On the balmy night of Wednesday, March 16, a gaggle of middle-aged hipsters (and plucky punk teens) descended upon Cleveland’s Agora Theater, eager mostly to just stand there and nurse their overpriced PBRs. By the time that Parquet Courts launched into their fourth song, “Almost Had To Start A Fight,” half of those beer cans were probably getting stomped on, knocked over, or crushed by the flurry of Vans and orthotic New Balances moshing on the floor. “If it stops,” blurted lead singer Andrew Savage in the midst of a pause, “I’m having an unshakeable nightmare.” As soon as guitarist Austin Brown cued the band back in, firing off an even more frenetic riff, the crowd lost its mind.
The Brooklyn-based quartet — quintet for a mid-show stretch where they needed another guy noodling on the synthesizer — was electric, flipping between their punk-rock roots and the groovy jam-band atmosphere of Sympathy For Life, the 2021 album they’re touring behind. While the opening act, Tuareg guitar hero Mdou Moctar, dazzled purely with his band’s technical prowess, the trio standing like well-dressed statues as they shredded their axes in regal, silvery robes, Parquet Courts went for something more visual. Adorned with a dazzling array of lights and effects, their show was drenched in color, dousing the band in kaleidoscopic hues, casting their larger-than-life silhouettes onto the stage’s backdrop.
Opening with “Application/Apparatus,” the centerpiece from Sympathy For Life, they seemed to relish in building up the song’s mechanical pulse, tightening and futzing with the drum machines before finally locking into that central motorik groove. As A. Savage snarled out the song’s droning, dystopian dialogue between a driver and the ride-share app on his phone, the band swelled behind him with increasingly explosive bursts of noise. Despite the song’s sheer propulsion, it stood apart from the danceable cuts bunched up around the middle of the setlist, tapping into something far more heady and cerebral.
Ignoring fan-favorite rippers like “Total Football” and “Tenderness,” Parquet Courts’ song selection often favored a more contemplative sound, a spell that the band often found themselves falling back into throughout the set. Whether they were riding the burbling synths of “Marathon of Anger,” which wouldn’t have sounded out of place on Talking Heads’ Speaking in Tongues, or floating atop Brown’s sublime guitar clouds on “Mardi Gras Beads,” the band seemed more inclined to lounge in their lush instrumentation — even if that meant closing their set on the lilting “Pulcinella,” which, while enjoyable on its own, felt far too drowsy a note to end on.
Still, because this was a Parquet Courts show, there was no shortage of music to headbang to. Following the acid-washed, Screamadelica-esque breakdown at the end of “Plant Life,” the band kicked right into the two-part title track from 2012’s Light Up Gold, promptly sending a wave of bodies crashing into each other as A. Savage and Brown sent their guitars into a thrashy squall. It only got better when they played that album’s opener, “Master of My Craft,” a few songs later. The song — a sardonic screed about the bootstraps mentality — was destined to be played live, and as soon as Brown started hollering about his thread-counts, commissions, staircases, and hourly rates (all high), the place went nuts. Could Parquet Courts still tear the house down, even on a tour for one of their mellowest albums yet? If you asked Brown, he’d probably call you a “fucking hippie” and tell you to “for-GET about it.”