• Paul Costuros
  • Present-day Deerfhoof: Ed Rodriguez, John Dieterich, Satomi Matsuzaki, and Greg Saunier

On Friday, March 13, Deerhoof open for Of Montreal at Metro. The Bay Area band are still touring on their 12th album, La Isla Bonita (Polyvinyl), which came out last fall. Peter Margasak weighed in on it when Deerhoof played here in November: “They’ve found a sweet spot they can keep mining for exciting new forms of beauty,” he wrote. “The sugary, faux-naive vocal melodies of bassist Satomi Matsuzaki float within John Dieterich and Ed Rodriguez’s polyphonic matrix of tricky post-Beefheart electric guitar, buoyed and buffeted by the heavy, limber grooves of drummer Greg Saunier.”

Rather than tread on Peter’s toes, I’ve picked for today’s 12 O’Clock Track something much older: “Gore in Rut” appears on Deerhoof’s very first album, The Man, the King, the Girl, released by Kill Rock Stars in 1997.

Why this song in particular? In summer 2000, when my avant-garbage band Lozenge toured the west coast, we opened a few shows for Deerhoof—I remember one in a warehouse in Oakland and another in a dance studio in Santa Cruz. And “Gore in Rut” is the only tune that after all this time I can be 100 percent sure Deerhoof played.

While Matsuzaki sang its rabbit-related lyrics (“Bunny bunny bunny bunny bunny . . . bunny,” of course, and “I can’t have it / The monster rabbit”), she hopped around the room, her hands tucked up under her chin like paws, carrying brown paper grocery bags filled with yards and yards of link chain made from brightly colored strips of construction paper. Working her way through the crowd, she draped the chain over people’s shoulders and arms until she’d decorated almost everyone.

On their first album Deerhoof were a trio (Matsuzaki, Saunier, and guitarist Rob Fisk), but many of the core elements of their aesthetic had already taken shape. Matsuzaki’s cutesy singing has barely changed in 20 years, and neither have her simple, cryptic lyrics, which often feel slightly sinister because of what they don’t explain (and perhaps also because of my apparently involuntary distrust of cutesiness). The eccentric song structures and off-balance phrases are there too—the “bunny” part, for instance, alternates three bars of four with another grouping of three that has two beats tacked on at the end (in other words, 12 beats and 14 beats). And Saunier applies his long-limbed wild-man drumming, even at this early date, with remarkable restraint—he erupts only in fits and starts.

Fisk’s guitar is noisier and hairier than latter-day Deerhoof fans will be used to, but right from the start the band’s guiding outlook was clear. People love to talk about rock ‘n’ roll as an expression of youthful rebellion or raw sexuality, but Deerhoof want us to remember that it can also be about curiosity, surprise, and play.

If you’d prefer better sound quality and no video, how about a Bandcamp stream instead?

Philip Montoro

Philip Montoro has been an editorial employee of the Reader since 1996 and its music editor since 2004. Pieces he has edited have appeared in Da Capo’s annual Best Music Writing anthologies in 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2010, and 2011. He shared two Lisagor Awards in 2019 for a story on gospel pioneer Lou Della Evans-Reid, and he’s also split two national awards from the Association of Alternative Newsmedia: one for multimedia in 2019 for his work on the TRiiBE collaboration the Block Beat, and one in in 2020 for editing the music writing of Reader staffer Leor Galil. Philip has played scrap metal in Lozenge, drummed with the Disasters, the Afflictions, and Brilliant Pebbles, and sung for the White Outs. He wrote the column Beer and Metal from 2012 till 2015, and hopes to do so again one day. You can also follow him on Twitter.