Chino Moreno, mid self-flagellation (Photos by Wild Don Lewis)


at Avalon, November 10


at Avalon, November 10

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This was some seriously sick shit. The second of two Avalon nights for Sacramento’s stoner/skater icons was a proper concert: the capacity crowd 100 percent engaged, the bars deserted, no one out drunk-dialing in the lobby — in Hollywood. The moment Deftones — a band with a decade-plus parade of gold and platinum albums (but not one sing-along hit single) — emerged, there was a sense of occasion, like your first-ever live show: something to be cherished and remembered.

With the stigmal fog of nü-metal lifting, these unpretentiously artsy, aggro-vs.-atmo veterans are being seen for what they are: freethinkers who equally indulge the introversions and intelligent pop of the Cure and Depeche Mode, power-metal’s churning riffs, hip-hop’s rhythmic economy, and Tool’s dank atmospherics.

An unlikely figurehead — even in board shorts and knee socks, he resembles the FedEx guy — singer Chino Moreno spent much of Deftones’ set on the stage’s elevated lip, legs akimbo, hairily bookended by bobbing bassist Chi Cheng and guruesque axman Stephen Carpenter. Moreno’s occasional bent-at-the-waist self-flagellation and throwback death-grunts were exceptions amid much multipersona mumbling, whispering and abstract lyrical meandering. Carpenter’s the unapologetic metalhead of the group, yet still spent half his time on wistful arpeggios and affected excursions of Robert Smith/Robin Guthrie delicacy — the chorus of the current single “Hole in the Earth,” for one. What could so easily have become an alternately gauzy/granite dirge was kept lucid by Abe Cunningham’s articulate, up-and-at-’em drumming.

After 2003’s Deftones fell short of the expected definitive statement — in fact, a damp squib after 2000’s genre-bending White Pony — they loitered three years. Nonexistent communication and very existent side projects — Moreno’s Team Sleep and Carpenter’s Kush — suggested the possible death of Deftones. Instead, the band have emerged from dormancy with the Top 10–debuting Saturday Night Wrist — an album as stylistically intriguing and melodically accomplished as anything in their 18-year career. While every bit as metallic as their earlier efforts, Wrist is no “return to their roots” rehash; instead, it fully explores the sense of freedom that comes from having little to prove (they’re already PlayStation-generation legends) and even less to lose (the band seemed finished anyway).

Deftones have always been a collection of album tracks, their shunning of obvious hooks and blatant fashion statements confusing radio programmers everywhere. Likewise, Wrist is best swallowed whole, as no single creation — the suburban angst and bubbling bass line of “Cherry Waves”; instrumental “U, U, D, D, L, R, L, R, A, B, Select, Start” ’s shameless Cure-iosity; “Pink Cellphone” ’s flotation-tank samples — encapsulates its collision of influences. What binds the album, and the band, is Moreno’s honesty in delivery: Whether choosing crinkled, possessed menace or a lugubrious, eyes-rolling murmur, he seems true to whatever he is feeling at the time, internal urges rather than external opinions pulling the cords.

Deftones wisely drew heavily from White Pony and Saturday Night Wrist at the Avalon. Moreno spoke little between songs, played more guitar than expected, and formed the bridge between his businesslike, tour-slick bandmates and us. Two-thirds in, it wore a little thin, the 4:20-friendly sections overwhelming the bursts of disciplined Pantera riffage and convulsing pulses of blinding-light sensory assault. Yet even at their very worst, Deftones are far removed from the oft-associated, circle-jerking frat-rock of Limp Bizkit, Disturbed and Papa Roach. They were doing their own thing all along — something that others took, polished, pimped-out and packaged. Out the other side, Deftones are still doing that thing — just doper.

—Paul Rogers

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