It is difficult to capture what makes Deerhoof such a unique and amazing live experience with mere words. They combine the explosive anarchy of punk with the precise timing and sophisticated musicality of jazz, topping off the combination with the innocently sweet vocals of Satomi Matsuzaki, and it can be a lot to take in at once for the novice. The effect is a spectacle that is unmatched in music today, and the crowd at the Doug Fir on Thursday night had a blast seeing it live at the best venue in Portland.
The band kicked off their set with a run of songs from their latest album, La Isla Bonita; I often have trouble distinguishing a good portion of their catalog, but was able to pick out the early single “Paradise Girls” and the fiery “Exit Only”, which received a hearty applause. Though the record was only released a few weeks ago, it seemed that most people in the audience were already familiar with its songs–either that, or they did a really good job of faking like they knew what was going on. Deerhoof kept the energy up throughout their performance, with Greg Saunier’s insane drumming a definite highlight. Saunier is able to come up with a variety of sounds and textures using a fairly rudimentary kit, and no matter what insanity was going on around him melodically, the audience could tether themselves to his intricate rhythms to keep bouncing around in perfect time.
Deerhoof has a fairly extensive (and consistent) discography at this point in their career, and their setlist reflected that–though La Isla Bonita was represented with numerous selections, the band also selected songs from several of their other releases from this past decade. A boisterous version of “The Perfect Me” from Friend Opportunity was a personal highlight, which despite the lack of keyboards lost none of its charm; another great moment was when Greg and Satomi traded instruments for a song, though it was preceded by Satomi passing around handmade Deerhoof stickers from a devoted fan while using her newly-acquired drumsticks as chopsticks. Guitarists John Dieterich and Ed Rodriguez traded angular and complex guitar parts all night, and Satomi was a constant delight whether she was playing her bass or dancing around with a jam block; her moves varied widely from specific hand gestures that were reminiscent of hula in their apparent hidden meaning to recreating ninja moves with various bouncing kicks.
The show’s encore included a song featuring opener Busdriver, whose incredible delivery and innovative beats made for a compelling opening set in and of itself, but his lightning-quick rapping over a Deerhoof track probably inspired more than a few fans to wonder what a full-length collaboration would sound like. The finale was the pleasantly ridiculous “Come See the Duck”, and that pretty much summed up the whole night in a nutshell. Deerhoof is not for everyone, but for those that are willing to step outside of their normal comfort zone, they are as good a live experience as you can find.