Album Review: Deerhoof’s Live Album, ‘Fever 121614′
On its face, it seems odd -- Deerhoof have defied every convention, down to the fact that there's no way to classify the music they make. Each of their 20 years' worth of albums has represented a distinct burst of energy, both a continuation and a redefinition of their sound. And yet here they are making the most conventional, even outdated, mid-career move they could make. To put out a live album as a proper release is like a surrender to the forces they've kept at bay for so long -- the forces that demand "follow ups," for instance, however rote and uninspired they might be.
It turns out, however, that the effect is opposite -- Deerhoof's unhinged interplay thrives via this concise presentation of their live show. Whatever Deerhoof's reason for releasing Fever 121614, it's clear from the power chord riffs and limb-cyclone drums that set off "Exit Only" that even if this is a mid-career cash-in, a canonical presentation of Deerhoof as a live band is well overdue. Their studio albums have always been gleefully hyperglycemic, but the added element is you can hear the band members communicating with each other, pushing each other forward, right to the breaking point. "Amps sound the best right before smoke comes out," frontwoman Satomi Matsuzaki told Noisey last year. "We all look at each other, thinking, 'Wow, this bass amp sounds so good tonight' and then boom! The smoke comes out and we all know why." In addition to exploding amps, the frenzy leads to an unholy mutant energy summoned by the four members together (plus a few biffed notes here and there) -- a rush of endorphins released by Greg Saunier's drum set, its spindly path through the bloodstream soundtracked by Ed Rodriguez and John Dieterich's guitars.
The album was recorded at Fever, a club in Tokyo, while the band was touring behind La Isla Bonita, and plays like a rougher version of a greatest hits package, particularly of material from the band's vital last decade, during which they really honed their noise-pop sound. The set list does a great job showcasing their range -- for instance, "Doom," a particularly manic cut from La Isla Bonita whose guitar section sounds like two crackhead mice chasing each other up a rope, transitions to "Fresh Born," off 2008's Offend Maggie, chiming and euphoric by contrast. One of the best aspects of Deerhoof is that they always sound like they're about to fly off the rails; Fever is a particularly compelling listen because, as they ferociously jam through their best material, they teeter as close to the edge as humanly possible without combusting like an overdriven bass amp.