Here’s my own personal untrue Nam story: We were about 10 klicks out of Da Nang when everything went fugazi. I’m talking boo-coo Charlie crawling up our ass. Next thing I know I’m going di-di on a Medevac chopper with my buddy Dwayne, and Dwayne is fading fast. I told him to hang tough, but about 25 minutes from CP he suddenly sat up, seized my flak jacket, and said, “Listen to me carefully. A post-punk band called Parquet Courts is going to come out of Brooklyn that has a kinda early Modern Lovers meets the Feelies vibe, only with balls like a punk band and sharper edges and louder vocals and more arcane lyrics. I’m not going to be around to hear them. You’re going to have to be my ears. Listen to them for me. Listen to them for me!”
Well here it is 2013, and who should show up on my cheap critic’s radar (I couldn’t afford the “deluxe” XR2000, which “allows you to pick up bands so obscure they only exist inside Roky Erickson’s head”) but Dwayne’s dying hallucination of a band, Parquet Courts. So here I am, Dwayne’s ears.
Formed in 2010, Parquet Courts originally hail from Texas but relocated to Brooklyn, home of Neil Diamond, Walt (I hear Jean-Claude Van Damme’s going to play him in a forthcoming film) Whitman, and 50,000,000 insufferable hipsters, all of them named Evan.
Parquet Courts are Andrew Savage (formerly of Teenage Cool Kids and Fergus & Geronimo) on vocals and guitar, Austin Brown on guitar, Sean Yeaton on bass, and Max Savage on drums. They may only have one album–2012’s Light Up Gold on the What’s Your Rupture label–to their name, or two if you count 2011’s American Specialties, which was put out solely on cassette tape and then in a very limited vinyl release, but the future promises great things for them unless they should suddenly don clown make-up and convert to Juggaloism. Which is what went down with my last band, so don’t tell me it doesn’t happen.
The game of influences is as boring as listening to your grandmother go on about the time she saw Engelbert Humperdinck–incidentally, I once dated, no kidding, a woman who dated Engelbert, and she says he liked to refer to himself as “Humpie”–but for music reviewers it’s as addictive as crack. So here goes: Parquet Courts recall the early Modern Lovers (before Jonathan Richman gave up loud music because he didn’t want to hurt the little babies’ ears), Tyvek, Earth Wind & Fire (just wanted to make sure you were paying attention)–why, I can even detect a touch of Talking Heads in there somewhere. Critics like to cite The Feelies as an influence but I don’t hear it. Then again I don’t hear much of anything since the time I passed out with my left ear pressed to the monitor at a Killdozer show. Even now, all I have to do is slap that ear and I can distinctly hear Michael Gerald scream, “You call that a hamburger? I can make a better hamburger with my asshole!”
Savage handles the bulk of lead vocals (although Brown sings lead on a few songs as well). As for Savage, he kind of talks (sometimes really loud) and kind of sings and sounds like a slacker, but a slacker on a mission. What kind of mission? On the relatively straightforward “Stoned and Starving” his mission is to find a cure for the munchies, but on the rest of the album things are muddier. Savage’s lyrics can be pretty damned oblique, but they work with the music, so I guess you can add Pavement to that list of influences. Anyway, during the course of Light Up Gold Savage says he “didn’t come here to dream or teach the world things,” name-checks North Dakota grain elevators and discount malls, reminds us that Texas is a bagel-free state, itemizes everything in his pockets, fondly recalls a special “ex-blue” t-shirt, calls his girlfriend “a bowl of hash” and an “unmade bed” and so on, in a whirling free-association parade that’ll march through your brain like Mummers strutting down North Broad Street in Philadelphia on New Year’s Day with banjos strumming and a baton that goes awry and hits you right smack in the head, reminding you that today was the day you were finally going to get around to writing that letter begging Bruce Willis to stop making Die Hard sequels.
What else can I say about this band? All but a couple of the songs are uptempo and feature deliberately raggedy guitar lines, and these guys like to stop songs and start them again, I guess so they can get paid for performing three songs when they only performed one (it’s an old musician’s trick). And only four of their songs clock in at more than three minutes, so you never have to worry about growing bored like you do (if you’re rigorously honest with yourself) listening to the Velvet Underground’s “Sister Ray,” a song I pretended to like so much back in the day I actually named my chinese pug after it. Ah, Sister Ray, may she rest in peace–she once ate an entire bowl of multicolored tinsel-wrapped Hershey’s Kisses, then spent the next several days leaving little red and silver Christmas gifts on our neighbors’ lawns. Anyway, with Parquet Courts the songs are over before you know it, and then the album’s over before you know it, and all you have left to do with yourself is stare at that crack in the ceiling that is definitely getting bigger, that is unless you’re getting smaller.
