DIIV @ Academy 2, Manchester, 26 Feb

Zachary Cole Smith lays to rest the demons of 2016 with a scintillating return to Manchester

Live Review by Joe Goggins | 04 Mar 2020
  • DIIV

“And, most importantly, thanks to me.” 

To understand quite how much mirth is packed into those six words from DIIV frontman Zachary Cole Smith, you have to go back to their last Manchester show, about half a mile up the road at Gorilla. On tour in support of Is the Is Are – less the difficult second album and more the excruciating emotional sum of heroin withdrawal and relationship collapse – Smith betrayed his fragile psychological state before he’d even begun, spending nearly 15 minutes demanding the realignment of a projector that appeared fine as it was. The next night in Leeds, beset by sound problems, he broke down in tears on stage.

Smith also bashfully makes reference to his band’s first headline show here in 2012, and acknowledges that it’s now most notable for the star-turn support act – Mac DeMarco, right around the time he dropped 2. He claims not to remember much else from that night, but in truth, a hard hammering of the reset button has done nobody within the DIIV fold any harm. Smith used to model himself on Kurt Cobain in more ways than one, but particularly in terms of his appearance. These days, the shoulder-length blonde locks of old have given way to a near-skinhead, and what Smith’s here to do tonight is sell us on the authenticity of a musical reinvention every bit as marked.

October’s Deceiver owed a certain debt to the taut melodics of their 2012 debut Oshin, and there’s echoes of Is the Is Are’s messy, 'everything-now-because-this-might-be-it' approach, too. For the most part, though, it barrelled head-first into shoegaze, and tonight’s task is to prove that it’s no mere dalliance. Most of Deceiver makes the setlist, and where it’s often a slow, moody listen on record, on stage it’s imbued with real ferocity, partly because of the loudness of the guitars, partly because of the manner in which the rhythm section lock into each other’s playing.

Opener Horsehead recalls the stormier side of Dinosaur Jr., while the monolithic Like Before You Were Born nods directly to My Bloody Valentine, Loveless in particular. The pace picks up as the set rolls on, with the fizz and crackle of Blankenship, played second last, providing the axis around which the back half of the show revolves – all duelling riffery and racing percussion.

The first two LPs are less well-represented and you wonder what Smith’s relationship is to the material now, particularly Is the Is Are, which emerged from such a dark headspace. The likes of the spacey Bent (Roi’s Song) and the atmospheric slow burn of Healthy Moon are played, but feel like they’re here to augment Deceiver, as if Smith’s tentative about the idea of revisiting that era. Instead, it’s the choice cuts from Oshin – Doused and Subsume in particular – that provide compelling evidence of how far Smith has come; the raw rattle-and-hum of those tracks, and the potential they displayed back in 2012, has been delivered on with Deceiver – even if Smith had to go to hell and back in between.