By nine o’clock, the Scala will be packed, the buzz of chatter will drown out the between-band music, and the sense of anticipation will be palpable. At this point in time, however, the atmosphere is cool at best.

The band on stage are Baby Venom, a keyboard-led indie pop band from Baltimore, Maryland. They aren’t exactly tearing up the rulebook with their distinctly Pitchfork sound, but they have enough punky energy to keep things interesting, the melodies are good, and there are signs of better things that are yet to develop within their sound, in part down to their unusual, bass and guitar-free set up. Although they aren’t cruelly received by the steadily expanding crowd at the Scala, they are coolly received – you can sense the lack of interest from large pockets within the audience. That said, enough people enjoy their set for the band to walk off stage with a smile on their faces.

It’s later in the night, and Extra Life are fairing worse. Where Baby Venom met with indifference from people, a lot of people seem to actively dislike this band. It is a testament to the crowd though, that they generally refrain from heckling, choosing to converse among themselves instead. Extra Life’s problem stems from two things. One : they seem to take themselves very seriously, and the singer has pretentious hair. Two : they came on late.

Most of the people at the Scala have been waiting to see Deerhunter for some time now, having bought tickets for their cancelled show back in March. The support for that show was going to be Women and Wavves, two very popular bands among Deerhunter’s fans.

Considering the hostility that Extra Life have received from the Deerhunter crowd, they are actually kind of interesting, though it’s difficult to tell if that translates into enjoyment. They certainly have a different sound, a sort of arty post-rock-jazz-folk thing that shifts dynamics in a stop start fashion, sounding almost metal heavy in short bursts before becoming uncomfortably quiet. Most of their songs are long and complex, and most go a bit free jazz as they go on. Frontman Charlie Looker’s vocals are perhaps the most distinctive thing about them, rapidly hopping up and down scales in a style that has been compared to medieval and renaissance music.

Although the initial reaction to this is one of slight bemusement, as the set goes on, and a couple of more condensed moments appears, it is hard not to admire them for taking such an odd messy approach to their music. It is quite possible that given repeated listening, their music will make more and more sense. At this point in time however, they are just too weird for too much of the crowd, and they’re getting in the way of Deerhunter’s set.

When Deerhunter do finally come on, the tension breaks with that excitable rush that hits you at highly anticipated gigs. The band storm through their songs, which retain their ethereal, stretched quality, but get a bit of added stomp. Getting lost in the fuzzy, echo and reverb-drenched haze, songs start to segue into one another, generally sticking to their more upbeat numbers, such as ‘Nothing Ever Happened’, ‘Saved By Old Times’ and ‘Cryptograms’. When they do slow things down a few notches, like an eerily beautiful rendition of ‘Microcastle’ in the middle of the set, those moments stand out brilliantly.

The band veer from their setlist frequently, throwing in extra songs and moving them up and down the list. Frontman Bradford Cox, his skinny frame adorned in a baggy ‘Cats’ musical t-shirt, is in constant wordless communication with his band mates, who feed off each other effortlessly.
Although it initially appears that there would be very little audience interaction with the audience, after a fairly long first run of songs, Cox engages directly with the audience, proving to be a very charismatic presence – telling stories from the tour with a sense of self-deprecation. Clearly in a very happy mood, he heaps praise on the crowd, asks them if they went to All Tomorrows Parties (which Deerhunter had played that weekend) and cracks jokes with a surprising sense of comic timing. Often, when he’s speaking to the audience, his voice is drenched in echo-y effects, adding a slightly bizarre element to it all.

Midway through the set, Cox breaks a guitar string. While this could cause a slightly awkward pause in proceedings, Cox turns it to his advantage. “Okay, you guys, I’m going to show you how you change a string real fast,” he says, and, although it isn’t actually that quick in the end, his banter keeps everyone in high spirits.

New songs from the ‘Rainwater Cassette Exchange’ EP – the title track, ‘Famous Last Words’ and ‘Circulation’ – get airings tonight, but generally the set is an almost even mix from all their albums and EPs since ‘Cryptograms’. ‘Nothing Ever Happened’ played early in the set, becomes a swirling, pounding all enveloping stomp live, and gets one of the biggest cheers of the night, as do most of the ‘Microcastle’ tracks played during the set. Deerhunter save the haunting/brittle opening salvo of ‘Cover Me (Slowly)’ and ‘Agoraphobia’ from that album for their encore a set highlight that was worth the wait. Just as on record, the effect laden and woozy guitars of ‘Cover Me (Slowly)’ meld perfectly into the jangling sway of ‘Agoraphobia’, with Bradford Cox taking vocal duties on both tracks (On the record, ‘Agoraphobia’ is sung by guitarist Lockett Pundt).

This is followed by the extended ‘Calvary Scars II/Aux Out’ off the ‘bonus’ LP of material the band put out last year, ‘Weird Era Cont.’, beginning as an ambient swirl before quickly gaining momentum, building to a crescendo of noise, both abrasive and pretty.

While most bands would go off stage and stay off, leaving with the satisfaction of a job well done, Cox doesn’t want to leave yet – he wants to give the show something extra, and he wants our help to do it. “It’s our sound guy’s birthday, so we want to sing him Happy Birthday’,” he says. “I want all of you guys to join in in wishing him a happy birthday. Will you do that for us ?”

After one bout of Happy Birthday, Cox announces that we’re not quite finished yet. “Sorry you guys, we won’t keep you too long, you just have to do this one more time,” he says, pulling a friend of his out from the crowd, a bloke who works for the band Black Lips (who are stuck in France after coming into a little trouble with the law). It turns out it’s his birthday as well.

“Anyone else have a birthday recently ?” asks Cox. One bloke does. He’s dragged up onstage too.

After a lot of faffing about as the band try to find bass player Josh Fauver, who’s gone on a walkabout somewhere, everyone gets to sing ‘Happy Birthday’ once more. It dragged out almost to the point of awkwardness, but Bradford Cox’s good natured whimsy has certainly made for a memorable end to the night.











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