Deerhunter and the Ponys. Friday, April 6, at the Record Bar
Review by Jason Harper
"How Deerhunter found out where I went to school before Yale, I'll never know." -- George W. Bush
I arrived midset during Deerhunter's performance at the Record Bar last Friday, and the sound grabbed me by the collar right away. Usually, upon arriving at a show, I gladhand a few acquaintances and break away to the bar. But something about this young Atlanta band caught me stock-still just inside the door. It was soaring, psychedelic, raw and soothing. I felt like a zombie who'd wandered onto the beach and forgotten for a moment his relentless hunger for brains.*
I did, however, notice that the lead singer was incredibly, almost distractingly skinny. "I know it's rock and roll," said one of the doormen, "but that guy looks unhealthy." I heard several other comments, all more disdainful sounding than that one, leveled at the singer behind his back, as if he had somehow chosen to look that emaciated. I vaguely remembered an article I'd read on the band by one of our new contributors, Chad Radford, something about the dude having a medical condition, and when I got home, sure enough, I looked it up on Chad's blog, and the singer, Bradford Cox, has Marfan syndrome, the same malady that enabled Joey Ramone and Abraham Lincoln to hide behind saplings.
But, man, can he do some awesome shit with his voice. His voice is clear and strong to begin with, but Cox ran his punk-rock keen through echoboxes, reverb pedals, whatever, turning himself into a chorus of Bonos. Deerhunter does have a shade of early U2 to it -- the rapid eighth-note beats, the swelling guitars -- but the band's overriding, driving psychedelic drone is too wickedly possessed and freaky to permit strong comparison with the Irish purveyors of goodwill through new wave. Get hip to this band now if you want to impress girls who go to the Record Bar. Oh, and also if you just want to hear something new that's good.
Now, the Ponys. I know quite a few people in town who love them. Me, I'm not that impressed. Admittedly, I'm a latecomer; I never gave a good listen to their 2005 breakout album, Celebration Castle, which, by the way, is the name of a toy castle where ponys of a different sort did dwell. That album's on In the Red, a label that I really dig for its '60s-influenced garage and scuzz-blues bands. The Ponys' new one, Turn the Lights Out, is on Matador -- not that the label particularly matters -- and has little to offer in the way of memorable rockin'.
If the Ponys are supposed to be fuzz rock or garage revival, shouldn't they have some blues influence to their sound instead of, like, shoe-gazy, grungy Nirvana- and Nada Surf-type racket? They'd sound better if they did. Ponys, rewrite your album! More blues! Giddyap!
*Hey, kids, did you know you can catch the human version of mad cow disease from eating a person's brains. So don't eat brains! Have a Fruit Roll-Up and listen to Deerhunter instead.