Anyway, Parquet Courts played the main stage of the Black Cat on Friday, February 22, and they were great, even though they played a mess of new songs I didn’t recognize. I missed the opening acts due to an unforeseen gastric cataclysm–take my advice and steer clear of restaurants called A Taste of the Ganges–and showed up just in time to hear Parquet Courts tuning their instruments, which believe me I’ve seen bands where that was the highlight of their set.
What was it Elvis Presley said? Oh yes, “I don’t know anything about music–in my line you don’t have to.” Well, it’s the same for this critic. Because it turns out there is a lot of Feelies in the Parquet Courts sound, only a Feelies on steroids, like in “Borrowed Time,” which they played real fast like they were in a rush to get to the bathroom, and in another song so new–as guitarist Austin Brown told me afterwards–it doesn’t even have a title. As for “Stoned and Starving,” which was the night’s crowd favorite, it definitely had that Feelies vibe–only without all the jingly-jangle and sans the tambourine–along with a definite touch of The Modern Lovers in Savage’s vocals. It also featured a fierce instrumental interlude during which Savage bent over the amp to milk as much squealing feedback as he could out of his guitar. Parquet Courts then played the only new song I could get the title to (from Brown again), namely “She’s Rolling,” a slow burner boasting a big throbbing bass intro that turned into a methodical guitar workout.
“Master of My Craft,” the opening track to Light Up Gold, was my personal favorite, what with Savage’s talk/singing (“For-get about it!”), it’s cool guitar jam, and the way it ended abruptly with Savage snarling “Socrates died in the fuckin’ gutter!” Then there was “Yr No Stoner,” a very Talking Headsesque tune with its great line “Storm chasing hippies at a discount mall” and its squalls of feedback by Savage. “Light Up Gold II” was played at hypersonic speed, as was yet another new and nameless number that bordered on hardcore, with Savage screaming (very impolite for a nice Brooklyn boy) and everybody seemingly trying to play faster than everybody else.
They also played the mid-tempo “Tears O Plenty,” which featured staccato vocals about a “slackers’ conference at the buffet table” and lots of slightly out-of-kilter guitar interplay. Then threw in “Careers in Combat,” a speedy, over-in-a-blink protest song the gist of which was, once I get fired from this job for writing something really impolitic, I can always fall back on a career in the armed forces. “No Ideas,” a mid-tempo love song of sorts, was the only tune I wasn’t wild about, and if it weren’t for its great feedback-drenched guitar solo, I would petition for its immediate deletion from their set. As for “North Dakota,” it had all three guitar players singing and was really pretty in a dissonant way, and featured one very jarring (but wonderfully so) guitar workout.
Parquet Courts declined to play an encore, which I admire, because as Black Francis once declared, encores are the “most over-milked, watered-down bullshit I’ve ever seen.” Someday I’m going to start a band that plays nothing but encores–one song then leave the stage, another song then leave the stage, and so on. Oh, and we’ll play nothing but Cows’ covers like “Part My Konk” and “Pussy Is a Monarchy” and “Sexy Pee Story,” so we’re guaranteed to be truly insufferable.
Like I said before, after the show I corralled guitarist Austin Brown and put the question of influences to him. He’s baby-faced and looks like your perfect Eagle Scout, but he’s as dodgy as a Louisiana politician. “I don’t like to…” he hemmed, then fell back on that old pass-the-buck standby, “I think the audience should make up their own minds.” I pressed him, and even threatened to report him to his Eagle Scout troop leader, but it was no use. “Can I say you sound like everybody?” I finally asked out of total frustration. “Yes,” he answered happily. “We sound like everybody.” All in all it was probably the worst interview in rock history.
And so it went for Parquet Courts. As for my Nam buddy Dwayne, turns out he didn’t die after all. A couple of months later the two of us were smoking some Nam black and I brought up the chopper conversation. Not only did he not remember it he said, “Parquet Courts? What kind of a shit name for a band is that? The Jimi Hendrix Experience, now that’s a band name. Anyway, fuck parquet! I’ll take a nice Berber carpet any day.” I said, “I’m stoned and starving.” Dwayne said, “Eat some beans and motherfuckers, motherfucker.” Then he said, “Hey, where did I leave that M18 rocket launcher? I’m in the mood to vaporize a water buffalo.”