Review by David Fox with Photography by Rob Hadley

Becoming a parent seriously affected my ability to discover new music. The days of scouring Last.fm or some such to find “similar” artists to my ongoing predilections, became the nights of little sleep and my rest-addled brain took succour in the familiar, the easy. Them the breaks… plus, our babies were ace. No problem.

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However, once normality to our new adventures began evidencing itself, my musical scatterbrain tendencies reawakened. How to quickly discover new artists, I wondered. So, I chose (shockingly) to dust off my old Christmas NME editions and look again through the “Best of” year-end lists. Lazy – maybe. Dubious results abounded (for every Mac DeMarco, there was a Yeasayer)… but, it was through this crackpot-sheep-dip method that I discovered the ever-evolving Deerhunter. And they have become my favourite band. The band that soundtracked many walks to soothe errant babies. The band that I listened to to pump myself up, or to chill me out… to prepare for nights out, or to herald the onset of the morning after…

…but enough of the life story (and thanks for indulging me), but let’s get to the gig shall we?

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Moon Diagrams started the evening off, the solo project of Deerhunter’s drummer Moses Archuleta. The lights were turned out, and the venue was taken by a number of undulating, atmospheric movements that blurred seamlessly into an overall whole – a suitable precursor for what was to follow.

Next up was Cate Le Bon, and for an uneducated fool (see above!!) like me, I became a believer tonight – her set was a delight. Borrowing heavily from recent album ‘Reward’ and with the stage daubed moodily throughout in red light, Cate took Birmingham through the beautiful (‘Daylight Matters’), stuttery (‘Mother’s Mother’s Magazines’) and sublime (‘What’s Not Mine’, complete with Deerhunter’s lead singer/ guitarist Bradford Cox on backing vox). Cate sang about having to “die a little”, though the music spoke of anything but, with her show aptly ending on the refrain of “love is beautiful to me” – there seemed to be a whole lot of love in the room for Cate following her performance.

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So to the main event, and you won’t be surprised to hear that it didn’t disappoint. If anything, it was even more of a triumph than I expected. Deerhunter arrive in blackness, and Bradford addresses the crowd to dedicate the show to friend Trish Keenan, a local musician and founding member of Broadcast, who tragically lost her life at a young age in 2011. Beginning with ‘Death in Midsummer’ seems the perfect opener in light of this – touching on death and fading away, but the uplifting nature of the music only serves to give and promote life – a common theme amongst Deerhunter’s cannon.

Continuing with tracks from their new album ‘Why Hasn’t Everything Already Disappeared?’, next up is ‘No One’s Sleeping’, written in light of MP Jo Cox’s senseless murder and particularly prescient as we head into a further vote across a wildly divided nation, followed by the devastating (in all senses) ‘What Happens to People?’ – I can’t help but feel heartbroken and overwhelmed by the lyrics of this song, particularly at the image of people who “quit holding on” as their “dreams turn to dark” – the music is equally heart-wrenching, and evidences Cate’s recent Deerhunter album production fingerprints with similarities to her own ‘Home to You’.

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From here, we delve deeply into ‘Halcyon Digest’, my own introduction to Deerhunter, and still my favourite. ‘Helicopter’ (“no one cares for me” croons Bradford – unlikely story looking at the agog gathering before him), the incredible ‘Revival’ (a lot heavier than the album version and a lot better for it), the blissed out ‘Desire Lines’ (the final 3-or-so minutes guitar outro has me unknowingly lurching around like a loon as we sail to the stars on the back of Lockett Pundt’s lead… still my top played track on Last.fm… #justsaying), and a gossamer-ly sparse ‘Sailing’.

I believed that the Everest-point of the evening had been scaled with that quadruplet, only to then be completely blown away by ‘Take Care’, starting gentler than the ‘Fading Frontier’ album version, but becoming more and more supercharged as we are urged to “raise your crippled hand into the clouds” towards the cataclysmicsummation – the band creating such an emotional tour de force that it was impossible not to be moved by the sentiments articulated. Unquestionably, this was tonight’s peak.

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The mood was lightened by the upbeat triptych of ‘Futurism’, ‘Plains’ (the Cate love-in continues with her duetting on stage) and the very saxy and jolly ‘Coronado’ – a feather boa is passed to Bradford who dons it with eagerness. ‘Nocturne’ ends the initial set, with Cate back for guitar work, Bradford having now closed his eyes and sporting a mesmerised expression at the sounds, looking very Ian Curtis, and at its culmination they all troop off, with the lead singer looking very-40 something with hands clasped firmly behind his back.

Mr Cox is clued-up on Birmingham – he loves the place he says and wishes they had been invited sooner, and will be returning (this was their first performance on the hallowed turf), gaining further plaudits from the audience for championing local 90’s experimental band Pram and past vocalist Rosie Cuckston’s voice. He has a magnetic presence and is plainly a seriously gifted individual – musical evidence obvious to all, alongside his artistic paintings in the foyer, and acting skills highlighted in the critically-acclaimed ‘Dallas Buyers Club’. Alongside him, the band allow their frontman to lead the way, hypnotically holding rhythm (and the crowd) in the palm of their collective talents – kudos to Lockett, Moses, Josh McKay (bass) and Javier Morales (keys – notwithstanding his underwhelmed praise of Bradford’s humour/ ‘riffing’!)

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The encore sees them briefly turn request band to pump out old favourite ‘Disappearing Ink’ for the masses, no mean feat as Bradford says they haven’t played it for months (mid-September, thanks Setlist.fm!) From here to ‘Cover Me (Slowly)/ Agoraphobia’, a woozy, euphoric trip through old school Deerhunter… yep, the uncontrollable head wobbling had returned. Last but not least, ‘He Would Have Laughed’ – their set closer de rigueur – a flawless end to a flawless gig, from calm into freak-out middle section, back to Earth for the “shut your mouth” ending.

So there I had it – my soundtrack to recent life and future existence – laid bare in front of me. It is fair to say there was a smile on my chops as I exited stage right, particularly having seen Bradford engage with fans at the edge of the stage before taking his own curtain call, all wide-eyed and ecstatic at being passed a book he had been searching for by an acolyte. It really was that kind of night.

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