Review: Deerhoof at Gorilla with Ichi and Cowtown

"...drummer Greg Saunier sounding like a crate of James Brown LPs being thrown down the stairs" - Alan Wragg witnessed Deerhoof playing live in Manchester for the first time in two years at Gorilla.

Ben Smith

Date published: 26th Aug 2015

Image: Deerhoof (Credit: Jack Kerwin)

Deerhoof are one of those bands who’ve been around long enough to pick up a wide variety of fans, and it was truly an 18 to 50+ crowd that assembled in Gorilla to watch their first Manchester gig since 2013.

Known for their avant-garde playing and surrealistic approach to performing, the indie DIY and art school crowds were all in attendance and expecting.

Ichi is a Japanese ‘Performance Artist and Instrument Maker’. Entering on stilts he roamed through the bemused crowd, before proceeding to set up behind a street cart topped with xylophones and a steel drum. 

Dressed like something from a Hans Christian Andersen fairytale and singing in a high pitched voice, he played homemade instruments, pulling toys, bells and other contraptions from his apron. 

There were some lovely little musical moments hidden amongst the nonsense, and although it was clear that he put at least as much time into building his instruments as he did into practising them, the effort was appreciated nevertheless.

It certainly wasn't everyone’s cup of tea, but as an exposition to Deerhoof’s surreality, it worked great: confrontational in its own naive way.

Cowtown are a Leeds based band closely affiliated with the Manchester scene, having played regularly in DIY gigs over the years. They’re also Deerhoof’s go-to support act in the north.

Playing a high-energy indie-surf style of rock, the crowd took a few songs to get behind the three piece. However, by the time they got into highlights from their Dues Vs Bad Dudes LP ‘Ski School’ and ‘Monotone Face’, the uninitiated were right behind them. 

The drum kit being set up right at the front of the stage really showcased the drumming, while Hilary Knott’s synth bass and the angular guitar lines and slap-back vocals of Jonathan Nash pushed the songs forward and got the crowd moving.

In the end their professed nervousness was unwarranted; they raised the energy levels brilliantly, prepping us for the onslaught of Deerhoof and picking up more fans along the way.

Having been touring with their current line up for nearly a decade, Deerhoof are old hands at this scale of gigs. With a sparse set up, all musicians front of stage, they looked confident and comfortable in their surroundings. The lighting switched to day-glo primary colours as they burst straight into their up-front, avant-pop sound.

Kicking through a few high-energy numbers in quick succession woke the crowd up quickly, with drummer Greg Saunier sounding like a crate of James Brown LPs being thrown down the stairs. It wasn’t until a few songs in that they brought in their more freak-out elements, and we lapped up these as much as the punchy numbers.

Songs fell by at a pace, with each song itself constantly dismantling and reassembling itself anew. If they sound hyperactive and complex on record, the live experience is altogether heavier, with any electronics or extraneous instrumentation removed in favour of viscerality.

Singer Satomi Matsuzaki brings her own fanbase with her, and large portions of the audience were captivated by every hand gesture and high kick. Her on stage aerobics and high pitched singing was more than simply the cutest-thing-ever though, she is essential in holding the technical shredding and mad drumming together, perhaps best demonstrated on ‘The Perfect Me’ from Friend Opportunity.

It’s clear however that this is the drummer’s band, and it lives and dies by Greg Saunier’s playing. He would hyperactively switch rhythms, smashing disco, funk and rock beats into each other along with frenetic fills.

The only time he stopped was to take the mic at a couple of points in the set, to give lengthy anecdotes about nothing (“The broccoli and stilton soup was fantastic”), filled with pregnant pauses.

We weren’t sure whether he was summoning the spirit of Andy Kaufman, or simply playing for time while he caught his breath, the crowd went along regardless.

With all the intense guitar playing and mad switches of time and pace, it wasn’t the breakdowns and noise elements that impressed, but the way that the musicians could find each other perfectly again amongst the chaos. The kind of free energy coupled with extreme tightness on display can only come from the days, weeks and years of touring. 

Slowly the chin-stroking gave way to full on dancing, and by the encore we were in full on party mode, gamely singing along to the old favourite ‘Come See the Duck’. It was clear that Deerhoof are comfortable with their lot, happily manning the merch stall afterwards, and running things by their own ethos. Here’s to another 10 years.

Follow Alan on Twitter @TacetMusic

Read: Jane Weaver interview



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