When I arrived at the Middle East, I was more than a little dismayed to see the posted set times for the night’s acts: after doors opened at 8, Doomstar wouldn’t go on until 9:30, with Ben Butler and Mousepad following at 10:30, and Deerhoof at 11:30. Though I understand a club’s need to be open and allow potentially-terrible bands to start off shows, I was a little ticked at how I might have to sit around for three hours before the band I wanted to see came on.
Instead of disappointing me, the openers delivered a one-two punch of relief. Doomstar, a Cambridge-based lo-fi rock group started things off with a bang. They delivered their songs in a style reminiscent of other bands, but their influences were so diverse that their sound ended up entirely unique. Sometimes jangly surf garage, sometimes pure power pop, Doomstar was punky bass meets indie drums meets retro Ricky Nelson-style rockabilly licks. The product felt like a grittier, less polished Strokes or Vampire Weekend, complete with falsetto backing vocals, and with a hint of psychedelia. Overall a great start to the show.
Ben Butler and Mousepad took the stage next. Deerhoof had taken the duo on tour after they released a remix of Deerhoof’s “Rrrrrrright”, and they were an excellent lead-in to the main act. The two members, neither of whom is named Ben Butler, hail from Scotland and Germany and boast the vaguely foreign accents to match. With one manning a vintage Korg synth and a laptop, and the other one absolutely thrashing on the drums like a super-talented, highly trained toddler on pots and pans (he broke through the snare head during the very first song), the group provided high-energy, twitchy dance prog to a highly pleased audience. They sounded like chiptune for the non-enthusiast, like the soundtracks for all the awesome SNES games you wished existed. The talent of both musicians was astonishing, and their set was replete with music-school polyrhythms and syncopation. The crowd’s reaction was overwhelmingly positive; on the last song, the band told the audience “the next one’s a disco number, so feel free to move all the appropriate appendages”, and they were successful in getting their fans to dance and clap along to the quite complex 4+5/4 time signature.
Finally, Deerhoof came on stage 30 minutes to midnight. The crowd immediately went wild to the opening notes of “Dummy Discards a Heart”, dancing along with what otherwise might seem undanceable tunes. The band played songs from throughout their discography, though there was a focus, albeit an expected one, on songs from their 2011 release, “Deerhoof vs. Evil”. For those familiar with the band’s shows, they performed with their usual antics – Ed and John traded and shared many a lead-guitar duet, Greg gave a few of his trademark rambling speeches, and Satomi jumped and danced in circles while jamming on her Paul McCartney-esque Hofner violin bass. Like Ben Butler and Mousepad before them, Deerhoof got the audience to participate along to nearly uncountable time signatures. The highlights of the set were a cover of The Ramones’ “Pinhead”, Deerhoof’s own “The Merry Barracks” (from Deerhoof vs. Evil), and the fan-favorite “The Perfect Me”. The last of these ended the band’s main set, and had the crowd the most excited they had been during the whole show.
After a short encore, the lights returned to normal and the audience began to shuffle out. Deerhoof’s set felt surprisingly short; the clock, though, showed that they had been on for nearly 90 minutes. This was a testament to the excitement of the show and to the overwhelming energy of the night. All in all, each of the three acts provided an enjoyable show. Doomstar turned out to be a great first opener, an act to look out for in the local scene; Deerhoof gave a standard Deerhoof show, which was nonetheless a blast. Ben Butler and Mousepad, though, totally stole the show with their sugar-high synth-filled dance rock.
During one of his speeches, Greg mentioned how Deerhoof loves the audience and the staff at the Middle East each time they come to Boston – hopefully they’ll come back as soon as possible to deliver another stellar performance. When they do, let’s all pray that they bring Ben Butler and Mousepad along with them again.