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Deftones Drone

A monotonous performance at the Event Center leaves one critic weary

By Sarah Quelland

One of the worst words a person can use to describe any band is "boring," but last Tuesday (Oct. 17), I walked away from the Deftones show at the San Jose State University Event Center completely relieved that the dragging performance was finally over. That's not a good sign.

Deftones have been banking too long on the golden reputation they built for themselves with their innovative Maverick Records debut, Adrenaline. Since its release in 1995, the Sacramento quintet's name has become synonymous with cool. But Tuesday night's production made it difficult to remember why. The Deftones have become a shadow of their former self and, five years and two albums later, have yet to evolve into the creative force everyone expected.

The music that vocalist Chino Moreno, drummer Abe Cunningham, bassist Chi Cheng, guitarist Stephen Carpenter and DJ Frank Delgado produce has always been an acquired taste. But it's one I developed years ago when I was first introduced to the then up-and-coming band.

Twice, the Deftones blew me away at the Edge with their furious live energy, and when the band opened for Korn and Ozzy Osbourne at the Oakland Arena, the intensity level was off the charts.

People go to Deftones' shows to let off steam, purge their inner demons and indulge in a sweaty group catharsis. That's the standard Deftones set for itself in the beginning but one it's not living up to now. The young fans that packed the Event Center desperately wanted that release (it was dubbed the "Back to School" tour after all, and many students were under the pressure of midterms), but the Deftones never gave them a chance to even come close.

There's a formula to Deftones songs. The band's unmistakable sound comes largely from Moreno's trademark vocals, which flash from dark, guttural whining to throat-wrenching screams and back again. While the savage music assaults the listener, Moreno sets the mood of each song with his strange experimental intonations.

It's to the band's disadvantage that it relies so heavily on this established formula. Its use has resulted in three albums (Adrenaline, Around the Fur and White Pony) that are completely interchangeable and virtually indistinguishable. Live, the songs were meandering and monotonous. Each one sort of bled into the next one, and there was no sense of direction or progression.

The band indulged heavily in the slower material, and the songs that demonstrate the urgency of Adrenaline's "Nosebleed" or the flat-out insanity of "7 Words"--the attention-grabbing songs helped solidify the band's fanbase early on--were too few and too far between.

The Deftones do deserve a lot of credit. The band helped usher in the exploding new metal movement with its supercharged mixture of passion and aggression. But even though the style of music it helped pioneer is riding high right now, the Deftones doesn't really fit in. And maybe the band doesn't want it to. Despite minor radio hits like Around the Fur's "My Own Summer (Shove It)" and "Be Quiet and Drive (Far Away)" and current singles "Change (In the House of Flies)" and "Back to School (Mini-Maggit), this band really belongs to the underground, not the mainstream.

Its latest effort, White Pony, debuted at No. 3 on Billboard's charts in June. Presumably to boost flagging sales, the band rereleased the album Oct. 3 with the bonus track "Back to School (Mini-Maggit)." After 16 weeks on the chart, White Pony jumped from No. 117 to No. 88, so perhaps that was a savvy business move. Still, while contemporaries like Korn, Kid Rock, Limp Bizkit and even fledgling boy wonders Papa Roach are going multi-platinum, the Deftones seem to be maxing out at gold status.

Even the Deftones' main support, Incubus (Taproot opened the show), has taken its latest, Make Yourself, to platinum standing. Incubus may not be the most exciting band to watch either, but solid songwriting, compassionate lyrics and a friendly rapport with its fans strengthen its appeal.

Addressing the audience, frontman Brandon Boyd said, "You guys are absolutely beautiful" and remarked, "What a joyous occasion." Seemingly pleased with the crowd's response, before closing the set with "Pardon Me," he said, "We don't play up here often enough. I'm sorry."

But whereas Incubus gave a straightforward set that warranted no apologies, Deftones left me shaking my head. It's looks as though the guys have started taking themselves too seriously and started to believe in their own hype. Rather than move forward and explore new territory, they appear to be wallowing in their cult fame. The ferocious power of Deftones live performances has diminished severely, due largely to Moreno's incessant droning vocals which all but drown out the music, and overall, it seems like the band's not even trying.

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Web extra to the October 19-25, 2000 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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