Automatic & Parquet Courts @ the Wiltern [4/28/2022]
Photos by Garrett Kukier
If you happened into the dramatic, wooden doors of the Wiltern this past Thursday evening, you would have been almost overwhelmed by classic art deco walls and a sea of alternative haircuts on heads ranging from teens to people in their sixties. This is Automatic and Parquet Courts.
The crowd is slow to trickle in, and, at first, it’s hard to read where the energy of the night is going. Large patches of the floor remain empty well after doors, and the crowd seems to be sticking to their own cliques. Slowly, though, people begin to mingle.
Automatic comes on a little after 8 pm, appearing as a triptych in loosely coordinated outfits. Lola Dompè sits behind a drooping, silver drum set in a matching silver romper, Izzy Glaudini perches one foot on her keyboard amp in a psychedelic green blouse and black blazer that she will strip off halfway through the set, and Halle Gaines plucks at her bass in a skirt and t-shirt combo that would have gone viral on 2013 Tumblr. As Gaines begins to energize the audience with a driving, repetitive bassline, Glaudini greets the band’s hometown. It’s their last stop on tour with Parquet Courts and they’re excited for their homecoming.
The set begins with “New Beginning,” a single that the group dropped earlier this year. From what I can see in the pit, the audience slowly begins to come to life, with heads bobbing and feet tapping. It’s hard to resist the hypnotic, steady drumbeat, the pocket in which the band sits tightly. I hear the person next to me say “Wow, they look like high schoolers.” It’s hard to tell whether this is a compliment or derision, but it doesn’t matter; the night is underway, and the tone is set for a truly exciting show.
Throughout the set, Automatic’s krautrock, synth punk, disco, and Byrnian influences become clear. They play most of their latest album, Signal, which is punctuated by electronic samples, sweeping synths, and popping basslines that Gaines plays casually while sipping from a beer. Besides the beer, it becomes abundantly clear that these are not high schoolers; their sound is fully developed and thoughtful. Even with minimal instrumentation, Automatic has a strong hold on the audience. During “Automaton,” Glaudini brandishes a maraca at the audience as she showwomans around the stage. She and Dompè trade off leading vocals during “Strange Conversations” and banter with the audience about their recent tour experiences. During the band’s final song, “Looking Outside for the Word on the Scene,” Dompè brings her SPD-X out from behind the kit. With a mic in one hand, she sets off sample after sample like a clock that emits only sounds from the arcade game Astro Blaster. They leave the stage to rousing cheers. Much of the audience had come into the show without knowing much of Automatic’s work, but it’s clear that many have been converted into fans over the past hour.
Half an hour later, the lights dim again, and four men walk casually on stage to a set of guitars, an elaborate Latin percussion arrangement, a drum set, and a bass. Driving bass and drums return to the concert hall, a continuation of the theme from Automatic’s opening set. Their opening number, “Application/Apparatus” from the group’s latest release Sympathy for Life, builds for nearly two minutes as the audience cheers, teases, and dances around to the flashing stage lights.
In contrast to Automatic’s set, it becomes immediately clear that Parquet Courts has had ample time to mature; the best way I can put it is that their sound is a little more focused and a little less youthful. Andrew Savage (vocals, guitar), Austin Brown (vocals, guitar, keyboard), Sean Yeaton (bass, vocals), and Max Savage (drums), have been playing together since 2011 when the band came of age in Brooklyn. The influence of New York City is clear in their sound; as I listen to their set, I can’t help but think of other Big Apple natives like LCD Soundsystem, Devo, and The Talking Heads. All of this is to say that they immediately fill the performance space with something that hasn’t been heard or felt yet tonight.
A mosh begins to break out during the band’s second song, “Human Performance,” from the 2016 album by the same name. It’s slow to build, starting from the clearly youngest section of the pit, but it slowly spreads like water on a tablecloth throughout “Dust” and “Almost Had to Start a Fight / In and Out of Patience.” I can’t help but be drawn into it. Like ships passing in a chaotic, stormy night, I catch glimpses of people with whom I went to high school—they were always the hesh kids, and for a moment it’s hard to believe that we’re at the same show. As we stomp and toss each other around, we chant back to Savage “Can’t someone tell me the reason? / I’m in the chaos dimension / Trapped in a brutal invention.” It’s a catharsis from a lively audience who could not be more excited to be here.
Parquet Courts proves throughout their set that they know how to work an audience. They cool the mosh down with slower songs like “Marathon of Anger” and “Plant Life,” but heat them up again with the brilliant Cuban percussion influences in “Wide Awake!” Guitarist Brown and bassist Yeaton do all the talking throughout the night. While Brown makes jokes about Coltrane, Yeaton starts a call-and-response bit to which he will return to repeatedly. I find Brown’s Warhol-esque haircut a bit amusing, especially as he dons shining plastic beads in his orange turtleneck to play the band’s hit, “Mardi Gras Beads.” So far, it’s a well-paced show, over which fans old and new can unite. Yeaton dedicates their penultimate song, “Stoned and Starving,” to fans in the audience who have been with them since their first LA show in 2013. The pit responds by crowd-surfing a man in a wheelchair (ostensibly consensually) to the barricade. He is lowered to the ground as the crowd pulls out lighters and cell phone flashlights to wave during the final number, “Pulcinella.” Yeaton lingers on stage, even after his bandmates have exited into the wings for the night, but it soon becomes clear that the night has come to an end.
While the energy during their performance was truly incredible, some fans were left mildly disappointed when the night ended without an encore, and without the band playing many of their biggest hits. I heard a few casual listeners grumbling about not hearing “Tenderness” or “Watching Stranger Smile” as I walked back to my car from the venue. But, in their defense, they wouldn’t be Parquet Courts if they didn’t do their own thing, completely unabashedly.
One of the things that intrigued me the most about the night was the pairing of Automatic with Parquet Courts. While occupying a similar genre niche and using similar sonic textures and instrumentation, there is an obvious energy shift between the younger girl band coming from LA, and the group of older men from the East coast. It’s not that one is better or worse than the other, but I took this as a hopeful sign that the industry is headed towards being more representative of young femme people in a historically masculine punk scene. Parquet Courts remain relevant by staying in touch with a deeply loyal audience, but they seem aware of the changing dynamics in their genre. Their lyrics have always been inherently political, and it’s a bit patronizing to be lecturing their audience on dismantling misogyny and patriarchy. The pessimist in me thinks that the group might just be disillusioned by their fame and riding on the coattails of 2010s glory, but the optimist in me sees them amplifying the work of the new faces of post-punk and working to actualise the political environment about which they wax poetic.
Between the diversity of sounds heard that night, the dichotomous performances by the two bands, and the spread of ages and genders in the audience, one thing has become clear. There is room for all of us at this show—that’s just part of this Human Performance.