Protomartyr’s Dystopic Disillusionment and Punk

Protomartyr. Photo Natalia Kalicki. Protomartyr. Photo Natalia Kalicki.

One of the many encounters to give thanks for this turkey-turbulent October 12th took place at Le PDB Ritz. Protomartyr headlined with support from Growwing Pains and impromptu guest Fred Thomas. Fred, originally from Michigan, began with a ‘short and not so sweet’ solo set, the focus of which can be difficult to pull off. His ballad blend of The Mountain Goats’ energetic guitar work and the confessional lyric of a Conor Oberst (Bright Eyes) was sincere and pent-up, often concerning interpersonal relationships, and well played. He kept us laughing with introductory jabs: ‘This song is called bedbugs, it’s about NYC.’ Best keep track of this guy, because Fred is going places. Second to the stage was Growing Pains, a blurry surf-rock ensemble. They offered relief with a fuzzy drawl and pop-rock ambience, and the audience responded agreeably.

Protomartyr was greeted by rambunction. Reminiscent to the pulse of Joy Division, the intonations of She Wants Revenge, the edge of Mclusky, and the rusty low-fi of post-punk Descendants, Detroit’s Protomartyr delivered a succinct set of mostly new singles from their latest album, Agent Intellect.

Known for a grim, dystopically charged disposition, the art of no-nonsense enjoys a Punk-with-a-capital-P resurgence. If Protomartyr is punk, they also defy parts of the tradition by controlling the output, and by injecting disillusionment where they are also enraged. They win younger hearts with an alternative angle: Unlike other bands in their stream, they don’t carry the appearance and appeal of the young and the hip. Bassist Scott Davidson has the mermaid hair and black armor of a metal head. Guitarist Greg Ahee has significant geek appeal, his white t-shirt labeled I ‘ear’ ‘trumpet’. The drummer Alex Leonard could be qualified as jeans and button up norm core. This is refreshing, category bending goodness.

More significantly, it is content that works to express social disbelief shared by the audience, in this case, a collection of alternatively dressed bodies. It could also mean the band could care less about image, which is also a punk sentiment. Then there is the bark of front man Joe Casey, who looks like he quit a derelict office just minutes ago. He cuts through deliberate sound of guitar base and drum with flat, potent vocals. Casey’s suit is a bit crumpled, the band humbling. The grim proclamation ‘It’s not gunna save you man,’ is a chant that dissolves in an accelerated beat. From Why Does It Shake, Casey groans, ‘False happiness is on the rise, see the victims pile high, in a room, without a roof / Sharp mind eternal youth, I’ll be the first to never die.’ Did I mention the literary prowess of their lyric? It’s there, sarcastic nuance for truth.

The performance was transfixing in a way that listening to albums at home can’t be. Nor are there moments in the privacy of one’s house where Casey could comment on upcoming elections, with a stray response to ‘Vote Trump!’ The passion is evident, unedited, the fighting ring of their music visually stimulating. Protomartyr was petitioned for an encore.

Protomartyr performed on Monday October 12 at Bar Le Ritz PBD.