Sunday, July 20, 2014

Courts in the act


James Hoare is clearly a workaholic. Not content with one side-project (The Proper Ornaments), the Veronica Falls guitarist has begun another, this time with Mazes’ Jack Cooper. At first, they’re not so much Ultimate Painting as Slapdash Doodle On Back Of Fag Packet. “This is our fourth show”, Cooper says sheepishly. “We’ve got an album out in October. Maybe we’ll have figured out how to do this by then.”

Gradually, though, with the assistance of the headliners’ Austin Brown on bass, the songs swim into clearer focus, transporting us back to the halcyon days of British indie – Teenage Fanclub, The Wedding Present, The Jesus & Mary Chain et al. As nostalgia trips go, it could certainly be worse.

In tonight’s company, The Wytches feel like gatecrashers, barging their way through the door with brute force and bludgeoning riffs rather than relying upon the slightly subtler wiles of their recorded output to win hearts and minds. The result is a gloopy, grungy stew superficially garnished rather than richly flavoured with psych that proves undernourishing for the vast majority.

When Parquet Courts came to prominence last year with Light Up Gold, they bore all the hallmarks of being a Pitchfork writer’s wet dream made flesh: nerdy, witty, literate twentysomethings with a penchant for Pavement and a keen sense of their adopted home city of New York’s punk/garage lineage, from Television through Sonic Youth to The Strokes. While that widely acclaimed album had a perky and chaotic immediacy, its successor Sunbathing Animal is a rather different beast, largely a less accessible exercise in sustain and release that hints at greater influence by The Modern Lovers.

If perhaps less welcome on record, this shift turns out to work well in the live environment, where songs like ‘Bodies Made Of’, ‘What Colour Is Blood?’, ‘She’s Rolling’ and ‘Instant Disassembly’ come into their own, also throwing their faster counterparts into relief. According to Brown, Sunbathing Animal is about freedom and captivity, and certainly the quartet refuse to be held hostage to audience expectations, airing (by my reckoning) just three tracks from the album that made their name. For a band whose sound is often joyously messy (while simultaneously impeccably tight), they’ve earned a reputation for being surprisingly frosty and aloof, and Brown’s co-lead vocalist Andrew Savage eyes the moshpit with a degree of disdain.

But, in pleasing themselves, Parquet Courts succeed in pleasing this punter, at least, and in the end they give their public what they want, wrapping up with the two albums’ title tracks. ‘Sunbathing Animal’ in particular is stunning in its blistering pace and wired intensity, albeit a cruelly punishing finale to the set for poor drummer Max Savage.

In keeping with the punk ethos, there’s no encore. Beforehand, I would have thought that not playing ‘Stoned & Starving’ would have been unforgiveable, but by the end I could forgive them just about anything.

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