Words by Jordan Rapaport
“What is music if not jazz?”, muses Parquet Courts co-frontman Austin Brown during a riff of stage banter. An oddly fitting question for a punk-leaning rock band who’s playful color palette allows them to decorate the sonic spectrum with the acuteness of a Pollock painting. For their NYC homecoming, the band chose to put on three-part experiential concert series – Land, Sea, and Air - which takes listeners to the corresponding environments. The first installment (Land) grounded them to Public Arts – the posh basement venue of Manhattan’s luxurious Public Hotel.
The show was kicked off by Flexi, an impressive new addition to the NYC circuit. While this gig precedes their release of any recorded music, their razor sharp songs cut through the room with the speed and power of a group who is eager to leave their mark. Drawing from a basket of post-punk tones, Flexi ripped through their high-energy, higher-control set with little room for downtime. The simple, yet original, harmonies between the guitar and bass create a wonderfully evil playing field for the guttural-growls from the side of the frontman’s mouth. With everything dressed in a mixture of spring verb and slapback delay, the newcomers were able to put on a fiery and unique set, while still paying homage to an array influences that kept their proximity close to the headliner. While they’ve yet to find their conversation style with the crowd, I was lucky enough to hear the vocalist/guitarist candidly remark to an individual in the front, “Are we new? Yeah this is our second show”.
By the time Parquet Courts had made their way to the stage, the room and anticipation levels had reached capacity. The band dove straight in with “Total Football”, the anthemic first-track off their new album, Wide Awake. The overdriven guitars seethed through the mix, with the distinct recognizability of that tube-amp warmth introduced by the 70’s and 80’s bands who set the parameters for the genre. Alternating between A. Savage’s in-your-face yelling on songs like, “Almost Had to Start a Fight/In and Out of Patience”, and Brown’s deadpan delivery on “Before the Water Gets Too High”, the band manages to put forth a set that is undeniably familiar, but impossible to put your finger on for more than one song. That’s because their laissez-faire approach to music is less obvious in their stylistic conditionalities, but moreso in their ethos.
That spirit is exactly what allows them to fly through a song that questions our “perceived autonomy” at a speed of 165 BPM (“Normalization”), drown their guitars in reverb for a humorous love song driven by musical analogies (“Mardis Gras Beads”), swap the guitar out for a dysfunctional Omnichord (“Before the Water Gets Too High”), or have Brown and bassist Sean Yeaton spend four minutes between songs poorly attempting to quote the housekeeping scene from Tommy Boy in reference to the irony of a punk band playing in a boutique-hotel. By the fourth song, of what what would become a more than hour long set (in true defiance of punk tradition), the room had erupted into a smiling dance-pit/mosh-party during their ironically-charged “Freebird II”.
Parquet Courts steers their music in the direction that makes most sense for them. If that means bringing “world-renowned” percussionist “Diego” to the stage to keep time on the cowbell for the dance-tinge titled track “Wide Awake”, than so be it. If that means riding the wave of an art-rock jam sesh for seemingly ten-minutes, than so be it. Or if that means Brown lighting a cigarette mid-performance, and answering the question of, “Can we smoke in here?” with, “Of course you can! The only places you can’t smoke are underwater and maybe space” – than so be it.