Protomartyr, Grave Babies, Unnatural Helpers at Black Lodge, Seattle | 20 May 2014
Detroit post punks Protomartyr played the Black Lodge in Seattle Tuesday night. This was their third time in Seattle, but only the first time I had the pleasure of seeing them. After sold out singles and the band’s debut album No Passion All Technique selling out of multiple pressings on Urinal Cake records, the band have followed it up with Under Color of Official Right on Hardly Art. Where Techniques was a lo-fi punk record, the new record keeps the punk attitude and intelligence while adding in better songs and better sound.
Label mates and localites Unnatural Helpers and Grave Babies began the evening’s intensities with two quality if workman-like sets. When the time came for Protomartyr, there was no big entrance or formality for the band, they merely stopped setting up and started rocking. No pomp, no circumstance, just the goods. In Protomartyr’s case the goods are frontman Joe Casey barking over his very good band. The solid rhythm section (besides being really good, drummer Alex Leonard was wearing a Spray Paint shirt) laid down the law which left Casey and guitarist Greg Ahee to fill in the picture with their riffs and rants.
Protomartyr write gutter anthems. They write about the underbelly of society and coming from Detroit they have first hand knowledge of the downtrodden. Detroit and Detroit rock is in their veins. They employ the abrasive qualities of the Stooges, MC5 and Tyvek (Kevin Boyer was the original Protomartyr bassist) while incorporating the likes of the Fall, Girls Against Boys and Nick Cave into their brew. Their first record was recorded on the cheap while their new one has a noticeably better budget. Live they veer toward the budget sound of the first record but that rawness keeps it vital. I like how Casey dresses in a double breasted blazer and a button up shirt but sings like he’s dressed in rags. The juxtaposition catches your attention and you wonder why this mad man is dressed up. Besides looking quite good, Casey is the kind of songwriter that will have you looking stuff up in your encyclopedia. He’s smart, he dresses up and he rocks. I also loved Ahee’s endlessly inventive guitar. Casey gets a lot of attention for his lyrichs, but Ahee’s guitar really took these songs to the next level beyond just another garage band.
Before the show I had heard from numerous people about how Protomartyr were a jaw-droppingly good live band. They did nothing to make me think otherwise. My only complaint would be that Casey’s vocals weren’t as clear as the recorded songs, but that’s what the album is for.