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all photos: Nick Balleza; all words: Philip Runco

It wasn’t until a bra landed at his feet that Bradford Cox revealed that he might be drunk.

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The Deerhunter frontman hadn’t said anything during the first half-hour of his set to tip his hand.  In fact, he hadn’t said much of anything at all; through five songs, he had yet to pause, let alone engage the audience.  

Instead, he unspooled a steady stream of melancholic and psych-twisted ballads, each one emerging from the cacophonous decay of its predecessor.  Attempting to delineate where one ended and the next began was a trivial exercise.

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Performing alone, Cox was free to pervert the sonics and structures of his songs as he wished.  Past visits to the Black Cat by Atlas Sound – a “side-project” that nearly rivals the popularity of his proper group – saw Cox accompanied by backing bands, but on this night he would rely on loop and effects pedals to build and stretch his acoustic arrangements.

Songs unfolded in a similar pattern: strums of heavily reverbed guitar were layered upon one another, joined by loops of wordless cooing or a harmonica’s eerie ring or twinking ambient noise, or all three.  From these elements, Cox would erect soundscapes alternately spectral and sinister, and as each began to peak in intensity, he would introduce a faintly recognizable melody that would become unmistakably recognizable the moment everything else dropped out.

And then the song as you know it would begin.

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It was a neat trick, and like Cox’s decision to go it alone altogether, it felt like a conscious effort to reclaim the experimental bedroom spirit of Atlas Sound, which on its latest full-length, Parallax, sounds increasingly like a more conventional extension of Deerhunter.  (While this isn’t necessarily a bad thing – Parallax is disarmingly pretty – the restless Logos [2009] was a decidedly more interesting record.)

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Cox hit Parallax’s highlights early, opening with the title track and working through “The Shakes”, “Te Amo”` and “Amplifiers”, with Logo’s “Walkabout” tossed in for good measure.   His voice was strong and assured, shaking off the sleepy reserve that coats his singing on record, and proving capable of holding the near-capacity crowd’s attention. Dressed in flannel and with a harmonica perched not far from his face, Cox looked the part of the folkie too.

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The reception wasn’t all that was warm within the venue though, and soon Cox would shed the puffy olive vest he had emerged wearing.  This would elicit the catcalls of a few female attendees and inspire one to launch her bra onto the stage.

“What the fuck is that?” Cox asked, not amused. “I’m not on that team,” he continued, drawing light to a well-documented – on record and off – sexual preference.  “Homey don’t play that.”

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He strung the bra from his microphone to the delight of the audience.

“You would like me to do that,” Cox said, a surly tone seeping into his words.  “Well, I’m not your puppet.  Homey don’t play heteronormative fucking games.”

The bra was ripped from the microphone.

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A sudden swing of emotion, standoffish audience interaction, repeated “In Living Color” references: Bradford Cox was intoxicated.

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He wasn’t alone.  On this oddly aggressive night, a patron would assault Black Cat’s staff after being turned away for drunkenness, and another sitting at the bar would soil his pants.

Cox had the most significant platform for his intoxication though, and he would gradually grow unfurled across a two hour set and in front of a dwindling audience.

The early departures hardly seemed to faze him.  “I have forty minutes of music left,” he informed the crowd before his encore.  “If anyone gets tired, the door is that way,” he continued, punctuating the sentiment with a belch. nballeza-atlassound  011wtmkwtmk

“We occupy ourselves with stupid diversions,” Cox ranted following a rendition of the seasonal obscurity  “Artificial Snow”, and eliciting one audience member to heckle him as “emo.”  “I’m not emo,” he corrected him.  “I’m just fucking drunk.”

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While his composure may have been colliding head-on with his proclivity for banter, the wheels remained firmly on his musical ability.  There were some real highlights here: “Walkabout” given an almost Nebraska-esque chug of guitar and lonesome harmonica; “Lighworks” steadily blossoming; the sunny “Mona Lisa” propelled towards a furious finale. 

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There was only so much Cox could do with his set-up, however, and as the show continued through its second hour, it felt as if he might have exhausted his bag of tricks.  While he had intentionally blended his songs together to start the concert, it began to sound as if they were doing so on their own.

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“I have a lot of good memories here,” Cox reflected at one point, waxing nostalgic about the Black Cat.

For better or worse, he’s certainly created a few more.

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