Art rock four-piece Parquet Courts fills Levon Helm Studios with an array of intoxicating tunes.
Just before the hippie village in Woodstock lies a road that diverges to the right and goes down for miles. Tucked into the right side is a mailbox that says “601,” nonchalantly signifying Levon Helm Studios, where art punk Parquet Courts quartet gathered music lovers of all ages to party on Friday night.
The hipsters, punks, and older folk with an affinity for nostalgia were all forced to abide to the strict studio rules, which were indicated both by vague duct tape on floors and miserable-looking security guards. The deal was: everyone who had seats would sit in the fold-outs scattered into rows, everyone who has standing must either idle on the balconies or be stuffed into the corners on floor-level. No lingering elsewhere.
So, when the ardent band embarked on their cosmic repertoire, much like a psychedelic trip, it was a challenge to stay in place. In my corner, my boyfriend and I bobbed our bodies along with a few other rockers under restraint. Under the trance of taut beats and Austin Brown’s theatrical delivery of witty lyrics like, “Thread count – high / Commissions – high / Hourly rates – high / A minute of your time? / Forget about it,” fans headbanged in their chairs, mimicked guitar solos with quick fingers, swayed as they stood, everyone raging in place and singing along. The punk ambiance was fighting its way through the rules and restrictions, especially with Parquet Courts yelling, headbanging, and jumping, letting us live vicariously through their violent moves of untrammelled passion. Things got even harder when the band ended “Master Of My Craft” on a chaotic guitar solo that led straight into its counterpart on the album, “Borrowed Time,” a transition that felt so very complete and earned an abundance of approving screams. The punk energy manifested further and further during the deep cuts from the Light Up Gold era, it felt sacrilegious not to pit when A. Savage yelled the whole of “Donuts Only,” a tireless track about his home state Texas and all of its weirdness.
Acknowledging the strange nature of seats at a Parquet Courts concert, Brown permitted fans in seats to stand, noticeably bothering the older men serving as security guards. Slowly, one individual stood up with an unapologetic grin. Then, another. It wasn’t until they launched into another song that more fans joined in. However, during the widely-appreciated “Wide Awake,” the vibe morphed into something of a homely, carefree family reunion. The dancing wasn’t headbanging — it was the kind of dancing you see at graduation parties. Women in their twenties jumped up and down while twisting their arms and hands in a desperate attempt at abstract expression, a man in his fifties shook his hands to the beat as he sat with his wife in their seats, and the girl in front of me swayed her body up and down and side to side as her indie boyfriend stood still with his arms crossed. This pattern continued throughout the unorthodox, more Western-sounding part of the repertoire, such as “Dust,” “Death Will Bring Change,” and “Mardi Gras Beads.” It was around this time that A. Savage made a statement that felt like a possible Parquet Courts lyric, “Thank you one-third of you for standing and thank you two-thirds for sitting down and keeping the social order or else it would be chaos.”
These Brooklyn-based guys have a grave tendency to musically digress and lose themselves in what my boyfriend refers to as a “jam session” and what I think of as a cosmic, chaotic detachment from reality. It can go on for a couple of minutes to as long as ten minutes, which makes you realize just how long ten minutes is, because it feels like so long that time ceases to exist throughout all spontaneous riffs and sporadic drum patterns. It had all the essence of a “jam session” — it was as if the crowd drifted away and the band were just four dudes fucking around with some instruments in a garage. Finally, when emerging out of the suspended state of sonic chaos, the old rhythm of the song they had been playing, “One Man No City,” returned and they continued as if that had never happened. Brown, microphone clutched in his hands and his body slouched forward and back in casual fervency.
Finishing off with the calmly existential “Pretty Machines,” Parquet Courts left everyone on a dejected note, “These days, I fear that my window is just a reflection.” Still, fans danced to the tragedy in the oasis of this Woodstock off-road cabin. Even with the physical restraints and fascist security guards plaguing the place with a sense of inescapable oppression, Woodstock finds its ways to let peace and love prevail, especially through music, and Parquet Courts worked as the perfect vessel with their cocktail of post-punk, Western, art rock, and funk.
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?© Vince McClellan