November 26, 2018 at Brighton Music Hall
The last time I saw Protomartyr, they were the headliner for a concert John Maus was opening at the Middle East– and it was pretty clear that most people had come for Maus when they all piled out of the venue after his set. I’ll admit I was one of them, but I stayed out of principle. I ended up really enjoying Protomartyr, even though their singer, Joe Casey, seemed so drunk and uninterested that I literally thought he was just some random guy from the crowd who wandered onto the stage until he actually started singing. This time, this was not the case– Casey seemed more self-assured, maybe, and seemed to have more focused energy as a frontman, instead of appearing as a bored drunkard.
They opened up the night with ‘My Children’ and launched into ‘Wheel of Fortune’ and ‘Windsor Hum’ after, choosing to start with songs from their more recent works– 2017’s Relatives in Descent, their most recent album, and 2018’s Consolation EP. I found their bassist to be my personal highlight of this show– the guitar was a little too drowned out in reverb and whammy for my tastes, but the bass was clear as day and carried the rhythm almost better than the drumming. Song highlights included ‘A Private Understanding,’ ‘Jumbo’s’ from their debut No Passion All Technique in 2013 (a bit of a deep cut!), and ‘Pontiac 87.’
Preoccupations, on the other hand, opened with ‘Newspaper Spoons,’ the first song off of their first album (and previous self-titled album, before the name change) Viet Cong. They played what are probably their most popular songs– ‘Continental Shelf’ and ‘Silhouettes’– within the first four songs of the set, which was an interesting choice, as it suggested that they were attempting to cater to their more lasting fans by getting the popular stuff out of the way. They made minor attempts to engage the audience, including singer Matt Flegel raising his beer up to the audience in an attempt to “cheers” with the venue. Flegel is consistently my top interest in seeing Preoccupations– his voice is always crisp and defined, and he’s carved out a very distinctive vocal style for himself in a genre that tends towards extreme homogeneity, both in sound and in demographic. Another highlight is their use of live synths by guitarist Scott Munro. When added to their other instrumentation, it added a sort of 80s goth rock element to it all; a testament to their desire not to lock themselves into any one sound.
The set lasted over an hour without the encore– an impressive amount of time. My only annoyance with the length was that the stage lights were on way too bright. Maybe my line of sight was too low and I needed to have worn heels (or brought a step stool), but by the end of the night, I felt like I’d just stared into the sun for an hour. Despite my burning eyes, the concert ended on a high note– each time I’ve seen Preoccupations they’ve played ‘Death,’ the 11-minute masterpiece of Viet Cong, as their final song. They didn’t disappoint this time, either: the combination of the song, their technical talent, and the years of practice they’ve had in playing it lead to an amazing finale for a band I hope I’ll keep being lucky enough to keep seeing.