Bradford Cox Pulls Double Duty With Deerhunter & Atlas Sound In Detroit (SHOW REVIEW)

There aren’t many bands that have their lead singer as an opening act, but Deerhunter’s Bradford Cox’s side project Atlas Sound has been doing this all tour. Cox, sporting a yellow raincoat and beige cap fitting for spring on an unusually warm night at Detroit’s Majestic Theatre on December 12th,  has a reputation of being a bit peculiar and compelling on stage. Oddly enough, it was all business while he opened for Deerhunter – rarely interacting with the incoming crowd, only to give a brief thank you for its denizens, whom seemed reluctant to embrace the more abrasive atmosphere compared to his work with Deerhunter. His 40 minute set finally did win over The Majestic, when those varied, cold looping tones tended to warm up when entering fleeting moments of pop territory through heavily filtered vocals springing into more fragile spoken word as Cox reiterated “shake my eyes, dry my eyes.” The result was a fascinating cycle of ambient drone and waves of pop psychedelic that are noticeably closer to portions of noise rock than shoegaze similar to Deerhunter’s 2005 debut Turn It Up, Faggot.

While mild mannered on stage for his own side project, Cox’s presence with Deerhunter was filled with stage interaction both animate and inanimate. Opening with classic “Desire Lines,” to the pleasurable screams of the venue, the band seemed to touch the line between improvisation and sticking to the original from the very beginning – bringing out a long outro in the opener to transition to their newly released Fading Frontier material for “Breaker.”

The sense of balance between the heavier shoegaze approach of their past work and more accessible less layered material brought a sense of harmony to the entire set. This allowed them to push into their tentative antics musically on stage without much fuss. At times, Cox interacted with the front stage for props (taking it upon himself to use a woman’s overly large hat for himself) or speaking to his guitar pedal in between tracks, who he named Charlie, the pedal rat.

Cox, to the delight of the crowd, kept mimicking Charlie’s voice at times in the nearly two hour performance for a back and forth dialogue on his thoughts on death and his lack of motivation, momentarily shredding his guitar to create lapses between the two character speaking. This, for most, is an expected outcome of a Deerhunter show, but their ability to keep their perceived aimlessness so closely intact for a whole experience is what is most surprising.

Those mentioned times of free-reign for Deerhunter, took a huge step forward once they started playing “Rainwater Cassette Exchange” and “All The Same.” The two tracks somewhere melded into a nearly 20-minute jam session. Cox playfully put his guitar upside down to  drag across the stage while his band mates repetitively cycled through of what would ultimately turned into “Take Care.” At times, the enigmatic singer laid across the stage while playing tambourine, legs up, while one of his sound crew was brought up to keep playing the same chords in succession, until Cox reintroduced himself to play up the rapturous ending. It was undoubtedly a special satisfaction that offered simultaneous boredom and  excitement, one of which the crowd understood with universal applause.

An entertaining night was given some extended time when the crowd persuaded the band to play a few more tracks for an encore. Dipping once again, as they did with their opener, into Halycon Digest for “Helicopter” and slipping out a few songs later within the haze of “Fluorescent Grey.” The quirky Cox carried an unlikely stage presence that doesn’t necessarily interact with the crowd as he merely uses them as observers for his own means. The effect of their meandering humorous act only empowers the rest of the concert as the band always executed beautifully – reading Cox for the cue to transition to the next song in mid-meandering without a hitch.

Deerhunter Setlist Majestic Theatre, Detroit, MI, USA 2015

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