Knives out

Popular metal's version of Radiohead, Deftones cut up the hard-rockin' competition.

DEFTONES (WITH GODSMACK)

Gorge Amphitheater, 628-0888, $35 8 p.m. Fri., July 13

DEFTONES FRONTMAN Chino Moreno is trying to give me a super pull quote for this feature, but a long, repetitive day of phone interviews is just underway, he already sounds sleepy at noon, and, shit, writing quality imagery is one thing, but inventing it on the spot?

"I don't think I'm that good of a writer," he says in an accelerated, everydude tempo antithetical to the feline majesty of his singing voice. "But when I do write and things start to flow out, it's one of the best feelings—creating anything, whether it's making breakfast or whatever, and after you're done you really get to enjoy it, as opposed to if you go out to eat and you just . . . it's just there, you know what I mean?"

"Good metaphor," I suggest, half- serious.

"I dunno, that was kind of a stupid metaphor," he admits.

Considering his band's burgeoning confidence in stuffing some startlingly anti-commercial metal down the corporate gullet, the metaphor holds up. Deftones are rock stars of the lowercase variety, with uppercase ambition.

Their ascent from barely-on-the-map Sacramento to a national stage tailor- made for their sound was auspicious, if not immediate. The pressurized aggravation of 1995 debut Adrenaline coincided beautifully with Korn's infectious, therapy-via-bile club movement. Popular single "7 Words" (chorus: "Suck, suck, suck your fuckin' money!") gave Deftones a following, as well as two unwelcome distinctions: angst-metal up-and-comers and Pantera facsimiles.

But the band averted any dead ends with the intense follow-up, Around the Fur. Guitarist Stephen Carpenter and bassist Chi Cheng individualized what was becoming a stale pimped-up crunch, eschewing the crowd-pleasing crescendos favored by Korn and (at the time) Rage Against the Machine for subtlety and density.

The album had few rousing choruses, or even discernible vocals, and set the tone for last year's subdued White Pony. Downtempo singles like "Change" and "Digital Bath" were indicative of the surprisingly sexy, ethereal exhalations peppering the album. Listeners dropped the Pantera dig and started to look at Deftones as popular metal's Radiohead.

"I think the music we're doing now is something a little deeper than 'my life sucks, my parents suck, now I'm sad and I'm gonna tell you about it,'" Moreno says. "That's pretty much every fucking thing you hear on the radio, like Staind or whatever. Even kids are tired of hearing that shit."

He pauses, reconsiders. "Or obviously not, because they're still selling millions of records."

Harsh words aside, Deftones have partaken in gravy-train tours with contemporaries of such dubious quality as Limp Bizkit and Incubus. Any ex-high school brain knows that if you let the jocks cheat off you long enough, two things can happen: You'll gain the respect of a larger group of peers, or you'll continue to be exploited forever. Deftones simply don't give a fuck. Their so-be-it mentality made DirecTV's recent proposition of an acoustic performance before a lush Hawaiian backdrop a bizarre reality.

"I thought this could be really fucking cheesy, but we're not a fucking cheesy, stupid band," Moreno says of the experience. "The most fucked up thing about it was the performance. We never even fucking practice acoustic. We just sat there and half-assed all our music for a free trip to Hawaii to go hang out and spend time together."

MORENO'S NO STRANGER to Seattle's steep hills and sharp breezes. He stayed on Capitol Hill for three weeks while recording side project Team Sleep, and will try to head downtown before the Gorge show to pick up a new motorcycle and (presumably) relax before the daunting task of keeping 15,000 kids' hearts aflutter.

"I was thinking about Morrissey last night and why I like him so much," Moreno says. "The motherfucker's smart, man. He comes across as insecure, but he's so cocky at the same time. That's rad. I listen to some songs now that I remember hearing when I was younger and it's like, damn, that's what he was talking about. I just fucking love music, man. I don't even know why.

"When we toured South America, the whole time I had my headphones with me and a bunch of CDs," he recalls. "At the time I think Kid A was probably my favorite record. Everywhere I go, whether I'm in a car, on a plane, whatever, I have my headphones on. It makes life so much, just, fluffier. Then we did a tour this last time in Europe and I didn't bring any music with me and it was . . . bland."

Impressive words from someone who could easily sit on singles and ride out the wave but instead scours Portishead, Radiohead, and Matador's catalog for inspiration. In just half an hour, Moreno reminds my elitist ass why living, breathing, and gasping for music is so fucking cool.

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