worthy of tiresome round-the-clock thinkpieces. Thank you Andy Warhol, you still shit on us from the height of history.
Enter Deerhunter, the last of the Mohicans, a self-identifying ‘rock and roll’ band who eschew the commercial posturing so rampantly plaguing the minds of young people with guitars everywhere – because let’s be honest, the money’s REEEEALLY drying up. In a climate where the number of truly great live bands can be counted on one hand, Deerhunter are a beacon – a sign that the body may appear corpse like, but the beat is still there ticking away under layers of corpulent flesh calmly awaiting reanimation. They’re the only certifiably great R’n’R band left today. Even Kevin Parker identifies more with the pop world now. They gave us Fading Frontier this year, one of their best albums in a 4AD tenure that has seen them repeatedly give us their best albums. Tonight is a rare privilege, like seeing Big Foot or a three-eyed fish.
Karen O, frontwoman of The Yeah Yeah Yeahs, has called the Deerhunter show ‘a religious experience’ – that’s a good place to start.
Sure, you could analyse why it was so great with the clumsy critical surgical knife. We could talk about why ‘Revival’ sounded so good for instance, but do we get any closer to the root of the feeling? Karen O, frontwoman of The Yeah Yeah Yeahs, has called the Deerhunter show ‘a religious experience’ – that’s a good place to start.
Before music there was the beat – a recurring semblance of human endeavour (the fated mortal heartbeat, for instance). Conversely, it’s a symbol of eternity by it’s repetitive nature. Pre-civilisation, the beat was a form of sorcery that could induce trance-like states in heathen cultures. When Germany was divided, the West German jazz trained practitioners of kosmische music – condescendingly called ‘krautrock’ by us Brits – stumbled upon the motorik (driving) beat. The idea behind highly improvisatory bands like Can and Kraftwerk is that if there is a driving beat laid down with a repetitive bass figure, the instrumentalists in the band can go on a journey together communicating through music. Their emotional journey would be shared by an audience of onlookers who find their bodies locked into the rhythm of the motorik beat while their minds collectively roam the constantly changing soundscapes atop it. At some point ego death happens – the forgetting of your identity. This is the transcendental state.
Bradford Cox steps away from the mic during ‘Nothing Ever Happened’ and starts riffing on his guitar to the motorik outro. The transcendental state sets in. Tonight everyone in the Shepherd’s Bush Empire is blanketed by it, all rocking in unison. Together with Lockett Pundt, Bradford is controlling the vast hive mind they’ve created in the Empire’s theatre. The song goes on for an eternity, or is it a few seconds? No one can be sure. But when it stops there’s a discernible pause. You can almost hear the sound of people snapping out of their trances before a deafening roar sweeps through the crowd.
This is rock and roll as art. This is Chuck Berry.
There’s life in the old dog yet.
Stick that in your thinkpiece and smoke it.
PS: They played Helicopter and Fluorescent Grey shortly after.