Deerhunter August 22, Hard Rock Cafe on the Strip
It could have gone either way, a show like this. Bradford Cox, frontman for Deerhunter, could have looked out over the sadly undersized crowd on hand for the indie rockers’ tour opener and Las Vegas debut and proceeded to phone in a short set before moving on to larger audiences in other towns. Instead, the very opposite happened. Cox seemed to connect with the 200 or so fans who showed up Thursday night at the Hard Rock Cafe on the Strip, returning their appreciation in the form of an intense, satisfying performance capped by an encore for the ages.
The Atlanta five-piece signaled its intentions from the start, opening with a 12-minute version of the title cut from 2007’s Cryptograms that felt at once joyously noisy and unexpectedly tranquil. Over a 90-minute set that drew from all four main albums, led by May’s Monomania (five cuts), Deerhunter’s three guitars weaved and layered in ways that at times seemed to set the room spinning, without ever obscuring the undeniable hooks beneath all that beautiful haze.
The band’s second songwriter, Lockett Pundt, took the controls for one great song, “Desire Lines” off 2010’s Halcyon Digest, but the night belonged to Cox, who engaged the crowd with more than his guitar work and vocals. He arrived onstage dramatically after his bandmates had begun playing, wearing an animal-print dress with a matching scarf draped over his head, then later removed the makeshift hood to reveal a wig, which he tore off at the height of a blistering, set-closing version of “Monomania.” Cox’s lead guitar—set atop Pundt’s rhythmic spirals and Frankie Broyles’ atmospherics—was a focal point throughout, particularly during kraut-rock homage “Nothing Ever Happened, and his voice cut clearly through a clean (but not over-clean) sound mix.
The encore—an outmoded rock tradition that feels perfunctory more often than inspired—was where Cox really seemed to reward his Vegas admirers, however. Appearing to veer off-plan twice, he turned the extra segment into a 30-minute set of its own, constructed from four older tunes: the “Cover Me (Slowly)”/”Agoraphobia” pairing from 2008’s Microcastle and “Wash Off” and “Fluorescent Grey” off 2007’s Fluorescent Grey EP. As Cox rubbed his face along his guitar neck during the final number’s gnarly feedback jam, it felt clear we’d witnessed something special, even if there were far fewer of us witnessing it than there should have been.
"Nothing Ever Happened"
"Back to the Middle"
"Cover Me (Slowly)"