These are troubled times. Madmen lead nations in both the West and the East. Water supplies are poisoned by profiteers, the far right are rearing their ugly heads again, and entire nations are being plunged into discord and disharmony. Amidst all of the darkness, however, voices are starting to shout out in protest and be heard. Protomartyr, led by Joe Casey, are one such voice. Railing against corruption in the world, despairing at the disappearance of ‘truth’, they are giving a voice to the disaffected. Arriving in Brighton for the first night of the UK leg of their tour, they put on a show tonight that will long be remembered for its sheer ferocity and power.
Arriving on stage ten minutes earlier than scheduled with faces set in stone, it is as if they can no longer bare to contain the rage and scorn that proceeds to pour out over the following hour. Opening with ‘My Children’, the mood is one of savage intensity. Swigging from a never-ending supply of beer cans, as frontman Joe Casey spits out the lyrics “My children, they are the future, good luck with the mess I made, you innovators”, his views on the world we are creating are laid bare. Once describing his role in the band as, “like a tick clinging on to the back of a dog. I’m the tick and the band are the dog”, it is far from that and there is a symbiotic cohesion between the unit. Guitarist Greg Ahee appears to largely spurn the limelight, only occasionally becoming animated, while bassist Scott Davidson paces fiercely from side to side. All the while, drummer Alex Leonard slams into his kit relentlessly, adding a beat with the power and ferocity of a pneumatic drill. The cumulative effect is like a sonic blast.
Off-stage, the mild-mannered and considered Casey is a perfect gentleman. Onstage, he is transformed – screaming his lyrics into the mic, always as if they are just occurring to him. It is easy to see why they are quickly becoming one of the important bands of our time – although they may not wish to be seen as spokesmen of a generation, they perfectly capture the impotent frustration that much of the world feels. ‘Windsor Hum’, (a track essentially about the irritating and unceasing ‘hum’ of noise that Canada is subjected to by its noisy neighbours), transcends its simple beginnings and becomes a mighty roar with Casey screaming into the audience.
Tracks crash and collide with each other, all being ripped through at a tremendous pace with the crowd exerting everything just to keep up. The major moments of Relatives in Descent are all present and correct, though interspersed with highlights from their past glories throughout. ‘Up The Tower’ is astonishing, Ahee’s deconstructed guitar riff breaking through Leonard’s explosive drumming. It is a track that seems to suck all of the air out of the room, but the band are just getting going at this point. ‘Male Plague’ is a vicious takedown of the masculine psyche, while ‘Cowards Starve’ prompts many fists to punch the air in the audience. ‘A Private Understanding’ is the real showstopper though. As Casey repeated “She’s just trying to reach you”, it feels like the four of them are all playing different tracks at the same time, all of it hanging together magnificently.
After an hour of incendiary post-punk wrapped up with a short encore of ‘Why Does It Shake?’ and ‘Scum, Rise!’, Protomartyr drifted back into the night. The whole show felt like a dream, one that wakes you sweating, unsettled and disoriented yet exhilarated at the same time. It was the perfect example of the band flexing their muscles, daring us to join them in their discord and add our voices to the gathering noise. Exceptional.