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Deerhunter at SXSW: Tripping into the music fest

Eric Webb
Deerhunter performs at Mohawk during South by Southwest on March 11, 2019. [CONTRIBUTED BY JULIA DETCHON]

“Here we are at South by Southwest, where everyone’s auditioning for something,” Bradford Cox said. “Are you having a good time? And what did it cost ya?”

The lead singer of Atlanta indie-rockers Deerhunter was short on banter for an hour-long set at Mohawk on Monday night, an early SXSW Music show that kicked things off with a swirling trance. But he used it well — with a touch of the surreal — when he had it, though you wished he’d also take a minute set right the folks trying to mosh on the ground, for some reason.

A soupy grey sky hung overhead as the band opened up in cacophony, red bulbs bleeding off the stage while feedback from air-raid guitars seeped from the speakers. Cox sounded like the instruments did, screeches escaping his mouth as splinters when you least expected him to break his vocal drone.

Deerhunter’s full of vibes; it’s their whole thing. At their most sonically legible, they’re hard to penetrate. On Monday, “What Happens to People” evoked emo-days Death Cab For Cutie, just slightly untethered from reality. “Futurism” took your ears back to an era when alt-rockers in leather jackets and shades ruled the earth: “Call it what you want, dear/I call it fear/And I am an expert.”

At their most shoegazey, Deerhunter transmitted a narcotic haze that began where the whiskey ended. There was a sea of sound, and you were lost before you know it. You know that particular sensation of physically waking up when your mind isn’t actually awake? On Monday, you could achieve that in your own bed, or you could get it done peering off the Mohawk’s balcony, ready to drift into a week of music.


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