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Protomartyr brings a unique energy and sound to the Metro Gallery

By DUBRAY KINNEY | September 14, 2017


LEVI MANCHAK/CC By 2.0 Detroit post-punk band Protomartyr played the Metro Gallery alongside Melkbelly and Baltimore band Big Mouth.

It took a while before the Metro Gallery filled up, but by the time the headliners came the place was packed. The majority of the people crowded around the front of the stage, eager to see the Detroit four-piece, Protomartyr play their latest show in Baltimore and perhaps even hear a few songs from their newest LP, Relatives in Descent, which is due to be released at the end of this month.

The show took place last Thursday and featured two openers: Baltimore-based punk band Big Mouth (check out their 2013 album, Sound, on Bandcamp) and noise-rock band Melkbelly.

Interestingly, Melkbelly, the second opener, played a better set than Protomartyr. Their setup created a noise-filled atmosphere that almost felt “shoegazey” at points due to the wall of sound.

The performance gave off a similar vibe to some of their contemporaries like Kowloon Walled City, Pile and perhaps even a noisier Sheer Mag.

Melkbelly is a Chicago band signed to Wax Nine Records, which is under the larger indie powerhouse Carpark Records. Melkbelly have currently released a single EP titled Pennsylvania (available on streaming services), and they’re preparing to release a second EP, Nothing Valley, on Oct. 13.

The band played a few songs from the new EP at their performance including the lead single, “Kid Kreative.”

Protomartyr is known for their unique brand of post-punk, driven by what is usually either a rapid-fire drumbeat or building rhythm and is anchored by the often sarcastic wit of the band’s vocalist Joe Casey. Who is usually wearing a suit during the band’s performances.

Protomartyr’s 2014 album Under Color of Official Right featured songs like “Ain’t So Simple” and “Trust Me Billy” and helped usher them into the post-punk limelight.

The album also pushed them to the forefront of the numerous post-punk bands that emerged around 2014 such as Eagulls, Ought, Parquet Courts and Viet Cong (who recently changed their name to Preoccupations).

After two hours of openers, Protomartyr hit the stage with little fanfare, skipping any sort of introduction and going right into their first few songs. In between instrumental breaks and lyrics, Casey took long gulps from cans of beer while grasping at his face with his idle hand.

These first three or so songs included “Ain’t So Simple.” In their performance of that song, one saw Protomartyr in their element. Their rendition of the track showcased not only the musical talent of the band — which is great — but also some of their unique stage mannerisms.

For example, lead singer Joe Casey would point at himself and then his three bandmates behind him with a relaxed pose as he intoned the song’s opening lines, “Hello there, you are all now witnesses, to a sort of confrontation between me and these three men.”

Protomartyr tore through a set of 10 or more songs, drawing from each of their major releases, as well as the new singles from Relatives in Descent, “A Private Understanding” and “My Children.” Their set was honestly one of the better ones I’ve heard at a concert in the past few years, in part due to the stage presence of Casey.

His sardonic remarks (he mentioned towards the end of his set that the song they were about to perform would be forgotten, much like everything else) and the driving yet haunting rhythms that the band conjured up combined to create a memorable live experience.

The sounds urged you to nod your head while also stirring something deep within. The cheers of the audience at the end of the band’s set brought Protomartyr back out to perform a two song encore before they wrapped it all up for the night.

The band’s music came across as both vulnerable and frantic, the loud echoing guitar riffs crunching over the highly erratic drumming that felt more akin to the drum-styles of progressive metal with the lead singer’s vocals being barely audible, either quiet whispers over the screeching guitars or shouts that fell in line with the guitars.

The mixture of Protomartyr, Melkbelly and Big Mouth — arranged by Baltimore’s own Unregistered Nurse Booking — proved to be one of the best shows of the year for Baltimore. Keep an eye on the scene to see what Unregistered Nurse has next.

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