Dalston’s cavernous EartH (Evolutionary Arts Hackney) is a magnificent edifice. Its expansive stage is housed within the bowels of a once glittering art deco cinema, now restored in a bare-walled shabby-chic style that hints tastefully at its former grandeur and its sound system and lighting are spot on, so much so that the lighting engineer gets an on-stage shout out from Deerhoof drummer Greg Saunier mid-way through their set. But once I’ve regained myself from the initial burst of awe that strikes me on entry, a niggling concern presents itself in the form of its banks of wooden step seating. The last time that I can recall attending a seated gig was for The Delgados playing through their wonderful 2002 album Hate, and Deerhoof are a band whose infectious onstage energy demands that you move with them.
So it is with trepidation in my heart that I pick a spot halfway up the bank (which incidentally provides perfect sitelines throughout) and take my place for openers Dog Chocolate, and as they kick into a set of frantic runaway train art-punk, it seems that there can be few bands that the seated arrangement would be less well suited to. Somehow though they make it work, as much through their onstage antics as by the chaotic deluge of surrealist fuzz that splatters forth from their instruments. They use the massive performance space to spread as far apart as their guitar leads will allow, sprinting back just in time for backing vocal cues, ask an audience member to time an attempt at breaking their own speed record for performing a song (clocking an impressive 5.3 seconds) and hold an onstage Q&A inbetween playing songs that weigh up the cultural benefits of the museum at which guitarist Rob works against the colonial thefts that filled its cabinets or muse on the likelihood that a bandmember’s plastic canoe will outlive them all.
So far so good then, and after a lesiurely stroll to the bar to awaken my numbing buttocks (much to my chagrin it is only on the way out that I notice a sign offering cushion hire) we’re treated to another set of stirling quality, this time from London trio Trash Kit (a hearty round of applause is due at this point to the excellent curatorial choices of tonight’s promoters Upset The Rhythm, who have woven together a trio of artists that complement without overlapping).
Delicate webs of guitar are spun around cascading drums, drawing us into the intimate interplay between the three instruments, at times building and swirling into giant crashing waves before breaking into angular shards. A hush falls throughout an audience hanging on every note and sharing the smiles that radiate from a trio of performers who are clearly loving this ever bit as much as we are. The addition of a six-piece choir on backing vocals brings an extra layer of warmth and a joyous energy that further drives home singer/guitarist Rachel’s call to the crowd for more female representation onstage.
As the moment of Deerhoof‘s arrival draws nearer the small space between the stage and the front row of seating is quickly packed with bodies, and having been too slow to react I retake my seat for a set that is drawn from tracks throughout the band’s 25 year back catalogue. Observing from my vantage point, the jaw-dropping ingenuity of these songs comes to the fore in a way that it may not have done had I been in the front row bouncing along with Satomi’s star jumps. They are a force of nature, morphing from one style to another as easily as a shift in the wind, playing with conventions and exploring the very edges of songs, some of which they must have played over a hundred times but are still yielding new secrets.
From up here I can see every flick of guitarist Ed Rodriguez’s voluptuous mane and the mesmerising contortions of Saunier’s drumming, which at its most frantic resembles a man whose shirt has been filled with bees, but which never drops a single beat. They’re not short of stage craft either, verging at one point on physical theatre as Saunier discards his sticks to attack his kit with bare fingers and a water bottle, and when Satomi discards her bass the energy levels are stepped up just a little further as she directs the crowd through a series of calisthenic arm movements.
It’s perhaps only at this moment that I envy those swift-footed crowdmembers their place in the standing space. It’s been a different Deerhoof experience than my previous expeditions into their strange but inviting world, not better or worse, but different. Perhaps I shan’t leave it another decade before taking a seat again.
Review and Photography by Paul Maps