A feeling of tranquility was the main takeaway from a conversation with Deerhunter guitarist and Lotus Plaza captain Lockett Pundt just before his show at Washington, DC’s Rock and Roll Hotel. For a guy who pulls off strong but silent as Deerhunter’s warped, melodic muscle, and alternatively masters the slippery art of serene psych-pop as Lotus Plaza, it’s revealing that Pundt is collected, soft-spoken, and insanely friendly. From the get-go, it’s clear we’re not dealing with the death-stare-turned-inside-joke of Deerhunter frontman Bradford Cox. At least as a person, Pundt seems to play foil to Cox’s mania.
Taking Pundt’s mellow demeanor into account, back-checked by dozens of listens to the magnificent Spooky Action at A Distance, one might have entered Saturday night’s show expecting a similarly mellow experience: some languid guitars, some cool, propulsive rhythms, and a handful of half-noise-outs, which might climax at a solid nine, but certainly would never reach 11. Maybe because of Pundt’s reverb-drenched melodies and the album’s spooked-but-sunny sound, Spooky Action conjures little in the way of crass distortion, incomprehensible guitars, or obfuscated melody, though it actually does get fairly loud and fairly distorted.
And it certainly got loud in person. In fact, my ears still hurt as I type this review. From the first blown-out strums of “White Galactic One”, it became clear I was going to have trouble hearing much of anything during the concert, let alone for a while thereafter. Pundt and his band delivered a short set of maxed-out, overdriven versions of Lotus Plaza songs. Backed by a four-piece band, he powered through songs old and new, with little regard for eardrums. He was, though, the picture of calm, as usual, the sounds bleeding through the air above him.
In some ways, it made for a more exciting Saturday night than was expected, but I certainly didn’t feel a strong connection to much of the set, remaining instead alienated by the fuzz, trying hard to latch onto something. The onstage action may have been at a Distance ( vocals and guitar phrases engulfed in a haze of electricity), but the Spooky vibe that I anticipated fell through the trap door, only to be replaced by the all-consuming fuzz, competing guitar lines mixed way too high.
As a band, Lotus Plaza (T.J. Blake on bass, Frankie Broyles on drums, Allen Taylor on synth/electronics, Dan Wakefield on guitar, and Pundt on both lead vocals and guitar) is certainly strong, but also quite loose and messy. It’s enough to make you wonder how it feels for Lockett to play with one of the tightest, most controlled bands in recent memory as guitarist for Deerhunter, and then kick back and mess around with these guys.
For most of the set, it was difficult to make out much of the vocals, as only their tinny, reverb-soaked high-end appeared to seep out atop the mix’s explosive mid-range (one could really only discern the songs’ propulsive, kraut-like rhythms and chugging basslines). Nevertheless, certain selections triumphed. Pundt performed “Monoliths” with a modest but confident energy barely seen elsewhere in the set. He wailed and cried out atop the fuzz, showing the song for what it is: one of the year’s best.
Though the Lotus Plaza show certainly didn’t shatter my being (like nearly every Deerhunter show I have ever seen), there’s something to be said about a laid-back, unpretentious indie rock show. Through the physical haze of the smoke machines and the acoustic haze of an extended drone, Pundt’s personal fulfillment was loud and clear– even if the music wasn’t. Loud? Maybe. Clear? The windshield needs a wipe-down.