When thinking of the Deftones, it’s sometimes hard to believe that their first album release was 20 years ago. Smack dab in the middle of the 90’s, this unique, heavy, yet brooding and melodic four-piece released their first album, Adrenaline. Throughout the next decade they would establish a signature sound that would separate them from tedious labels like “nu-metal” “alt-metal” “rap-rock” and so on. Their most recent release, their 7th full album, the critically acclaimed Koi No Yokan was their release since the death of their original bassist, Chi Cheng, who died four years after an accident had placed him in a coma.
Currently between albums and rumored to be in the writing and recording stage, Deftones have embarked on several tour dates over this summer. Recently they visited the House of Blues in San Diego to deliver blasts of deep, oddly tuned guitar riffs along with lead singer Chino Morneo’s signature variances of crooning whispers coupled with gut wrenching screeches and screaming.
The sound at House of Blues was solid, although at times the bass seemed to overpower the guitar riffs, which is no easy task. With no opening bands, Deftones went right to work propelling the crowd into a frenzy with a blistering opening set of songs. “Bloody Cape”—off their self-titled 2003 album—provided a perfect hard driving intro, which then evens out, allowing Moreno to weave his voice through the chords. Their energy at first was palpable as they charged right through the first couple songs– transitioning to “Diamond Eyes” off the 2010 album of the same name followed by “Rocket skates” before playing both “Swerve City” and “Tempest”, two of the more catchy songs of Koi No Yokan.
Drawing on 20 years of music Deftones kept the audience guessing with the set list, jumping from album to album a decade apart. They showcased a lot off 2010’s Diamond eyes and 2000’s White Pony. While their energy in the beginning was frenetic, it was also hit or miss throughout the show. Also noticeable was the wear and tear on Moreno’s voice. 20+ years of screeching and screaming will take its toll and he was unable to hit all of the notes on some songs.
A middle chunk of the show was dedicated to White Pony featuring “Feiticeira”, “Knife Prty”, “Elite”, “Digital Bath”, and “Passenger”. The last famously features a duet with Tool’s front man Maynard James Keenan. While no one truly expected him to show up, Moreno tried to do both parts, which seemed to throw off his timing throughout the song. Nevertheless, every audience member could be heard chiming in during Keenan’s guttural chorus of “Roll the windows down this, cool night air is curious…”
A staple of the Deftones sound besides Moreno is Stephen Carpenter’s lead guitar. His unorthodox style and well-crafted sound includes utilizing dissonant chords, often with open string playing, allowing for an echoing ring to his riffs. His closet of power chords and riffs appear to be endless. Often using different tunings, ranging from standard E on 1995’s Adrenaline, to drop tunings like G# and C# on subsequent albums. One of the more intriguing factors of his style is he continually adds strings for a deeper, full sound. From White Pony until Diamond Eyes he utilized a seven string guitar. Starting with Diamond Eyes he added another string, using an eight string guitar, often with the tuning F# B E A D G B E. His presence on stage is constant and motionless. For all the power he exudes in his playing, his demeanor calming and relaxed. A stark contrast from Moreno.
Even though there was some noticeable wear and tear on Morneno’s voice, this didn’t prevent Deftones from rummaging through their hits of years past. Songs like “Change (in the house of flies)” and “My Own Summer” were reminders of just how powerful and how familiar Deftones can be. They have always existed just beyond mainstream, yet still being ultra-popular within their own niche scene. In commendable way, Similar to bands like the aforementioned Tool, they have developed their own style and following, sticking to these values and producing their art the way they see fit.
Yet, there was a robotic quality lurking around their performance that was inescapable to the keen observer. The interplay was minimal. And even though Moreno asked how the crowd was doing multiple times, briefly joking with drummer Abe Cunningham by mock-singing classic 80’s and 90’s songs like “blame it on the rain” in-between numbers, the energy and fire seemed to come and go. Yet because they are so established, and the type of fans they enlist are devoted and passionate, possibly to a fault, the crowd never wavered—and no doubt any negative comment hurled at Deftones would be taken deeply personal. Have you ever told a Tool fan that you just don’t get their music? It is not recommended… These are also the types of fans that Deftones elicits.
Closing out the show Deftones provided one more old-school burst of energy, dipping into 1995’s Adrenaline for the songs “Root” and “Engine No. 9.” With no new album to showcase this was more of a greatest hits Deftones show. At times on cruise control and meandering through songs of years past, this wasn’t a life-changing nor truly impressive show by any means.
Yet, Deftones know who they are, and continue to shine sticking to what they do best. The changing music landscape around them has rarely affected the type of music they produce and the upcoming album will be no different. Hard driving riffs, melodic interludes and breakdowns, and Moreno’s metaphoric lyrical imagery has propelled them to a place in modern music they can call their own. Have they boxed themselves in? Maybe. Do they still put on a good show? At times.
Yet there is something warmly familiar and unique about their sound that is still going strong even after 20 plus years, and no one can argue with that kind of longevity.