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[Review] Deafheaven @ Max Watts, Melbourne 01/06/2023

Review By Nikki Eenick

For any fans of post-metal, shoegaze (or more accurately, “blackgaze”) or screamo, Deafheaven’s “Infinite Granite” tour is a massive occasion. Performing as part of Dark Mofo and Rising festival, this is a unique experience for any fans. On this tour, they will be performing their 2014 album Sunbather, in full. When I tell you I nearly threw up from excitement – I’m not exaggerating.

Opening the first of two phenomenal shows at underground venue Max Watts, are Melbourne natives: Closure in Moscow. Closure in Moscow tow a weird line between prog-rock, pop-punk and general hardcore-esque tomfoolery. Tonight, they’re in great form. It’s strange walking into an underground venue with a grungy feel, on a typically freezing Melbourne night, and seeing a guy in glistening, Pauly Bleeker levels of skimpy, gold shorts dancing onstage. The dance is a cocktail of Mick Jagger, Jamie Foxx doing an impression of Mick Jagger and high energy bouncing. I love it. Front man Christopher de Clinique clearly knows how to have fun (I mean, with a name like that, I’d expect nothing less). His energy is matched by his band, although they all bring their own special brand of chaotic to the table. Bassist Duncan Miller is decked out in BCF overalls, a sunhat, and no shirt. Incredible. I came to this gig prepared to be transported to an ethereal plane of ambient hardcore, but here I was, grinning ear to ear watching a group of guys flawlessly nail face-melting guitar solo after face-melting guitar solo, as the room is bathed by the light of a disco ball. Next to me is an intimating-looking man with three (three?!) eyebrow piercings, leather jacket and a rats-tail-meets-mohawk. But he’s head-banging his way to happiness as this band of merry bandits takes us through tracks like, Neoprene Byzantine and A Night At the Spleen. God, even their song’s names are fun. Clinique takes the mic, not even remotely out of breath despite the before-mentioned dancing. Dripping with Australiana charm, he greets this crowd hyped up on good vibes and beer; “It’s so good to see so many of you cunts out on… what is it today? Wednesday?” The band kind of murmurs and shuffles their feet. “See none of you fucks have any idea either.” Before we can launch into any more bangers that would make Alex Gaskart weep with joy, guitarist Mansur Zennelli takes the mic. “Are there any Kendrick fans here?” One guy from the mosh whoops. “This one’s for you then.” And we are thrown into Deluge. As the set winds to a close, Clinique steps up, yet again, quietly shushing the crowd with a wave of his hands. “Cheers! This is a new song we released a couple months back. It’s not Pot of Green though.” The audience grumbles. “Anyway, this is Pot of Green” And the crowd goes feral. And I mean that, with the greatest of compliments. Transitioning suddenly into a momentary cover of Hotline Bling, the crowd is confused, and then immediately realises the genius of combining Closure in Moscow’s punk-emo sensibilities with hip-hop jams. Realising the crowd is eating, gobbling, out of his hands – Clinique brings out a voice modulator for their closing track. “Oh, shit yeah. This last one’s a new one. It’s called Primal Sinister” on ‘Sinister’ he modulates his voice to a distorted deep bass. They give this last one their all, heavy on the instrumentation, with voice modulations that border on a 100 gecs tribute – we are bathing in hyper-pop-goes-punk bliss. Finishing with a simple ‘thumbs-up’ from Zennelli and a fart sound into the mic from Clinique, the band saunters off. They move through the crowd, grab drinks, and push towards the front to see what all the fuss is about.

My notes from this point get a bit hazy. The next hour and a half are beautiful, bordering on spiritual. Deafheaven have this incredible stage presence. It’s sort of macabre, sort of beachy… You can tell they’re sad and from San Francisco. Singer/Screamer George Clarke doesn’t say much at all to us, outside of a few shy “Thank you’s”. He’s somewhere else, and somewhere we all end up. Clarke has an incredible voice. He goes from violent screaming to soft shoe-gaze vocals like it’s nothing. And it is not, nothing. I turn my head and see people with their mouths wide-open, eyes almost popping out of their head; he’s amazing. We are all holding our breath, barely moving, in the hopes that we don’t break this spell Deafheaven have cast over us. This voice coupled with the unbelievable dual-guitar work from Kerry McCoy and Shiv Mehra, they are heavenly, spellbinding. Mehra also sings backing vocals and is able to perfectly match Clarke’s intense energy and leather pants, while he wears a button-up over a white singlet. McCoy’s guitar work has been compared to My Bloody Valentine’s Kevin Shields and Johnny Marr of The Smiths – he cites both as influences. For any fans of screamo, the first half of their set is going to be for you. It’s insanely loud and Clarke screams in a way that is so cathartically wonderful it feels like he is pulling all of the things that make you feel hideous or heavy out of your throat with his bare hands. But the second half is where they really shine, if you ask me (You didn’t, but yet, here you are, reading my review). I think I ascended as tracks bled into tracks bled into tracks, the room bathed first in blue light, then white, then red and purple and then back again. Desperately, I wait to hear The Pecan Tree. And then, it arrives, handed to me on a beautiful, gothic, silver platter. Please, even if you think you don’t like screamo, or hardcore, listen to this track. Skip to 4:19 and just let the rest of it wash over you. Every time I listen to it I feel like I was drowning in a tank, and Deafheaven have just pulled me out, and I can breathe again. A musical baptism, of sorts. Live, it’s even better. I wasn’t even sure I was still here on earth if it wasn’t for the glass in my hand. The band is so in tune with each other – a single organism, and their musicianship, skill and bond are what allows the audience to be carried on such a flawless wave of sound. I might have stopped breathing for those 15 minutes, but I am resuscitated in that room. Even the folks working the merch stand turn to the stage. No one buys anything, everyone is deathly still. And then, Clarke softly places the microphone in its stand and addresses us, unfazed that he might have caused 850 simultaneous cardiac arrests. “Thank you so much. We’re going to watch a DJ tonight at uh… cherry?” The band nods. “Cherry. Everyone should come to cherry.” Then we are into the final few songs, including ambient-emo perfection; Great Mass of Colour. Someone in the crowd pre-emptively screams for an encore. “I can’t actually hear you” Clarke says with a smirk, a twinkle in his eye that wasn’t there before – almost as if he’s surprised people want them to continue after such a long set. “We’ve been Deafheaven. Take care of each other.” And then we get the punching duo of Brought to Water into Dream House. All without missing a beat. As the band shreds their last shreds, and casts their last spells, people pile down into the lower part of the Max Watts dancefloor, and we watch them mosh so hard I’m sure their bones still ache. But despite the fact they look like gladiators in the coliseum, they all take care of each other. And that’s what tonight was all about. Music and Us, it’s community. And I am so happy to be a part of this one.

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