It’s a warm night and my friend looks different—a new beard, hair cut short on the sides. ‘I lost the tickets,’ he tells me. ‘Oh,’ I say. I haven’t seen him for a long time, buddies since high school. He tells me about benching 100kg the other day, a new best. He’s no meat head, just a quiet, big-smiling friend who likes his hard-rock and metal, likes to lift weights. We head to the management office of Festival Hall to get a reprint of the tickets. There’s a girl in reception and I know her from somewhere. She was part of my environment at some point. Was it uni? I think so. She recognises me too and when our eyes meet the looks on our faces acknowledge the fact that we’ve known each other for a long time and know nothing about each other. Weird.
My friend is also named Luke and we’ve both been fans of the Deftones since I can remember knowing him. The first warm-up act I don’t know. The second is Karnivool, another favourite from my high school days though I’ve neglected them in recent years. They sound as tight as they do on their records. Interesting play with time signatures, rhythm and song structure, technically proficient. It’s impressive. “Cote” plays and it takes me back to the time when bands started to impress me musically. The Deftones tap into something a little more: teenage angst, recklessness, excitement, growing up.
The setlist doesn’t surprise me at all, opening up with a handful of tracks from their middle albums: “Diamond Eyes” (Diamond Eyes, 2010), “Digital Bath” (White Pony, 2000), and “Kimdracula” (Saturday Night Wrist, 2006). Diamond Eyes the album was decent but not nearly as ground breaking or original as White Pony or Saturday Night Wrist. It’s great to hear “Digital Bath”, a song both hard-hitting and ambient. It epitomises White Pony‘s mix of the band’s roots with their sojourn into shoegaze. Saturday Night Wrist, on the other hand, saw them further refine their hard-rock on the back of their self-titled album of 2003. It’s what I appreciate about the Deftones for the most part—a familiar formula and a discography that varies.
Gore (2016) is more of the familiar and I think Anthony Fontano from The Needle Drop is right in parking it with Diamond Eyes (though for some different reasons, much to the vitriol of his listeners). That’s the thing with the Deftones. Their fanbase is loyal to the bone, even a bit cultish, and I do admit to being one of them. So, I note my internal bias.
The title track of Gore follows “Kimdracula” and we’re only treated with two other tracks from their latest release. Not long into the set I realise that though the band isn’t breaking any more boundaries, they’ve still got the energy I fell in love with and play the way they should, as seasoned performers. I love seeing Abe trashing the drumheads and brass. None of them seem to tire out. And they constantly play with tempo—up and down, building up, crashing down. There are times when I think it jars, when the chorus is sped up too much. But hey, details.
“Swerve City” from Koi No Yokan (2012) comes soon after and I’m glad. I think the album is underrated as it stands amongst the more well-known in their catalogue. Chino takes up lead guitar for a moment and I think of Carpenter being at first reluctant to share his responsibilities as guitarist when Chino started dabbling some years ago.
We’re then treated with three big ones from Around The Fur (1997), their sophomore hit. We’re told to ‘drive far‘ and the buildup and drop in “Headup” is huge. It’s only after the eleventh track, “Rosemary” (Chino and Carpenter get into it, playing off each other in that cliché duo pose), that the band takes its first of maybe two small breathers before launching into more. There is some banter. Carpenter’s hair is blowing high into the air and Chino remarks: ‘that would be your Native American name: “His Hair Blows.”‘
Soon enough we hear “Change (In The House of Flies)” and “Knife Party”, two big favourites of any fan. The audience joins in for a chorus that tugs at your strings. “Knife Party” has Chino launching himself again into the crowd and he’s illuminated like a prophet as fans reach for him—‘go get your knife, go get your knife, and come in…’
The encore goes like I knew it would: one or two big songs from the catalogue, then something from Adrenaline (1995), their debut album—thrashing and angry. And yup, it was “Hexagram”, the only track played from their self-titled Deftones (2003), followed by “Engine No. 9”. None of this disappointed and the band worked the crowd hard. Look back at videos of them playing in the 90’s and 2000’s and you see the same screaming sweat, the same force.
I got what I expected. There were no big surprises. Maybe that was the appeal for a fan like me—something I know and love, something I often retreat into. The Deftones have been a working band for decades now and don’t seem to have lost any of their zeal. Abe still thrashes; Sergio’s eyes open wide; Chino screams, squeals as hard as he ever did, taking every chance to leap into into the crowd; Carpenter makes 8 strings bellow out something massive, and Delgado works quietly, hardly noticed (though if he does his job well he shouldn’t be). Yes, their best albums are well and truly behind them but they still play red-raw, enough to throw your neck out.
Luke and I walk back to the train station in the balmy rain, happy with nostalgia.
- Diamond Eyes
- Digital Bath
- Rocket Skates
- Swerve City
- Be Quiet and Drive (Far Away)
- My Own Summer (Shove It)
- Acid Hologram
- Change (In The House of Flies)
- Knife Party
18. Engine No. 9