4th May | Thekla
Photos: Rowan Allen
Darkness slowly permeates through Thekla, signalling the arrival of Detroit’s enigmatic Protomartyr. A white noise flows through the venue. Industrial feedback welcomes the four-piece to the stage as they immediately throw themselves into ‘My Children,’ one of the group’s most eviscerating and intense new tracks that has immediately had a positive impact on their live performance.
What follows to a neutral is perhaps an hour’s worth of aggravated, yet encompassing post-punk from the one of the genre’s leading exponents. Fans of the group get a sermon, led by a man who to more and more listeners is becoming an intelligent and poetic voice. Joe Casey is perhaps able to make sense of the disbelieving state we currently live in, whether intentionally or otherwise.
This distorted introduction belies a stark sense of clarity that the group possess. While the show is vociferous and uncompromisingly intense, Protomartyr possess this surprising subtlety that lets in a little light for the instrumentation to shine. The emotion that Greg Ahee’s guitar lines evoke can be foreboding in one moment and heart-rending in the next. Scott Davidson’s bass guitar packs a colossal thump with each pounding note.
They harness various tempos. There is room for musical experimentation and even melodic accompaniment. ‘Don’t Go To Anacita,’ from latest album, Relatives In Descent, is perhaps the strongest example of such expression. The solemn chorus that Casey bellows with the crowd perhaps shouldn’t feel as ecstatic as it does, but you can’t help but be swept up in the exasperated energy of such a song.
The band are a jovial bunch, interacting with the crowd as bass amp issues lead to a break in their performance. For how despairing the mood of their music can be, it’s nice to see the group express their true personality. Whereas some may zone into the despair of such themes, Protomartyr are realists; they live within the moment and don’t play into the faux world of forced presentation.
The sound issues could hamper or disrupt the flow of a set, but if anything it spurs Protomartyr to play with even more focus. Their set rolls at a searing pace. Before the feedback of the guitar has gently rested, the drummer has signalled for the next song. The desire to immerse the audience through constant exposure works completely to their advantage.
Their music possesses a different aesthetic live – something more essential, tangible, perhaps somehow even more immediate in its accessibility. There is a simple foundation to the band, a primal and instinctive abrasiveness upon which they layer melody. The intricacies of Casey’s lyrics may perhaps be lost to an unknowing listener, especially within the intense bellow of his delivery, yet he remains an assured leader. He’s a mixture of contempt and composure as he swigs from one beer to the next, the beer flowing as much as his deft lyrical delivery.
Tonight proves that Protomartyr are a group you can both embrace in the very moment, and appreciate even more with time and understanding.