Normally, I feel bad about posting blurry concert photos, but the above image accurately communicates the sort of sounds emanating from the Wexner Center stage last night. Deerhunter's 70-minute set (encore included) peaked when the band was at its most atmospheric, building beautiful haze from harmonic noise.
The show wasn't only about casting an aura; there were songs in there too, many of which made a lot more sense in the live context than they do on Deerhunter's intriguing but patience-trying LPs. But I don't remember specific melodies and rhythms so much as I miss feeling awash in sensation.
Having arrived two or three songs into the set (residual SXSW laxity?), I settled in during "Little Kids", planting myself next to the right speaker and letting my eardrum get lovingly blown to bits by the heaping layers of guitar noise Bradford Cox and company piled atop their dainty lullaby. It was a common trend throughout the night: Cox cooing and moaning his way through fragile melodies over primitive pop chord structures as he and his band slowly built walls of swirling shoegaze dissonance.
The trend came to its climax on "Calvary Scars", which closed the main set. The slow-burning crucifixion allegory is part of a long, dragging middle stretch on "Microcastle", but here Deerhunter made it their greatest acheivement. Josh Fauver's monotonous chord strums and Cox's hypnotic refrain lulled me into the band's bizarre headspace, even as a sudden blast of flash photographers tried their best to ruin the moment. Looping riffs and trembling cymbals congealed into an all-consuming, monolithic swell, more gorgeous than foreboding.
The more they played like a conventional rock band, the less exciting it was. More muscular numbers like "Nothing Ever Happened" didn't pop the way I hoped they might, though some of that could be attributed to a sound system that didn't seem to be at full blast when I moved to the back of the room midway through the set. Still, with "Operation" the band managed to make structure and chaos work in kind, shifting between feels at the flip of a switch.
The entire ordeal was a pleasant reminder that despite his outsized "indie tabloid star" personality and strange appearance due to Marfan Syndrome, Cox's claim to fame is first and foremost his bands' vast musical merit. Again and again, he and his bandmates turned frail vulnerability into overwhelming power last night, a trick I would have happily listened to for twice as long.