Concert Review: Deftones at the Fillmore Miami Beach, August 25

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Photo by Ian Wilten
Deftones lead singer Chino Moreno performing at the Fillmore Miami Beach.
Click here to view photos from Deftones at Fillmore Miami Beach.

Deftones
With Baroness
The Fillmore Miami Beach
Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Better Than: Watching any other rock band with a DJ in its lineup.

The Review:

Last night marked a rare full-on metal show for the Fillmore Miami Beach, which proved itself up to the task in sound, and, at least after the first few minutes, mellow security. Which is al excellent, as the lineup gave a reason to celebrate.

It was the Deftones' first time back in South Florida since the 2006 Taste of Chaos tour (and that was in Pompano). Further, in an awesome booking move, brought along Savannah sludge kings Baroness. Just to give some perspective on how lucky that was, if we were in an earlier city on the tour we would have gotten Circa Survive as openers.

So, for the nearly half of the audience that arrived late, it's a shame, because Baroness played an unassailable 40-minute set that was loud, fierce, and even occasionally wandered into outer space while still keeping things tight.

Frontman John Baizley, besides being an insanely talented visual artist, also makes for an engaging frontman. He's not a big guy, but he has a huge voice; maybe he draws power from his beard. It blends well with the occasional harmonies courtesy of fellow axeman Peter Adams, and together, they boast a serious array of some otherworldy guitar effects.

Their twin riffage often relies heavily on a sort of retro-style twin-octave attack, but unlike other bands (like, say, the Sword), Baroness doesn't just ape the hard-rock '70s and instead updates the whole sound with a fresh approach. This comes, sometimes, from an almost pop sensibility mixed with a love of technical tinkering.

Just take the best song of their set, also one of the best songs from their Blue Album released last year, "A Horse Called Golgotha." Half of it seems ready-made for head-banging and singing along; the other half is a long, pedal-driven jam. It's never boring, though, and the rest of the set -- which included other Blue Album songs like "the Gnashing" as well as older songs like "Isak" and "The Birthing" -- seemed to win over many a new fan.

If Baroness made a case for their slot as the the southern metal scene's next rising stars, Deftones proved why they have remained at the top of the heavy-music heap for years with their own singular sound. Hipper-than-thou types may unfairly roll their eyes at this, because the Deftones sound was, painfully, often imitated -- but never duplicated. Most of the the knuckle-dragging, rap-rock bands that trailed them failed in a major respect: Wannabes latched on only to that one, aggressive facet of the sound.

Unfortunately, the copycats left out all the melodic nuance and evocative imagery that, really, has always been Deftones' biggest strength. (Frontman Chino Moreno basically stopped the pseudo-rapping after the first couple albums, anyways.) The band really is thinking-people's, subgenre-unclassifiable metal, full of unexpected structural turns and lyrics charged with way more emotion than just the usual anger.

Most importantly, the band puts on a kick-ass live show that, start to finish, never dips in energy, even when it does so in tempo. This is a band that wastes very little time getting straight to the point: Over roughly and hour-and-a-half, the quartet made it through 20 songs.

Unlike Baroness, who loaded and unloaded all of their own gear, Deftones seem to employ a small army keeping the ship running smoothly. In fact, it appears to be a full-time tech job just to supply guitarist Stephen Carpenter with his seemingly endless array of guitars, which. Last night, this included a version of his own signature ESP model, covered, bizarrely, in a Louis Vuitton monogram.

Of course, too, the band is missing its longtime bassist, Chi Cheng, who still remains in an uncertain medical condition following a serious car accident in 2008. For the band's latest album, Diamond Eyes, he was replaced by Sergio Vega of the late, great Quicksand. Vega mostly stood back and blended in last night, which is a compliment; in other words, his playing fit right in on the older material, too.

Moreno, meanwhile, relies on virtually no stage patter; it took some seven songs before he broke the music to greet the crowd. This shouldn't be taken for any kind of snobbery, though. Rather, Moreno seems almost shy in the face of his fans' intense adoration.

His few breaks were always punctuated by long surveys of the packed house, and there were high-fives aplenty for the people along the front of the stage. Most of the time, he just smiled brightly, clearly pleased, even while singing about, say, knives ("Rocket Skates" and "Knife Party," although it's metaphorical). Several other times, he waded into the crowd to sing, which resulted in a crush that looked like this:

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Though Deftones' music is, on its surface, full of unexpected, aggressive, explosions, the show was carefully paced to reveal its subtleties. Moreno is, hands down, one of the best vocalists in heavy music, with a smooth, supple singing voice that was, at every single moment last night, pitch-perfect. What's more impressive is that he was able to switch into an ear-piercing shriek and back to that croon with no sign of vocal distress.

It's when he's in the melodic register, when his words really ring clear, that Moreno is, really, a master of charting the ups and downs of relationships. "Needles and Pins," for instance, which came about halfway through the main set, features a gut-busting chorus but is really about an us-versus-the-world couple: "Put the cross between me and you!/Who wants to fuck with us now?" Later on, "Sextape," from Diamond Eyes, came across almost as a torch song -- literally, since this got fans unironically waving actual lighters (as opposed to cell phones) in the air.

Actually, it's not just romance with which the band is concerned. Live, it's physically evident -- in the chest-rattling, down-tuned power chords, in the vibrating drums -- how the songs seem to throb with erotic anticipation. There were, as expected, relatively few females in the crowd, but many who were seemed fully enthralled by this spell. (Maybe many of them, especially one girl I saw actually writhing along the edge of stage left, were drunk -- but still.)

Together, the whole set list portrayed basically the full spectrum of romantic dynamics, as well as the full spectrum of the band's career. While the song selection, of course, drew heavily from Diamond Eyes, the rest of the records were all represented -- and, refreshingly, it wasn't heavily slanted towards White Pony, Deftones' 2000 hit album. Four songs came from White Pony, as well as from 1997's Around the Fur. But, most rewarding for longtime fans, the last three four songs of the show reached all the way back to band's debut 1995 disc, Adrenaline.

What impressed, overall, was how it all blended seamlessly together, with no backing tracks, mixing tricks, or stupid gimmicks. Here, in the end, was a portrait of a band with a by-now-long history that, reassuringly, still seems to be evolving with the times.

Critic's Notebook

Personal Bias: I'm a Baroness fan, and have to admit that I would have been less excited for this show if, like earlier dates on the tour, the opener had been Circa Survive.

The Crowd: Well, at least the gender balance can be summed up by the fact that between bands, the line for the mens' room went more than 20 heavily tattooed bodies deep past the exit, while I breezed on in to an empty ladies' room.

Overheard in the Crowd:
Random person one, to her boyfriend: "Do you smell ... onions?"
Random person two in an unrelated group: "God, it smells like sour underwear ... and onions!"
Editor's note: The onion smell disappeared along with a couple people somewhere behind me.

Random Notebook Dump: Vintage JNCO count within my sightline: zero, mercifully. I figured I might spot at least one pair, somewhere in that huge crowd.

Deftones Set List:

-"Diamond Eyes"
-"Rocket Skates"
-"Beauty School"
-"Be Quiet and Drive (Far Away)"
-"My Own Summer (Shove It)"
-"Knife Party"
-"Elite"
-"Digital Bath"
-"Needles and Pins"
-"Lotion"
-"Dai the Flu"
-"Hole in the Earth"
-"Prince"
-"You've Seen the Butcher"
-"Sextape"
-"Risk"
-"Change (In the House of Flies)"
-"Birthmark"
-[Edited to add] "Nosebleed"

Encore:

-"Engine No. 9"
-"7 Words"

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