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Deftones express rage and regret

by Jordan Green

Behind the ornate columns and wide steps that front the former post office and federal courthouse that houses Winston-Salem’s Millennium Center the sleek, young rock masses from Appalachian redoubts like Morganton and Dobson streamed toward the center of the ballroom floor in an undulating sea of black T-shirts and lip piercings.

It was a Tuesday evening, so the opening act was already playing by 8 p.m. The band, Deadsy from Los Angeles, liberally incorporated a synthesizer into its guitar-driven tumult. The androgynous-looking bass player struck an imposing stance atop a monitor and flailed in time to the music. The singer, who goes by the name of P. Exeter Blue I, snarled into the microphone with icy vacancy, threw his head back as if staggering from the impact of a blow at the end of his lines, and focused his eyes like hypnotizing lasers during a cover of Rush’s “Tom Sawyer.”

The kids seemed to dig it.

Of course they had really come to see the Deftones, a central California band that through almost two decades of innovation has refined metal to a cathartic rage that allows for soulful glimpses of vulnerability and surrender. The band’s new album, Saturday Night Wrist, promises something else: introspection and psychedelic transport.

A Deftones concert is a primordial adolescent rock experience: a crowd that presses in on itself in a claustrophobic and thrilling throng, a good-natured battle of wills between security and audience that hints at the breakdown of order, and hysteria of the most pleasurable kind. Even during the break between opener and headliner the recorded synth music is so loud that throats become raw with the effort to be heard above the decibels.

The crowd chants the band’s name.

The singer, Chino Moreno, steps out in front of the band as the room is submerged in inky dimness. The sound of shrieking is heard from the audience. The singer steps forward, dressed in a charcoal-colored ensemble of skater shorts, jacket and wallet chain. Striped socks cover his calves. He wraps the microphone cord around his wrist and looks with bemusement at the audience. Not a note has been played.

Then the music begins – a churning maelstrom of howled vocals, machinegun percussion and overpowering guitar. The Deftones’ metal relies more on overtone than speed and dexterity. The sound envelops the audience like an aural womb rather than charging it like a feral pig. Moreno’s emotional range brings to the music a textural wash suggestive of Coldplay or Radiohead, and the interspersal of quiet moments and silences evokes the arena-rock atmospherics of Pink Floyd.

As the band plays a blond-haired girl in pig tails and a silver choker flails against the metal barricade screaming with delirious joy.

During a certain song Moreno barks, then makes an Acccckkkk sound as if violently trying to clear his throat and finally shrieks Aiiieeeee, eyes riveted in horror and orgasmically drumming his fingers as if drawing the audience’s loving energy to the stage.

It doesn’t take long before the audience begins a game of crowd surfing with security. One or two are suddenly thrown up above the crowd like whitewater spray and the hands of the dancers carry them towards the lip of the stage. Immediately the beefy security dudes rush forward, snatching at a limb or grabbing the surfer under the arms like a child rescued from a burning house. Once the surfer is harvested he or she receives a reassuring pat on the back and is ushered down the chute fashioned from the barricades.

One of the surfers, a girl with tight brown curls wearing an low-cut chemise of ochre color, emerges from the chute exulting to her female companion. Then, as if pursuing a drug, she makes a beeline back into the crowd.

To comment on this story, e-mail Jordan Green at jordan@yesweekly.com

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