On Sunday, Emerson College presented its first concert since the reopening of the Paramount Centre with an evening of sometimes-challenging but extraordinarily entertaining music by Father Murphy, Xiu Xiu and Deerhoof. Father Murphy make the sort of music that could be a soundtrack to a scary funeral, if just slightly more overwrought than that. Sounding sort of like Liars but way more disturbed, Father Murphy consisted of a guitarist, a keyboardist, and a percussionist, chanting ominous male/female harmonies in unison. It took a few minutes to acclimate to their aesthetic, and the vocals were off-putting at first, but spattered in between spooky instrumental bits full of distorted guitar and clattering bells and cymbals, they were more effectively dramatic. This band has some serious pain, so check them out if you’re into that.
Xiu Xiu tour as a duo of Jamie Stewart and newer member Angela Seo, so for some songs much of their sound is fleshed out by automated beats while the two play keyboards, gongs, harmonicas, etc.
They opened with a scathing rendition of “Fabulous Muscles,” with Jamie’s masochistic lyrics set against a backdrop of feedback, a drastic change from the acoustic ballad it started as. “Apple for a Brain” was notably lighter, as Seo and Stewart began the song with dual harmonicas.
“Crank Heart” was one of the first highlights, as Stewart used a watery guitar riff to complement Seo’s keyboard playing, but Stewart’s alarmed delivery was always at the forefront. “The Fabrizio Palumbo Retaliation,” one of the most apocalyptic songs from new album Dear God, I Hate Myself, had a more 8-bit sound, and “In Lust You Can Hear the Axe Fall” took on a ghostly feel from a harpsichord keyboard tone, but Stewart’s howl pierced the sparkling keyboards and brought the song to its full potential.
“Sad Pony Guerrilla Girl” was a simple and beautiful ballad held together with a 80s-sounding guitar tone and Seo’s keyboard countermelodies, making the whole song sound as if it was underwater, but just as moving as ever. Fan favorite “I Luv the Valley OH!” was especially electronic, and the keyboard and Nintendo DS sounds became sludgier as the track progressed, drenching the piece in an organ sound.
“Chocolate Makes You Happy” juxtaposed a skittering beat and joyous melody with lyrics about bulimia, and “Boy Soprano” was Xiu Xiu to the extreme, as Stewart unleashed his warble and the pair finished the track with a spiraling, noisy coda, before closing their set with a delicate take on “Dr. Troll,” which found Stewart advising the audience, “listen to polar bear, pretend someone could love you.” Xiu Xiu know their strengths and play to all of them, and even when they reinvent their best songs, they manage to improve on them.
Deerhoof don’t sprint through 20-or-so songs per set like they used to, but they still deliver a selection of killer noise-pop tunes from their whole discography. They started with the classic “Dummy Discards a Heart” and already the quintessential Deerhoof elements were there: twin soaring guitar riffs, singer/bassist Satomi Matsuzaki’s hopscotch, and drummer Greg Saunier’s amazing ability to produce a huge range of sounds from a simple drumset.
The band followed with “Panda Panda Panda,” which switched from funky to rockin’ to all kinds of tempos and styles within a few minutes. Deerhoof are also notable for how in tune to each other they are and their use of dynamics, as the decrescendos in “Fresh Born” seemed almost improvised, but always allowed the band to burst back into full force when that chorus riff hit.
Guitarist John Dieterich took lead vocals for a cover of Ramones’ “Pinhead,” while guitarist Ed Rodriguez shredded through a furious guitar solo. “Desaparecer?” featured haunting plucked guitar and explored more of the band’s dynamic tension, and a new song juxtaposed Satomi’s sweet melodies with blaring guitars and key changes throughout. One can only hope it will appear on their upcoming album, Deerhoof vs. Evil. The band sped through “The Perfect Me” and then let loose the gorgeous “Chandelier Searchlight,” which features a cascading minor key riff and brightens in the chorus. “Silhouette of the Milky Rain” was a highlight, featuring an off-kilter rhythm and both guitarists whipping out full scales at each turn. After that Saunier took vocal duty for a straightforward cover of The Troggs’ “With a Girl Like You.”
The panicky, quickly-plucked “Eaguru Guru” seemed to get more and more urgent as it progressed until the band broke it down, kicked it up again with staccato guitars and hard-hitting drums before the song screeched to a halt.
Of course, no Deerhoof show would be complete without at least one cheerleader-sounding anthem, and Satomi’s delivery of “Basket Ball Get Your Groove Back” seemed even more confident than usual. The band closed with “The Tears and Music of Love,” which moved from tiptoeing guitar and light distortion to a triumphant end.
Deerhoof are one of the most entertaining live bands around, if not only for their raucous, anthemic sound but also for the band’s stage antics. Don’t miss them.