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Parquet Courts are Young, Fast and Ter-RIFF-ic: Concert Review

Parquet Courts - H 2014
Carl Pocket/Pitch Perfect PR

The Bottom Line

Brooklyn-by-way-of-Texas guitar-slinging punks evoke Velvets, Television, Ramones, Clash and Pavement with breathless, whirlwind set featuring most of new album.

Venue

Roxy Theater
Los Angeles (Wednesday, May 28)

Mathematical, minimally precise rockers roar through 16-song, 50-minute set, leaving the crowd wanting more.

If they keep up like this, promising punk guitar quartet Parquet Courts won’t be “stoned and starving” much longer (or at least the latter), even if, for the second time in five months, they perversely refused to play their slacker anthem to the relative dietary merits of peanuts and licorice while strolling the streets of Ridgewood, Queens. Not that frizzy-haired group leader Andrew Savage, his drawling, shaggy-haired vocalist/guitarist mate Austin Young, and the sterling, in-the-pocket rhythm section of bassist Sean Yeaton and Max Savage are embracing their “next big thing” status in an indie credibility world where that very term evokes derision.

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Indeed, everything about these DIY punks is geared towards keeping it real, and away from the grist mill of pop media saturation. Their just-released third full-length album, Sunbathing Animal, on their own What’s Your Rupture? imprint, goes through Mom + Pop, veteran A&R exec Michael Goldstone’s joint venture/in-house label at  Cliff Burnstein and Peter Mensch’s major-league Q-Prime management monolith, where the band shares a roster with such hip acts as great Aussie singer/songwriter Courtney Barnett, Andrew Bird, Sleigh Bells, Jagwar Ma, Cloud Nothings, Tokyo Police Club, Metric, Ingrid Michaelson and Wavves.

And while it may seem like Parquet Courts have taken a step backward, moving from a January gig at the Fonda Theater to the much-smaller Roxy – now being booked by Goldenvoice – they are merely honing in on punk-rock perfection, their three-minute-plus outbursts of jagged, propulsive beats honed and delivered with breathless precision, their existential doubt on the costs of “making it” more pronounced than ever.  As Austin Young drawls in “Master of My Craft,” one of only four songs they played not on the new album, “I didn’t come here to dream or teach the world things/Define paradigms or curate no livin’ days… A minute of your time?/Forget about it.” Blink your eyes and you might be at CBGBs circa 1978 hearing Richard Hell and the Voidoids show bleating about being part of the "Blank Generation."

So, while popcult think sites like Bill Simmons’ Grantland wonder out loud if these Lone Star expatriates are indeed “The Last Great New York Band?,” Parquet Courts are merely trying to take care of business. “Duckin and Dodgin,” which lives up to its name, sports some Savage picking, the song stopping and starting on a dime like vintage Wire. Young steps to the mic for the Velvets-by-way-of Television sturm und clang of “Bodies Made of,” intoning the muscular feedback-drenched chorus, “bodies made of…slugs ‘n’ guts,” before the intense, drone-like “Black and White.”

“We’re Parquet Courts, by the way,” deadpans Savage, musing at the mosh pit, “I like to see you boys slap each other around,” shortly before launching into the furious, Clash-like martial stomp of “You’ve Got Me Wonderin’ Now,” a song from their Tally All the Things That You Broke EP.  Young provides a country-rock feel to the “Sister Ray” vibe of  “Dear Ramona,” while he and Savage exchange guitar licks on the chugging “What Color Is Blood.” “I can’t breathe,” Andrew insists on “Instant Disassembly,” which intersperses some southwest harmonies that remind you of the band’s Lone Star origins, which is only reinforced by the psychedelic blues-rock dirge of “Raw Milk,” with Young furiously playing his bottleneck slide riffs underneath.

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“Time waits over/Behind your shoulder,” spits out Savage on “Into the Garden,” “And the onset of your wandering years/Until you’re not the same old fool you once took yourself for.” It’s an elliptical observation on the toll that the touring grind can take, and it’s followed by the observation, “Let me slip into my insomniac shoes/Step out the door/Into the garden of my unpaved needs.”

So, yeah, Parquet Courts are not your typical rock ‘n’ roll band, as they conclude with the feverish instrumental “Up All Night,” into what passes for the set’s anthem, “Light Up Gold II” and the serious shredding of the title track to Sunbathing Animal, which offers a strumming, raga-like uplift that leaves a din in our ears and an adrenaline rush pounding in our chests, steadfastly refusing to come out for an encore despite the rhythmic crowd chants of "Par-quet Courts."

Along with Real Estate and War on Drugs, my two other favorite American rock bands of the year, Parquet Courts bring some dignity back to the genre, while sidestepping the temptations and willfully refusing to give in to the pitfalls of stardom, knowing that keeping their gaze straight ahead, and their noses to the grindstone, is the only way to grow and survive. Realizing, in the end, we’re all just sunbathing animals with a short moment in the light before the darkness irrevocably sets in.

Set list:

Duckin and Dodgin
Bodies Made of
Black and White
Vienna II
Always Back in Town 
You've Got Me Wonderin’ Now
Dear Ramona 
Master of My Craft
Borrowed Time
What Color is Blood
Instant Disassembly
Raw Milk
Into the Garden
Up All Night
Light Up Gold II
Sunbathing Animal