One For the Dehd Heads

When Dehd released their most recent album, the yearning and quixotic Flower of Devotion, in the middle of the summer of 2020, it was perfectly suited for a season of outdoors-only social occasions. It was surf-rock for weirdos, languid guitars and echoey vocals stretched over the staccato playfulness of New Order. I wanted to hear it from a seat in the park, or floating across the lake, or booming through a backyard. Since then, it had been a long wait to hear this album live, but from the front row of Dehd’s show at the Cactus Club last Friday night, it was like hearing it for the first time all over again.

As lead singer Emily Kempf announced to the sold-out room, it was the first stop on Dehd’s fall tour — their biggest circuit yet in support of Flower of Devotion, which will include a mix of headlining dates and opening slots for sadgirl supreme Julien Baker. If the energy in the Cactus Club was any indication, Dehd’s return to the road has been hotly anticipated. 

The show opened with fellow Chicago indie troubadours and Fire Talk labelmates Bnny, whose set began hushed and woozy and crescendoed into the heavier, broodier cuts from their debut album Everything (released in August). Despite the crushing weight behind their music — I’ll leave that one to you, reader, to google — frontwoman Jessica Viscius held the stage with an earnest smile, whooping along with the audience’s cheers at each song’s end. 

Dehd’s set pinballed between Flower of Devotion tracks and highlights from 2019’s Water (though I was gutted that they didn’t play “On My Side”). Kempf’s voice has one of those ranges that tempts skepticism, as in, “can she really do all that on stage?” Yes, she really, really can. Every vibrato howl, plaintive croon, and indignant yip came through sharp and pitch-perfect. Jason Balla flailed his guitar around like a man possessed as he noodled through “Underwater” and “Lucky.” And the whole time, drummer Eric McGrady stood silent at his signature half-a-drum-set, head bobbing, Dehd’s beating heart pumping blood into the whole affair. 

For some of their key anthems (e.g. “Desire,” “Disappear”), Dehd made a frankly fantastic choice to speed up the BPM ten clicks or so, replacing the lackadaisy that characterizes the recordings with shoutalong fervor. The thrill from the crowd was palpable. The cathartic chorus of Flower of Devotion closer “Flying,” bellowed out by everybody inside the venue, may mark my favorite moment of the evening. It all felt exactly like a concert should: common purpose, hearts on sleeves, and the unmistakable gleam of star power from the stage.

Back to Latest