Surely this will be one of 2015’s peachiest gigs, crystal-bawls Martin Longley.
Deerhoof are a mismatched-looking bunch, their membership including a tall, beanpole-gangle drummer with sporadic speech containing pertinent philosophical observations, and a comparatively tiny Japanese singer/bassist who is a combined jumping bean and mystery-mime gesticulator.
One of the jousting lead guitaring pair (Ed Rodriguez) prefers the curly-poodle West Coast hippie look, and this combo do indeed hail from San Francisco, at least historically. Nowadays, they dwell in at least three Stateside cities. Here in Digbeth, Birmingham, they have packed out the venue’s rear courtyard space with a foetid bunch of non-air-conditioned punters. Being Americans, the band were quite shocked by the still atmosphere and intense heat conditions. This, they observed, was perhaps going to be their sweatiest show.
Even so, the sightlines weren’t too bad, and the sound system was very good, so conditions for rocking were optimum. Yes, we can term Deerhoof ditties as ‘rock’, but this is of a breed rarely shared by other combos, combining as it does prog-punk, kitsch-pop, surf rock, free jazz, psychedelic trancing and heavy metal (sticksman Greg Saunier discussed local anti-heroes Judas Priest at length, for so long that we forgot his original train of thought).
Unbelieveably, Deerhoof just celebrated two decades of existence in 2014, still managing to retain the kind of practiced randomness and poised chaos that would normally denote a freshly-formed unit. This entire set zoomed by with an angular unpredictability that made it sound like an improvisation, although the Deerhoof songbook is so crammed with multiple movement micro-bursts that this couldn’t possibly have been the case.
Yelping, staccato verses clipped into surging twin-guitar battles (Beefheartian or Thin Lizzy-ed?), screaming crescendos like 1969-vintage rock. Saunier cycled around complicated drum-figures, embellished by lashing detonations. Deerhoof are melodically intact, amidst a field of extreme atonality and repeated mini-climaxes. They are absurdist mischief-makers, sincere lovers of commercial hooklines and committed anarchist dismantlers, often during the swift evolution of a single song.
Some numbers revolved around low-slung electronic pulse-ruptures, thereby allowing Satomi Matsuzaki to down her bass and concentrate on singing, whilst springing about the small stage with a temporary freedom. Already, such songs as Paradise Girls, Doom and Exit Only, from last year’s 12th album, La Isla Bonita, are valuable assets to the repertoire.
Matsuzaki closed the evening out with Panda Panda Panda, featuring one of the most complex audience sing-and-response instruction sessions ever witnessed by mankind, but the crowd picked it up and the song ran right to the finish line.