It was an early birthday celebration for Parquet Courts’ bassist Sean Yeaton on Wednesday, Feb. 24 at the Wonder Ballroom in Portland, OR. On the eve of his birthday, guitarist Austin Brown kept asking how Yeatons’ back felt, now that he was entering the geriatric age of 30. Dressed in a red flannel and torn Vans shoes, Yeaton claimed to be feeling good.
Early in the performance, the band became fixated on the all-ages divider that awkwardly splits the Wonder Ballroom’s crowd segregated by age: the drinkers are right up on the stage while the under-21 crowd is pushed away to the back corner away from the stage.
“This is reminding me of our bleak Trumptopian future,” said Andrew Savage of the wall. “You guys have had curbside composting for like fifteen years, but this seems pretty neanderthalic. And I come from a place that smells like piss all the time.”
The Brooklyn-based band referred to the divider as “the moat” multiple times and Brown joked that the younger section would not know the pains of Yeaton’s now 30-year-old back for some time.
The “Trumptopian” comment veered into the band egging on the youths to tear down the wall. “Young people are supposed to tear down walls.” Savage said.
The band’s most recent EP Monastic Living is an example of tearing down walls. Monastic is the first full band release from Courts since 2014’s Sunbathing Animal (Content Nausea was released as Parkay Quarts), and Monastic is a complete departure from the established success of Sunbathing Animal and 2012’s Light Up Gold. The unexpected, mostly instrumental album challenges listeners, a rarity that not many bands are willing to attempt today. Parquet Courts began its set with “No, No, No!” – a simple drumbeat that explodes into a violent, spasmodic hurricane of noise. It’s the only song on Monastic Living with lyrics (albeit totally incomprehensible screaming), as the rest of the EP is a tromp through extended jams that pivot around a simple riff. It’s an enjoyable album in small doses, but avoiding it live is no crime.
The set included a heavy dose of new material from the upcoming album Human Performance, which is due April 8. The new songs promise a continuation of Parquet Courts’ guitar-driven rock with an emphasis on slower songs and extended guitar interplay as on Sunbathing Animal. Each new song was worthy of its place in the set, including “Dust,” “Human Performance” and “Berlin Got Blurry.” Performance will undoubtedly chisel another mark in the remarkable repertoire of Courts’ catalog.
The strongest one-two punch in the band’s setlist is “Master Of My Craft” and “Borrowed Time” from Light Up Gold, which was played sequentially, as were the opening two tracks of Sunbathing Animal: “Bodies” and “Black and White.”
Onstage, Savage and Brown exude contrasting personas. Savage sings with a startling intensity, bellowing into his microphone, while Brown manages a laid-back rocker vibe at all times. Yeaton’s bass strap sporadically became unlatched from his instrument, which forced him to carry his heavy instrument as he played while dancing like a jester. Again, Brown prodded him how his back was treating him.
Much of the set contained blocks of songs from specific albums. The largest such block featured four consecutive Content Nausea songs, with the title track being the standout. “Content Nausea” is an anti-technology manifesto with an interminable wordy rampage from Savage, who shouts: “This year it became harder to be tender, harder and harder to remember / Meeting a friend, writing a letter, being lost / Antique ritual all lost to the ceremony of progress.” The middle rant began slow, like on the album, but quickly accelerated to an unstoppable force with Savage shouting every word with as much force as his distorted guitar.
In what turned out to be the most comical exchange of the night, a woman at the base of the stage asked Savage if she could make a request. “You can try,” he responded.
Try she did.
“Um, it’s blank disassembly,” she said, achingly trying to think of “Instant Disassembly,” the seven-minute hit from Sunbathing Animal.
In disbelief, Savage reached for the microphone and said, “If you’re going to request a song, you have to at least know the title. And we already played it.” They hadn’t played the song, and probably due to this exchange, they did not play it.
The show ended with a powerful package; consecutively, the band played the titular tracks from their albums: “Human Performance,” followed by “Sunbathing Animal” and “Light Up Gold II.” “Uncast Shadow Of A Southern Myth,” the closing track from Content Nausea, finished the set perfectly on a mellow note to calm the mosh pit that sporadically appeared throughout the night.
It’s easy to call Parquet Courts one of the best punk bands of this generation, but they are so much more than that. With the combination of impeccable guitar playing, stoner-poet lyricism and intelligent social commentary (beautifully contrasted with songs like “Stoned And Starving”), Parquet Courts is one of the best bands alive today. Human Performance should further cement its legacy.
This story was originally published for The Daily Emerald on Feb. 25, 2016 at http://www.dailyemerald.com/2016/02/25/review-the-very-human-performance-of-parquet-courts/.
More stories I’ve written for the Emerald can be found here.