Deftones will always be one of the more intriguing live bands on our planet. Studio recordings enable the band and their producer to fine-tune every last little detail of a record in order for that perfect balance of aggression and restraint, of bruising and caressing, of brashness and sincerity, to be achieved. With their previous two albums, 2012’s Koi No Yokan and 2010’s Diamond Eyes, the band have attained their most consistent, universally positive acclaim; testament to the quality of the post-Chi LPs. In a venue shuddering with anticipation at around 9pm on Tuesday night, I found myself eager to see if the science of refining loud vs. quiet could be replicated live, where there are no second takes, no editing and no compromise. I wasn’t to be disappointed.
The band has a worldwide reputation for orchestrating intense, ruthless live shows, and it really pleases me to say that the ongoing, subtle interactions are conveyed with just as much, if not more penetration on stage, all the while maintaining that incendiary façade that has personified Deftones for two decades. The latest band to be ticked off my gig-bucket list took to the Birmingham Academy stage; a more intimate venue than its academy sisters that, when looked upon under lights, threatened to constrain a band in the mould of Deftones. A small floor is contained by a square balcony surrounding the stage – a stage that had already been given a severe once over by main support act Letlive, whose lively set doubtlessly whet the appetites of the most hardened metalheads in attendance. But I needn’t have worried. Chino Moreno was in his element, managing to utilize the space he had at his disposal more than efficiently, whilst Stephen Carpenter couldn’t have looked more metal (or intimidating) if he tried; barely moving from his station and backing up this terrifying exterior with a series of crushing riffs…
As far as the setlist is concerned, they pretty much nailed it. The track choices and the order in which they were streamed was pretty much perfect, with muscle carefully punctuated by atmospheric, therapeutic numbers. Carpenter wasted no time blasting into Diamond Eyes; a perfect showcase of what Deftones are all about. A vicious riff from a tuned-down guitar is the foundation for an urgent, yearning croon from Moreno, getting the crowd on side from the outset. New track Poltergeist followed immediately, which invites in no uncertain terms for a venue-wide, rhythmic handclap to battle a buzzsaw bassline from Sergio Vega. Deftones without doubt took full advantage of the ensuing frenzy by thrashing out Around the Fur favourites Be Quiet and Drive and My Own Summer, catering to the needs of an effervescent floor and showing it there is no sign of stage-rust kicking in anytime in the near future.
The bands execution was a sight to behold. The science Deftones have made their own was on scintillating display throughout. The beautifully candid atmosphere of Sextape, the enchantment of new tracks Rosemary and the hypnotic Entombed lulled the masses almost into a trance before aggressively reminding them of their metal roots with the encroaching Swerve City and rapacious Bloody Cape. The more therapeutic numbers punctuated a pent up set like a pineapple garnishes a Mai Tai, keeping even the most die hard riff-fiends content in the midst of a floor that became like putty in the hands of Moreno and his stage.
The highlight of the evening for me however came towards the end of the set. Before delving into Dai The Flu, Moreno hastily muttered, “this is for Chi”, and performed Chi’s anthem from Around the Fur with more passion than anything I’ve seen in a music venue before. A haunting, intruding track at the best of times, Moreno left his audience in no doubt that there was a little bit extra in this one, in homage to a friend and a tragedy. The scream that preceded the final chorus of Dai The Flu pierced the arena to depths deeper than the Marianas Trench, in the process leaving people under no illusions to the strength that Moreno still has in those repaired vocal chords. It’s safe to say that at this rate, his position as one of the best metal vocalists ever to swing a microphone will not be under threat any time soon. Dai The Flu rendered me stunned for a while, before Change (In The House of Flies) and a set closing stomper in Bloody Cape reminded me that I was still in attendance at a ferociously invigorating show.
My only criticism of the setlist, and the show in general, was that the omission of Back To School was potentially cardinal. Their most commercially recognized track would have undoubtedly plunged the floor into a cauldron of pure mayhem. It would have been nice to hear Minerva too, but at the end of the day, they were playing to a curfew and I can’t think of anything I’d have replaced it with. The same could be said for Romantic Dreams, the standout track from Koi No Yokan, riddled with abrupt tempo shifts and carousels of dynamic riffs. An Adrenaline encore sent people home with their eardrums screaming in protest, and the almost 20 year-old tracks were definitely a treat for the long-serving fans who’d have bought that record when I was still pissing the bed.
Deftones can definitely be looked at as one of the best live bands on this planet after nearly two decades of establishing themselves. The new dimensions to their post-Chi work shows that such tragedy has infiltrated Deftones music and made it still more dynamic, emphasizing the airtight evolution of one of the worlds most exciting bands. A privilege to be there, and an exhibition of execution. Superb show.
Setlist can be found here! http://www.setlist.fm/setlist/deftones/2013/o2-academy-birmingham-birmingham-england-33db2c09.html