Concert review: ‘Meet me, meet me, meet the perfect me’ in St. Louie, Louie. Deerhoof at the Luminary, Monday, September 26
Despite a history of fits and starts, and although once described as “discordant,” “chaotic,” and even “unpredictable,” last night at the Luminary, Deerhoof did not for a single moment want for a united front or lack audience appreciation.
Deerhoof showed “St. Louis-ians” what 17 years does to a band — tightly choreographed roving chorus-line footwork, perfectly synchronous guitar- and bass-finger picking and precision maneuvers punctuating the sounds: beep beep (tip toes), screech (finger point), bang bang (turn left, high kick). In fact, all four musicians seemed to be following the lead of some invisible maestro.
Then again, perhaps that conductor wasn’t so invisible — the 70 minutes of rocking out were dominated by the ethereal interludes of Satomi Matsuzaki’s chirping lullaby falsetto: “Basket Ball! Basket! Ball!,” “seagulls!,” and “Hollywood!” Giving credence to the Wikipedia telling of Deerhoof history that her 1996 arrival on the scene helped gel Greg Saunier’s prior musical expressions, Matsuzaki opened the show warbling, “ME to the rescue!” And mid-show, when Saunier paused to chat with the audience, it was her tap-tap-tap on the mic that snapped him back to attention. Yes, it seemed that Matsuzaki was making the trains of this rock railroad run on time.
Well, at least that’s what it seemed like to me. As with any work of abstract art, I suppose Deerhoof’s meaning of the message is in the eye of the beholder. My impression aside, universally, fans tend to classify Deerhoof as cacophony and chaos. Band bios suggest such expansive musical influences as “rock and roll of the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s, garage rock, post-rock, modern classical composition, pop, noise, and improvisation,” and album reviews identify such wildly varied thematic interpretations as “time travel, sports, smuggling, and Noah’s Ark” or “love and war, apples, and the atom bomb.” The band members have been quoted as saying that even they never know what type of sound they are going to create or what’s coming next. If that’s the case, then surely our personal interpretations are just a few of infinite possibilities.
Perhaps the myriad explanations and contradictory interpretations about Deerhoof emerge because, as the band members say, the ambiguity in their music invites listeners to participate, to make the sounds their own (actually, fans long have had the opportunity to reinterpret Deerhoof songs and upload them to the band website). As an example of Deerhoof fans getting their say, last night, Saunier’s joking demand that an audience member present her press pass ended abruptly when, in response to her retort that she had access to the band simply because “she bought a ticket,” he said, “shit — I didn’t.” Similarly, during the grand finale when Matsuzaki poked peoples’ foreheads, demanding that they “bunny jump! bunny jump!,” despite her insistence, I don’t think anyone obeyed. So maybe Matsuzaki isn’t behind the chugging Deerhoof train after all.
Is this the subtly refined music of artistic geniuses, or merely the product of improvisation and chance? Are the songs orchestral with “Stravinskian harmonies,” or random noises and words from random instruments and people? As with the irrelevance of the exact cause of the improved railways, in the end, as long as we get where we’re going, I’m not sure it matters why or how we got there. Matsuzaki’s Facebook “about me” reads merely: “sliding scale.” Maybe that’s the best description yet, because maybe, despite all attempts to define and classify, Deerhoof is best left unclassified — the perfect them, 17 years later, chaotically choreographed, unpredictably predictable, and always in flux. And likely, at least in the event of a pending derailing, Deerhoof is nevertheless safe from harm with Matsuzaki there to tap and point and bunny jump them back on track, whatever direction that track is headed, whoever’s on board.