Il Motore was a nice enough space, but the crowd was a little thick, perhaps a slightly bigger space or smaller number of tickets available would have solved this? The bands, of course, more than made up for this minor annoyance. Though the Lou Reed-aping opener Heat felt a little repetitive, things really picked up when Protomartyr took the stage. Their very appearance was a little odd: the lead singer looked about 10 years older than the other members of the band, wearing a suit and fancy-looking haircut (for a punk singer). Their set opened with the kind of angular guitar riffing I’ve come to identify with post-punk and the band proceeded to launch into one of the most unsettling live performances I’ve ever seen. This was partly due to the aggressively chaotic music, but it was mainly the singer that made me shiver. His professional style of dress carried over into his bizarre stage presence (my partner pointed out that he almost never removed one hand from his pocket during the whole show). He bellowed in short rhythmic bursts out of the side of his mouth and I caught snatches of lyrics detailing feral cats, traitorous “friends” and something about “no passion”. Overall, he just seemed to radiate hatred and distrust. The set began with the band at its most abrasive, but I noticed that the further into it they got, the more melodic they also seemed to get. Perhaps this guy has a heart after all? Overall, a powerful set of deeply disturbing music.
If Protomartyr played the kind of post-punk that exemplified the genre’s hateful and negative tendencies, the next band up, Tyvek, seemed to represent a nice antithesis to balance this. Not that they were “positive”, exactly, but they seemed more playfully sarcastic than dark and desolate. Having looked up some of their recordings after, it seems that they played everything at least 10 bpm faster live, which greatly lent to the spirit of youthful rebellion this band communicated. The chugging riff of “Underwater I” combined with the singer’s sharp rhythmic phrasing gave way to a hardcore-tempo attack that got the crowd moshing. The band seemed to be at their best at this tempo, closing the set with a revved-up version of what I later learned was their song “Little Richard”. There was something awe-inspiring about hearing this band pound out a Minor Threat-style thrash for nearly 5 minutes while the singer screamed with repeated intensity “Clickclackclickclackclickclack FUCK!/WE’VE GOT A LIVE ONE! WE’VE GOT A LIVE ONE!”
I had noticed that as recently as “Tally All The Things That You Broke”, Parquet Courts had started to incorporate elements of early rock and roll, possibly as a sort of tribute, or maybe they just absorbed the influence from listening to a lot of it. Regardless, this became even more obvious listening to their live performance. Their incendiary version of “Ducking And Dodging” set an intensity level the band managed to keep up for about 3/4 of the set. The other remaining quarter was filled by their dive into the extended jams of “Instant Disassembly” (which remained dreamy and distant despite the efforts of an energetic headbanger near the front) and a particularly noisey “Raw Milk”, in which Austin used a beer bottle and microphone as sliders to scratch up the strings of his guitar. But the rock and roll rhythms continued to shine through on the rest of the set, whether it was Austin’s improvised muted strumming in the breaks of songs or the surprisingly funky groove of “Yr No Stoner”. The latter, by the way, began with only 3/4 of the members of the band playing, as Andrew was having difficulties fixing a distortion pedal. Moments like this demonstrated both the band’s weird sense of humour (Andrew: “Anybody have a screwdriver?” Austin: “Looks like you’re the one who’s screwed!”) and their ability to fill space musically on the spot. It wasn’t all new stuff, either. In addition to the aforementioned “Yr No Stoner”, the band played such fan favourites as the “Light Up Gold” openers “Master Of My Craft” and “Borrowed Time” (both slightly rushed but tight as ever) and the title track of the album. The set ended with the blistering title track of “Sunbathing Animal”, mirroring Tyvek’s display of sheer endurance and musical intensity. Adrenaline-fueled though it was, it was also kind of heartwarming to see such great bands playing such bizarre and discordant music together. I can only hope Parquet Courts’ future shows continue to be a refuge for rousingly unconventional punk.