With Maple Stave and Harlem Shakes
Cat's Cradle, Carrboro
Monday, Feb. 12, 9:30 p.m.
Deerhoof doesn't sound much like any other band you'll hear. Crunchy, mercurial guitar lines bob, weave, clank and chime, prog-rock fashion in tight jeans. Tumbling, thunderous drums turn decidedly funky when you least expect it. And then there's the five-foot tall, Japanese X-factor: Satomi Matazusaki.
This is where most people stop listening, and for good reason: Satomi's high-pitched voice is the most polarizing element of Deerhoof. It's a sound that prompts reviewers to use words like chipmunk, schoolgirl and helium. All Music Guide's Jason Nickey likened the band to "Yoko Ono fronting the White Stripes." You know, because all female Japanese singers are Yoko Ono, and all less-than-thou rock bands are The White Stripes, right? But that's only as inaccurate as it is reductive, essentially ignoring a simple fact: Without Satomi, there would be no Deerhoof. Or, if there was, no one would care.
Sure, Satomi's voice is unexpected, even discombobulating. Lots of people never get over the initial hump her wail presents, and that's excusable. But, as with many polarizing vocalists, the very individual sound of a band's voice is central to that band's aesthetic. Corin Tucker's Viking bellow in Sleater-Kinney articulates that band's righteous fury and muscular feminization of rock. Craig Finn's gnarly speak-sing in The Hold Steady is central to his widescreen nostalgia. Any old rock snob will tell you that having a "good" voice has not mattered since Bob Dylan broke.
Deerhoof is all childlike melodies and surrealistic, sometimes creepy lyrics. From their incisive riffs to their exuberant rhythms, Deerhoof lends a giddy enthusiasm to its surroundings. All of that is expressed with Satomi's every chirp. Were Deerhoof to have a traditional indie rocker—that is, a whiny white male—in the one-spot, they would lack much of their wild originality. Perhaps it would make it easier for Deerhoof to sink into the ocean of short-lived hype bands, and that would make those other whiny indie rockers happy. Let's be thankful that's not the case.