When a couple of blogs leaked the news that San Francisco avant-pop gurus Deerhoof would be performing Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring” with NYC’s Metropolis Ensemble for the Celebrate Brooklyn! festival on July 18, a lot of people canceled flights and blew off weddings in an attempt to catch the once-in-a-lifetime show. There was only one problem: Deerhoof had never actually intended to perform the Russian composer’s masterwork. Metropolis would be playing the piece alone. A red herring, it seemed, had been dropped into the rumor mill.
“It’s the case of a blogger skipping a couple prepositions or leaving half the email out of the browser window,” explains Greg Saunier, Deerhoof’s drummer. “I’m kind of sad all these people aren’t that excited for plain, old Deerhoof.”
Saunier’s description of the band comes off as something of an oxymoron considering the ripe expanse of aural variables the group has toyed with over the course of its eight studio albums. From the noise blitzes of their early records to the melodic quirk-core of their more recent popular apotheosis, the quartet has always shown a degree of difficulty courting convention, while at the same time managing to mold an ever-evolving niche of their own.
“A few years ago, our sound wouldn’t have made sense to anyone,” remarks Saunier, “Now, when people say something reminds them of Deerhoof, we’re always like, ‘What?’ To know your band’s sound is a known commodity is flattering, but it also makes you wonder if the things identified with your style are necessarily something you would want engraved on your tombstone.”
Rather than galvanizing any discernible trope from rock’s decomposing backlog, the kind of markers one might characterize as the Deerhoof vibe—whiplash guitar symphonics, singer Satomi Matsuzaki’s schoolgirl birdsong—satisfy a sonic logic singular to the band. It’s the kind of creative Catholicism that would make the “Rite” myth not only believable but eminently desirable. Can you imagine the Red Hot Chili Peppers remixing The Ring Cycle, or the Yeah Yeah Yeahs doing the Brandenburg Concertos? The prospect in either case would be mystifying—and terrifying. It is undoubtedly a testament to a band’s greatness when any lunatic idea they come up with—or, in this case, don’t—carries the weight of a must-see event.
Even without its touted hook, this week’s set will nevertheless bend toward the new and exciting: Cuts from Deerhoof’s upcoming LP, Offend Maggie, will form the core of the concert in anticipation of a more sustained touring program through the United States, Japan and Australia in support of the disc’s October 7 release.
While wiping the board clean is the ho-hum cliché of most follow-up albums, the group’s redefined approach to the new track list seems particularly harrowing: Before hitting record on Maggie, the band wrote a bunch of songs, rehearsed them and played them at some shows.
“In the past, one of us would show up in the studio with a song he or she had written the night before and say, ‘I have one part, this is how it goes,’” recalls Saunier. “Our big, radical reinvention this time was to do what most bands do normally. But it brought out a new result. It’s a weird sound on a Deerhoof album—that we actually know what we’re doing.”
While frequently cited for mind-blowing live shows, Deerhoof has always kept a distance between their headphone and headlining aesthetics. The experimental Maggie approach had its origins in that disjunction, explains Saunier, with the group attempting to close the divide between the stereo and the stage.
“Before we were always kind of a Deerhoof cover band,” he says. “We had been talking to Wayne Coyne [of the Flaming Lips] about how he always gets mad when a band sounds some way on record, and then you buy a ticket and the whole thing is completely different. It was something we wanted to rectify.”
Of course, if the band’s pattern of self-disavowal remains intact, the rejoinder of mediums on Maggie might as well propel their gigs even farther into left field. Saunier says the band might be game to rework “Rite of Spring” sometime in the future, but remains enthusiastic about their pairing on the Celebrate Brooklyn! showcase.
“A lot of times I feel like festival lineups underestimate the audience,” he says, “The idea of the words ‘Celebrate Brooklyn’ and ‘Deerhoof’ and ‘Metropolis Ensemble’ being mentioned in the same breath is pretty amazing. It shows that it’s not about ‘indie rock’ or ‘art music’ but ideas and being put in an unknown situation that requires a solution. It gives you the chance to refresh, to press the restart button, to reckon with your own assumptions.”
Stravinsky, perhaps the original mother of reinvention, would be proud.
Deerhoof performs with Metropolis Ensemble July 18, Prospect Park Bandshell (Prospect Park West & 9th St.), Park Slope; 7:30, free.
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