At 8:45 or so Tuesday morning, there were only a few more serious-looking college kids reading Nabokov novels outside of SoHo’s Apple Store than there might have normally been on a day with no Deerhunter show admission to be handed out. Director Spike Lee made an odd cameo among the gathered, granted early entry to the store because his iPod was being weird or something. (The fevered mobbing he didn’t receive in the street was surely no reflection on the exhausting crush of adoring fans he’d have had to contend with had he waited 15 minutes to do business among the regulars.) When the doors of the converted post office opened promptly, an orderly handful of folks gained and affixed the wristbands they’d have to wear all day, then dispersed. For a big-deal band whose new record has been pretty much universally praised ahead of it’s release that very morning, there was surprisingly little hubbub about it all.
Eleven hours later, well clear of the prohibitive getting-out-of-bed-before-9 barrier, the Apple Store was quite a different, hubbub-heavy scene. The 6 rows of seated second-floor space, usually reserved for product demonstrations such as “How You, Spike Lee, Can Edit Movies on Your iPad,” was prefilled with press, label, and PR types, comingled with the commendably early to arrive. The collegiate set swarmed in behind, nudging containment barriers to squeeze next to folding chairs, camping out in forbidden aisles, and snaking around the Genius Bar way back to where the best sightline was a good imagination. A few minutes before the store’s events man, sounding uncannily like a cruise director, could inform us that Deerhunter’s set would be taped and sold via iTunes a few days later, and boy, wouldn’t that make a great momento purchase?, I’d overheard some art student predict that, “Soon, everything will be free, and it’ll all just be advertising.” Conclusive numbers on how many indie-label workers in earshot winced, sighed, still pending. (Though the prognosticator didn’t actually “crowd-surf and knee a rich guy in the face” as promised, so who knows how trustworthy any of his predictions really are.)
In the end they only played for about 40 minutes or so, but within that limit, Deerhunter sounded consistently amazing. Compared to their other work, Halcyon Digest is uniformly gentle and sweet, free of the band’s more unhinged ripping. Twenty feet away, on a PA damningly crisper than the one they’d had at their fuzzy, late-summer Pier 54 show, the album’s songs sounded fucking heavy. Before a mid-song level adjustment, the taught meanness of this “Desire Lines” nearly swallowed Lockett Pundt’s indie-pop vocals entirely. He was quiet on purpose as the song built to an extended, feedback-flecked groove. “Hazel Street” from Cryptograms followed, both upping the psych-rock intensity and tightening the rhythm even further, proof of a band grown extra-steady with the last few years of touring. “Don’t Cry,” kind of a loving pick-me-up on record, was imbued with bigger, brighter pop moves in person.
Handling Halcyon’s standout singles, “Revival” and “Helicopter,” they raised the bar further. Bradford Cox, now long-favoring Thurston Moore button-ups and chinos over his early Courtney Love baby-doll dresses, crooned smoothly over “Revival”’s chiming swing, harshing his voice into a snarl only to curse the line: “darkness, always, it doesn’t make much sense.” “Helicopter” came off radder still, it’s fragility screwed with by drummer Moses Archetula’s up-sized live thudding. That song, so pretty and warped (and here building to a tortured, near-screaming climax), set even the seated on heavy sway. Bassist Josh Fauver was awesome throughout, combining New Wave bounciness with a deep, crunchy rattle. During amped-up versions of “Fountain Stairs” and “Rainwater Cassette Exchange” it was natural to wonder whether he’s the best bass-man in rock right now, able to nudge melodic material into a tangible gut-punch. It was notable how proficiently they can now move from gauzey stillness to pop immediacy, the tension of Cryptograms' full length now plays out in miniature within single songs. They closed with a gorgeous “He Would Have Laughed,” faithful down to its sudden, cords-unplugged ending, but palpably more as well. The clockwork guitar figures of its opening gained a repetitively hypnotic tribal heft; the strummy outro made full enough to hint at a possible future of Classic Rock polish. And that’s what’s so exciting about Deerhunter at this point: with every plateau they hit, you always have the feeling that, man, they are still just on the cusp of that next great something.
Rainwater Cassette Exchange
He Would Have Laughed