Tarpeian Rock

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.

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

proto_setlist - Copyproto2

Blank Dogs At the Lo-Fi

Blank Dogs, Cosmetics, and Grave Babies at Lo-Fi, Seattle | 17 April 2010

With bands that release as many records as Blank Dogs do, you kind of feel like you see them grow up right before you eyes. They are the kind of band that do not sit around mulling over whether or not to release something.  My guess is that if they record it, they release it.  Early songs saw Blank Dogs firmly in the difficult, dissonant category.  Their songs tended to be un-melodic, poorly recorded affairs that only a mother could love.  Since those early days the band, or at least top Dog Mike Sniper, has continued to evolve and refine its sound.  Last year’s double album Under the Under had a decidedly friendlier sheen to it with some of the rougher edges smoothed and melodies coming to the forefront.

Blank Dogs continue to evolve, their newest 12″ Phrases sees them going for an early 80’s Mute and Factory sound and for the most part succeeding.  I wondered how serious they were about this somewhat new direction.  Was it a one off thing or the general progression of the band?  If last night’s gig at the Lo-Fi is any indicator, they seem committed to sounding like early Depeche Mode and Movement era New Order, but on their own terms.  The three piece set up contained a rig of wires and nobs controlled by Craig Mileski, Pamela Garavano-Coolbaugha on keyboard and second guitar and Sniper on guitar and vocals.  Last year, they played the Funhouse with a full guitar-bass-drums set up and I came away disappointed.  Last night I was fully prepared to be disappointed again when I saw the lack of drummer and bassist, but I ended up coming away more than a little bit impressed.  The songs stood out, and the strong pre-recorded beats provided the scaffolding on which Sniper and Garavano could overlay their Bernard Sumner style guitars.  Sniper’s vocals have come a way to being more captivating.  He can still at times sound monotonic, but last night he came through loud and clear delivering the goods more often than not with minimal vocal distortion.  Sniper and his Blank Dogs will probably be taking their licks for this new more synthy direction, but I like it, and the bobbing heads at the Lo-Fi appeared to dig it as well.

mp3: Blank Dogs – Heart and Depression (from the Phrases EP)

Order up a copy of the Phrases EP over at Captured Tracks.

Locals Grave Babies opened with their dark, reverb-heavy goth and an annoying guy in a trench coat dancing on stage. Kind of like Fields Of The Nephilim with a Bez. Vancouver’s Cosmetics, also on Sniper’s Captured Tracks label were ok, but I wasn’t really feeling their neo-goth thing.  Granted, they were plagued by bad sound that forced the singer to stand off stage to hear here vocals.