Deerhunter are polarising, some people find their brand of psychedelic rock dynamic, inventive and amazing, with others finding it a little bland and devoid of anything original. For the near capacity crowd at Billboard to witness their Laneway Festival sideshow it was a bit of both. The catchy hits from their three studio albums drawing loud applause from the crowd and the improvised jams throughout the night a look of bewilderment from some.
Bradley Cox the mastermind behind Deerhunter sauntered on stage and commenced with a little banter, “Hello Melbourne. Today we learnt about John Batman, he settled Melbourne. In America we have Batman, he settles criminals”. Some awkward laughter from a stand-off Melbourne crowd was quickly resolved as the band launched into ‘Desire Lines’ of their latest album Halcyon Digest. The guitar melody and warm vocals by Lockett Pundt a sharp contrast to the abrasive swirling psychedelic jam that ended the show.
The set largely focussed on tracks from the latest album, with “Don’t Cry” and “Revival” clearly getting the loudest response from the audience. Cox & co’s ability to recreate the studio album in the live format was impressive, with the use of standard rock instrumentation and various loop pedals creating sonic soundscapes which transported the audience far beyond the venue.
The dreamy slow building ‘Earthquake” closed the opening set; however as is the customary repose of encores these days they were back in a flash with “Agoraphobia” off the Microcastle album. This being one of the shorter, more radio friendly tracks of the night it was an interesting choice seeing as the majority of tracks for the show where in excess of 6-7 minutes.
Cox then asked the crowd if Oliver was here, supposedly he is the “first” Australian fan of Deerhunter and to his great delight he was asked to jump up on stage and request the closing track for tonight’s show which was “Strange Lights” from their debut album. Oliver jumped back into the crowd, no doubt rating this moment one of the best of his life.
“Strange Lights” morphed into psy/prog freak out that would have made Yes and all other 60’s icon’s of that style proud; as drummer Moses Archuleta and Cox pulled apart the drum kit, making it into a circle whereby all members joined in creating repetitive percussion. Joshua Fauver handed his bass to the audience during this segment, while Cox wandered to the edge of the stage, where he sat and held hands with those in the front row. This period of improvised music was hypnotising and engaging for the majority of the crowd, but for some in the crowd didn’t and subsequently left.
Cox is often referred to as a pretentious and volatile artist; however his persona at Billboard was the polar opposite; from the warm banter at the beginning about batman to closing the show with having a long time fan choose the final track. Their use of space in songs had a haunting effect and the improvised jams are what make Deerhunter such a compelling live band.