Patterns, Brighton, Wed 26th August
Deerhoof have, it seems, now been operating out of San Francisco's DIY/ lo-fi scene for some fifteen years. For the press release for their latest album, founder member Greg Saunier spoke of their beginnings “locked in the basement trying to figure out how our clashing personalities and ideas could turn into a band.” Wikipedia describes the result as an “erratic style veer[ing] between pop, noise, rock and roll, and avant garde”.
And indeed, seeing the various band members on stage, they're about as motley an array as the Cravats or the Men They Couldn't Hang. Perhaps most out-of-place of all is bassist Ed Rodriguez who, with his rock star locks, could even be in some sort of a band.
Yet as soon as they strike up they show a remarkable ability to take the most unlikely combinations and make them sound likely. In particular, they take the off-kilter, wayward rhythms of punk-funk and marry them to infectious pop hooks, sometimes sounding like they've been plundered from some arcade game of old. Their music is eclectic and ceaselessly inventive without sounding on the one hand meta and clever-clever, or on the other affectedly fey – their porridge is just right. They don't affect pop naiveté so much as embrace it, performing like a bunch of people who really want to be a band and happen to have ended up in a very strange band through some process no-one's really that sure of. The sheer joyfulness of pure pop radiates from them.
I once compared the sound of the Brighton band the Sticks to the lineof a fuzzy soft B pencil. From the same analogy Deerhoof would be a bright crayon drawing. Though there's changes and counter-melodies aplenty there's an appealing absence of depth - whatever happens in their music happens on the surface. Which is underlined by... well, by their line. They stand alongside one another on stage, no-one – not even the drummer – pushed to the back of the line-up.
The one time I saw them before (now some years ago), singer Satomi Matsuzaki spoke so little English Saunier kept having to run from behind the drum kit whenever something needed to be said. And that sort of restriction seemed to sum up their sound, like they were simply doing what they could be doing. This time her English has improved enough for her to orchestrate the audience in an elaborate singalong for the encore. And musically things are similar. Instrumental breaks stray in which, however inventive, can veer towards the muso-ish.
Much in music for me comes back to Simon Reynolds' comment about the Slits, that they got better when they got better. And me thinking getting better didn't make them any better at all, that they were at their best when they didn't even know how many rules they were breaking. Taking these two gigs as samples, Deerhoof have got better. Their bright crayon drawing has seen some scale and perspective creep in, and it loses some of its impact.
However, Matsuzaki's charmingly artless vocals (and similar dancing) do still anchor things to the naiveté of old, often breaking in to pull things back from the instrumental sections. And Saunier's drumming is as puppyishly enthusiastic as ever. They're still a long way from sounding proper, and may they hold out for longer.
And they're clearly keen to keep their sense of the absurd. Not only were we treated to Matsuzaki's singalong, Saunier would interrupt proceedings for spoken word pieces. Affecting angsty earnestness, dropping dramatic pauses, he'd regale us with tales of suitcases being lost to the English weather and other such non-events.
If you like this, one number from London...
...try two tracks from Rotterdam. (Yes, the vid seems to be labelled 'part one' without there being a part two. Like I say, a sense of the absurd.)