Deerhoof, Live In Berlin

San Francisco art-rockers hit Berlin.

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The mood is playful, the volume loud and the music predictably unpredictable when Deerhoof pass through Berlin on their latest European tour. The San Francisco art-rock quartet recently released their 12th album La Isla Bonita, their most accessible to date, and this show is certainly slanted towards their upbeat arty-party side.

Their opening salvo includes Exit Only, a tightly clenched whirl of centrifugal skronk-rock, and Paradise Girls, a faux-tropical disco-funk groove featuring Satomi Matsuzaki’s dreamy vocals overlaid with John Dieterich’s needling guitar lines. These are seductively sunny and simple numbers, but they serve as gateway drugs for the hard stuff.

After luring us into their basement with sparkly trinkets, Deerhoof unveil their heavy intentions on tempo-scrambled ear-bashers like Last Fad and Dummy Discards A Heart. Too combustible a personality to be confined to his drum kit all night, Greg Saunier swaps places with Matsuzaki to provide yelping vocals on a couple of numbers, and also makes several bids to address the audience in comically bad German. Being a Berlin crowd, most people here speak near-perfect English anyway, but they indulge his bilingual fumblings. Up to a point, anyway. “Shut up and play the music!” shouts one exasperated woman during Saunier’s third rambling monologue.

Try to pin them down, and Deerhoof just squirm and spring off in the opposite direction. Most of the numbers in this set zigzag wildly between prog rock noodling, twisted surf-pop and avant-punk cacophony. A sustained attempt to pin down one of these genres and write a full-blooded metal anthem, say, might be an interesting counter-intuitive experiment as well as adding textural variety to a wilfully sprawling performance like this.

Matsuzaki seizes back the focus in the show’s latter half with The Perfect Me, which again plays into the band’s more melodic side. A slender hour-long set feels a little light for a headline act with such a rich back catalogue. But for sheer kinetic energy and charming prog-pop mischief, nobody has been short changed.

Stephen Dalton

Stephen Dalton has been writing about all things rock for more than 30 years, starting in the late Eighties at the New Musical Express (RIP) when it was still an annoyingly pompous analogue weekly paper printed on dead trees and sold in actual physical shops. For the last decade or so he has been a regular contributor to Classic Rock magazine. He has also written about music and film for Uncut, Vox, Prog, The Quietus, Electronic Sound, Rolling Stone, The Times, The London Evening Standard, Wallpaper, The Film Verdict, Sight and Sound, The Hollywood Reporter and others, including some even more disreputable publications.