Live Review: Deerhunter, Lower Dens
March 13, 2011, The Earl, Atlanta
by Denton Poteet
When Wye Oak canceled their scheduled performance at The Earl sometime late Sunday afternoon, it looked bleak for tourmates and fellow Baltimore residents Lower Dens as Callers had also had to cancel due to illness.
In an alternate reality, they would have been bumped up to headliner status, with a pair of available locals thrown in to fill out the bill. Of course, with so many locals already on their way to SXSW, finding a complementary Atlanta band that could both draw a crowd and show up to play last minute would have been no easy task.
Add to that general Sunday laziness made even lazier by a preceding week that saw a glut of popular indie bands travel through the city, and it seemed like Lower Dens were in for a low-key, mildly disappointing affair. They would have surely played a great set (they always do), but it would have probably been to a meager, subdued crowd.
That didn’t happen, though, because Lower Dens have four very notable fans in Atlanta. Deerhunter jumped on the bill a few hours before doors opened and turned this show into an event, an opportunity to see a nationally renowned hometown favorite in an intimate venue for just $5. It was even cooler that they did this show, at least in part, as a favor to Lower Dens, who Bradford said is their favorite band.
So instead of a handful of people, Lower Dens played to a crowded room at The Earl, one that was predisposed to the preference for patient dual-guitar explorations that they share with the last-minute headliner. I can’t think of a better showcase for them.
When Deerhunter took the stage, they seemed relaxed and comfortable. Bradford playfully played bits of Bowie’s “Sound and Vision” while the rest of the band set up, and they all just generally seemed happy to be playing a no-pressure show on their home turf. That carried over into the performance, which favored the longer songs that they tend to jam out a bit.
They opened with “Wash Off” and “Desire Lines,” just like they did at Eyedrum in December, but both songs seemed to run longer than usual. I’m not complaining – those are probably my two favorite songs in the catalog, and I think Deerhunter is at their best on the longer tunes that gradually build into a controlled frenzy. The intensity is greater in a small room, too.
After five or six more songs, they left the stage, having already played for roughly an hour. They quickly came back out for a two song encore. The first song was “Memory Boy,” with The Black Lips’ Cole Alexander playing guitar in Bradford’s stead, just like he did on their recent Letterman performance.
They followed that (predictably but not unwelcomely) with “Fluorescent Grey.” The first half was a bit slack, but once it erupted, it was even more obvious that this was a special show. The end of that song is, in my opinion, the best example of their power as a live band.
Deerhunter is a top tier live act that deservedly sells out venues much larger than The Earl all over the country, and Atlanta is incredibly lucky that they are still willing to play shows like this (and last year at Eyedrum and 529 before that, and Bradford’s Atlas Sound set at the Goat Farm).
They clearly like making music, and I like that they’re making it in Atlanta.
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