Deftones continue to set themselves apart from rest of rap-rock

May 13, 2003

BY JIM DeROGATIS Pop Music Critic

For the most part, the so-called "nu-metal" or "rap-rock" genre has been a tuneless, unimaginative sonic wasteland of uninspired noisemakers and unrepentant boneheads. Witness Limp Bizkit, Linkin Park and their ilk.

But every genre has its sterling exceptions. Incubus distinguished itself with an idyllic strain of hippie psychedelia, while Tool added progressive-rock complexity and conceptualizing to its industrial thrash. And then there are the Deftones.

While they share several similarities with Fred Durst and his fellows (notably via the hip-hop-flavored rhythms and the largely pointless and inaudible turntable work of DJ Frank Delgado), the Sacramento, Calif., quintet stands apart from the pack by virtue of its intelligence and its musical innovations.

The alternately roaring and sweet-voiced vocalist Chino Moreno is not only one of the smartest frontmen in the genre, but one of the most charismatic. And Stephen Carpenter creates wonderfully moody washes of sound as well as delivering monstrous riffs, using his seven-string guitar in a way that recalls the interstellar overdrive of Pink Floyd's David Gilmour or My Bloody Valentine's Kevin Shields.

Gearing up for the May 20 release of their self-titled fourth album, the Deftones performed for a sold-out crowd at Metro on Sunday night as part of a "guerrilla tour" of mid-size clubs preceding their slot on the Summer Sanitarium Tour with Metallica, Limp Bizkit, Linkin Park and Mudvayne. (The show comes to the Hawthorne Race Course in Cicero on July 26.)

The group is returning from a long break that followed the intensive touring in support of 2000's "White Pony." Stories of burn-out and intra-band squabbling were well known to its dedicated fan base. But if not exactly tanned and well-rested, the grungy, hulking musicians who took the stage at Metro were ready to rock, and they did so with a vengeance.

The adrenalized fans were just as eager to embrace them--especially after many of them started lining up at 5 p.m., then proceeded to wait in the packed venue for more than an hour after the advertised starting time of 7 p.m. But from the first song through the end of the generous two-hour performance, the floor at Metro was an enthusiastic, churning mass of sweaty, flailing limbs.

"They call you 'Chi,' short for Chicago," Moreno said as he leaned into the outstretched arms of the faithful while standing atop the crowd barricade. "But you isn't shy at all!"

Still finding their legs after the extended absence from the road, the Deftones opened strong with "My Own Summer (Shove It)," the breakthrough hit from 1997's "Around the Fur," and they continued to favor earlier, more straightforward material through much of the set.

But as the show stretched on and Carpenter, the amazingly dexterous but powerful drummer Abe Cunningham and hard-grooving bassist Chi Cheng grew more comfortable, they began to incorporate the more intricate and layered songs from "White Pony," as well as crunching but wonderfully melodic new songs such as "Hexagram," "Good Morning Beautiful" and "Bloody Cape," which make the rampaging passages all the more effective by contrasting them with dreamy interludes (some of them colored by inventive analog synthesizers) and bona fide tuneful singing (as opposed to the "Cookie Monster growl" so familiar in the genre).

Best of all was the new single "Minerva," which found Moreno hurling himself about the stage (as he did throughout the evening) while digging deep into his soul to belt out the key line, "God bless you all for the song you saved us!"

The Deftones may be as angst-ridden and tormented as their peers, but they believe in the power of music to save their listeners and help him them transcend whatever dire circumstances befall them. Their guerrilla set was strong enough to make the most skeptical critic believe as well.