Tuesday, May 08, 2007


It's been a while since I've been up to London to see a rock band of any description (probably the Cardiacs at The Garage a few years ago), but this was something special.

Vicky and her son Thomas had got into Deerhoof after hearing them on the very last Mixing It, shortly after I'd found out that Dan Dietrich's younger brother John was the guitarist. I was at school with Dan when I lived in Wisconsin in the 80's. Towards the end of high school, he was playing bass in punk/hardcore bands (Ted, Abu Temple) that were part of a little autonomous scene that helped me maintain my sanity at that time (here's a typical poster). John was always in the background, I never got to know him. It turns out he was quietly getting into guitar playing the whole time, with no intention of ever being in a band. But he's ended up in the San Francisco Bay area playing with this extraordinary band called Deerhoof for the last seven years.

When Vicky found out they were playing in Camden with Psapp (who she discovered around the same time, and introduced me to), she suggested we go up. I'd been in touch with John, who not only remembered me, but had received my little reference book from Dan for a Christmas present. We arranged to meet up before the gig (in a Thai restaurant - we had a waiter called "Toad", and both vaguely remembered someone in Wisconsin who was known by that name). We got talking about Busdriver, the abstract MC who toured with them recently (I'd seen a little clip of him freestyling on stage with them in West Virginia), and it turns out that John has since been inspired to get an abstract freeform improv hiphop project together (with Busdriver in mind), with an upright bass, drums and Ezra Buchla on electronics. Deerhoof discovered grime last time they were in London (the person driving them around put some pirate radio on in the car to give them a taste, much to their collective delight), and we talked about the inevitability of hiphop getting freed up from the 4/4 rhythmic grid that it's been stuck on for so long. Can't wait to hear how that project turns out. I asked about their tour with Radiohead last autumn (apparently, they're very friendly, approachable people, treated them really well). I wondered if he'd moved out to California to join the band, but it turns out that he'd ended up on the West Coast as a result of starting an electronic composition course at Mills College (like Phil Lesh, who studied composition there with Luciano Berio, alongside Steve Reich, he never finished, but has ended up creating amazing music). That's where he met Greg , the drummer. It felt like we had a lot more to talk about.

Deerhoof - John, Greg, Satomi and the elbow of (now departed) Chris

And they seriously rocked. The wilder parts of the set took me back to seeing Sonic Youth at the Kilburn National when I was 18 (Daydream Nation tour). Just three of them these days, making a gargantuan sound (and Greg, the drummer, now has a 3-piece kit, which he plays the hell out of). Very difficult to dance to the irregular rhythms, but people were trying their best. I only know two of their nine albums, but they played a lot of Friend Opportunity (the latest one) and some stuff off Apple O' (the 'concept album' about Adam and Eve) too.

Enjoyed Psapp's set a lot too. Unfortunately their assortment of sound-producing toys didn't get picked up too well over the P.A. (I'm sure this must have been the biggest venue they've played, would take some getting used to.). The usual duo were supplemented by four other musicians. They ended with their fabulous cover of "Everybody Wants to Be a Cat" (from The Aristocats). I almost caught one of the home-made pipecleaner cats that they give bizarre names and chuck out into the audience between songs.

John came and found us for a quick chat after the show. I notice a girl in a Cardiacs T-shirt which reminded me to ask if he'd heard them. And he hadn't. So I shall make sure he does. It seems somehow important that Deerhoof should at least be aware of the Cardiacs.

We got the very late train back to Exeter, woke up just in time before the train pulled out of the station (could have found ourselves in Penzance later that morning!)


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