Deafheaven

support Touché Amoré + Portrayal Of Guilt
author AP date 23/09/19 venue Lille VEGA, Copenhagen, DEN

It was always going to be a gamble to book Deafheaven into the main hall of VEGA. While the group is undoubtedly popular with hipsters and metalheads alike, the extremity of their sound nonetheless means that they still remain a non-mainstream phenomenon, as also evidenced by the eventual downgrading of this, their latest concert in Denmark, to the venue’s smaller room. Personally, I am not complaining; these more intimate confines and the tightly packed crowd are likely to render the three shows on the eclectic menu tonight a much intenser affair than would have been the case next door. I say my hellos to friends and grab a drink, and then position myself dead centre on the floor to make my acquaintance with the first band of the evening: Portrayal of Guilt from the musical Mecca of Austin, TX.

All photos courtesy of Lykke Nielsen


Portrayal Of Guilt

Shamefully, I must admit to not having gotten around to listening to this Texan trio on record yet, though something has convinced me that they must belong to the screamo genre. It turns out that I’m mistaken. Best classified as experimental hardcore punk, the band has a lot of different balls in the air, from bursts of Full of Hell-ish grindcore, through acerbic melodies in the signature style of Converge, to apocalyptic samples that remind me somewhat of the sci-fi post-metal of LLNN. The music is eclectic, but also quite difficult for the crowd to absorb, the sheer violence and the often jagged rhythms laid down by drummer James Beveridge offering few obvious entrances into the band’s caustic universe. This is exacerbated by the muted showmanship of the three musicians, whom, based on their songs, you would expect to be flying all over the place and reaching across to connect with their audience in a more intimate way. But instead, guitarist/vocalist Matt King and bassist Blake Given remain fixed in their stances on the left and right, and the latter even spends much of the 25-minute set with his back to the audience. This is a real shame because once the music does open itself up in the likes of “Humanity Is Frail” and “The Nihilist”, it strikes me that Portrayal of Guilt are actually a pretty innovative bunch as far as hardcore punk goes. If the trio masters the art of performance as well, and thereby gets the audience onboard with their jarring, vitriolic outbursts, they’ll have what it takes to transform into a genuine cult act in their genre.

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Touché Amoré

As this Los Angeles, CA-born post-hardcore crew walks onto the stage, I, and likely also they realise that they don’t need to do much anything to encourage the crowd to lose the Monday blues. They have not even started playing their first song, “And Now It’s Happening in Mine”, when people are already clapping along to the beat of its rhythm, and when it does begin, a sizeable portion of the audience happily takes over the vocals every time frontman Jeremy Bolm offers his microphone to them. Overjoyed by what he is seeing, Bolm then drops into the moshpit for the following “Honest Sleep”, which culminates when the instruments fall silent and the entire room seems to roar: “I’ll count the hours / Having just one wish / If I’m doing fine / There’s no point to this!". Yes, if you had not guessed it already, Touché Amoré are celebrating the 10th Anniversary of their 2009 début album “…To the Beat of a Dead Horse” by playing it front to back for us tonight — all 18 minutes and 26 seconds of it. And this proves to be a huge success; the audience is ravenous and the five musicians seem to discover a new reservoir of energy with every passing song. Bolm is everywhere, darting across the stage, surging toward and receding from the edge of the stage, and seizing every opportunity to get up close and personal with the fans, and while he inevitably draws the spotlight onto himself, his bandmates (guitarists Nick Steinhardt & Clayton Stevens, bassist Tyler Kirby, and drummer Elliot Babin) are not far behind in terms of the passion with which they each are rocking out during songs “Cadence” and “Always Running, Never Looking Back”, both of which emerge as standout moments in this first part of the concert.

