Review and Photography by John Bentley

It’s good to be back in The Ritz, one of Manchester’s best larger venues. The listed Grade II building has real character. It was built 1927 as a dancehall and even has a genuine sprung dance floor. It’s been hosting rock gigs since the 1960s and has seen performances by many now legendary acts including The Beatles, REM, The Stone Roses, Magazine, The Smiths and The Arctic Monkeys. Tonight we add Parquet Courts to that list.

Parquet Courts, O2 Ritz Manchester

This evening the Ritz is sold-out, as Parquet Courts move up to bigger and bigger venues. Taking to the stage in darkness the band stand in shadow, guitars raised, like predator animals waiting to strike: then, without further warning, they are animated into the racket that is ‘Total Football’, from their latest album ‘Wide Awake!’ The song has a varying pace and swings between a raging vocal from Andrew Savage and more sedate chugging guitars. A great opener.

When I last saw the band in Montreal, Canada, earlier this year there was joyous crowd surfing throughout: hardly surprising, as Parquet Courts music and stage antics do get the adrenalin flowing and induce moshing. However, tonight there is a sign on the wall warning that crowd surfers will be ‘removed from the venue’. They seemed to have no problem with the surfers in Montreal, but over here crowd surfing mostly seems to be regarded as a threat to order or safety.

Parquet Courts, O2 Ritz Manchester

Parquet Courts, O2 Ritz Manchester

At the time of their first couple of albums the talk was that Parquet Courts sounded a bit like Pavement and other off-kilter punk-inspired ‘slacker’ guitar bands of that era. But no more – they now just sound like Parquet Courts and there are new bands appearing that in turn sound a bit like Parquet Courts. The ensemble certainly now have many admirers, including one Iggy Pop.

The set is varied and well-paced, with a hefty chunk of material from the excellent new Danger Mouse-produced album, ‘Wide Awake!’, along with old favourites like ‘Dust’, ‘Dear Ramona’, Master of My Craft’ and ‘Borrowed Time’. The new songs like ‘Almost Had to Start a Fight / In and Out of Patience’ and ‘Freebird II’ really shine through in performance.

Parquet Courts, O2 Ritz Manchester

Parquet Courts are not afraid to experiment and diverge from what might be expected of them. For example, ‘Back to Earth’ seems a fairly conventional and slow-paced song by their standards: it is the one song in the set that seems to flag a bit, but it’s part of the variety. Meanwhile new album title track ‘Wide Awake’ is a really great bit of toe-tapping funk of the sort you might expect Chic to play. Parquet Courts certainly balance their basic DIY punk instinct with other genre influences and bring musical breadth and innovation to their performance.

Lyrically they aren’t afraid to make stinging social / political comment either, as in ‘Before the Water Gets Too High’ (“Add up the bribes you take / And know time can’t be bought / By the profits that you make / Before the Water Gets Too High”). There’s a fair bit of banter with the crowd about what to play and they admire the punters’ knowledge of the Parquet Courts back catalogue.

Parquet Courts, O2 Ritz Manchester

Parquet Courts, O2 Ritz Manchester

One of the highlights of the evening is ‘One Man One City’. With vocal duties taken by Austin Brown, the song has really developed in live performance from the original album version. It has become an extended showpiece, starting as a rhythmic percussive groove and expanding into an absorbing twin-guitar work-out reminiscent of Television in their Marquee Moon magnificence, with echoes of The Velvet Underground thrown in. After seeing them play ‘One Man One City’ in Montreal I was really looking forward to this moment, although I have to say that the awe-inspiring Canadian performance topped the one tonight.

Parquet Courts finish with a fast and brief rendition of old favourite ‘Light Up Gold II’ and, with a thanks, they leave the stage. The band don’t do encores or social media. This is now the fourth time I’ve seen the Parquet Courts: they put so much physical and emotional energy and commitment into their gigs and there’s no doubt that live they just seem to get better and better.

Parquet Courts, O2 Ritz Manchester

Parquet Courts, O2 Ritz Manchester

From Galway, support band Music City provide a spritely 25 minute opening set of melodic song-based indie rock. At times sounding pleasantly like Teenage Fanclub, they have strong song structures and some good guitar breaks and finish with their latest single ‘Pretty Feelings’.

Music City, O2 Ritz Manchester

Setlist: Total Football; Dust; Almost Had to Start a Fight / In and Out of Patience; Freebird II; Before the Water Gets Too High; Today Your Love, Tomorrow the World (Ramones cover); Dear Ramona; Master of My Craft; Borrowed Time; Donuts Only; Wide Awake; Psycho Structures; Back to Earth; Tenderness; Normalization; Mardi Gras Beads; Bodies Made Of; Black and White; Vienna II; One Man One City; Light Up Gold II.

 

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