Parquet Courts, photo credit Ben Rayner
At the close of a ferocious set from Detroit post-punk quartet Protomartyr, singer Joe Casey and Co. launched into “Tarpeian Rock,” a purging tune named for a cliff ancient Romans used as a launching pad for murderers, traitors and other criminals of that ilk. With "surprise guest" (and Parquet Courts bassist) Sean Yeaton howling the refrain — “Throw them from the rock!” — Casey rattled off the various off-putting types he’d like to fling into the void, including adults dressed as children, internet personas, and “most bands ever.”
Judging from the action at a packed Double Happiness on Friday, both Protomartyr and Parquet Courts should remain happily grounded to terra firma for the foreseeable future.
Parquet Courts arrived here in support of its excellent new album, Sunbathing Animal, and the New York-by-way-of-Texas foursome wisely invested a bulk of its 70-minute set in its latest, shifting from knuckle-scraping blasts of raw-nerve punk (“Black and White,” which sounded more tightly coiled and desperate here than on record) to droning, hypnotic numbers that stretched out like a cat slowly waking from an afternoon nap.
“I kept repeating, kept repeating myself,” slurred singer/guitarist Andrew Savage on an eight-plus-minute “Instant Disassembly” as the guitars did precisely that, moving in an infinitely repeating loop that would have left Matthew McConaughey muttering something about time being a flat circle.
Monotone shades of Lou Reed and Modern Lovers bled into meandering tunes like “Dear Ramona,” a deliriously stoned cut that sounded as though it would have ambled out the door and down the street were it not for the steady, anchoring presence of Yeaton and drummer Max Savage, whose name synched perfectly with his playing on more aggressive numbers like “Sunbathing Animal.”
In the wake of Parquet Courts 2012 breakout Light Up Gold, the band received steady comparisons to Pavement (in a Rolling Stone interview Stephen Malkmus even recounted hearing one of Courts’ songs in a Portland burger shop and initially confusing it with one of his own, which might be the most Portland story ever), and Andrew Savage, like Malkmus, certainly has a knack for writing in riddles (“What’s sharp as a knife, followed me all my life, waits never rests, till it eats me alive?” he sang on “What Color Is Blood”).
But where Pavement always flaunted a level of detachment, there was something primal about the way Savage and co-singer/guitarist Austin Brown threw themselves into tunes like the untamed and feral “Sunbathing Animal” and “Duckin and Dodgin,” which evolved into a master class in tension-and-release as the dual guitarists teased out a groove before charging each other time and again.
A similar sense of propulsion defined Protomartyr’s thrilling opening set, with Casey, whose voice sounded every bit as blue-collar/lunch pail as his Detroit home, howling about violence, betrayal and darkness — sometimes all at once.
“Stumbling around for a hand in the dark,” he sang on “What the Wall Said.” “Slapping you down, choking you out.”
The instrumentation only heightened the sense listeners were navigating some horrific landscape, the four bandmates crafting a dense wall of post-punk noise awash in feedback-rotted guitar, pummeling drums and Casey’s deadened vocals.
Throw them from the rock? Feel free. These dudes already sound as though they’re enjoying life on the bottom.