Simmering, sludgy chords greeted a slowly growing stream of Brooklynites, spilling gradually into the box-like antechamber of Elsewhere, a recently constructed club in Bushwick. The night before, a series of DJ sets headlined by local cloud rap demigod Clams Casino played to a gathered consortium of local hipsters and today Bria Salmena of the Toronto band FRIGS was howling, industrial-strength, at bearded beer-carrying family men who largely talked among themselves. Salmena flexes backward, forward, rendering the dexterous lyrics from the band’s Arts & Crafts’s debut, Basic Behavior into hieroglyphic chants. Latecomers from the same scene that brought the SubPop hardcore act METZ into record store circles, it is not hard to think of Iggy or Morrison as Salmena’s proper ascendants though Nick Cave works too, if the Bad Seeds upped their kicks up to sludge metal.
Among the 300 or so bands playing the weekend’s Northside Festival in Brooklyn, FRIGS had the benefit of opening for one of the few acts playing the festival that evening with a significant following. While the half-week event started off with a killer’s list of eclectic artists not playing the bigger money festival circuit this summer (Liz Phair! Pissing Jeans! Snail Mail!—exactly one evening before being anointed “the future of indie rock” by The Most Trusted Voice in Music ™), pickings died down until way late Friday night and were ascendent again.
Deerhoof are expert avant-gardners, with a following attached to their fourteen albums in and their latest is always their strongest showing; last year’s Mountain Moves showcased the band of experimentalists at ease with of indie rock frontmen Jenn Wasner, Lætitia Sadier and Juana Molina. On the stage they transform this into arch theater, with Satomi Matsuzaki always in this silk omelet outfit, occasionally donning masks and woodblock-jamming with lead guitarist Ed Rodriguez, dressed always like Santana dressed like Elvis. The band had made their name with a kind of all-American dada, from San Francisco of course, but their version of spontaneity is well-rehearsed, with drummer, bandleader and trailblazing-21st-century-avant-rock-percussionist Greg Saunier constantly watching his band like a jazz class coach in between bursts of calamitous percussion. He adjusts the capo on Rodriguez’s guitar shortly after the whistling roughage begins of “Bad Kids to the Front” and he will get up and attune his band’s other instruments to make sure each song is performed in the correctly adjusted key.
The band’s strength is in its prolific output, with each record the band attempts to become something else, taking their sound from small series of minute-long experiments to fleshed out songs like last year’s “I Will Spite Survive,” which featured Wasner of Wye Oak on the recorded version. The song combines hard rock sugar with lyrical optimism for the millennial & oppressed and has the crack of tearing into a ripe fruit.
Less dexterity can be said of that evening’s main attraction Protomartyr, a Detroit band that has racked almost a million Spotify plays on a track from 2014 and has been described by Vulture as “an exceedingly normal group of human beings” who have been “given the contemporary post-punk torch to carry.” The band’s apex was a record of glam-glittered guitar rock mulch called The Agent Intellect that TMTVinM™ described as “almost Joycean.” Since signing to a slightly larger indie, the quality of work has gone down as it often does. On “Wheel of Fortune,“ the lead single of their latest release, an EP called Consolation that is out 6/15, frontman Joe Casey reads from a madlib of DeLillo pomo signifiers: “Wheel of Fortune, Wealth of nations” he chants like Billy Joel’s grumpy uncle.
Where Deerhunter prove capable of manufacturing multiplicity with each new recording, each new Protomartyr song feels like a watery stencil of one from before and, fittingly, Casey performs this by eating into his microphone, his words disintegrating at his mumble. Playing to reportages of his normalcy, he performs in a kind of Kirk Van Houten-esque jacket, waving his plastic cup drink around as if giving court to an office holiday party from hell. The post-punk torch blows bright into the night.