Ten-dollar beers, rigid set times, and impersonal festival circuits: Modern music sometimes lacks spontaneity. Although Manhattan’s Webster Hall sold beers for eight bucks Thursday night, Parquet Courts—a group that nostalgically sang about “the last classic rock band’s last solid record” earlier this year—made live music thrilling again, rattling off a 24-song set that barely resembled 2014. People even kept their phones in their pockets.
Since rock fans rushed to praise New York’s early-aughts garage explosion—the one championed by Interpol, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and the Strokes—they’ve thought twice about preemptively labeling artists rock ‘n’ roll saviors. Did you listen to the solo records Karen O or Julian Casablancas put out this year? Those groups weren’t built for longevity.
With Parquet Courts, that rock savior mentality has started to creep back. The band has released two stellar records—2013’s Light Up Gold and this year’s Sunbathing Animal—as well as one under its barely-pseudonym Parkay Quarts, October’s Content Nausea. These 40 songs, clocking in at just under two hours, are a blend of squalling distortion, barreling power-punk, and slow-burning, Southern-fried rockabilly. With the precision of the Strokes and the looseness of the Stones, some have wondered if Parquet Courts are “the last great New York band.”
“Last”? Hopefully not. But at Webster Hall, Parquet Courts certainly lived up to the rest of the hype. Dual frontmen Andrew Savage and Austin Brown, buddies since attending Denton’s University of North Texas, alternated between singing and lead guitar. With poofy hair, and a short-sleeved, button-down shirt tucked into navy slacks, Savage played the nerd. Brown, with his bargain-bin sweater and long, blond hair, was Savage’s cool guy foil.
They have natural chemistry. “Uncast Shadow of a Southern Myth” doesn’t initially require Brown’s slide guitar ornamentation—so he lit a cigarette, popped a bottle of wine, and swigged and smoked until he balanced the still-smoldering butt in his strings to play his part.
Afterward, Brown observed the audience’s reaction: “If a bottle of wine gets about half the applause that a song gets… we could just sit up here and drink bottles of wine all night?”
Perhaps—but that would’ve been a shame. Parquet Courts slipped into a rootsy groove on Content Nausea tracks “Southern Myth” and “Pretty Machines,” bolstered by guest musicians on saxophones and a Hammond organ. They also decimated their signature frenetic cuts. “Ducking & Dodging” masterfully updated the Pixies’ loud-soft dynamic, while the raucous crowd boiled over during main set closer “Sunbathing Animal.”
In the past, the centerpiece of a Parquet Courts set was their best song, “Stoned & Starving,” which they’d morph into a wild guitar assault. They don’t play that track live anymore—it attracted too many “Joe College” types, says Savage—so the night’s crowning moment came mid-set, with two-minute rager “Borrowed Time.” It’s an infectious cut that could fit equally well in a punk club or a car commercial, despite its melancholy core. “It seems these days I’m captive in this borrowed time,” Savage sings, nailing youthful malaise.
Like many great New York bands, Parquet Courts understand the existential troubles associated with young, urban living. Maybe self-awareness explains Savage’s early warning not to “do the Evangelical hand in the air” because it “bummed him out.” But if Parquet Courts keep turning in performances like Thursday’s, he should get used to that type of devotion.