Parquet Courts were not happy about their early timeslot at the 9:30 Club last Thursday, and their stage banter reflected that.
“It’s pretty early. It’s happy hour, isn’t it?” suggested vocalist Andrew Savage. “If it’s happy hour, you got into the show for half price, right?”
“9:30 Club? More like the 6:30 Club!” agreed other vocalist Austin Brown. At the end of the show, he added, “Have a good time later. Tonight. When it’s dark.”
Despite the needling at their early booking (a later show followed that night), or maybe because of it, Parquet Courts set themselves to the task of metaphorically burning the stage down with a blistering punk performance. But its finer moments truly came in powerful, poignant numbers from their new album, Human Performance.
The prolific Texans-turned-Brooklyners released their fourth studio album in early April via Rough Trade Records, and their stop at the 9:30 Club heavily featured the new songs, which were well received by the very full (if not quite sold out) room.
While plenty of crowd surfers took to the air during earlier Parquet Courts numbers (yay to the 9:30 Club for smartly if watchfully permitting such things), the new songs are mostly about loneliness and solitude, or at least situations where you find yourself alone, if not abandoned –even set opener “Dust,” which may simply seem to be a catchy song about… dust, but really creates yet another setting in which we find ourselves in solitude.
And they are mostly songs for men, verified by the largely male audience at the 9:30 Club. The very next song, “Paraphrased,” deals with being unable to communicate widely or effectively, or perhaps being able to talk only to very specific circumstances. Andrew sings it in the intense spitfire manner of many Parquet Courts songs — until the chorus, where we put on the brakes with a slow melody aside an alluring instrumental interlude courtesy of the band’s angular guitars.
Watch Parquet Courts perform “Paraphrased” in a Rough Trade Session from April 13, 2016:
Bassist Sean Yeaton next takes a rare turn at vocals for “I Was Just Here,” nominally about the closing of a favorite Chinese restaurant that disappeared without notice. But the sense of abandonment, this time set to Devo-like discordant beats, is very much the same sense of loss that permeates the Human Performance album. One of the best songs on that album comes next with “Berlin Got Blurry,” a song Andrew sings about feeling out of place in a foreign land — and the band’s appetite for Western Americana manifests itself a smashing wave of guitar licks that punctuate the verses. Later in the set, “Pathos Prairie” continues this trend with considerable punk panache.
The best is yet to come, as Parquet Courts close the show with two of the best songs from the new album, one of which is the title track. The show-stopping “Human Performance” is a song about sorrow and regret but one that is delivered under the cloak of words dealing with the fallout of a failed relationship. The guitars set up a challenge by their tone, but in words the narrator promptly surrenders any pretense of putting up a fight. He’s lost, and he attempts to reconcile himself to his new reality. Through the chorus, he’s left to ponder his situation through intellectual fragments of pain (“fracture and hurt”) and things unbearable (“eyes in the fire”).
The title “Human Performance” surely implies the personal inability to maintain love — “I know I loved you did I even deserve it, when you returned it,” Andrew sings like a lost cowboy. But the kicker comes in darkness at the end of the song when “phantom affection gives a human performance.” And by the end, the guitar has sadly surrendered its bite as well with a rush of strings stuck on repeat.
Things lighten up a little but get no less lonely with set closer “One Man No City,” where Austin chants a singsong monologue on solitude in the city while drummer Max Savage plays some bongos. As others have said, the resulting song takes a page from the playbook of the Talking Heads, but does so in a way that undeniably belongs to Parquet Courts.
Tonight, Parquet Courts hit Asheville, NC, on their US tour, and they wrap it up in New York on Friday, May 20. Their new album is a superb, sublime achievement, and you absolutely should go and listen to it live. The gents know they have something good with their best album to date, and you become involved in their concert performance much as you would if you were tagging along out casually with your buddies somewhere, barhopping maybe, only to realize later that what they were saying to you at the time was really quite deep and affecting.
It’s a show worth putting yourself into, regardless of the hour.
Here are a few pictures of the show by Parquet Courts at the 9:30 Club on Thursday.