My GCSE music teacher once told me that the structure of jazz is about 'question... answer... question... answer...' The problem with Deerhoof is that they're more 'question... answer... question... ELEPHANT!... PHOTON!... DIGNITY!' Their attention wanders so far and so frequently, it's probably discovered new planets. The San Francisco trio is one of those fun-loving avant-garde rock bands that America sprouts by the dozen but which we apparently don't make over here, and, like the Fiery Furnaces or Animal Collective, they put more ideas in each song than can possibly fit. On Friend Opportunity, their eighth album, which came out in January, this approach had great results: twee, elated, complex songs that drew on everything from Broadway musicals to seventies heavy rock.
But, live, it's not the same. A gig like this, craning your neck over a big crowd, invites full participation – you want the music to carry you along like an ocean current. But Deerhoof's constant chops and switches mean that every time you've started to enjoy part of a song, it's snatched away. The panicked riff from The Perfect Me, for example, drew a big cheer, but, too soon, it drops out, and singer Satomi Matsuzaki is cooing pleasantly away instead, and then before long that's gone too. This pinball quality is very entertaining, but at the same time it stops any real drama from building up, and it's pretty tiring after an hour – sometimes you just want some 'question... answer...', or, even better, some good old 'verse... chorus...'.
The band's skills still shine through, like Matsuzaki's surreal lyrics ('If I were a man and you a dog, I would throw a stick for you') and enigmatic hand signals, or Greg Saunier's frenzied drumming, but it's all just too alienating. I couldn't help comparing them to the brilliant Death Sentence: Panda!, who I'd seen a couple of days earlier and who come from a similarly childish, experimental dimension, but whose songs really felt like songs, not endurance tests. I'd still rather have one Deerhoof than a hundred British indie plodders, but, still: calm down, Deerhoof!