Parquet Courts at the New Parish, by Kristin Cofer
Parquet Courts (photo: Kristin Cofer)

I’ve always been slightly hesitant to fully embrace the art-rock of Brooklyn-quartet Parquet Courts. Co-vocalists Austin Brown and Andrew Savage have sharp tongues but dull targets, and their air of disaffection can feel mockingly careless, as if to prove to themselves that they have nothing to prove. Which is a shame, because it’s apparent that these guys are serious about their craft — their songs are full of striking guitar tricks and endless momentum. It’s the kind of music I should love, but just haven’t been able to. The band doesn’t seem to want you to know they are trying — as if they were letting you in on a joke, but only as a defense mechanism in case you were already laughing.

The endless acclaim Parquet Courts has amassed over the past few years didn’t make it easier to like them. Part of my distaste for the band arose from a misplaced envy that they could have it both ways — writing stoner-rock but with New England academic stuffiness. They embodied the sound but not the ethos of garage rock, and it bothered me. They were “stoned and starving,” but I felt like they wearing that mentality as a badge of honor to fuel an aura of superiority.

On Friday night the band performed at Oakland’s The New Parish as part of Noise Pop’s final weekend. I decided to tag along to the show with a caravan of Parquet Courts-revering friends — all of whom had never seen the band prior, but have been waiting to do so for as long as I’ve known them. I was out of place; akin to the time I saw the midnight premiere of the final Harry Potter movie because my friends had an extra ticket. Then, as on Friday, I had interest in the event, but more because I was trying to understand the appeal of it. Parquet Courts weren’t my band — but, nonetheless, I was along for the ride.

The result? It didn’t take longer than half a song for me to feel like a complete fool.

Right out the gate I was proven I had sorely misjudged Parquet Courts. They jettisoned straight into a brief but hard-hitting take on “No No No!” off of last-year’s experimental Monastic Living, a minute-and-a-half sledgehammer that broke down any residual walls of bias I held against the band. Savage’s howl is heart-stopping, and at his most volatile it’s like watching someone retch the air out of their lungs. My first of three major takeaways of the evening was that Parquet Courts is anything but casually detached, as I had once thought — if anything, they were abrasively invested.

The crowd zealously matched Savage’s passion, with many seeming to mosh not necessarily because they were expected to, but because they felt inspired to. Only once did the band risk losing the audience when a distasteful joke about the drought elicited a long stream of severe booing. But after jumping into the one-two punch of “Master of My Craft” straight into “Borrowed Time,” it seemed as if all was instantly forgiven. Which explains my second conclusion of the night: that Parquet Courts thoroughly understands dynamics. The sequencing of the set was perfect, with the flow of music drawing in an out of various tempos and styles. Not once did I lose interest from what was being created on stage.

For example, they followed the pounding “No No No!” with the more moderate “Dust,” the lead single from their latest project Human Performance, out on April 8th through Rough Trade. It’s a wicked track — neurotic and nasty and filled with these turn-taking keyboard and guitar riffs that add an angular frustration to the pervasive sense of suffocation lyrically established. The song slowly evolved into an all-enveloping feedback jam that was claustrophobic in the most kickass way. It was an early highlight, and led to my third conclusion that the band’s best work is still ahead of them.

In fact, although crowd-pleasers such as “Black and White” and “Stoned and Starving” were entertainingly lively (and absolutely ruined my shoes in the mosh pit), they felt perfunctory in comparison to the best songs of the night, which all came from the upcoming album. New numbers such as “Berlin Got Blurry,” “Outside,” and “One Man No City” were enthusiastically received from the crowd, and for the first time I am now heavily excited for a Parquet Courts record to be released. I came away from the show equally as fervent about this band as my friends were upon walking in, realizing that I had previously failed to perceive the critical anger and energy that is their driving force. I completely misunderstood the point: of course Parquet Courts’ ethos aren’t in garage rock — they’re in punk.