Bradford Cox is famous for several reasons. The first, of course, is for being the frontman and creative force behind Deerhunter – one of the most imaginative bands to emerge from the turn of the century. The next reason is probably his tendency to take whatever opportunity he finds to mess with people. He’s been known to unleash plenty of signature light-hearted jibes onto his audience over the years. Cox is a man who likes maintaining his status as an artistic dissident.
It came as quite a surprise, then, that he didn’t once try to poke or prod the crowd at Bristol’s SWX. Despite the band facing a frontier of technical problems, including melting cables and Cox being repeatedly shocked by his microphone, the singer was wonderfully bubbly and chummy. He gracefully persevered, joking that this only made it a better evening: “It adds to the beauty, the chaos.”
And BOY was there plenty of beauty for the chaos to add to. From the moment the lights went down, and the excited cheers of the audience were broken by the opening harpsichord lines of Death In Midsummer, a rich narrative unfolded. Songs melted into one another beautifully through tasteful use of ambient noise & effects (think of it as sonic landscaping to Capability Brown standards). The whole experience was wonderfully immersive, and, frankly, downright moving at times. Deerhunter’s knack for getting swathes of emotion out through their performance is hard to beat.
Deerhunter played an equal mix of new and old material. The beginning of the set saw the band perform from the excellent Why Hasn’t Everything Already Disappeared?. No One’s Sleeping was poignant in an odd, subversive way, fusing a simple, Kinks-influenced feel with the song’s dark theme: the tragic murder of MP Jo Cox. It was pretty surreal listening to an American sing about ‘the village green’ and British ‘duress’ for once.
Somehow presenting himself as vulnerable and powerful in equal measure, Cox’s presence on stage was magical. Very tall, very thin, and ghostly pale, there’s a bit of a Dracula-meets-Sherlock air to him. He’d move quietly and elegantly about the stage when he wasn’t behind the microphone, and, when he was, he didn’t have to draw attention to himself in a showy way. His voice, which held just as much conviction in a dreamy falsetto as it did in his gritty howl, was enough. What Cox felt, his audience felt too. The rest of the band was just as superb. There were plenty of misty eyes to be seen in the sea of people before him during the bittersweet, touching performance of old favourite, Helicopter.
This tumultuous path of shifting emotions continued until the end, from wilder, more upbeat moments in Coronado through to the pensive searching of Sailing. The show closed with He Would Have Laughed’ the pulsing lilt of the drums and the sweeter, delicate melodies providing a sense of catharsis to end, like the sun finally rising at the end of a long, bizarre night.
© Emily Engleheart for BRISTOL IN STEREO