NEW YORK — Deftones just might be the most brutal band in rock.
Sure, other bands are harder, louder and faster, but the way the Sacramento quintet lulls listeners into soothing complacency (the setup) just before bashing their skulls with terrifying force is so downright thuggish, it's almost unfair.
On Monday at Webster Hall, the second in a string of short-notice shows before the release of their fourth, eponymous LP, singer Chino Moreno led Deftones through a furious and extensive ass kicking of all in attendance. Opening the set with "My Own Summer (Shove It)," their breakthrough hit single from 1997's Around the Fur, got fans expectantly amped for the band's first area show in more than two and a half years.
And the band responded to the crowd's energy in kind. Moreno, in his red workman's shirt and khakis, shifted between endearing himself to his loyalists and unleashing furious blasts to repel the rest of mankind. Chi Cheng, meanwhile, proved equally intimidating — even to his bandmates — by swinging his bass wildly around his neck, threatening to clip anyone within its long neck's reach.
New songs like "Hexagram," "Battle-Ax," and "Good Morning Beautiful" caused momentary lulls in the action as the crowd tempered its frenzy to a level where it could actually pay attention to the new material — a show of respect Moreno acknowledged from the stage.
What they heard when passions curbed was Abe Cunningham hitting his drums with a force reserved for driving nails and busting up concrete. The fan that blew his long hair behind him might have been taken as cheese were it not for the fact that it showed him in perpetual motion. Even when he wasn't playing, it looked like he was just coasting, preparing to rev up the engine again for another measure.
It was cuts from Adrenaline (1995), Around the Fur and White Pony (2000), however, that drew the most impassioned responses, degrees of which could be measured by how much Webster Hall's balconies buckled with the weight of the bouncing masses. Both in the favorites and the new stuff, the band's attack remains somewhat standard: verses jab with a restrained muscle to set up the haymaker chorus. And no one in rock does "bloodcurdling scream" better than Moreno, perhaps because his wail approximates the sound of actual vocal cords tearing.
By the 11th song of the nearly two-hour set, the band looked rightfully exhausted. Months removed from a rigorous performance regimen, Deftones have been relegated to 10- or 12-round fighters, unable to go the distance. When Moreno took to his knees, it wasn't so much a demonstration of his crippling emotional state as it was an opportunity to catch his breath. Guitarist Stephen Carpenter's headbanging also slowed with time, from manic thrash to involuntary bop.
But after 14 years together, guts and instinct play as big of a role as preparation does. A failed microphone was enough to provide Moreno with a much-needed second wind. Frustrated, he threw his mic to the floor and seized Cheng's. Incensed at the technical glitch, he slammed the mic stand over his head to the stage.
From there, it was on. It was as if Moreno had something to prove to the sound man, the audience and himself. His atonal croons were more dizzying and his screams more terrifying, both of which inspired his bandmates to snap out of it.
Fatigue may pose a problem on their current tour, though the Deftones should be better conditioned for the Summer Sanitarium stadium trek, beginning July 4 with Metallica, Limp Bizkit and Linkin Park, especially considering the much shorter set time (see "More Dates Added To Metallica/ Limp Bizkit/ Linkin Park Tour"). Should they still stumble in the later rounds, as long as Moreno and his bandmates can find a catalyst for their reserve power, they'll never be down for the count.
For more sights and stories from concerts around the country, check out MTV News Tour Reports.