After Protomartyr featured heavily in our end of the year Best of lists, it was a no brainer to make the trip down with Chris T Popper to the 100 Club to catch the London date of their short UK tour.
First up though was The Rebel, aka Ben Wallers erstwhile frontman, guitarist, vocalist and songwriter for the band Country Teasers. It was our first experience of his arcane, surreal, sometimes offensive, often hilarious, and always provocative lyrics played over stumbling guitar and twisted, experimental electronics.
He is like a one man hybrid of the Residents and Syd Barrett – his opening cover of the Pogues’ classic The Old Main Drag, songs about homosexual swans, squalling noise collages, through to the skeletal riff of Please Ban Music, held an audience if not exactly enthralled then at least bemused for the entire set, which one suspects would please him greatly.
By contrast Protomartyr frontman Joe Casey takes the stage looking every inch the nondescript used car salesman, rather than any kind of punk rock lead singer. Looks though, as we know, can be deceptive and as the band launch into the needling riffs of opener Cowards Starve and his nihilistic baritone sweeps the room it is immediately obvious what makes the band such a force.
From here on in we are treated to the driving Blues Festival, the rolling, hypnotic wave of Pontiac 87, and a whole host more from last year’s excellent The Agent Intellect and its predecessor Under Color of Official Right. The pace is unrelenting, every last drop of intensity wrung from Greg Ahee’s guitar, while whiplash drumming and nagging, insistent baselines all combine to back up Casey’s fractured resignation that occasionally breaks out into howls of unbridled, frustrated rage.
And so we are carried on, Dope Cloud is all doomed majesty, The Hermit is brutal, whilst set closer Why Does It Shake sweeps all before it, a heaving, desolate, unrepentant musical landscape that offers no escape – not that we wanted any.
They were back for a two song encore, the almost, but not quite, jaunty proto-punk of Ain’t So Simple brings a little light relief before we finally finish as we started with Come & See and its opening verse:
“Have you heard the bad news?
We’ve been saved by both coasts
A bag of snakes with heads of gas
The complicated haircuts ride in on a white ass”
Two and bit minutes later and they’re gone, and we’re gone too. A Protomartyr gig is like a peep into the abyss, into a crushed future. It is a little bit thrilling, a little bit dangerous, and pretty much all consuming.
Catch them at your peril…