The minute I found out Parquet Courts‚ a group behind one of my favorite albums from this year‚ and Woods‚ a group behind one of my favorite albums from last year‚ would be teaming up for a show in my hometown of Portland‚ I was simultaneously thrilled and surprised. Sure‚ both bands call Brooklyn home‚ and both bands have earned reputations for taking tightly focused studio recordings and turning them into improvisational behemoths onstage‚ but obvious similarities end there. I stopped caring when I walked into an already packed‚ sweltering Space Gallery during Herbcraft's opening set on Sunday evening‚ and took my peers' punctual attendance as a reminder of just how special the night ahead would be.
When Woods played Space a couple years back‚ the gallery seemed roomy enough to live up to its name‚ but the venue felt near capacity as slack-rock darlings Parquet Courts took the stage. Most of the crowd showed up early in hopes of hearing co-frontmen Andrew Savage and Austin Brown trade fevered renditions of the brief bursts of garage rock found on this winter's Light Up Gold. Miniature gems like the minute long title track peppered Parquet Courts' set with reckless energy‚ but their hour-long set proved to be far more generous than I could have imagined from listening to the 30 minute Light Up Gold alone.
Savage and Brown were in lockstep throughout the set‚ trading vocal duties and genres with ease. They were in excellent company with bassist Sean Yeaton and the maniacal drumming of Savage's younger brother Dan‚ who helped keep transitions from minute long punk songs to folky traditionals to psychedelic jams effortless and engaging. Light Up Gold standouts like "N Dakota" and a very extended version of "Stoned and Starving" were crowd pleasers‚ but the quartet's non album material is what has me even more excited about Parquet Court's promising future. Nearly half of the band's set list was unreleased material‚ but it all held its own beside Light Up Gold‚ which is no small feat on first listen.
About a third of the crowd left the venue as Parquet Courts left the stage‚ making the lead-up to Woods' set feel more like an after party than a headlining gig. Maybe it was because they've been touring with the epitome of a "hard act to follow‚" or maybe it was the years on tour and the momentum from their latest and greatest album Bend Beyond‚ but Woods' set was tighter‚ louder and ultimately much better than their previous Portland performance. Guided by Jeremy Earl's intoxicating falsetto‚ Woods used Bend Beyond as a set of poppy folky blue prints to develop into epic instrumental bursts that showcased the band at their hardest rocking‚ perpetually captivating peak.
In the afterglow of Parquet Courts‚ Woods proved to be a worthy headliner immediately and convincingly by sampling highlights from a songbook that has gained a great album nearly every year since the band's formation. The early succession of "Pushing Onlys" from 2011's Sun and Shade‚ "Suffering Season" from 2010's At Echo Lake and "Cali in a Cup" from 2012's Bend Beyond showcased Earl's knack for constantly writing and releasing songs without sacrificing quality. After breaking the crowd in with several softer‚ shorter songs‚ Earl traded his acoustic guitar for an electric one‚ and got noisier than casual fans of the band's studio material would ever be able to imagine. Earl's possessed thrashing on "Find Them Empty" sticks with me as the most chaotic moment of the entire night‚ which was no small feat considering Woods' tour mates.
It's hard to say whether or not Woods consciously tried to play better because Parquet Courts set the bar so high‚ but the end result was the same. Everyone wise enough to come early and stay late for both sets got to experience two bands who have already reached great heights push their live shows into exciting and challenging new directions. When I think about the future of these two bands from Brooklyn‚ I think about paraphrasing another Brooklyn native‚ Ol' Dirty Bastard‚ which is something I'll do right now; "we're rising straight to the top‚ but there is no top‚ so we're gonna keep rising."