Deafheaven were supposed to perform an early set last night. According the band’s website, Twitter feed and the venue itself, they were going to come on around 8:30. This false information had me sitting in a puddle of my own sweat while local blackened death metal outfit Kitezh trashed the stage. If it weren’t for these dog days of summer, I might have been alright with being at the venue so early, but on this particular evening, I would have preferred to have spent a little more time in the air-conditioned Star Bar. But that opportunity had passed, so I made my way to the bar to get my hands on something cold. The set times posted there contained a little more truth than anything I had seen posted before. Kitezh 8:15, Marriages 9:00, Deafheaven 10:00. My time in the sauna was going to last longer than originally planned.
As I progressively lost a large percent of water through various sweat glands, especially those in my forehead, Marriages performed a ‘wall of sound’ set that was much more in line with audience expectations. Despite Deafheaven’s black metal vocal style, this was not your typical metal crowd. There were more skinny jeans and striped shirts than there were leather vests and patches. Those frightened faces that found their way outside during Kitezch’s set were able to come back into the fold during the female-led, feedback fueled Marriages. Acting as a sort of calm before the storm, they were the perfect companion to Deafheaven’s sound.
It was about 10:15 by the time the red lights turned blue and Deafheaven took the stage. This was a much different band than the one that played Blast-O-Mat back in 2011. In fact, Kerry and George were the only recognizable faces from that night. That evening, not long after Roads to Judah had been released, found the group opening for hardcore bands at the DYI space without much of a following at all. Last night found the headlining band with a critically acclaimed new album and a rabid audience smashed up against the stage. It also found them with a new bassist, drummer and a second guitarist to help bring Kerry’s compositions to life. The band always had confidence, even less than a year after forming, but this new Deafheaven is as tight and streamlined as George’s new look. In what I can only assume was an effort to shed the GQ associations, the frontman shaved his head, slipped on some black leather gloves, and dumped the mic stand as a dancing partner in favor of using it as a tool — a sort of staff to conduct the chaos swirling around him.
Kerry and George talked about the collaborative nature of Deafheaven when I last spoke to them, but with all the changes in the band’s line-up, I believe those two are responsible for the majority of the material. But when it comes to stage presence, the sole burden falls on the transformation of George Clarke; the transformation from an easy going, soft spoken guy from San Francisco (a guy who writes lyrics about watching a wealthy girl sunbathe) to a man possessed. I mean that in a literal way. The George who took the stage, spewing sober restlessness, was not the same man that was there for soundcheck. Arms outstretched, gnashing teeth, eyes wider than the sun, and the pursuit of perfection (in the form of sweat and saliva) dying as it splattered on the stage – this was a purge as much as a performance.
I have seen George perform four times now and I can assure you there is nothing calculated about what you are witnessing. When he screams, it’s his very soul dying. When he lays his head down and closes his eyes, it’s his body telling him he needs to rest if he wants to go on. When he throws himself on the crowd, it’s spontaneous, and even when it doesn’t work out quite right, he will lie still while dozens of arms hold him inches above the stage. I’d say, as my friend did last night, that George Clarke gives 250% of himself on that stage, but once again, I’d argue that George Clarke isn’t even on that stage. The man I have spoken with many times is hidden somewhere inside – in that place where the pain comes from. He’s in there, mining the abscesses of anger – making room for the beauty of imperfection.
Yesterday was a shitty day for me overall. It seemed like nothing would go the way I wanted it to. There were times I wanted to lash out and destroy everything in my path. You would think watching Deafheaven perform would heightened my sense of resentment towards the world, but it actually lightened the load. As I found myself confronted with these lyrics, being screamed directly into my face, I realized there is no sense being angry anymore…
There is no such thing as the past, present, or future.
There just is, and it never goes away.
Truer words would not be spoken last night.
An incredible performance by an incredible band. One of the most intense shows I have ever been to. They really do have a way of holding you in the moment, even if that moment lasts an hour.
The Pecan Tree