Tarpeian Rock

Protomartyr, Grave Babies, Unnatural Helpers at Black Lodge, Seattle | 20 May 2014

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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.

stream: Protomartyr – Come & See (from Under Color of Official Right on Hardly Art)

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Sourpatch & Joyride at Black Lodge

On my way into Black Lodge Saturday night I glanced at the newspaper box that displayed the latest issue of  CityArts magazine and saw Calvin Johnson on the cover. The chances of seeing Calvin on the cover of a magazine 20 years ago are slim, but that cover photo of Beat Happening from 1992 definitley takes me back. I didn’t live in the northwest then, I was in Morgantown, West Virginia going to college and spending most of my free time hanging out at my college radio station. Back then the pacific northwest and K records were a continent away and things I only read about. I remember trying to imagine what it must be like out here in this remote outpost.

Walking into the Black Lodge Saturday night, it could have been Saturday night any-year. The DIY space was hot and the stagnant air was filled with the scent of sweaty kids. It reminded me of the Dry House, the all-ages venue in Morgantown that I spent many an underage night at when I first arrived at university.  Probably not much different from what a DIY show looked and smelled like in Seattle two decades ago.

Sourpatch aren’t from Olympia or Seattle, but if this San Jose, California band existed in the early 90’s they could have easily  put out a record on Olympia’s K Records (they also remind me a little of the Blake Babies and could have been on Mammoth records, but Boston doesn’t really fit into this narrative). Those of you up on your history already know that another northern California band with a similar sound, Tiger Trap were on K at the time.  E = mc2 and all that, but just to make my time travel experience a little more palpable, as Sourpatch began their set, I glanced around the room and spotted Rose Melberg front and center. Sherman, set the WABAC machine for 1993.

It seems like I’m always bringing up the past when I write about Sourpatch. I don’t mean anything bad by it, in fact it’s a total compliment. Some bands try for an early 90’s indie sound and miss the mark. I think Sourpatch don’t even try, it just is what it is. They’re authentic and their sound is timeless at least to my ears. It jangles and rushes and couldn’t care less if it was 1992 or 2012.  Their second album Stagger and Fade is stronger than their debut and shows more diversity in their sound. Its songs stand out from one another but retain fuzzy and jangly friendliness.  It’s not a groundbreaking thing, but the smiles all around the room were an indication kids today don’t need groundbreaking, they need good songs and unbridled enthusiasm and Sourpatch delivered just that, switching instruments, harmonizing and generally having a good time.  Today, just like back then, for a kid out there in this big wide world there is always the hope and escape of a pop song and Sourpatch delivered exactly that to the hot sweaty room.

mp3: Soupatch – Stare at the Sun (from Stagger and Fade – LP cover by Tae Won Yu of Kikcing Giant)

Joyride who played right before Sourpatch are from San Francisco and obviously kindred spirits with Sourpatch. Sounding a-like, but coming from a slightly more power pop angle, but decidedly cute power pop.
stream: Joyride – Person Place or Thing