Cindy Lee & Deerhunter, Le National, January 15th 2017

Photo: Allison O'Reilly 

I was ecstatic to hear that Cindy Lee and Deerhunter, two of my favourite recording artists, would be playing at Le National on a cold Sunday night. The beautiful old theater slowly filled with people eager to bliss out to droning treble.

On came Cindy Lee, Patrick Flegel’s feedback pop project manifesting in the wake of his prior band, Women, probably the best band of the decade in my opinion. The new Cindy Lee album, Act of Tenderness, is a melodramatic pop masterpiece (a word I do not use lightly) droning in helplessness and noise. Knowing nothing of the show prior to the performance, one would expect the see a full band with many guitars and pedals and wires and maybe some tape machines. Instead the audience was surprised to witness Patrick Flegel dressed in drag, clad in a leather short skirt, a fur coat and transparent blouse, topping a blonde bob wig. An explosive assault of dissonant feedback ushered her into her performance. Pre recorded songs played over the speakers while she sang into a reverb and treble layered microphone mix, piercing and projecting her sincerity into the crowd with extreme elegance and poise, while a woman played bass or picked at a lapsteel guitar, filling any unoccupied space with glassy swirling slides. The audience was not quite sure how to react, but the longer it went on, the more moving it became. She swayed and swooned through her rendition of 60’s doowop, injecting into the mix a wall of sonic desperation, truly establishing an eerie feeling of unrequited love. The audience fought to hold back tears as she sang and looked everyone in the eye individually it seemed, sharing the burden between one another. She finished her last song, whispered a thank you to mixed applause, and vanished off stage. Like watching a myth disappear over the horizon onto sunset.

After the intermission, the audience erupted in cheer and delight as Deerhunter, tonight’s headliner, came on stage and the floor lights faded out. They launched into the heavy psychedelic intro to Comfort Me, organ-like synth pads and wavy whammy bar chords evaporating and shimmering over everyone. Bradford Cox, the band’s frontman, comes out from backstage and everyone goes wild, just as the intro transitions into the jangly pop bulk of the song. I’m a huge fan of Deerhunter’s records, which tend to favour trippy mellow ballads, but this was clearly to be a rock’n’roll performance. The disco bass lines and aggressive punk drums took the sound in a different direction. Cox followed suit, wailing and shouting, instead of adhering to the recorded material’s mumble melodies. Cox came off as a master of the stage, dancing all over the place, interacting with front row girlies, and even with his own band in comedic lil’ bits, breaking now and then to grab a guitar and mash out a solo. I’m not a fan of big arena rock, and it all seemed overperformed to me, however the audience was really into it and moved around as much as any indie rock crowd ever will. The band was super tight, transitioning smoothly between huge rock movements to spaced out noise jams (which I enjoyed more, but I’m a drone nerd). Cox told old stories of good times spent in Montreal and was thankful to be back in the city they hold dear to their hearts, and I’m inclined to agree with them. What a city. At this rate, I’ll lose my hearing by 30.



Michael Brown hopes to one day join his Tralfarnadorian brethren in transtemporal enlightenment, but until then begrudgingly occupies time playing music, writing, and working in the great Canadian wilderness.