LIVE: Diiv at O2 Kentish Town Forum, 27/02/20

Written by Chris Malla

Fewer bands have been through a transition as profound as DIIV over the last 4 years. Zachary Cole Smith’s recovery from the addictions that shaped their first two albums was evident as soon as the band put out the lead single from their third album Deceiver, Skin Game, and didn’t so much hint as scream the fact that Smith was over the worst, slowing his life down and becoming a more reflective artist/human being.

The last time I saw DIIV was in 2016 at the Electric Ballroom, their last London show, on the ‘Is The Is Are’ tour. Back then, their stage presence was bouncy, jolly, energetic, but, retrospectively speaking, underlyingly fucked.

“Thank you very much we’re called DIIV” was basically the only thing Smith said to the audience besides a very powerful point he made about not judging people based on their drug habits but on their art. But the songs on Is The Is Are as well as their performance that night, although fantastic, spoke volumes about the mental space Smith was occupying.

Their incredible return to the London stage could not have summarised this transition better. The show’s opener, the hugely emotional Horsehead and the first track off Deceiver, completely set the precedent that this was going to be a slower, more atmospheric gig than before. And they absolutely smashed it.

Songs off of Oshin and Is The Is Are made appearances, but they were played slower and much tighter than ever before. Smith did an interview before this tour saying that the band “had finally worked out the right tempo to play their songs at”. Even Skin Game from Deceiver was played slower and more contemplatively. But despite the reflective aura of the show, there were still moments of release.

Doused, from their first album Oshin, made an appearance five songs in, and mosh pits quickly opened up out of a pent up desire to dance from the audience. Blankenship, their new song about climate change (which for the record I think is lyrically the best song of 2019) and the only song off of Deceiver that resembles their older material, gained the biggest response from the crowd in an energetic sense.

Before the gig, I was wondering whether Smith would be ok with playing songs he wrote in such an obviously terrible mental space. However there were some obvious absences from the set, such as the title track from Is The Is Are and Dopamine, which as a person going through a profound recovery, is very much understandable. Smith’s own personal Volta was unsubtly vocalised too – everything that wasn’t on Deceiver was described as “an old one”. The transition of DIIV from a personal project to a fully-fledged band was even visualised, with Smith not taking centre stage but instead singing lead from the left. Guitarist Andrew Bailey had the limelight in his place.

The last four years of recovery have no doubt placed Smith in a much better headspace. Everything about this album cycle has been about reflection, humanisation, and clarity. This show was the perfect crescendo to that feeling – even the lighting made the band look both more human and more ethereal than ever before. It’s a triumphant comeback for the Brooklyners and a sign that things can get better no matter how dark a place you find yourself in.

Despite amazing performances in the past, they showed that personal happiness and health is the most important thing for anyone. Smith’s words to the crowd about Chastity, the support band, ring true for his own set: “If you didn’t like it, you don’t know shit”

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