During one of Deerhoof’s final songs at last Thursday’s Velvet Jones show, guitarists John Dieterich and Ed Rodriguez shredded riffs that were more frantic than rock ‘n’ roll macho, dramatically changing tempo, volume, and melody without warning. Meanwhile, female vocalist/bassist Satomi Matsuzaki, singing as if she were oblivious to the musical chaos behind her, calmly chirped out a few indecipherable syllables.
Many of Deerhoof’s other songs, though they seem unpredictable, follow this exact loud-soft, fast-slow formula. The repetitive back-and-forth between inaccessible dissonance and catchy, melodic pop can be an annoying distraction if treated as background music. To enjoy Deerhoof’s bipolar qualities, you have to give it your undivided attention, which is why the band’s live sets are so often considered better than their studio recordings.
The band also are unique in that their lead singer is not the star. Matsuzaki is a Japanese native with a heavily accented, squeaky voice that’s not supposed to be beautiful, but act as a calming contrast that keeps the songs somewhat organized. Onstage, she accompanied her singing with frenetic, robot-like dance moves, which Dieterich and Rodriguez joined in on throughout the set.
Earlier in the night, Deerhoof members could be seen in the pit area, watching opening acts oso and Avocet alongside the rest of the audience. Drummer Greg Saunier warmly greeted small groups of fans, while other concertgoers impatiently walked around him, apparently unaware that he founded the band they had paid $13 to see that evening. When Saunier took to the stage later, he became completely absorbed in his music. Pounding the drums with eyes closed, he threw around his shaggy head of hair with an earnest energy you’d expect from a small boy. In between sets, the band would come back down to earth and make awkward smalltalk with the audience. At one point, Saunier spent nearly a minute announcing his plans to walk two feet to use a different microphone. Still, this dramatic change of persona from passionate, unselfconscious rock star to bad public speaker seemed especially fitting for a band known for such jarring musical contrasts.