“Pontificating on Why Deerhunter Has Never Released a Live Album”

I have to admit, before I start my little inquiry here, that there is a certain charm about those bands whose Spotify catalogues features SOLELY studio albums — no live albums, no best-of, no re-releases. It’s probably even a bit odder that The Strokes are one of these parties. 

With Deerhunter, you get a bizarre, almost intrinsically problematic, perennial underdog disposition of the “indie” band, with the noise-rock debut Cryptograms giving way to a sedated sense of pop songwriting, in reverse of the typical band that’s trying to hit it big, if you will. So it makes sense that they’d scoff at the notion of compilations and worship the sonic process of studio recording, positioning such as their obvious flagship statement. 

And it’s true: Modest Mouse’s live album pretty much sucks. I never listen to Radiohead’s [1]. 

Well, you might not believe me, but Deerhunter is a better live band than Modest Mouse, with all due respect to Isaac Brock’s lyrics and Brian Deck’s masterwork in production on The Moon & Antarctica (2000). The reason why I compare the two bands is that they both have the habit of sounding really different from album to album, hence potentiating the “live album” format for its proclivity to assimilate production interfaces across songs from different albums. Wilco would be another example of such a band, and, while we’re at it, a much-needed, walking endorsement of the live album’s extant value, as it were [2]. 

At the 2009 installment of Lollapalooza, a three-day festival in Chicago’s Grant Park, Deerhunter went on on the last day, at the same time that both Lou Reed and Snoop Dogg were performing on different stages. You probably couldn’t draw up a worse slot, in terms of surrounding competition with a lot of clout, if you sat down and tried. And I’m a huge Velvet Underground fan: I have the self-titled album on vinyl. But I said, you know what, Deerhunter is going to be a better show. Sure enough, they were the best band at Lolla that year, edging TV on the Radio and Band of Horses by a trot or two. Their stage presence was even quite solid: at first Bradford Cox took the mic with a sort of hopelessly stoned disposition, stating that “I can’t make out individuals… it’s like all one blur.” You didn’t know, really, if this was because of the sun’s reflections or some substance he’d ingested in the moments immediately preceding the performance. 

In all seriousness, he did seem fully coherent, for the entirety of the performance, and the band was energetic, spirited and tight, ripping through all kinds of songs from different albums, like “Wash off”; “Spring Hall Convert” and “Nothing Ever Happened.” The effect of this, as I allude to before, was a leveling off, or assimilation, in terms of sound, of their entire catalogue, something that will be a worthy reference point, of course, for any true fan. 

Now, I realize we’re a little past that age of the live album’s holistic charm in being an instance of a band “coming alive,” or whatever. Today’s recording techniques are vastly superior to what, say, AC/DC or Peter Frampton were dealing with in the 1970s, and there’s more of an emphasis and value, today, placed on organic live sound and even intimacy, in studio albums. The White Stripes, for instance, don’t really need a live album, because their music isn’t even “produced,” in the first place. They’re not so much not overproduced as they are not “produced” at all. You could take away all aspects of production from their music, that is, and it would essentially remain pretty much the same. A live album would only muddy things up: sloppy balancing and instrument juxtaposition, the singer forgetting words or missing notes, some a-hole yelling “Freebird” in the background, etc. And maybe this would be the case with Deerhunter, too. Or maybe they’re just being so indolent because they know if they put an album on Spotty, I’m going to sit here and slurp it up for free. I suppose that’s always a possibility. 


Addendum: Dream Deerhunter Setlist ->


[1] I must offer one caveat here which is that my friend used to burn me these live Strokes bootlegs and they were actually pretty kicka**: most of the songs were sped up a little bit, which I suppose doesn’t matter, but hearing Julian Casablancas’ voice in the raw, live setting, with all the background instruments an ostensible blur, did kind of contribute to the “garage rock canon” (and if there’s no such thing as a “garage rock canon then there certainly should be). 


[2] By the way, I could just wring their necks for not putting out another live LP, although there are certain shows available in full on YouTube that can scratch your Wilco itch, like 2004 at Austin City Limits and 2019 at the Brooklyn Bowl. 


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