Saturday, September 29, 2012

Deerhoof, Buke and Gase, Raleigh Moncrief and Luke Wyland @ the VaC (9/27/12)

I knew that I'd heard of Deerhoof from somewhere before, and plenty of people whom I respect were excited about this show, so I marked it down on my calendar.  Then I remembered how I'd first heard about this group: Robert Christgau panned one of their albums pretty hard a few years ago.  Then I listened to some of their stuff and came away with severely mixed feelings.  In the end, however, I took it as a promising sign that I liked their newest stuff most and headed down to the VaC after work.

I counted a little over twenty people when I arrived.  Pretty thin for a show this big.  I figured that more people would show up soon enough.  Boy, was I right.  In the meantime, I sat back by the sound booth and listened to the very odd mix on the PA system (butt-rock, Andrews Sisters...)

First up this night was Luke Wyland.  I still have a hard time understanding why I liked this solo performance more than the one with his band, AU, at the Red Room last month.  The best I can come up with is that it might've impressed me more how one guy could conjure up such massive, thunderously serene tunes with only a tricked-out keyboard, some loops and his voice.  It may have helped too that the waves of sound subsumed the vocals (though admittedly, they didn't sound that bad either).  In any case, a fine start to the evening.

After Luke Wyland came musician Raleigh Moncrief.  His sweet tunes and clean, ringing 12-string guitar sounded just fine, but his congested, affected vocals sounded almost like a parody of the swoony singer-songwriter.  "You guys want a fast one or a slow one?" he asked the crowd at one point.  After a beat, he confessed, "I don't really have a fast one."

The New York-based duo Buke and Gase played next.  Aron Sanchez's stomping beats and slashing, disjointed riffs served as the engine while Arone Dyer's piercing wail steered the car.  Their ominous, spacey, eccentric yet still catchy tunes got the crowd on their feet and drew them towards the stage.  "Do we have time for two more?" Dyer asked near the end of their set.  "Yes!" somebody in the crowd shouted back.

After Buke and Gase came Deerhoof.  I can't deny that this group has considerable talent: their jagged riffs, slamming drums and smoothly jerky grooves prove consistently interesting if not pleasureable, and at their best (e.g. "Breakup Songs" and "There's That Grin" from their latest album), they can be funny as hell.  That said, their music as a whole feels so fussy and contained that they come across not so much as a rock band but as a simulation of one.  Emblematic of this, I thought, was how they handled a string breaking midway through their first song.  Whereas other bands might choose to keep the momentum going, finish the song and then change the string, Deerhoof chose to bring the show to a screeching halt, change it and then pick up where they left off like nothing happened.  It felt almost like a machine stopping because one little part was malfunctioning.

Also, I've tried to adjust for postmodernism and over-sensitivity, but for the life of me, I can't shake the feeling that there's something vaguely racist in how this group employs Satomi Matsuzaki's chirpy, kawaii voice and accent as a joke and a sound effect.  Don't get me wrong: I'm sure that the other guys in the band are all nice, polite, left-leaning fellas who wouldn't dream of telling a n***er joke or attending Hammerfest.  Still, the way that the music incorporates the otherness of Matsuzaki's singing into its brand identity--the way that it uses her foreignness to say, "Ooh!  Look how arty and weird and unique all of this is!"--sticks in the craw of this fourth-generation Japanese-American (well, half-Japanese, anyway).

Now, with that said, I should add that Matsuzaki's bouncy, friendly, utterly charming stage presence helped alleviate some of my misgivings.  I wish that I had a picture of when she hopped down from the stage and sang among the crowd.  Also, the rapport between the four bandmates and the visceral force of their music live helped render their simulacrum much more persuasive than their recordings did.  I can't call this performance one of the year's best, but I certainly found it one of the most thought-provoking.

You can find info on these acts on Facebook and elsewhere online.  Special thanks to Eric Gilbert and Duck Club Presents.

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