LIVE: Deftones / grandson @ O2 Forum Kentish Town, London

By Alex Sarychkin

Even way up high in the rafters, the tension is palpable. Bodies squeeze into each available nook, punters vying for the very best view. Tickets were like gold-dust – in the crowds, murmurs of paying way over face value are ever present – but this is not the kind of show that Deftones fans were going to miss under any circumstances. The last time the band played a venue this small was this very venue, way back in 2009. The world is a very different place now but Deftones are still unmatched in the live setting. That crowd, patiently waiting, are in for a visceral gut-punch.

First on, however, is grandson, the project of Canadian singer Jordan Benjamin. On show is a rather uninspired mix of rock and hip-hop, the rhythms and beats occupying that radio-friendly, palatable sound that, to casual listeners, evokes a certain grit. Single ‘Riptide’ is an energetic number that pulses but never quite soars. Towards the end, ‘Stick Up’ gets a notional headbang from the metal-conscious crowd, but the closing riffs are merely a pastiche of all that has come before. It’s a curious appointment as far as openers go – Deftones have always pushed themselves towards reinvention – compare White Pony with Koi No Yokan – and yet here, in support, are an act that embody the concept of generic. grandson will no doubt continue his rise and you can bet he’ll be back headlining the Forum.

By the time the lights dim and Deftones take to the stage, there is barely space to breathe. The high vibrato of synthesisers rattle and ‘Genesis’, from 2020’s Ohms, kick in. Deftones are loud – even at the very top of the Forum, each kick drum is a battering ram. Despite Stephen Carpenter’s absence on account of a reluctance to travel outside of the US, the guitars fill the space in a way that can only be described as cascading. What follows is two hours of masters displaying their craft. The setlist draws from across their legendary discography, kneeling largely on Diamond Eyes, an album that saw Deftones lean heavily into their shoegaze influences without sacrificing the heaviness that fans of Around the Fur and Adrenaline initially took to. There is time here old fan favourites – ‘Knife Party’ draws one of the evenings largest singalongs. By the encore, those still able to stand are met with the fierce hits of ‘Lotion’ and ‘7 Words’, two songs that leave little time to take stock of what is coming. It must be said that The Forum is like a furnace on Monday night with Moreno himself acknowledging the heat and, down in the pit, conscious security providing water. 

Post-pandemic audiences are being much scrutinised at the minute. Artists, returning to touring, have noted a change in temperament – some even going as far to call this out directly. From where your author stands, it’s clear that talking at inopportune moments has certainly gathered pace since venues reopened and it’s unfortunate seeing one fan, who could have paid anything upwards of £150 for a ticket, taking the chorus of ‘My Own Summer (Shove It)’ far too seriously and subsequently seeing his night have an early end. The excitement of shows, particularly small and exclusive ones like this, is clearly creating almost a frenzied behaviour. Whether this is here to stay remains to be seen. 

For those in attendance at the Forum, seeing Deftones in such an intimate setting felt a true privilege. Chino Moreno, who’s voice soars during ‘Digital Bath’, cuts an interesting figure in a music scene that seems to rely ever increasingly on the past. Deftones are now, in many ways, elder statesmen of this scene, their atmospheric sound lends itself perfectly to the hazy, sample wave of Soundcloud rappers. ‘Sextape’, recently sampled by Smrtdeath and Wicca Phase Springs Eternal, plays out more like a high school final dance, the crowd swaying and eyes meeting. Moments later, ‘Diamond Eyes’ has limbs, elbows, eyeballs, fists, knees all rolling into one in the pit. It’s the rough and the smooth together as one – beauty and violence entwined. 

Could it be another thirteen years until London audiences get to see Deftones in such cramped conditions? What position will they hold in the hierarchy of rock then? Having successfully dragged themselves from the graveyard of nu-metal, will they enjoy a newer shelf life as something separate entirely? Needless to say, when the fans left the venue, their faces were beaming. That likely is all you need to know.