Photography by Kierra Thorn @KierraThorn
Sitting in the Joan Sutherland Theatre of the Sydney Opera House, contemplating the onslaught of music that’s about to explode from the stage, I wondered if Sutherland herself would’ve been up for a night of Deafheaven. I found myself having an imaginary conversation with ol’ Joan about how to classify the San Francisco lads’ style. A topic up for much debate amongst heavy music circles (and between imaginary Opera singers and lonely music journos) but one thing was crystal clear once Deafheaven took to the stage – they bring a powerful live show, and that’s not up for debate.
Like frogs in a slowly boiling pot, their intro grew louder over time from almost nothing, making it seem like it was always there but we just hadn’t noticed. The difference in each member’s appearance as they took to the stage reflected the vastness of heavy influences clearly contained within their sound. Seeing guitarist Kerry McCoy strut out wearing the standard issue metal uniform of a ‘Master Of Puppets’ t-shirt was incredibly endearing.
Front man, George Clarke, donned in an all black getup, began prowling around the stage as they got into first song ‘Brought to the Water’ from their latest critically acclaimed offering New Bermuda. Clarke has some very unique stage moves as he thrashes about frantically whilst intermittently conducting the band, looking like a cross between Leonard Bernstein and an ADHD child in the confectionary aisle of Woolworths.
The elephant in the room was addressed when Clarke asked the audience, “Let’s get this out of the way. How incredible is it that we’re playing here, and you’re all sitting down?” Deafheaven are not accustomed to appearing in such stuffy venues with all audience members seated. Don’t get me wrong, there were some noble punters head-banging their little cotton socks off in their seats, but it’s still a long way from the rowdy club shows they’re used to. However, from the commanding and engaging performance they gave, you could assume that they’ve played just as many Opera Houses as they have hardcore clubs.
Dame Joan would be proud.
The highlight of the set appeared at the first encore with ‘Sunbather’, which so perfectly epitomises the Deafheaven sound. Reverb and distortion-soaked guitar frenzies launch out from beautiful, soft-spoken clean interludes reflecting the fleeting beauty amongst the anger and pain.
The end of the set garnered a standing ovation from the clearly stunned crowd. McCoy and the gang held their guitars high above their head as a thank you salute. It was clear that Deafheaven saw this show as a touchstone moment in their careers and the energy they exuded was the confidence, humility and expertise of a band that has much more greatness ahead.