Parquet Courts, Wet Illustrated
Among the most notable music trends in 2012 was the arrival of a handful of punk revival bands, who drew from indie rock and old school punk influences like Minor Threat and Black Flag to give the genre an updated sound. With bands like Metz and Merchandise, it's fairly easy to point out direct influences, but Brooklyn-via-Texas band Parquet Courts, who performed for a small crowd at The Echo last night, make those comparisons difficult to conjure. A mash-up of old school punk, post-punk and modern indie rock, their sound is the most singular and non-derivative of any of the punk revival bands I've heard thus far.
Parquet Courts released their debut album Light Up Gold late last year on Bandcamp, but the album is just now seeing a physical release, which is what brought them to Los Angeles for last night's record release show with L.A.-based Wet Illustrated. The genius of the album lies in the honest storytelling in the lyrics, the catchy, upbeat guitar melodies, and the split vocal duties of two excellent singers. But like all successful bands, one of the their major selling points is the fact that all of the members seem equally skilled and integral to the songwriting process.
The problem with comparing them to classic punk or indie bands is that while their rickety guitar melodies may sound vaguely reminiscent of bands like Guided By Voices, most of the members are probably too young to even be familiar Guided By Voices. The only band I can accurately compare them to would be No Age, and the similarities don't lie so much in their sound as they do in style. Both bands specialize in relatively short songs, they both elegantly teeter back and forth between melodic and abrasive, and they both seem like the kind of guys who got beat up for skateboarding in high school.
Wet Illustrated started off their set last night around 10 with a set of melodic indie tunes ranging from heavily distorted garage rock a la Ty Segall to jangly, plucked guitar melodies more in the vein of Yo La Tengo. Initially formed in San Francisco in 2010, the trio has since relocated to Los Angeles and released one impressive full-length and a handful of singles. While the drummer-as-lead-singer idea can be a dicey proposition, Robbie Simon from Wet Illustrated is honestly one of the only people who seems to excel at it. Even as I entered the venue, I remarked at how good the vocals were before I ever noticed Simon pounding away on the drums.
When Parquet Courts took the stage at around 11:15, the venue was only half-full. Though the band dresses more like TV writers or computer programmers than a rock band, they're intensely well-skilled musicians. They opened their set with a sludgy instrumental jam before jumping right in to a series of hits from their debut; the nouveau slacker anthem “Borrowed Time” quickly gained the attention of the crowd. On “Donuts Only,” lead singer Andrew Savage shrieked passionately in to the microphone, while guitarist Austin Brown backed him up with a fluid sense of rhythm.
“Donuts Only” smoothly transitioned in to “Yr No Stoner” with an extended jam that played to the strengths of bassist Sean Yeaton. It's not often you see a band that makes it a point to give each member their time in the spotlight, but more often than not, that same will to compromise ends up being the hallmark of longevity. Watch a band like Radiohead that's been around for 20 years live and you'll see what I mean.
But like most new bands, there's still a visible gap between Parquet Courts and the crowds for which they perform. During last night's show, the crowd didn't really even start moving until near the end of their set and for the majority of the show, they almost seemed to be staring at the band through a storefront window. It didn't help when only three songs in the lead singer complained about the lack of movement in the crowd, but I'm not sure what he expected, after not introducing the band or offering anything in the way of stage banter. It's cool to thrash around on stage and snarl in to the mic, but you can quickly lose your audience if you don't let occasionally let your guard down.
With that said, the exceptional musicianship that all of the members exhibited during their closer far outweighed any personal shortcomings. “Stoned and Starving,” the longest song on their debut, started off with Savage singing, “I was walking through Ridgewood, Queens. I was flipping through magazines. I was stoned and starving,” over a simple guitar melody that slowly expanded with exponential levels levels of distortion. He repeated the line over and over until the end, when he dropped his guitar and grabbed the mic Rollins-style, neck vein bulging and all.
While Parquet Courts are still very new, they have some unique capabilities. Their lyrics and song titles can come off as lazy, but songs like “Stoned and Starving” and “Borrowed Time” are actually quite salient and introspective. Cultural critics often argue that recent advances in technology have made us at once intellectually advanced and socially retarded, resulting in an ever-widening gap between ideals and reality. And though it might not be obvious, the lack of direction and sense of stagnancy that permeates the younger generation as a result is clearly reflected in lyrics like “Endless waiting for something that I knew wasn't coming.” Parquet Courts are just pointing out the gaps.
The Crowd: Representatives from your neighborhood garage band.
Personal Bias: I'm a huge tennis fan.
Random Notebook Dump: Can this place work on getting a quieter flushing system for the bathrooms?
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