Deafheaven @ Turner Hall Ballroom
March 19, 2017
Black metal is not friendly, and Deafheaven do not write friendly songs. In fact, it became clear over the course of the band’s 80-minute set at Turner Hall Ballroom Sunday night that seeing Deafheaven live is an emotionally draining experience, even more so than listening to their records.
This has as much to do with the band’s style of music—a mix of black metal riffing and shrieking, post-rock interludes and dream-pop—as it does the band’s song lengths. Their set consisted of only eight songs, which gives you a pretty good idea of the patience they require. That patience is rewarded, though, since the spectacle the band delivers makes a 10-minute song like “Baby Blue” fly by.
While the band as a whole is something to see (especially drummer Daniel Tracy, who plays with a combination of power and grace not seen since Danny Carey) the star of the show is vocalist and lyricist George Clarke. Even as he set aside his impressive ability to shriek for more than an hour at a time, his stage presence was truly captivating. During the band’s many instrumental passages, he either slunk around the stage, headbanged or acted like a possessed conductor, cueing passage changes and quiet or loud moments with his arms. Several times, it looked almost as if he was doing an interpretive dance.
The band opened with three songs from its newest (and best) offering, 2015’s New Bermuda: “Brought to the Water,” “Baby Blue” and “Come Back.” The last of those was well-chosen in terms of pacing, as well. “Come Back” has a beautiful clean guitar coda that functions as a way to bring the audience down from nearly a half hour of majestic aggression.
With the newest material out of the way, the band reached back into its small catalogue for the remainder of the show. After playing one cut from their 2011 debut Roads to Judah (“Language Games”) and a cover of Mogwai’s “Cody” from a 2012 split with Bosse-de-Nage, the band closed the show with three songs from their breakout record, 2013’s Sunbather. “Dream House,” their best song to date, was the first of the three, but it felt like the climax. Perhaps knowing this, Clarke introduced the song by saying, “We used to play this last, but we thought it’d be better here.” Rounding out the set were Sunbather’s title track and “The Pecan Tree.”
Clarke has admitted that he struggles with insecurity, which is likely
why much of his lyricism touches on it, despite being largely indecipherable
when performed. That he is so attention-grabbing as a performer may be his way
of overcompensating—or maybe just a way to let the audience into his world in a
kind of mutual catharsis. Either way, it makes for one hell of a show.