The late 90s and early 2000s were an interesting time for popular metal music, when an often-bemoaned genre known as “nü-metal” clawed its way into existence, its rap-infused tendrils hot on the heels of bands like Rage Against The Machine and Faith No More, with its core still deeply rooted in groove-filled pop sensibilities that made it edgily acceptable to throw onto the radio. As the scene began dying out with the advent of metalcore and the New Wave of American Heavy Metal, groups that were still passionate about performing fought desperately to stay relevant, deigning their sound by bringing new elements into it that clashed with the original tunes that made them famous. It can be argued forever, of course, which bands did this as an attempt at creativity, and which bands did it as an attempt to appeal to more fans and listeners. The Sacramento quintet known as Deftones, however, have stood the test of time through this transition, and despite the definite traces of nü-metal within their sound, their desire to experiment and push boundaries has always remained constant.
While most of the Wednesday night crowd was in attendance at the Warfield to solely see their alt-metal heroes debut material from their 2012 release Koi No Yokan, a healthy handful of the early attendees welcomed the arrival of Scars On Broadway, a Los Angeles-based metal quartet formed by System Of A Down guitarist Daron Malakian during his parent band’s hiatus. Though his role as band leader gave Malakian less time to be his wildly-animated, shred-happy self, he still managed to churn out a pummeling set that shook the floors of the theater, with the crowd getting fairly riled up for most of the 45 minutes that the four-piece was offered onstage. While Malakian tore apart the still air with his chugging riffs, keyboardist Danny Shamoun and bassist Dominic Cifarelli exhibited their own brand of manic energy in their thrashings back and forth over their respective positions onstage. Scars On Broadway were also offered their own fantastic light show, a rare phenomenon for an opening act, and no doubt a sign of the intense visuals to come later in the evening for the headliners’ set.
Even with Deftones beginning their set with the slow, somber “Rosemary”, an atmospheric piece from Koi No Yokan, the feverish excitement in the surging, swaying crowd was absolutely palatable, the air becoming hot and thick with moving bodies and hands raised to take in the mammoth riffs and deeply-enveloping pulses of sound. No doubt sensing this, singer Chino Moreno and the rest of the band immediately tore into the rest of the set with a fierce array of favorites, blasting out “Feiticeira”, “Be Quiet And Drive (Far Away)” and “My Own Summer” in rapid succession, the third of which saw Moreno hurling himself into the crowd during the final hell-bent chorus. Every moment of Deftones’ live performance was mesmerizing to watch, with the band desiring to provide an apt visual spectacle — three massive LED displays, and a dizzying array of sweeping floodlights — to accompany their overwhelmingly-enveloping brand of soaring, torrential alt-metal sound. An awe-inspiring, hauntingly chaotic performance of “Passenger” was the last in this salvo before the band swung forward in time to crank out several numbers from their 2010 release Diamond Eyes, giving their audience nary a moment of breathing room as the performance continued with unyielding intensity.
Moreno’s only moments of quiet and calm were those where he was equipped with his guitar, his eyes tightly shut in concentration as he strummed and crooned along with a brittle but powerful voice. For the rest of the night, he used the entire stage as his own personal obstacle course, leaping from level to level and side to side like a man possessed, hurling himself feet forward to slam down upon the stage, his microphone clenched almost as tightly as the strained muscles on his face as he howled and raged his way through the set. Guitarist Stephen Carpenter was a sharp contrast, his bouncing, shaggy locks the only hint that he was moving along with the snarling, steamrolling riffs that he generated with devastating ferocity. The biggest surprise was new bassist Sergio Vega, who has managed to fit into his role within Deftones remarkably well. Though there was some skepticism about his being able to carry on the torch of founding bassist Chi Cheng — who recently woke from his several-year-long coma (following a serious car accident in 2008) but is still far from being fully recovered — Vega has taken the role and made it his own, providing rich backing vocals to Moreno’s banshee-like cries while offering up his own breed of intense movements and dark, sludgy notes.
Though most of the rest of Deftones’ set swung back and forth between Diamond Eyes, Koi No Yokan and their 2003 self-titled effort, a night of nearly 25 songs offered the California quintet a few chances to throw some surprises into the mix, which they did with gusto. In addition to a positively spooky performance of “Change (In The House Of Flies)” and the achingly beautiful “Riviére” from Saturday Night Wrist, the group closed out the night with a blindingly furious encore. This consisted of three songs from their debut record, Adrenaline, with the cult classic “Root” seeing Vega stepping aside and offering the bassist role to Chi Cheng’s son Gabriel, who displayed all of the fervor and brilliance of his father as the band plowed through the song. Smiles and embraces were exchanged onstage before and after the final song of the set — a scathing, vicious performance of “7 Words” — and the night came shuddering and crashing to its conclusion, the shrill resonance of feedback still audible for long minutes after the band departed from the stage.
Each time I have seen Deftones perform, they seem to be dead-set on destroying any preconceived notions of how wild and intensely immersive their onstage antics are. Every song continues to evolve in its shape and feel, with each member adding twists and turns that are subtle except to the most avid listener — for everyone else, it’s simply a welcome blast of fury that is wonderful to be caught up in. The newer songs from Koi No Yokan showed that the men of Deftones are continuing down the path of slow, dark intensity that they were only beginning to tap into on their last records, but each piece also possessed the razor-edged brutality that is characteristic of their sound, and the combination made each number a positive treat for the ears. Only a few selections from the new record were played, with no doubt that the audience was left salivating for more; in November, when Koi No Yokan is released, we’ll get to see what other surprises they’ve carved out for us.