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Parquet Courts - The Institute, Birmingham 23/06/14

25 June 2014, 17:41 | Written by Dan Owens

To call Parquet Courts slackers would be dismissed by most, not least the band themselves, as lazy. The amount of material they’ve thrown out in just shy of three years, regardless of its insolent, go-nowhere lyricism, renders this knee-jerk accusation moot. In fact, the only slackers are the journalists that mete out this description in reaction to the Brooklyn foursome’s calculated appropriation of Jonathan Richman’s paranoid nerdism meeting small town romanticism.

Then again, Parquet Courts are just one of those bands that conceptualise contradiction. Hailed as one of the most vital bands to appear in the last few years, their scuzz-filled rock is far from original and unmistakably reminiscent of Lou Reed’s amoral discourses whilst calling to mind The Strokes’ own flawless imitation of those that became part of the furniture in CBGB’s/Max’s mid-‘70s heyday. But, in proudly proclaiming that it’s not their intention to teach the world things or define paradigms, they succeed in doing so with much ease and insouciance. No wonder their music is so schizophrenic.

Prone to outbursts as incendiary as his band’s music, curt co-frontman Andrew Savage once declared that it took him a considerable amount of time to cuddle up to our twee little nation. But ironically, tonight, it takes his precocious gang a little while to thaw out themselves. Walking onstage contrarily late with a blithe introduction that would position Morrissey at “like a room without a roof” on the happy scale, pulsating opener “Ducking and Dodging’” eases into its stride, and gradually evolves into a tug-of-war between restraint and recklessness.

It’s a battle that weaves its way, like Sean Yeaton’s serene basslines, into everything that follows in its schizoid wake. In a set that draws heavily on tracks from their latest album Sunbathing Animal, the performance becomes a scrap between Savage and the group’s equally aloof joint-leader, Austin Brown. They alternately bless their microphones with vague, inconsequential musings on “Bodies Made Of” and “Black and White”, ensuring that their guitars hold true to the dichotomy honed by Television for the duration; at one moment synchronised, the next clashing and discordant.

Keeping cuts from brisk 2012 breakthough, Light Up Gold, to a minimum, the nucleus of the set is nevertheless formed by the inseparable pairing of “Master of My Craft” and “Borrowed Time”, which in their breakneck speed and caustic apathy, spark the biggest reaction of the night, helping the disaffected to pogo their alienation away.

While they’re capable of combating millennial lethargy with barbed, amphetamine riffs, the New Yorkers also leave plenty of room for sobering, morning-after comedowns. “Instant Disassembly”, infected with the desolate mantra of “I can’t breathe” provides an unsettling reminder of life’s senselessness, beating hopelessness home over seven tear-shedding minutes. And the protracted dirge that frames follow on, “Raw Milk”, is an often conceited, seldom exciting extension that zaps the night’s careering exuberance dead, turning the once loose-limbed crowd into lifeless vessels of bemusement. But, as we’ve established, Parquet Courts are nothing if not contradictory.

Eventually breaking out of this mid-set lull with balls-to-the-wall airings of “Light Up Gold II” and “Sunbathing Animal”, it becomes achingly clear that their dissonance is best served economical and concise. A polarised performance heaving with vigour and self-indulgence, Parquet Courts are skilfully building a wall of ambivalence. You should probably go and admire it before it inevitably crumbles under the weight of its architects’ inertia.

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