by Bryan Culver
Identify which of the following statements is false: (1) I live and work in Philadelphia; (2) I spend an inordinate amount of time listening to, dissecting, and writing about music; (3) I often attend live shows. If you answered (3) you are spot on the money.
Regrettably, I’ve only visited Union Transfer twice. Upon entering the impressively laid-out structure, I felt as though I’ve been missing out on something. It filled a void I didn’t even realize was empty. Union Transfer is the de facto zenith of Philadelphia music venues for indie bands that have begun attracting attention from the mainstream music press. Hot commodities in the biz. The venue is also situated in Spring Garden, a neighborhood that doesn’t hide its blemishes. Philly is on the upswing, sure, but we’re not undergoing a slash-and-burn operation to wipe away all evidence of urban decay, we’re not replacing crumbling structures from a bygone necropolis with luxury apartments, this isn’t just some real estate playground for affluent adults—at least not yet.
As such, I couldn’t envision a more fitting tour stop for post-punk outlet Parquet Courts.
This is a band that on the surface, give you something sleek and modern, exuding urban cool, but likewise, ooze with the dilapidated byproducts of a bygone era. Let’s unpack that statement. Parquet Courts is a Brooklyn-via-Texas transplant. The band’s music references a collection of New York City sounds that manifested in the mid-70s at the birthplace of punk. Much like their forbears such as Sonic Youth or Television, their music is dense and noisy, and is accompanies by surrealist lyrics akin to Bob Dylan or The Velvet Underground. If you enjoy contextualizing your music, Parquet Courts is the ideal New York City punk band. And although they only formed in 2010, their catalogue already spans five full-length albums, from their limited edition cassette tape debut, American Specialties, to breakthrough releases Light Up Gold and Sunbathing Animal, to their latest, 2016’s Human Performance. Judging by their consistency alone, I expected them to put on a good show.
What I didn’t expect was who they chose as their opener. Upon entering the venue, I just assumed the organizers had selected some mellow classical music to usher in the audience. Wrong I was. The audience was intently focused on stage where a girl sat plucking a harp. Harp? A harp, indeed. While I stood there scratching my head I gradually became absorbed in the melodious ambiance. Mary Lattimore is a Pennsylvania-based solo act who produces shimmering soundscapes out of a minimalist toolset. She has her harp, which is neither a small, nor a particularly intuitively-shaped piece of hardware, along with a loop pedal and a selection of filters which she operates from her lap. She produces intricately arranged patterns of notes that evoke a deeply introspective, emotional response. It would pair well with a dystopian sci-fi movie.
After finishing her set, she quietly thanked the audience, accepted a brief ovation, and exited the stage. I was left with that eerie feeling that what I had just experienced wasn’t totally reality, but part apparition. It was both mysterious and intriguing. Worth investigating further.
The sound crew wasted no time setting up for the main event–and like the previous act–Parquet Courts seem to have a preference for simple equipment: fender guitars, a keyboard, and a very basic drum set. 15 minutes later the band walked onto stage and jumped right into “Dust”, one of the lead singles off of Human Performance.
Throughout the course of an hour Parquet Courts performed a selection of new material along with a handful of their standbys, such as “Black and White” and “Ramona” off Sunbathing Animals. I was particularly excited when they jumped into “Master of Your Craft” and seamlessly transitioned into “Borrowed Time”, just as it’s arranged on Light Up Gold. They finished up their set by circling back to some of their lengthier tracks from Human Performance, including “Captive of the Sun”, and “One Man No City”, which ended with an extended jam session.
Their set was also peppered with stage banter that you don’t get to experience on their albums. From their lyrical content, it’s impossible not to pick up on their sense of humor, but seeing it live on stage really added another element–you can tell they enjoy entertaining. Singer-guitarist Andrew Savage commended a father and son for attending the show together, polling the audience for other familial audience members in attendance. He then recollected his first live concert, which he also happened to attend with his dad. The concert featured The Smashing Pumpkins, to which the audience approvingly cheered, and Dave Matthews Band, which resulted in a scorn of disapproval. Bassist Sean Yeaton mentioned he recently saw M. Night Shyamalan’s newest film, Split, nearly spoiling the ending had Savage not intervened, suggesting that instead the next time they visit Philly the audience should convene at the merch table prior to the show and finish the controversial discussion.
Parquet Courts have been on my short list of bands to see live for a while and they blew it out of the ball park. I left the show completely satisfied. As I walked out of the venue I thought: I need to go to more live shows.
We’ll see about that.