“Do you guys like drugs?” Zachary Cole Smith asked the crowd at the Cal Academy of Sciences this Thursday night. “Well here’s a song about that.”
This would have been a fairly normal, if not gauche, comment for a leadman to utter at his rock concert. But when the person who just spoke fights a very public battle with heroin abuse the words take on another meaning altogether.
To separate the drugs from DIIV would be impossible, but it’s more than just the genre that most critics use to describe their sound (psychedelic rock.) Everything from 32-year-old Smith’s bleach-kissed mop of hair to his 2013 drug bust with his singer/model (in that order) ex-girlfriend Sky Ferreira recall Kurt Cobain, who is obviously his hero (comparisons between the two are hardly my own device — Smith has mentioned him gratuitously in interviews and the press loves it). DIIV, which emerged as the brainchild of Smith in 2011, have been called an attempt to revive guitar music — oversized flannels, narcotics, and a 3-guitar band are just the baggage that apparently comes with it.
The Brooklyn-based band has always rode the line between radical and try-hard, though hipsters that used to love them are probably more liable to put them in the latter category (Pitchfork loves to do features on DIIV, then shit on him in interviews, then give him BNM.) Attempting to renew a musical epoch that has already passed is like throwing critics an alley-oop. Couple that with a nasty drug habit and a nice demeanor and you have a recipe for critical destruction.
The curveball is that DIIV is really, really, good.
The modest price of Cal Academy’s Nightlife LIVE concert series increased from $15 to $20 for DIIV’s trip to SF and, frankly, the boost in caliber was apparent. The band played a set devoid of flourish, droning along through an hour of impeccable tracks, stopping in between just long enough to muse about the strange primitive nature of clapping, hail the lungfish in the venue basement, and salute the crowd for the menthol cigarettes that they proceeded to throw onto the stage. DIIV makes being in a rock band look fun again.
Being part of the crowd at Nightlife LIVE is to engage in a covenant with the people around you and the players on the stage — keep it chill. An general admission ticket is good enough to get you stage-front without a hassle, and the bands always seem to be on the same page. When DIIV showed up looking like they were half-ready for bed (a far cry from Smith’s ongoing affair with fashion) and it seemed totally normal — Oversized sweatshirts du jour.
Each member of the band is worth noting in their own right. Guitarist Andrew Bailey alone threatened to steal the show with the lovely grating of his relentless riffs — I wouldn’t be suprised to see this guy sailing his own ship in the future. The fact that he looked even more tweaked-out then the lead man only added to his star appeal.
Close your Pitchfork tab and see DIIV next time they come into town. You won’t be disappointed. As much as I hate to say it, they might not be around forever.
Writing and Photography by John Lawson