Wednesday, May 18, 2016

[CONCERT REVIEW] Parquet Courts at Cat's Cradle in Carrboro, North Carolina

Photo by Ben Rayner

Written by Ryan Self

Current indie darlings Parquet Courts have already released five albums including their 2013 debut, yet have only played North Carolina twice. On Friday night, I saw show number two, as co-frontman Austin Brown asked the close to-sold-out crowd in Carrboro, North Carolina who had seen show number one, at the tiny Blind Tiger in Greensboro. Predictably, the crowd roared in reply.

"There were like 5 people there, including my cousin, and my cousin's wife," Beck-lookalike Brown replied. "You guys are full of shit."

The band then launched into the frenetic, rollicking title track to the excellent 2014 Sunbathing Animal record, and one thing was made abundantly clear: the days of audience barely outnumbering the band are long overdue for Parquet Courts.

But not for lack of trying. Parquet Courts is a wildly likable, at times ramshackle foursome that inspires more comparisons to Pavement and the Minutemen than they do to more traditionally accepted acts. They open their show not with proven crowd pleasers, but instead with the caustic "No No No!" from their young career's version of their Metal Machine Music, the seemingly purposefully obtuse Monastic Living. The crowd is understandably vexed; even a relatively devoted fan of the band is expecting songs from their three "proper" records, not Monastic and the comparably poppy Content Nausea. This is not the move of a band embracing its transition from indie stalwart to lead 4-star Rolling Stone review. They follow with "Dust," the wonky opener from the excellent new record Human Performance (even though all Parquet Courts records open with a wonky tune, seemingly as a rule), and then "Paraphrased" and "I was Just Here," perhaps the least obviously catchy tunes off the new record. At this point, it's easy to feel like you are watching a band that outwardly rejects fame. And then raw talent wins, as it always does.

Nominal lead frontman Andrew Savage knocks out "Berlin Got Blurry," the new wave track from the new record that declares that yes, Parquet Courts can play incredibly accessible pop songs, they just don't always choose to. "Bodies" leads off a run of what Brown calls "the old shit," which is an interesting way to characterize music that is less than two years old, followed by "Black and White," which sets the mosh pit into a frenzy from which it will not recover. From that moment on, the band is on fire. "Master of my Craft," from the debut record gains knowing nods from the crowd, as does "Borrowed Time," which sees the lead singer of opener the B-Boys race across the stage and dive into the welcoming arms of the front rows. "We got the new record out. We're going to play some shit off of that if that's OK," Brown modestly asks, and from there it's winner upon winner, culminating in a rambling, Grateful Dead-worthy version of "One Man, No City." Brown starts the song off, guitar cast aside, as a free form street poet, and ends it dug into an epic guitar battle with the band playing off one another. Savage, not to be outdone in this dual frontman duel, has just nailed the self pitying pathos of "Human Performance" and "Content Nausea," the latter of which is a manifesto I would have sworn was an impossible song to nail live.

It's an awe-inspiring thing to watch a band make the leap. So many acts display amazing potential, then never quite put it all together to make that one (or one of many) perfect record(s). When it happens, it not only gives you a wonderful record to enjoy, it amplifies the foibles of previous records as mere building blocks to the right sound. Think Vampire Weekend releasing Modern Vampires of the City in 2013, or The War on Drugs dropping Lost in the Dream in 2014. When a young band does it, it's doubly rewarding - the listener gets a transcendent record now, plus whatever will come. Parquet Courts' latest record and tour tells me two important things: No more five person audiences, no more "almost there" records. The future is limitless.

Get on board now.

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