Earlier in the year, I was at a show, and at that show I overheard in the crowd a man telling his buddy that post-punk was dead. He said that the zeitgeist of post-punk was already hit years ago and every other band just copies what once was. However, if you were at the Protomartyr show last night at the Northside Yacht Club, you would probably disagree with this man. This show wasn’t your everyday, full-speed-ahead, punk show. This show lingered, had peaks and valleys, and could woo you with droning guitar riffs then sober you up with dreary lyricism.
This wasn’t a one-band effort though. Local punk favorites, Tweens started things off to an already packed house inside the cramped room of NSYC. They wasted no time into turning the knob to an 11, playing one of the loudest shows I’ve ever been to, so much so I had to grab a paper towel and stuff my ears to make some makeshift earplugs. They without a doubt give 110% in every show they play at, so much so that frontwoman Bridget Battle broke one of her guitar strings midway through the set. Tweens make so much noise though that, you really didn’t even notice the missing string for the remainder of the show. Their set consisted of steamrolling through their self-titled while playing plenty of unreleased and unheard material in-between. They are back in town next month October 16th at the 20th Century Theater where they will open up for Best Coast.
The second act to take the stage were Chicago-natives, Melkbelly. A somewhat off-putting name, I know, and the name matched the vibe of their set, but in the best possible way. Each song started out in a crafted disarray, hypnotizing you with pure noise. Each member seemed to be in their own little world. The lead guitarist was in a gaze for the majority of every song like his playing casted a spell on himself. The vocalist had a high-pitched, screeching voice that was only catered to their live shows. It was probably the only way you could hear her with all the noise each member was creating. Their show was not for the faint of heart, but if you enjoy that eerie sense of the unknown then I highly suggest seeing them. You won’t be disappointed.
It was only fitting that the main act, Protomartyr didn’t come on stage until around midnight. Like I said, this wasn’t your everyday punk show where everybody is out the door by 11pm. Protomartyr took their time getting on stage, but this was OK because it just gave you more time to process what just happened and what was about to come.
If you just listen to Protomartyr’s instrumentals at its surface, they sound like a really good post-punk band. However, what really gives these guys the cutting edge are the vocals. Vocalist, Joe Casey’s style reminds of you some of the post-punk greats such as Ian Curtis of Joy Division or Matt Berninger of The National, but there is something incredibly unique about his delivery. On stage, he looks out of place. He wears a suit coat and slacks like he just got off his 9-5 job while his slurred speech and slumped body language looks like he hates it. The hard-hitting guitar and skipping yet abrasive drum beat do their best at translating the pent up anger that Joe Casey is feeling deep inside. The show didn’t give off an eerie setting like predecessors, Melkbelly but you sensed that same feeling of oddly enjoyable uncomfort that you couldn’t look away from. The song that stood out was their new single, “A Perfect Understanding.” It’s a surreal, yet surprisingly true story about Elvis seeing Joseph Stalin shifting into the face of Jesus in the clouds. You had no clue why this story meant so much to Joe Casey and the rest of the band but they played that song so hard that you and everyone just stood there in awe as Casey was drunkenly yelling out the ominous line “She’s just trying to reach you!”
In closing, this show completely covered the spectrum of post-punk with each act putting each of their own spin the genre. It is pretty exciting seeing Protomartyr, a band that can fill venues twice the size of NSYC that up close. It was a show that rewarded close attention and careful listening if your ears weren’t already ringing. For Protomartyr their new album, Relatives In Descent comes out via Domino Records on September 29th.