Brooklyn’s Parquet Courts brought their late 70s/early 80s style punk to Neumos last night. They use the loud, repetitive jangle of punk as an engaging foundation for thoughtful social commentary. Their debut release from last year, Light Up Gold, includes 15 tightly packed tracks that power onward from start to finish, layered with insightful lyrics from vocalists Andrew Savage and Austin Brown.
“Master of my Craft” is a sarcastic commentary on how the capitalist machine is killing individuality and thoughtful discourse. Brown rants, “We praise the dollar you fucking hippie…Socrates died in the fuckin’ gutter!” “Borrowed Time” rolls along carelessly, yet it contains such enlightened lines as “I was up to my neck in motivation neglect when / I felt soft waves of purpose crashing onto the surface.” It’s a song about the fear of irrelevance, and the paralyzing effects of writer’s block. “Yonder is Closer to the Heart” laments the ease with which artists get stuck in their day to day routine, become uninspired, and use mundane triumphs to distract themselves from their larger, unaddressed goals. These songs sound like the band just picked up their guitars and started thrashing, but they hold a much deeper sense of purpose.
After cancelling their KEXP radio performance due to a lost voice, I worried the band might be more reserved. They were undeterred, and it was hard to guess which of the vocalists had been having trouble. The same couldn’t be said for the crowd, which was much less rowdy than expected. There was no lack of enthusiasm in the room however, as fans bobbed their heads emphatically or jumped around in place.
The concise setlist included “Light Up Gold,” “Yr No Stoner,” “N Dakota,” and the crowd-pleaser “Stoned and Starving.” The latter lazily plods along, Savage recalling a night of “debating Swedish Fish / roasted peanuts or licorice / I was so stoned and starving.” The title words repeat over and over, as bassist Sean Yeaton adds backup vocals. The song devolves into high pitched feedback which would be ear-splitting if the repeating melody wasn’t so damn satisfying. This devolution was recreated impeccably live as Brown and Savage coaxed their machines into wild screams, riffing off one another in a wild feedback jam.
Naomi Punk from Olympia, WA opened, drawing a decent sized crowd despite playing more often in the underground circuit. The band’s syncopated moments of silence and noise created melodies that felt rationed, fed to the crowd in short bursts of reverence. The vocals alternated between deep groans and high, euphoric releases, disjointed and discordant but controlled. Their intense attention to pace in songs like “The Swell” paired well with Parquet Court’s focused chord progressions.
The last track of the night featured the band slowly removing each instrument, the melody dropping out as Savage put down his guitar and continued to ramble. It felt almost religious listening as he spewed ruminations until blue in the face, eventually thanking the crowd and walking off. In an interview with Pitchfork, he stresses how “the writing always comes first– all the melodies and all the music are worked around the writing.” Lyrics are paramount to this band, even in live performances when one might expect the instruments to take precedence.
Parquet Courts shouldn’t be dismissed as three chord party music. Rather, they harness punk’s aesthetics as a way to touch on prevalent issues in a light-hearted way. Their songs are a testament to punk as poetry, and these boys are masters of their craft.