Hours after most folks had stumbled home from the chaos of Center Street Daze on Saturday night, the party raged on indoors at most of the usual Riverwest venues. The Mad Planet after-show was the only event to feature a relatively big-name touring act, but Deerhoof seemed to fit the bill as honorary Milwaukeeans on this day in particular. The eclectic, ramshackle spirit of the street festival and the current state of the city’s music scene could conceivably be traced at least in part to the rise of this belligerently noncommercial, anti-genre band. Considering the long day and numerous alternate options for late-night music, Deerhoof drew a sizable crowd Saturday night, and rewarded that crowd with an unforgettable set of music.
Tokyo native Satomi Matsuzaki joined Deerhoof in 1995 on a whim, days after first moving to the United States, boasting no experience whatsoever in singing or playing an instrument. In the two decades since, she’s become an underground icon whose influence is evident in every corner of the increasingly aboveground world of indie rock. If her quirky melodic sense and effusive stage presence hardly seem outlandish nowadays, it’s because she blazed a trail for so many acts that have followed in Deerhoof’s footsteps. Though the group wasted little time before straying from its strict avant-noise beginnings, it’s comforting to consider how far society has come in order to label anything Deerhoof does as “pop music.” As unconventional as the band may be, though, few groups have written more unshakeable hooks. A show of hands: How many of you woke up Sunday morning with “Come See The Duck” still stuck in your head?
Even Deerhoof’s heaviest, most rock-oriented albums don’t come close to capturing the ferocity of Greg Saunier’s drumming. Freed from the confines of a studio, Saunier came across like a Brian Chippendale/Dale Crover hybrid, thunderous yet intricate, at times rhythmically abstract but always seemingly in sync with the lurching dynamics of the other musicians. He transformed even bubbly songs like “Debut” and “Paradise Girls” into sonic assaults, while already-manic workouts like “Last Fad” and “We Do Parties” became sheer endurance tests.
While the group has gone through numerous guitar players over the years, Ed Rodríguez, who joined in 2008, brings such enthusiasm and technicality to the entire repertoire that it’s difficult to imagine anyone else in his role. His attention to detail on a ridiculous cover of Def Leppard’s “Pour Some Sugar On Me” belied any presumptive irony in such a choice, while Matsuzaki nailed every one of Joe Elliott’s vocal nuances. It was simultaneously hilarious and impressive.
Saunier isn’t one to pander to an audience, but towards the end of the show, he felt compelled to share the three ways in which Deerhoof enjoyed their day in Milwaukee, after arriving at the venue five hours early only to find the doors locked. First, lunch at Café Corazon; second, dinner at “the Italian place down the street” (Centro Café?); and third, “What a wonderful time we had at the block party today,” he enthused. “We really enjoyed being here today. It’s something that we never do.” So, great job, Milwaukee! You charmed the heck out of some big-city musicians just by being yourself.