Photo by Colin McLaughlin
[D]eafheaven’s first post-Sunbather release show in Portland must have been booked a while in advance. There was no other logical explanation for squeezing the five-piece black metal band and their massive sound into the 250-capacity Bunk Bar. Especially considering the dizzying amount of buzz surrounding the group.
True, there’s something to be said for catching a band on the rise in such a cozy space, but for the gaggle of people lingering on the sidewalk, missing what was a triumphal performance had to sting a little harder than usual.
The folks that did make it in the doors of this Portland bar reflected well the growing expanse of Deafheaven‘s fan base. Dreadlocked dudes wearing Hello Kitty bandanas shared the cramped space with tiny women in Sunn0))) t-shirts and confused looking men in jean shorts and purple Oxford shirts. And truth be told, the band was as varied in their individual styles as their audience. This certainly has to be one of the few black metal shows where the guitar player sported a style-forward tank top.
There was little reason to take one’s eyes off anyone but front man George Clarke though. Dressed in head-to-toe black, Clarke was a stunning figure in black leather gloves. He moved in contrast to the wall of blast beats and fury-driven guitar walls, snaking his body around with a Peter Murphy-like sensuality and delighting in the feel of those leather gloves on his sweaty face and in his mouth. That is when he wasn’t locking audience members in a death stare or screeching into the microphone like a melting banshee.
It was interesting to simply sit back and watch the audience react to this music. The beauty of the band’s more shoegazer-y passages were not lost on them, but you could see the effect the harder, heavier songs had. That visible impact was something that got lost in the discussion that Chris DeVille had on Stereogum about the crossover success of Deafheaven.
People are finally coming around to black metal (and dance music) not only because of a greater access, but it’s also the feeling that comes with listening to and losing oneself in it. The endorphin rush is undeniable. And what better time to feel that than when the powers that be seem to kick us in the teeth at every turn?
On this night, the pall in the air was the acquittal of George Zimmerman earlier in the day. If anyone was affected by this news, it wasn’t spoken of. Instead, bodies were thrown together in manic glee, drinks were downed by the dozen, and a small tinder of joy was coaxed into a blaze by five young men letting off a relentless stream of powerful noise.