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Clamor or Less

November 6, 2008

A confession is in order: I just couldn’t hack AIDS Wolf, the opener for Monday’s Times New Viking and Deerhunter show at the Ottobar. In full weenie-mode, I scuttled upstairs in favor of the comparative tranquility of an all-metal DJ night. Before planting a defeated tail firmly between legs and slinking off, I did witness a bunch of screeching while the Montreal act savaged on at a punishing volume. The cumulative effect of this discordance was disturbingly visceral, rattling deep inside the chest as if intended to throw your heartbeat permanently off-kilter. Not surprisingly, this was a weirdly unpleasant sensation, one perhaps shared by the people milling about outside, looking like they were biding time till the set was over. Still, AIDS Wolf has its fans: a smallish crowd, clearly made of stronger stuff, gathered around the petite singer thrashing on the floor.

Shortly after, the Athens, Ohio, threesome Times New Viking took the stage for a rather disappointing, though pleasant, set of thrashed garage pop. The energy-level appeared low among the group’s members, especially the keyboardist/singer Beth Murphy, who wore a static, bored expression throughout. Still, the set was enjoyable, featuring the catchiest of songs from the band’s records, though a crucial wildness was conspicuously missing. Perhaps it had to do with the clarity of the night’s live sound. The crackling fuzz and tinny lo-fi murkiness of Times New Viking’s albums–which sound like well-worn cassette dubs of haphazard basement recordings–are essential to the band’s raggamuffin charm. Without it, the live show felt starkly simplistic.

Last up was Atlanta’s Deerhunter, the evening’s uncontested highlight. The band has garnered plenty of accolades, all more than justified if judged by Monday night’s set of powerful, nuanced dream rock. Without the least hint of derivativeness, Deerhunter has mastered the best elements of shoegaze: fiercely loud yet never abrasive, adept at piling on wash upon wash of billowing guitar and wistful vocals without drifting off into vaporous nonsense. And in the midst of all this candied haze are aptly throwback elements: conjured snatches of melody that felt comfortingly familiar, like remembered bits of Phil Spector-style doo-wop or arrangements from a David Lynch movie. The effect was deliciously contradictory, somehow both faintly nostalgic and out-of-time, yet also unmistakably grounded in the present thanks to singer Bradford Cox’s warm rapport with the enthused audience. The set ended after one encore, hitting that oft-missed sweet spot when the crowd is both satiated and clamoring for a little more.

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