Parquet Courts, Manchester Academy 2; October 10 2016.
Debuting in 2011 with limited edition cassette EP release American Specialties, I’m not sure if Parquet Courts knew they would be storming festivals three years on, and releasing their fifth (ish) studio album two years later still. I say “ish” as their back-catalogue is eclectic: having already forming and disbanding outfits “Wiccans” and “Teenage Cool Kids,” these New York City slackers finally rested upon “Parquet Courts” and started as they meant to go on:
Music matters/ More than ever/ Free your brain and conform never!
After releasing their debut full-length album
Now, we all dig the repetition but the three Rs that Parquet Courts initially ran with has clearly made way for some compositionally more dynamic songs. Human Performance is a wonderful snap-shot of a claustrophobic, tiresome, and high-energy New York life, and the city’s ability to create a specific human condition: the album includes the jolting, avant, track “I Was Just Here,” gloriously describing the band’s disdain at their favourite Chinese take-away closing down (made even more poignant by the fact that the menu there was the cover art to debut cassette release American Specialties).
Beginning the set with the punk-riddled, teasing and repetitive “Ducking and Dodging” from Sunbathing Animal as a great kick-starter, the band moved coolly into the first track from Human Performance: “Dust,” complete with an elongated and highly enjoyable noise section. The hugely satisfying sibilance of “The skull-shaking cadence of the J-train rolls” and the lyric “Dust is everywhere/ To sweep,” set the scene for the deprecation of the landscape that unfolds during the set, and indeed throughout the album.
Title track “Human Performance” smacks of Wire’s “Outdoor Miner,” and from the get-go, the movement of the crowd is frantic. Speaking of his “darkness” amidst crowded bars, busy apartments and a weak mind, Savage’s line: “It isn’t gone and I won’t feel it’s grip soften/ Without a coffin” leaves a bitter taste. It finishes with another experimental and noisy interlude between this and “Outside”; perhaps a dutiful nod to their (in my opinion, hugely overlooked) 2015 release, Monastic Living, which, as well as Content Nausea, is left out of the set entirely.
The light show throughout is subtle and largely static, set off by a gentle, pulsating pink background rig; absolutely nothing distracting from the detuned melodies, cut-through riffs and chunky bass lines. The energy is high and the crowd is continuously jumping and wavering as Parquet Courts rage through a few more key tracks from the new release, until we reached the woozy respite of “Steady On My Mind,” where we’re all mesmerised: the central, warm guitar solo seems to dance off the crowd as comedic crowd-surfers pass constantly and slowly across everyone’s eye-line (it is a genuinely funny juxtaposition, as if the crowd is having to please itself during the “slow jam” interlude). Parquet Courts use this as a turning point and jam out a hefty eight short, sharp tracks from Sunbathing Animal, abruptly bringing the crowd out of the lull that had begun to settle like the aforementioned dust of Human Performance’s opening track.
The band don’t speak a lot, other than to say that it’s good to be back after having played Manchester for the first time in Kro Bar back in 2009, where they would have played under a different guise. They also frequently ask if anybody has any requests, and each time suggest joke tracks to which the crowd always give a whoop: “Whole Lotta Love,” “Whisky in the Jar,” “Purple Rain” and “Dancing in the Dark” (the latter of which I would have thoroughly enjoyed).
“Berlin Got Blurry” is the penultimate song, perhaps the band’s only diversion from New York as they turn the attention to heartache. “No City” is our parting track and with an extended frantic, and overdriven outtro of a pacing and rhythmic beat and an elevated snare, you know that the set has come to it’s natural conclusion. No encore, no lingering; just fast-paced and efficient. We’re spent.