Deerhunter + Cindy Lee @ Le National – January 15th, 2017

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I’ve been thinking a lot about death these days. It’s been a recurring subject of family discussion, and it’s something I haven’t been able to shake loose from my brain. That’s probably not the most fist-pumpingly enthusiastic way to walk into a concert, but it’s really not completely off-topic at a Deerhunter show. For the last 12 years, Bradford Cox and his crew have been recording songs about mental illness, memory, existentialism, and mortality. With my head where it was, taking my seat on the balcony at Le National, I knew I was going to feel right at home.

Introduced later in the set by Bradford Cox as his “favourite artist right now”, Cindy Lee came out first to set the tone. A recording and performance project from Patrick Flegel, the former guitarist and vocalist of the now defunct Women, Cindy Lee caught me off-guard. Coming out from beneath a fur coat, sunglasses, and short blonde wig, Cindy Lee’s vocals are floaty, hypnotic, emotional, and unintelligible. Accompanied by off-kilter and processed melodies from 1950s and 60s girl groups, Cindy Lee swayed through a set full of torch-song dream-pop – that is, if the person doing the dreaming was David Lynch. Cindy Lee gives off a distinct and otherworldly Twin Peaks vibe, and though it might not be easy to for me to articulate whether or not I liked this set, it did connect with me on some primal level – subconscious, or otherwise.

Deerhunter took to the stage next, coming out to a crowd heckle/cheer of “Fuck Kings of Leon!” Inexplicably, the Atlanta art-rock weirdos have been booked for a smattering of January shows as the opening act for the Kings of Leon – and the band gave off the sense that they were looking forward to this show as a chance to take a deep breath and be themselves. Swaggering through the distortion of the opening pair from 2008’s Microcastle with David Bowie confidence and belted vocals not found on the record, vocalist/guitarist Bradford Cox brought a certain cheekiness to his anxiety anthems. Backed by a 5-piece band, including longtime collaborator/guitarist Lockett Pundt and recent additions Javier Morales (keys and sax) and Rhassaan Manning (percussion), Cox took the crowd through a well-rounded setlist of tracks from their last four records (and one EP).

Before going into a notably groovy take on Halcyon Digest’s “Revival”, Cox took the opportunity to dedicate the evening to the late Trish Keenan from Broadcast. Cox explained that the last time he played on the stage of Le National was with Broadcast in 2009, just a couple years before Keenan’s death from pnemonia and H1N1-related complications.

However, even while paying respect to tragedy, Deerhunter’s set was far from a bummer, turning its eye toward a celebration of life instead. Basking in the glow of 2015’s excellent Fading Frontier, which itself came on the heels of Cox’s own brush with a traumatic car accident, Deerhunter’s glambient rock was in particularly lively form.

Cox treated himself to a rare drink and joked around, switching out lyrics (plugging “fuck no, my son!” into the “do you believe in love at first sight / oh yes, my son” of “Rainwater Cassette Exchange), recounting fond memories of the band’s past Montreal visits (friend Andre eating Canadian money to “prove its value”), and giving sincere thanks to the Kings of Leon for the opportunity to insert the city into their personal tour schedule.

The songs were equally warm-blooded, with main-set highlights like Pundt’s vocal showcase “Desire Lines”, 20s cabaret tribute “Take Care”, the slinky funk of “Snakeskin”, and the Tom Petty-esque “Back to the Middle”. The clear MVP was a surprisingly sped-up party version of the reflective “Living My Life”, emboldened here by ringing U2 guitars, conga drums, and a sax solo that would make Bruce Springsteen and the Big Man jealous.

The night capped off with a lengthy tension-and-release encore that featured my favourite Deerhunter shred (the superlative “Nothing Ever Happened”, now with Patti Smith interlude!) and a whisper-quiet duet between only Cox and Pundt’s guitars on the ethereal “Twilight at Carbon Lake”.

As Cox invited Cindy Lee back on-stage and the fading fuzz of “Twilight” slowly morphed into a 20-plus minute tag-team jam around the 1963 bubblegum of “I Will Follow Him”, I realized that endings, goodbyes, and mortality are real things – but they don’t always have to be sad affairs. We acknowledge them – but we live on, keep jamming, and can stretch moments or memories for as long as we want to hold onto them. With Deerhunter, at least, all this death can be life-affirming.

Deerhunter Setlist:

Main Set:

Cover Me (Slowly)
Rainwater Cassette Exchange
Back to the Middle
Dream Captain
Living My Life
Take Care
Desire Lines


Fluorescent Grey
Nothing Ever Happened
Twilight at Carbon Lake
I Will Follow Him (Peggy March Cover – Jam)

Review – Dan Corber

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