Andrew Savage zipped into DC from Los Angeles, fresh from the Grammy Awards, where he was nominated for Best Recording Package for his band Parquet Courts’ fifth album, Human Performance.
The artist for David Bowie’s Blackstar album took that award, but Andrew was upbeat about it. “I won,” he quipped to a large crowd at 9:30 Club on Monday. “The director of The Recording Academy told us we were all winners. That sounds pretty official to me.”
Art punks Parquet Courts hit 9:30 Club for the second time in the last 12 months to celebrate their 2016 opus, and it’s fitting that The Grammys celebrated it through the nomination as well. The album cover is a painting by Andrew, who realized the separate work had a thematic connection to the album, which deals with feelings of loneliness and isolation.
The Brooklyn quartet got down to business Monday, opening with the first three songs from Human Performance in order, starting with the subtly profound “Dust,” a song that certainly sets the tone for empty spaces, whether external or internal. They follow it immediately with the stunner title track, “Human Performance,” a more overt lament of isolation that mourns the loss of love.
I liked Parquet Courts when I first heard them in 2012, but Human Performance took them to a whole new level in terms of poignancy, introspection, and enlightenment. Some songs are simple — like “Dust” and “Berlin Got Blurry,” a song (performed later) that assesses feeling lost and lonely on an overseas trip in an unfamiliar culture. Some songs are complex — “Human Performance” and “Paraphrased,” a shout-along song (performed next) about being unable to recapture a moment.
Andrew sings these songs with clear conviction as he plays guitar at stage right. Austin Brown, his chief partner in crime, stands on the opposite side of the stage, also playing guitar but occasionally breaking to run his fingers across a keyboard. Austin takes lead vocals on songs that are equally thought-provoking, most notably the thoughtful “One Man No City,” another rumination on isolation from the album Human Performance. On Monday, Austin delivered a scathing rebuke of the idea of Donald Trump’s proposed border wall, drawing parallels to a physical wall and the metaphorical walls of isolation evoked in the song. The heartfelt rejection of walls was so polished that it almost felt like a new spoken-word intro to the song.
Austin also sang the inviting “Captive of the Sun,” where he reflects of the sounds of the city as he again remains alone within it. Parquet Courts made available a vinyl 12″ of “Captive of the Sun” for the first time at our 9:30 Club show.
Andrew and Austin may provide the intellectual underpinnings to the brilliant songs of Parquet Courts, but bassist Sean Yeaton wants to be their man in motion. Sean is entertaining to watch, as he throws himself across the stage in front of drummer Max Savage. Consumed by the punk rock sounds around him, Sean was constantly on the move, tossing his head up and down as he slammed into his bass with gusto.
Drummer Max is among the most serene drummers I’ve ever seen. He maintains a careful focus on his tasks, complementing the contemplative nature of his brother.
Don’t get me wrong! For all the deep thought and effort baked into the music of Parquet Courts, many of their songs are ready-made for moshing. And mosh the 9:30 Club audience did, although I didn’t spot any crowd surfers, who were abundant in the last Parquet Courts show here. Monday’s show wasn’t quite sold out, but it was close, and the crowded floor in front of the stage was packed with a knot of humanity that moved as one from stage center to dance with abandon as Andrew, Austin, Sean, and Max thundered away.
For all my talk of Human Performance, Parquet Courts didn’t forget their past. They closed with two popular songs, each of which was a feather in the cap of any young band upon release, “Light Up Gold II” from the breakthrough release Light Up Gold, and “Sunbathing Animal,” the 2014 title track that speaks of feeling trapped.
Parquet Courts appropriately end their show suddenly after “Sunbathing Animal,” no encore forthcoming.
For now, Parquet Courts are largely done touring, although they have a few upcoming festivals like The Governors Ball Music Festival 2017 in June. Austin suggested we wouldn’t see Parquet Courts for a spell while they take a break and work on new material. I know DC at least anxiously awaits their return.
Here are some more pictures of Parquet Courts performing at 9:30 Club on Monday, Feb. 13, 2017.