It’s hard enough to make money nowadays as a musician, let alone when you have to ditch all momentum you’ve gained thus far and start again. But watching the bands the make the cut and bottle lightning a second time is like watching a boxer come off a loss stronger than ever. It’s not just good – it’s triumphant. That’s how Neumos felt Wednesday night as Preoccupations took the stage. The Canadian foursome made their Secretly Canadian debut this year with a clean start. At the beginning of the band’s time together, they embraced the great post-punk tradition of choosing a phrase relating to history’s great upheavals (Joy Division, The Durutti Column, Bauhaus, etc.) with the name Viet Cong. But alas, 2015 was not 1980, and without much context to go off of, the band had a hard time defending the choice of name as a quartet of white guys from Calgary, Alberta. In a difficult decision to not let further controversy overshadow the young band’s potential for good, they announced a name change earlier this year along with a release date for a new album. “A sense of urgency and unease” – that’s how they introduce lead single “Anxiety“. The Preoccupations debut is nothing if not urgent. It is the sound of four brilliant young musicians with everything to lose, fighting for their lives to not lose the traction they’ve gained thus far. But hey, if New Order did it, so can they, right? Well here we are, with Neumos packed the brim with adoring fans welcoming the band back to Seattle and upstairs from Barboza to this victorious next chapter. If tonight was any indication, these four aren’t going away any time soon. Preoccupations brought it all tonight, and with help from young Perth shoegaze act Methyl Ethel, tonight was a shrine of worship to beautiful noise.
Knowing that Preoccupations would take the stage in a few hours, it was clear from moment one that this was going to be a loud evening. But Methyl Ethel made sure the crowd had their needs met early on. Kicking their set off with a six minute ambient track involving cymbal scraping and melodious pick slides, the crowd’s interest was piqued, regardless of previous knowledge of the Perth band. But by the end of the raucous set, it was clear this is a name to keep in the back of your head. The band takes their name from the chemistry classes you slept through, and their blisteringly loud dream-pop has caught the eye and ear of many a spectator, including 4AD Records, who put out their most recent record. One track the crowd may recognize after the fact is the excellent new single “No. 28“, released to the world the morning after the Seattle show. The track is co-produced by James Ford (Arctic Monkeys, Foals), and shows the band making great progress from their 4AD debut Oh Inhuman Spectacle. We’ll see what they bring us in 2017! If you liked what you heard, the band will be back soon, headlining at Barboza on April 4 (tickets here). For tonight, got to see Methyl Ethel wrap up their tour with Preoccupations in great form, knocking out a fantastic set and ending with gleeful guitar destruction.
After seeing Preoccupations live in the flesh, it’s hard to hear any opinion anyone has about them that doesn’t come from a fellow witness. All of those post-punk history lessons that fed the band’s early recordings have paid off, but not just in book smarts. The sense of urgency that fuels “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” and “Transmission” emanates Matt Flegel’s every word. It splits the air with every crack of Mike Wallace’s snare. In 2016, you can hear a disappointing cover of Prince or David Bowie by a band in their mid-twenties who haven’t lived an ounce of the life that makes those records the greatest of our time, or you can go see Preoccupations, and you can live the life for yourself. It’s this do-or-die fire that makes this Calgary quartet such a deserving heir to the post-punk throne.
Last time the band made the rounds to Seattle, Mike Wallace had a broken arm and still played the drums better than 90% of the other acts you caught that year at Barboza. That being said, the fury that Neumos got to witness tonight was unquenchable. Watching Wallace through “March of Progress” is like watching Bob Ross paint a scene from Mad Max. Meanwhile, ahead of him, Flegel screams “What is the difference between love and hate?” decorated on both sides by the symmetric walls of guitar from Scott Munro and Daniel Christiansen. “March” is only one great example of the irreplaceable moments in this set. The pairing of “Memory” and “Degraded”, in all of its fifteen minutes of passion, was a blinding testament to the band’s progress since the Viet Cong record, balancing darkness with a determined march towards greater understanding. Then of course, the two were reconciled with the end pairing of “Stimulation” and “Death”, which complemented each other brilliantly. They could have kept that bridge breakdown in “Death” going for another ten minutes and not a soul in the building would have cared. When it finally exploded into the track’s grand finale, the cool focus of the crowd broke into a worthy mosh pit. There was a wonderful feeling right then and there, with a room full of people realizing what a monumental opportunity this is, seeing greatness like this right before our eyes, in such a privileged position to witness them at this great turning point. Preoccupations have overcome the difficulty of reintroducing themselves, and now, have only the weight of the falling sky as their limit. But as Neumos showed tonight, their fans will be right alongside, pushing the sky away to fight the monotony another day.