Deafheaven‘s Sunbather was an excessive album in almost every way. The rosy-hued album cover and innocuous title hinted at the album’s resistance to a hard edge, instead giving way to the expression of superfluous emotional substance, exacerbated by dense textures and singer George Clarke’s ardent screams. The work as a fluid whole is inordinately beautiful, as many have called it—an odd tag for a genre characterized more often by volume than anything else.
One of the biggest (and really only) concerns critics had about the record was its translatability to the stage. It’s hard enough to play music meant to be heard with continuity to a live audience, but to also relay it with symphonic gusto—it’s not a basic hurdle. If any venue in San Francisco under the Fillmore’s capacity was going to justice to the their immersive set, it’s the Great American.
Deafheaven seems to have been touring pretty relentlessly since the release of Sunbather over a year ago. The duo of George Clarke and Kerry McCoy, formerly of San Francisco, have been across the world, honing and outdoing themselves on their live sets, manifesting thick soundscapes with resolute bravado. They’ve sold out shows as far away as China and earlier this summer, played on Primavera’s stage in Spain.
And Clarke is intense. He conducts the band as it were an orchestra, making precise jabs and dips with pinched fingers as the tempo moves, and when that bores him, he reaches towards the audience from the edge of the stage. The gilded Great American, with its gilded rococo walls and ornate columns behind him are a fitting juxtaposition—the venue is just as complex as the music. It’s inviting, but in a formal way, and the feeling is such that you’re experiencing a baroque concerto rather than a black metal show.
Hands reach up to Clarke and he leans into the crowd, eventually jumping out. He crowdsurfs on his back, mouth open, and the band continues to sculpt a heavy composition behind him. They’re latched in to their own instruments, lost in the sound too. It’s emotive, it’s heart-churning, and it bleeds a bit, in a florid way.
But despite the grip that Deafheaven’s music has on us now, we’re pretty excited for whatever’s next.
The Pecan Tree