The music started. With a fury beyond description, the band launched into its first track, bringing along thunderous drums, loudly-distorted guitars, and otherworldly high-pitched screams. Fists flew in the air as the crowd head banged and random people jumped on top of others to crowd surf, their feet flying mere inches from my head. The music and mood suggested utter chaos, but I was so enraptured by the music that I hardly noticed – things became more of a beautiful chaos.
Last Wednesday, I had the good fortune of snagging a couple of tickets to see one of my favorite new bands perform a free show hosted by Converse Rubber Tracks. Deafheaven was one of the biggest misses for me personally at FYF Fest, and I promised myself that I couldn’t miss them again if another chance came up. Who knew this opportunity would come up so soon and so close to home? It was perfect.
My roommate Ryan and I found ourselves standing in front of The Chapel in the Mission, one of my favorite venues in San Francisco, on a warm early-November evening. We arrived a bit after the concert started and caught the closing songs of opening band WOVE, who seemed like a fun group playing a hard rock/psychedelic mixture of music.
As the set ended, we inched forward through the crowd and ended up a mere 10 feet away from the stage. At this point I think it’s helpful to mention that Deafheaven is a black metal band and share a common heritage with one of the most intense metal subgenres in history. However the group is a far cry from the more traditional black metal get-up – no corpse paint and fake blood here – just a few normal-looking folks dressed more for fashion magazines than for a black metal concert.
The band’s sophomore album Sunbather is one of my favorites from 2013, and with good reason. It essentially re-imagines black metal and combines it with shoegaze and post-rock, resulting in some of the most cathartic and emotionally-charged pieces of music I’ve heard in a very long time. The numbers don’t lie…Sunbather was one of the highest-ranked albums that year, and we were going to experience it all right in front of the band themselves! You can imagine my excitement at this point.
The band walked onto the stage and lead vocalist George Clarke donned his usual intense on-stage persona, scowling, staring, and motioning to the crowd to get them fired up. As the opening guitar riffs filled the venue, I sensed the crowd collectively well up with huge amounts of energy that erupted into a full-on mosh pit as soon as the drums and bass kicked in for “Dream House.” And then the chaos ensued. The music and vocals were on point as Clarke screamed through pretty much the entire Sunbather album while lead guitarist Kerry McCoy absolutely shredded.
After a couple songs the crowd subsided into a surprisingly organized setup. I found myself right at the edge of the pit, acting as one of the people holding the line to keep the pit from getting too out of control. The crowd definitely followed mosh pit etiquette, picking up fallen people, holding lost items above their heads, and even considerately holding their feet up while crowdsurfing to avoid clocking others in the head. I was actually really impressed by how most of the attendees were ultimately respectful, enforcing unspoken rules and having a fun time.
Around an hour of metal goodness later Deafheaven closed with “Unrequited,” a well-known song from the group’s first album. As the final notes rang and the band left the stage, we knew we’d just experienced something very special. This marked my first metal concert (apart from a quick Unlocking the Truth set at Coachella), and I was glad that I had the chance to enjoy it. I came away from the concert realizing that good music transcends genres, that it pays to keep an open mind and see things for what they are, rather than what they appear to be. From the surprisingly organized mosh pit to the amazing songs to the friendly venue employees, this concert exceeded my expectations by far. Hopefully Deafheaven will be back in the city soon, and I’m already looking forward to their next record!
Check out the video below (start at 3:40) of a past Deafheaven set for an idea of the live experience!