Deerhoof, Scala, London <!-- none onestar twostar threestar fivestar -->

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The Independent Culture

The San Franciscan quartet Deerhoof have built up a devoted following since the release of their 2004 album, Milk Man. Some inspirational shows on the All Tomorrow's Parties circuit have also helped their cause in the UK. Their latest recording, the 20- song The Runners Four, is their most coherent and developed statement yet, channelling the best aspects of their previous noise-rock outings.

Having played together for 10 years, Deerhoof are a model of collective intuition live, bending and twisting the beats with compelling unity. Gathered in a shallow half-moon at the front of the stage, the guitarists John Dieterich and Chris Cohen weave furiously through tight counterpoints and impossibly syncopated riffs. "Running Thoughts", which ushers in their latest album, is a beguiling swirl of Sixties-cinema guitar, and this mood gets a Japanese twist on "Spy on You". "Spirit Ditties of No Tone" is a sparkling number, followed by the frenetic buzz of "Scream Team" and the exquisitely edgy "Wrong Time Capsule".

This is a band that cannot be taken lightly, however carefree and nonsensical the lyrics may seem ("Milk Man sleeps on the roof in the noon/ Bana-na- na stabbed to the arms, weird man/ Ooh-la-la") and however baffling the chord changes may first sound. Deerhoof contain precision and intense musicality within an enchanted bubble of pop.

The founding member Greg Saunier waves his arms like a maniac over his minimal drumkit, managing an impressively dynamic range, from rock vortex and intense stop-start beats to the most delicate touches. Some gorgeous progressions chart a dazzling trajectory, until the surreal lullabies of Satomi Matsuzaki emerge like the final pieces of a jigsaw. Sharing some similarities with the Breeders, Deerhoof are of a more extreme persuasion in both experimental and pop directions.

Mid-set, they scale down to the startlingly gentle existential ballad "O'Malley, Former Underdog", sung in harmonies by Cohen and Saunier, alongside rippling guitar arpeggios. An unexpected gap follows between songs, and the audience is held spellbound in silence, awaiting the next musical bolt. Towards the end of the set, they play the bonkers title track from Milk Man, which turns out to be a crowd-pleaser.

As Matsuzaki throws bananas into the crowd at the end of the show, the baffling brilliance of Deerhoof is fully embraced. This has not been as unintelligible as some might have feared, given the band's avant-garde approach, leavened as it is by the warming, giddy spirit of Unicorn-era T.Rex and Sixties bebop jazz.

It is a rare band that challenges the mind and pleasures the ear, while remaining so uncompromisingly individual. Rapturous applause was the only white noise of the night.

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