Parquet Courts, Destruction Unit, Dogbreth Crescent Ballroom 1/20/2014
Those looking for the through line connecting Brooklyn-by-way-of-Texas post-punkers Parquet Courts to Dogbreth and Destruction Unit, the two Phoenix bands they shared the Crescent Ballroom stage with Monday night, might look to the impassioned yet cynical refrain of the Courts' "Master of My Craft."
"Ya know Socrates died in the fuckin' gutter!"
Monday night's bill made a good case for the pliability of the term "punk." The Courts' sound owes to tightly wound acts like The Fall or Wire; Dogbreth recalls the earnest pop punk of Superchunk or modern contemporaries Potty Mouth. Destruction Unit fits in as well with sludgy acts like Eyehategod as they do Parquet Courts (their recent tour dates have found them sharing stages with both), with their heady blend of kosmische mysticism and blunted psychedelic hard rock.
These three bands don't sound like each other but felt tremendously simpatico, and that aforementioned lyric, which is featured near the start of Parquet Court's fantastic 2012 LP, Light Up Gold, is indicative of all three bands' strengths. It's literate, it's brutal, it's funny.
The performances were, too.
Veterans of Phoenix's thriving all-ages scene, Dogbreth took the stage before much of the crowd had materialized, save for the under-21 section, which had arrived in full force and enthusiastically received the quartet's tightly coiled guitar rock. They played songs from their excellent Plan-It-X Records LP, Sentimental Health, tossing in new creations -- one without a title just yet -- and older material, like "Black Coffee," from the band's 2011 album, Chookie, (one of my favorite local releases of that year).
Dogbreth's lyrics, most often sung by guitarist Tristan Jemsek (though bassist Erin Caldwell and guitarist Tyler Broderick both took great turns at the mic), are direct and affecting. Pop punk isn't thought of as a poet's genre, but with simply stated but vivid lines like "On those nights when a song could make me act so weird/Those nights when the moon seemed like it was all ears" they share kinship with the greats, like the Mr. T Experience.
Destruction Unit had a whirlwind 2013, with a marathon SxSW itinerary, tours of Europe, and a litany of releases, including Void and their Sacred Bones debut Deep Trip, which found its way on to plenty of high profile year-end lists. Taking the stage with the Ascetic House crest projected behind them, Destruction Unit's set was uncompromisingly loud.
"Frontman" Ryan Rousseau, who happened to be stationed far stage right, howled out songs like "Bumpy Road" while buried under waves of manipulated guitar. Guitarist Nick Nappa did his best to keep his Stratocaster (or effects pedals) hoisted above his head for most of the set, while drummer Andrew Flores and bassist Rusty Rousseau did their own heavy lifting, providing a grounding that had zealous fans moshing while much of the crowd stood dazed.
The crowd -- particularly the kids fenced off away from the bar -- didn't let up for Parquet Courts. I'm sure there's been stage-diving at the Crescent in the past, but I hadn't seen it before last night.
"What is this, the under-21 section?" guitarist/vocalist Andrew Savage asked gesturing to the all-ages section. "I can tell. You're having the most fun."
"Look what you have to look forward to," he added, deadpan. The drinkers in the audience livened up as the band performed new material, like the lumbering "She's Rollin'" before pushing into tracks from Light Up Gold. The new stuff found the band stretching out in intriguing directions, but the shift into tighter compositions turned up the crowd's intensity.
Fill-in drummer Greg Rutheford (sitting in for Max Savage) played with relentless economy, locked in tightly with bassist Sean Yeaton (who curiously head-bangs in half-time). Savage and guitarist Austin Brown traded off on vocals, blasting through their best songs: "Master of My Craft," "Careers in Combat," "Yr No Stoner," and "Borrowed Time."
Finishing with a decimating "Sunbathing Animal" (all amplifiers set to "stun"), the band evacuated the stage. The crowd waited for a return, perhaps to hear the band's "hit" song, "Stoned and Starving," only to see the house lights come up. It's for the best: Punk, in all its mutations, is best without encores.
Last Night: Parquet Courts, Destruction Unit, Dogbreth at Crescent Ballroom
The Crowd: Co-ed, varying in age (saw a few old school types in addition to the leather jacketed-youth, a very good thing) and happy to be there. Especially that under-21 section.
Overheard in the Crowd: "Why didn't they play 'Stoned and Starving?' That's the best song on the album." (It isn't.)
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The Award for Greatest All-Time Musical Transition: Goes to the sound man at Crescent, for cranking up the Jackson 5's "Give Me One More Chance" up in the mix as Destruction Unit finished their sonic assault. See also: