Deafheaven With Wreck & Reference and Pallbearer Club Dada Saturday, June 28, 2014
Having Deafheaven play the patio at Club Dada seemed like a good idea. It was a breezy, cool (for June) night with occasional wafts of barbeque smoke floating in the air. But a mere minute before the San Francisco-based quintet kicked off their set, a decision made in hopes of connecting with the audience made a few people happy, but plenty of others not.
Frontman George Clarke encouraged as many people as possible to stand on the stairs in front of the stage. Like every Deafheaven show, Clarke feeds off the direct energy from the crowd like a shark constantly swimming for blood. The lesser the distance between him and the audience, the better. Clarke wasn't necessarily in the wrong by doing this, as he tries to physically connect (whether by touching of hands or trading stares) with as many people as possible. Yet a vast majority of the audience behind the people on the stairs could only see the band members' foreheads or nothing at all.
When you pay to see a show, you expect to see more than a head, a microphone, and a tuning peg, right? Especially if you're close to the front of the stage. Of course you pay to see the band, not the backs of people crowded up in front, almost arm in arm.
The distraction remained constant throughout the band's hour-long set. The band played the same set they've been playing throughout this tour: all of the main songs from Sunbather with truncated, alternate versions of transitional tunes, "Irresistible" and "Please Remember," and ended with an older song, "Unrequited."
For as long as the band has toured off the rightfully acclaimed record, the set was uneven from a performance standpoint. "Dream House" sounded tired and frayed as the band wrestled with its shifting tempos, while "Sunbather" breathed fire and bolts of lightning. "Vertigo" and "The Pecan Tree" were towering, especially due to drummer Daniel Tracy, who powered through consecutive minutes of blast beats like a determined marathon runner.
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Clarke, a cordial and friendly person when he isn't fronting the band, always unleashes a radically different side when he opens his mouth in front of a microphone. He sounds like a witch from Suspiria and sharply dresses like Pink from The Wall, all while making facial expressions like the titular cold-blooded lead in Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer. No other frontman out there does this the way Clarke does. And while it might look terrifying to some, Clarke's persona and the band's music is all about catharsis to those who believe in the band.
Deafheaven seems to be winding down from this crazy journey that is Sunbather and hopefully will start working on new material soon. They proved that a record could bring Mayhem and My Bloody Valentine fans together. For whatever they do next, they need to show this whole success was not a fluke, because they are a very special band.
Personal bias: Deafheaven's set at Spillover this past March was one of the best sets I've seen all year. They played indoors, bathed in red light, playing the same set (save for "Unrequited").
Side note: Opener Wreck & Reference is the only doom band that I know of where it's a sampler and a drummer. Rocking out with a sampler around your neck might not look awesome, but it sure sounded interesting. Other opener Pallbearer played really long, sludgy doom that made me think of Vikings floating at sea.