Show Review: DIIV @ The Sinclair 10.10.15
by Terence Cawley (Biology), published October 13th 2015
Pictured: Zachary Cole Smith performing with DIIV at Pitchfork Music Festival, Chicago, 7.19.14 (Photo by Ben Stas)
The first opener for DIIV’s recent concert at the Sinclair, Sunflower Bean, spent their set seamlessly transitioning between heavily reverbed dreaminess and leaden Sabbath stomp, often within the same song. Julia Cumming commanded the stage with her stoic bass playing and expressive singing, while Nick Kivlen provided counterpoint vocals and effects-laden guitar wizardry and drummer Jacob Faber held down the beat. The Brooklyn band wears its retro taste on its sleeve; their breakout song is called “Tame Impala,” while Kivlen took the stage wearing a Neu! shirt. Yet where many young bands simply copy their influences, Sunflower Bean mashes them into a distinctive blend, and the strength of the material the band played from their forthcoming debut full-length promises an exciting future for this group.
No Joy followed with a set which took the basic shoegaze template and added grungier guitar riffs and more propulsive drumming to push their songs into more aggressive territory. No Joy were by far the loudest band of the evening, and the singers often had trouble making themselves heard over the guitar maelstrom, although whether the blame for this resides with the band or the venue is unclear. Either way, the drowning of the melodies one can hear on No Joy’s records sadly crippled the set once the initial sonic jolt had worn off.
Few bands have devoted themselves as wholeheartedly to musical consistency as DIIV, and that approach has been carried over to their live shows. Throughout DIIV’s set, which featured most of their 2012 debut Oshin along with a healthy helping of songs from their upcoming second album, Is the Is Are, drummer Ben Newman maintained an unrelenting krautrock beat while guitarists Zachary Cole Smith and Andrew Bailey kept a steady stream of wistful, echoing arpeggios flowing. If nothing else, the sheer stamina with which DIIV’s members play their instruments is commendable. Fortunately, Smith has proven to be a talented songwriter as well, skillfully experimenting within the relatively narrow boundaries of the DIIV sound. While certain songs stood out, like old favorite “How Long Have You Known?” and Is the Is Are lead single “Dopamine,” it was the cumulative effect of hearing so many similar-yet-different songs in succession which made DIIV’s performance special, as they masterfully created a delicate, reflective atmosphere and supported it for the entirety of their set.
As DIIV played, a collage of home videos, most of them presumably shot by Smith, was projected behind them. Smith has directed music videos for DIIV and his girlfriend Sky Ferreira, and his video collage held together well despite its casual, ramshackle nature. The footage tended towards a few key fixations: Ferreira, Kurt Cobain (whom Smith has called his “spirit guide”), travelling through cities and forests. Often, there would be a zoom directly into the eyes of a cartoon character or the label of some food product, and the overall effect was that of a moody teenager messing around with a camera to fight off boredom. The video effectively reinforced the nostalgic haze of DIIV’s music by placing the audience directly into Smith’s headspace, and it was heartening to see a young musician willing to risk embarrassment with such a personal stage show succeed in realizing his vision. If Smith continues his artistic growth, and if all of Is the Is Are is as good as the new songs played at the Sinclair, there are going to be a lot more DIIV concerts as great as this one.