August 23rd, 2011 1:00am

I Can’t Breathe With You Looking At Me

Eleanor Friedberger @ Webster Hall 8/22/2011

My Mistakes / Inn of the Seventh Ray / Heaven / “Never Be Happy Again” / Roosevelt Island / Glitter Gold Year / Early Earthquake / “That Was When I Knew” / Scenes from Bensonhurst / I Won’t Fall Apart on You Tonight

Eleanor Friedberger “Roosevelt Island”

Eleanor Friedberger’s solo debut Last Summer has been slowly becoming one of my favorite albums of the recent past – it’s straight forward in its pleasures, but very subtle in its charms. Without the influence of her brother Matthew, Eleanor plays it very straight in concert. The songs are streamlined down to guitar/guitar/bass/drums arrangements, but very little is lost in the translation. There are sturdy, tuneful pieces with a great deal of heart and character. I was skeptical of how much I’d like Eleanor outside the context of the Fiery Furnaces, but as it turns out, I’m very eager for her to continue making solo discs. The two brand new songs in the set were immediately ingratiating, which gives me hope that we’ll be getting more from her on her own in the near future.

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Deerhunter @ Webster Hall 8/22/2011

Basement Scene / Desire Lines / Hazel Street / Don’t Cry / Revival / Little Kids / Memory Boy / Nothing Ever Happened / Cover Me Slowly / Agoraphobia / Spring Hall Convert / Green Fuzz // Helicopter / He Would Have Laughed

Deerhunter sound better and more confident every time I see them play. This time around, Bradford Cox hit the stage looking like a 80s teen heartthrob reject, with a hair-gelled pompadour and a sharp polka dot blouse. The band have developed their voice and sound quite a bit since the Cryptograms days – the word “professional” seems like an insult, but frankly, I’m thrilled to hear these guys pushing themselves and evolving into one of today’s finest live rock acts.

Deerhunter “He Would Have Laughed” (Live)

I don’t like the word friend very much. Its meaning has been devalued by our culture; in my mind it connotes a positive but mostly superficial relationship, like a more sentimental version of a “buddy.” When people tell me that I am a good friend or something like that, part of me has to remind myself that the person is probably being very sincere and giving me a nice compliment, so I shouldn’t feel insulted or marginalized. The classic values of friendship — of close friendship — are very important to me. I just wish we used better, more precise words to do justice to these kinds of relationships. “Friend” seems so small, trivial, and empty to me. We can do better, especially if we just describe connections with others on the terms of those particular relationships rather than use any one word to describe a wide variety of relationships.

“Friend” is the word that rings out most in “He Would Have Laughed,” the final song on Deerhunter’s new album. “I know where my friends are now,” “Where did my friends go?,” “Where do your friends go?” These lines cut to the emotional core of the piece — loneliness, confusion, the self-defeating isolation of someone who keeps everyone at a distance. The song was written in memory of Jay Reatard, who was by most accounts a rather difficult and angry guy. I hear the song as being about the loss of a frustrating person, the kind who shuts you out, rejects your sentimentality, and behaves like an asshole. The kind of person you love and respect in spite of themselves, or how they treat you. I don’t hear judgment, or even grief in this music. All I hear is empathy and kindness.

I think this song is a major breakthrough for Bradford Cox and Deerhunter. To my ears, this is their most sophisticated and graceful piece of music. The arpeggiated guitar parts and synthesizer tones in this are almost certainly the most beautiful sounds Cox has set to tape; the way the percussion gently guides us from section to section is subtle and lovely, especially for a band whose drummer is commonly derided as a weak link. “He Would Have Laughed” is as pretty as it is devastating. It seems to stretch out in all directions, follows a tangent into a distinct second movement, and abruptly stops, all in the pursuit of answers to its many questions. The sudden conclusion is the punchline of a cosmic joke. He would have laughed.

(Originally posted on 10/6/2010)

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