Halfway through Deerhunter’s 9 p.m set Monday, lead singer Bradford Cox sat on his haunches smoking a cigarette, glaring at the mellow crowd he was obviously displeased with.
“I’d heard Seattle crowds are crazy,” he’d said earlier, voice sopped in sarcasm, “but this is something else. … I’m not going to sing on this next song. I don’t want to be singing when the world ends in a whimper and not a bang.” (So it was guitarist Locket Pundt who sang on “Desire Lines.”)
Cox is an artist finished with niceties. Deerhunter’s first four albums were heavy in spacey atmospherics, tripped-out shoe gaze that you could (and I did) do yoga to. But with the release of Monomania, Cox reinvented Deerhunter as a bloody-fingered, raw-throated garage rock band. To drive home this point, Cox appeared on the Jimmy Fallon show with his hand wrapped in a bloody rag, as if he’d just cut it trying to break into your car in the parking lot.
Even songs from Deerhunter’s 2010 masterpiece Halcyon Digest – which dominated the first half of the Bumbershoot set – were re-examined through the Monomania lens. To wit, the plodding “Don’t Cry” was sped up 10 bpms and given a walking bass line, then treated to a wailing outro that indeed seemed to elicit less of a crowd response than was its due.
“Thank you for that polite applause,” the heavily-wigged Cox said after “Blue Agent.” “Here’s a polite song.” They then played a dreamy “The Missing,” the only song on Monomania written by Pundt. Toward the end, Cox feigned a yawn, though it was unclear whether he was being cruel to his bandmate or the crowd.
So as he smoked his cigarette – looking not unlike one of those chimps they fed cigarettes to in the 1960s – Cox seemed to be at a crossroads. Would he give in and play a set befitting the obviously tired, last-day-of-Bumbershoot crowd, or would he keep trying to deliver what he had promised at Neumos during a solo show the week before (“It’s going to be like a puppy fucking a puppy fucking a puppy.”)
His decision made, the puppy fucking commenced.
The final four songs, “T.H.M.”, “Nothing Ever Happens,” “Back to the Middle” and “Monomania” were hot messes of space-static guitar and burned out vocal chords. In particular, the outro to “Nothing Ever Happens” – another catalog track being given fresh treatment in the new mold – was as ear-shattering as it was awing.
Cox is a master with vocal looping, and at the end of “Monomania” the noise coming from the stage was satanic as his shrieks were folded on top of themselves again and again and again. The band left the stage as the crowd was tortured by what sounded like frenzied wraiths. Deerhunter finally having captured the crowd, it cried out for more. An encore seemed eminent as the stage remained blue-lit and feedback showed no signs of stopping.
But then the sound cut out, and the white lights came. The crowd was politely told to get home safely.