During one of many dynamic, dense guitar drops during the Deftones‘ set at the Warfield on Wednesday night, lead singer Chino Moreno stood on the stage-front monitors dancing in his own goofy style, a crouch here, a fist pump there, looking perfectly at ease in 2012, despite fronting a band best known for their influence during the ill-conceived rap-rock era of the late ’90s. But with a consistency that points to their talent, Deftones have successfully circumvented changing fashions, musical trends, and the collapse of the major labels to remain a compellingly unique band.
The band’s success then and now is driven by Moreno’s vocal skills. An unrecognized virtuoso, his ominous whisper-coos slither over the verses and open up for the full-throated choruses, often decorated with harsh but graceful screams. Consider their 1997 hit, “Be Quiet And Drive (Far Away)”; an early set highlight Wednesday night, the song is a Deftones staple. Working with a languid post-grunge guitar riff layered below an ambitious refrain, “Be Quiet” lets Moreno restructures the traditional loud/soft song structure into his entire chorus, giving listeners a distraught scream for the first line “I don’t care where / just far” and ending with a prolonged cooing “away.” On stage, the band punctuated the song’s ending guitar breakdown with disturbing falsetto banshee screams from the ever-flexible Moreno, giving voice to the song’s palpable sense of tension and violence.
The set list ran through all of the group’s major releases, lingering heavily on their first full-length Adrenaline and 2000’s classic White Pony. From soaring choruses (“Digital Bath,” “Diamond Eyes”) to haunting anthems (“Change (In The House Of Flies),” “Passenger”), Deftones were comfortable acknowledging the best of their past and leaving out the relatively unknown non-single tracks from recent releases.
If hip is to estrange your audience with obscurity and pretentiousness, whatever hipster points the Deftones had in the 90s and earlier 2000s are gone now, leaving a band settled into an identity that suits them. Moreno is not intimidating on stage, even though the music often is, nor has the band changed their style — they’re still overweight, wearing camo shorts and Vans shoes — in all these years. In a twist not common to the music industry, the group’s relative stasis has given them the tools to remain relevant today.
Which is to say that Deftones channel the daily tedium of suburban relationships into a haunting account of the anger, aggression, and temporary beauty that fills our short lives. It’s why the Warfield was filled with a much different crowd on Wednesday night than one might expect in San Francisco: backwards caps, XL shirts, studded belts — there weren’t many city-dwellers in attendance.
Which is really the way it should be. Born and raised in Sacramento, Deftones are an important reminder of how 99% of this country feels — the apathy, the unemployment, the boredom, the overly emotional posts on Tumblr, the depressing status updates on Facebook, the ability to even get in your car and just drive towards some distant horizon. It’s why the band ended the show with three cuts from Adrenaline, including the suburban anthem “Bored,” where Chino simply belts out “I get bored” at the top of his lungs. There’s beauty in Middle America’s desperation and the Deftones have always been a band driven by the hidden inspiration lurking behind closed, ordinary doors.
Be Quiet and Drive (Far Away)
My Own Summer (Shove It)
You’ve Seen the Butcher
When Girls Telephone Boys
Fireal (First part only)
Engine No. 9
Rivière (Without the outro)
Change (In the House of Flies)
Root (With Gabriel, Chi Cheng’s son, on bass)