Parquet Courts was playing a show at the Regent, a sort of downtown extension of Echo Park Rising, because also the company presented by Spaceland, which has to present the best shows in town. In an unexpected move, I went to the show, leaving Echo Park without having seen half of the bands I wanted to see, but the young New York band was certainly worth checking.
I had heard a lot about them, had never really taken the time to listen to a whole album, just a few songs here and there, so I was totally out of the loop compared to this herd of young fans singing all the lyrics, while moshing hard all set-long. Parquet Courts played a 21-song show and ‘they didn’t even play ‘Stoned and Starving’’… This is what I heard from fans afterwards, this is after all a song played during Iggy Pop’s weekly radio show on the BBC. I bet that the four members couldn’t care less about your own expectation for a Parquet Courts show, I have rarely seen a bunch of people so detached, so laid-back, so at ease on stage. For a band formed in 2010, they sound and act like a band having performed for decades, with a latent mockery in the corner of the eye, and a super confident delivery often going into morose undertone. But don’t get me wrong, they are highly likeable and funny.
They are touring their last album ‘Human Performance’, and they naturally played a lot of songs from it, but when they attacked the show with an old one, ‘Duckling & Dodging’, the tone was given: this wry inflection, this avalanche of sung-spoken words delivered at a gun machine speed piling up faster than their guitar riffs, made they look smart and artsy, even though I couldn’t follow what they were saying. It was already going too fast, the kids around me got animated and rowdy and I had to watch my back.
The quartet arrived on stage already speaking to the crowd, before even playing a tune, and the dialogue continued later between songs, talking about moving to LA, followed by a cheerful response from the crowd and Austin Brown’s sarcastic comment, ‘Don’t encourage people like us to move here!’ They wanted us to believe they were wild and undesirable, sloppy and badass. As a matter of fact, they had just cancelled a show at the Observatory in Santa Ana, because of some kind of accident involving a contusion on Andrew Savage’ forehead… They didn’t tell us more about the story, expect a ‘But we are here for you!’
In 6 years, these guys have already released five albums, meaning they are hard workers or very gifted, or both, but live, they certainly don’t want to give the impression of any of that, they are here to have fun, effortlessly delivering their songs, entertaining the crowd with bassist Sean Yeaton violently shaking his head as if he wanted to get drunk from it, Andre Savage spitting in the mic or balancing on one leg, and Austin Brown arriving on stage with a cigarette in his mouth. Can we still do that in California? They can, they are punk, post punk, outsiders among outsiders, with a style which has to borrow to everyone but no one in particular. And if they have been compared to Pavement (but they are far less pretentious) or to the Velvet Underground, they are still newcomers on a hybrid landscape.
Having barely read anything about them, I saw my mind wander into classics like Talking Heads, Art Brut, the Velvet Underground, or even Beck. The coolness of ‘Dust’ kept me right on track, may be because I had heard the song before, may be because it is just a plain rock song with some side-views on krautrock distortion and punk attitude. ‘One Man No City’ started with a morose spoken delivery, dissonance and weird chords, and ended into a monster of distortion, taking VU white noise epic proportions for a few minutes, while ‘Pathos Prairie’ had a familiar upbeat garage punk tempo. So many other songs had repetitive parts – and may be this is why I got this krautrock thing, but the music was actually much more diverse than any label I could come up with.
A song could start like a mechanical monotonous machine and end in the Stooges’ last puff (‘I Was just There’), otherwise they could scream in chorus, or having a Velvet episode once again (‘What Color Is Blood’), turning their guitars to druggy nonchalance during ‘Ramona’, and at this moment I was not sure if Brown sounded more like Beck or Lou Reed. While they were playing a series of punk anthems, the crowd got really wild, forming a large mosh pit, accelerating and culminating in chaos with the Ramones-que ‘Master of my Craft’, leading to ‘Borrowed Time’, and ‘Careers in Combat’.
They could be one of the most bipolar bands, engulfing genres and influences, puzzling the Parquet Courts virgins like me, but making things interesting. They had these middle-song crisis, from sudden pure-punk outbursts of energy to cranky vocals on dissonance, then coming up with the most straightforward pop rock song, like ‘Human performance’, or a spaghetti western theme guitar on ‘Berlin Got Blurry’. With melodies so unpredictable, the band was revealing its wide horizon, as large as an entire chapter of punk and post-punk history.
But why do I feel I would need to read all their lyrics to really get them? Probably because there is something at work behind this cool aggression, there is something smarter-than-you-think behind this punk tantrums, although everything is delivered without an ounce of arrogance. ‘I commit crimes and call them mistakes/ Nothing denies like a heart in doubt,’ they sing on ‘Pathos Prairie’… ‘ Nothing lasts but nearly everything lingers in life’ on ‘Berlin Got Blurry’… ‘Ya know Socrates died in the fuckin’ gutter!’ in ‘Master of my Craft’ … wouldn’t you sit down for a while with these? I would, but the show was so fast-pace, there was no time for this.
May be I am jealous of Parquet Courts, may be I envy their stress-free attitude, their way to make fun of LA, its eternal sun and cheap rappers. May be I am jealous of their coolness, their non-assuming personalities have led them to stray away from any form of a social media from the beginning, how many young band can say the same? Music and dialogues were done with so much ease and wry humor, that I wanted to follow them everywhere even if I didn’t know where this was going, especially because I didn’t know where I was going.
Ducking and Dodging
I was Just Here
One Man no City
Captive of the Sun
What Color is Blood
Master of my Craft
Yr No Stoner
Careers in Combat
Steady on my Mind
Berlin Got Blurry
Light up Gold
I was happier because I knew I was happy
a snapshot of big hits and high tides, mostly high tides.
There is just a lot to love
the sound seemed to erupt from every side of the room
still on top
“danceable music for the end of days”
contracts its world in Nashisms
let’s take what we are offered
It’s the music, stupid