Deerhunter and No AgeEdit this event
The ‘round robin’ format is gaining real traction in the United States. The set up is simple: take three (or more) bands, squeeze them on stage together, and have them take turns playing songs. Members from other bands can dip in and out as they see fit, fostering a collaborative atmosphere that falls somewhere between Concert For Bangladesh-style indulgence and genuine inspiration. Dan Deacon has tried a few of these tours already, but when it was announced that he was going to test out the format with Deerhunter and No Age on board, complete with a huge free outdoor show in Brooklyn, it felt like the round robin concept had really arrived.
Things didn’t quite go according to plan. A rain-drenched afternoon caused the New York City parks department to close down the venue on the Williamsburg waterfront, sparking some frantic scrambling as the organizers searched for an alternate setting. They settled on Brooklyn Bowl, a new bowling alley/music venue with a capacity of around 600. The original location for the show holds 6,000 people — a huge disparity in size that caused concertgoers to queue up for four (or more) hours outside the venue in order to gain admittance. The bands heroically agreed to play a second show on the same night in the same venue to sate everyone’s appetites, and three impromptu afterparties were also put together. New York’s ass does not get kicked by a little rain. And yes, people were bowling during the show.
There’s a genuine air of mania as the doors to the venue are flung open. Kids are sprinting to the front of the stage to gain a prominent position, making me feel like I’m at a Take That concert. A group of bare-chested frat boys bowl and high five one another as the people they bullied in high school congregate in the room next to them. I ponder what will go through the bowlers’ minds when they encounter several spectrums of geek-dom in the shape of Dan Deacon and Bradford Cox. As it turns out, there doesn’t appear to be anyone in the venue who isn’t caught up in a strange kind of delirium when the three bands finally emerge. Perhaps it’s a cathartic burst of relief caused by the long wait outside, or maybe everyone is just naturally ecstatic at seeing these bands play together. But whatever the case, a giant surge of mayhem pulsed through the crowd as the groups launched into the opening ‘Cryptograms’ by Deerhunter.
Some ambient noise briefly foreshadows the song before Dean Spunt and Moses Archuleta pummel through a glorious double-drummer assault, with Randy Randall providing additional guitar and Deacon piling on some twisted electronics. Fears that this might turn out to be a huge sloppy mess are instantly dismissed. ‘Cryptograms’ is loud and bone-rattlingly powerful, and generates a mosh pit that stretches as far as the eye can see. By the time Cox gets to the “There was no sound” coda, there are more wide grins per square inch than I’ve seen at any show for a very long time. A real kid-let-loose-in-a-candy-store feeling sets in when No Age follow ‘Cryptograms’ with ‘Miner’, again bolstered by additional instrumentation from Deacon and Deerhunter, who provide a solid low end that’s sometimes missing from the band’s shows in bigger venues.
Further collaborations are thin on the ground. Deacon mostly performs by himself, with occasional guitar from Cox, while Deerhunter also stretch out alone. Nevertheless, it’s an evening filled with surreal sights. Avey Tare watches from the bowling alley while he eats his dinner. A shirtless bowler jumps into the audience still wearing his bowling shoes, then takes a call on his phone while he crowd surfs during a No Age song. The clack of balls against pins can be heard between tunes as people carry on bowling regardless of the hysteria unfolding next to them. And photographs of concertgoers are beamed onto the walls, causing people to stop and gawp as they try to spot themselves. Hopefully this isn’t a ghastly portent of things to come at other venues.
At certain points there are sound problems, as you’d expect from the combination of an impromptu venue switch and the sheer weight of numbers on stage. It’s sometimes hard to hear Spunt’s vocals during the No Age numbers, and Deacon’s Timmy Mallett techno lacks the necessary amplification to really envelop the audience. He would have benefited from collaborating more with the other bands to make up for the noticeable drop in volume when he performed alone. But the bearded Baltimorean still manages to galvanize the crowd to do some stupid dancing, congregate around the mirror ball in the centre of the venue, and generally act like this is the night of their lives.
It all ends with Cox and Randall exchanging cheesy rock & roll poses during an impossibly adrenalised ‘Nothing Ever Happened’, the ebullient atmosphere still soaring, heads nodding frantically, sweat dripping from the walls, Deacon being passed around the crowd, instruments being given to audience members, and everyone clinging to this special moment and willing it to never, ever end. The stark realisation that ordinary gig-going is now going to seem awfully drab kicks in shortly afterwards, but for the lucky few hundred who endured the sisyphean wait outside, this was the kind of night they won’t forget in a long, long time.
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