The line between band and audience is well and truly blurred, then, by the time the second part of the concert begins with “Amends”, which appears on 2011’s “Parting the Sea Between Brightness and Me”, and gives drummer Babin some room to show off his skill at laying down a blastbeat. The crowd loves this injection of extremity, with the increasingly wild segment of fans occupying the front half of the venue floor using it as a springboard for the following “Just Exist” off 2013’s “Is Survived by” to raise their fists and scream along with Bolm from the midst of a chaotic moshpit. I am convinced that Touché Amoré is very nearly a perfect band when it comes to translating the uplifting defiance and energy of punk into a live performance now, and when Bolm surrenders his microphone to an ecstatic member of the crowd for the entire second half of “Palm Dreams” (off 2016’s “Stage Four”) while he himself dances around on stage, I also start thinking they may be one of the warmest and most forthcoming acts in the genre, too. The only real hiccup during the 23-song set occurs near the end with “Skyscraper”, the calm, shoegazing style of which pulls the level of intensity down unnecessarily — and just as the show is about to culminate with the fan favourite “~”. Once we have all gotten the chance to scream, “I’m parting the sea between brightness and me!”, the spectacle is brought to a conclusion with a promise from Bolm, in an expectedly broken voice given his effort here, that Touché Amoré will return to Denmark in 2020, likely with a brand new album to promote — and I could not be more stoked about the news if this is the standard we can expect.

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Deafheaven

After a switchover soundtracked by hypnotic minimal house, the San Franciscan headliners walk onto the stage to the tune of Aretha Franklin and, expectedly, a cheering welcome from the nearly sold out crowd. Just like last year at this same venue, the group launches their set with “Honeycomb” from their latest album “Ordinary Corrupt Human Love”, and just like last time, their performance is nothing short of spectacular. This concert marks the fourth time I have seen Deafheaven live, and it seems like they keep one-upping themselves in terms of how tightly they play, and how captivating their antics on stage are. Once drummer Daniel Tracy engages his two bass pedals and that familiar, bittersweet melody by lead guitarist Kerry McCoy starts to cascade out of the amplifiers, vocalist George Clarke invites his infamous stage persona to take over, and with bulging eyes and ghoulish movements he once again binds the audience to his spell and cements his reputation as one of the finest frontmen on the planet right now. Singalongs are not a typical feature of a Deafheaven concert, but instead, from the corner of my eye, I can see that I am not alone in humming the transcendent melodies McCoy and his cohort Shiv Mehra are weaving into this song. It is succeeded by another track from the newest album, “Canary Yellow”, which maintains the uplifting tone despite Clarke’s best efforts to shatter the celebratory atmosphere with his characteristic shrieks that sound shriller than ever before. How the man can sustain his voice while subjecting his vocal cords to such a grating night after night is beyond me, but then again, my concern for his throat’s wellbeing is very much secondary to my being awestruck by his technique. And I suspect I am not alone in feeling this way, judging by the vigour of the moshing that erupts when the initial shoegazing in this song gives way to his wrath again.

With “Brought to the Water” (off the group’s 2015 album “New Bermuda”) and especially the new single “Black Brick”, the show is given a darker twist that seems to satisfy those dressed in Burzum and Mayhem tees in particular. Paradoxically, the thrashier style of the latter introduces a kind of breathing break into the proceedings given its stark contrast to the otherwise triumphant tone of the setlist. It is also the only real difference between tonight’s concert and the one last year (apart from the couple of tracks that have been shaved off, that is), and this is the reason that I still hesitate with awarding Deafheaven the perfect grade — because while Clarke puts on his most intensely confrontational performance yet, and while the other musicians have consigned their introspection to the past for good, the concert feels like a polished retake of what we already witnessed last year. Indeed, as the proceedings are brought to a conclusion with “Worthless Animal” and the staple “Dream House” (the lead single from Deafheaven’s 2013 offering “Sunbather”) to rapturous applause, I find myself thinking that it will be either the freshness of a new album, or a setlist featuring some deep cuts like “Violet” (from the band’s 2011 début “Roads to Judah”), or perhaps even the covers of Mogwai’s “Punk Rock” and “Cody” they contributed to a split with Bosse-de-Nage in 2012, that will provide the last touch needed for the complete show. But be that as it may, as Clarke throws himself back-first into the audience during “Dream House”’s crescendo, I am nonetheless reminded once again just how absurdly good Deafheaven is in the live setting.

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Setlist:

  • 01. Honeycomb
  • 02. Canary Yellow
  • 03. Brought to the Water
  • 04. Black Brick
  • 05. Worthless Animal
  • 06. Dream House

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