Protomartyr At The Workman’s Club – Review
The late-2015 release of The Agent Intellect, the third album from Protomartyr, found the Detroit band at the top of their game. One could argue that the last ten years have produced more post-punk than the original era of the late 1970s, making it difficult for bands of this genre to stand out from their peers. Sonically, Protomartyr occupy the same jagged, icy soundscape but crucially, they have in singer Joe Casey, a writer who is producing the strongest lyrics of his career. The success of the album has led to Protomartyr’s lengthiest European tour to date, which will take in 20-odd club shows as well as spots at Roskilde, Latitude and Primavera festivals amongst others. Tonight is the opening night of that tour at the Workman’s Club in Dublin.
Opening with ‘Cowards Starve’ from the latest album, singer Joe Casey looks every inch the anti rockstar in sensible shirt and suit jacket. One can hear echoes of Girls Against Boys‘ vocalist Scott McCloud in his phrasing as he stretches each line out with a drawl and contemptuously spits out the last word. Relatively motionless save for a few lazy swigs of beer, Casey is utterly watchable. On stage, he sings these songs like the old friend you’ve met for a chat, and there is something very intimate about it. Pacing their set carefully between the mournful (‘I Forgive You’, ‘Pontiac 87’) and the scornful (‘Boyce or Boice’, ‘Scum,Rise!’), Protomartyr songs are quick hits. There’s no room for elongated guitar solos or improvisation. In terms of song structure and attitude, they are closer to the original spirit of punk than most of their contemporaries. Lyrics are repeated and codas act like calls to arms. ‘The Devil In His Youth’ gets the biggest cheer of the night so far, and when Casey thanks the crowd for coming out to Protomartyr’s first show in Ireland, stating their intention to return, a feeling as warm as the red velvet drapes envelops the room.
Tonight’s set is heavy on material from The Agent Intellect but older gems like ‘Ain’t So Simple’, and ‘I Stare At Floors’ satisfy the hardcore. Highlights for me were a raucous ‘The Hermit’ complete with spine-tingling riffs from Greg Ahee’s Telecaster, and ‘Clandestine Time’ which saw Casey lose himself completely in the chorus; ‘they don’t see us, us, us, us ….’. The set ends on a magnificent ‘Why Does It Shake?’, a song about Casey’s mother’s struggle with Alzheimer’s disease. Refusing to leave the venue however, the crowd bay for one more tune and get two. The set lasted an hour and there were 18 songs. I could have stayed for another 18 but there’s no use being sad about it. Tonight, Protomartyr were marvellous.