Deerhoof with Ben Butler and Mousepad and Doomstar! at the Middle East (Cambridge, MA) on Thursday, February 10, 2011
Deerhoof is one of those bands that mixes equal parts cute and thorny so that it mostly confounds diehards in either camp. However, the Venn diagram overlap is sufficiently large enough to sustain this four piece fifteen years into a pretty successful career. The year 2011 marks the advent of a new label (leaving longtime home Kill Rock Stars and joining Polyvinyl), and their brand-new LP (number eleven, for those keeping score at home) has just landed on the record shelves in time for their tour. Most of the time, the cutesy factor, mainly fueled by singer/bass player Satomi Matsuzaki, has threatened to smother the thornier bits of their music with fluffy pink pillows, and the title of the new LP (Deerhoof vs Evil) seemingly tips its hand that the powers of good remain intact. What unfolded was a bit different, as Deerhoof parted their lips to show some fangs.
The first visual sign was encouraging; Matsuzaki had ditched her fluffy white pom-pom that habitually held court at the bridge of her bass. The familiar guitar riff (that transforms into an avalanche) of "Dummy Discards A Heart" got things off to a great start with guitarist John Dieterich aptly handling the 12 string guitar he'd use for much of the night. Relative newcomer Ed Rodriguez shares a background of fearless improvisation, but he's tempered that to blend in accordingly with the material, such as the light samba of "Qui Dorm, Només Somia" but still brought a sound like a stumbling japanese harp into the mix. The giddiness of "Super Duper Rescue Heads!" matches the title perfectly. The real engine of the band is drummer Greg Saunier, and though the studio recordings of the new material tend to be a bit more restrained, live he's out of the cage like a rodeo bull, all arms and legs in perpetual motion, a constant blur on the kit. The jagged time signatures of "Come See The Duck" from 2005's Green Cosmos punctuated their more avant leanings, which were offset by Matsuzaki's pantomimes during "O'Malley, Former Underdog." You can't take either part of the band away or it all collapses. They did toss one surprise curveball at the end, with a straight-ahead cover of "Pinhead." The Ramones are one of the most straight-forward, non-convoluted bands out there, so it was refreshing to see a band known for twists and turns just hit the straight-away at full speed.
Opener Ben Butler and Mousepad (actually two functioning humans, not just a laptop user) first got their notice via the callout for remixing duties that Deerhoof requested for "Rrrrrrright," the final track of _The Runners Four_. The duo (one manning a vintage Korg keypad, the other bashing the living hell out of the drum kit to the point that he punctured a snare head and had to borrow one from Doomstar!'s kit) plays like an idiot savant re-programmed one of those organs my grandmother used to own and re-arranged all the presets. Doomstar! brought a weird mix of hillbilly rage and punk rock attitude, encircled by semi-catchy melody lines.