By Benji Chapman, Co-Deputy Music Editor
Despite recommendation from a close friend, who discovered the band through a rowdy game of Counter Strike circa 2017, I had previously squandered listening to Protomartyr much until the release of their most recent record, 2023's Formal Growth In the Desert. After missing my chance to see the band due to lockdown in 2020, it wasn't until summer 2023 that I was finally able to see the band on their earlier leg of the Formal Growth tour in Brighton.
Like almost all workers during the Covid pandemic, musicians were forced to drastically consider what their livelihoods would be during and- if there was ever was to be an end to the outbreak- after the crisis had passed. Musicians, more intensely than most careers, were arguably in the centre of this crisis as artists relying on live performance for income, which came to a grinding and sudden halt. Unbeknownst to myself at the time, this was a critical point for the band: who began to turn to the possibility that it may be time to throw in the towel.
But the sound of Protomartyr in 2023, armed to the teeth with new songs, is that of a snarling fury that refuses to quiet. The sounds of a band hardened by years of touring and putting out music in the Detroit scene, rich with a diverse musical history from techno to punk-rock. Lead singer Joe Casey has pointed out that it is a place which fosters artists to create music not for profit, but rather to tell compelling and meaningful stories for their own satisfaction. It couldn't be clearer onstage that the band have carried a stern determination to celebrate the album and its defiant insistence to keep the torch ablaze.
The band arrived 15 minutes earlier than their scheduled set-time, briskly taking place on stage in silence. As Casey nears the microphone, the stage erupts into a volcanic torrent of undulating guitar from guitarist Greg Ahee's twin tube-amplifiers. The opening song, Make Way, dives between softer passages before plunging back into the gothic sounds of mirth- all the while Casey narrates, introducing a world of the band's creation both sonically and narratively.
It's not till the third song of the night that the band interact the crowd when a fan screams "I love you Joe," whilst he adjusts the mic. Chuckling, he responds "no you don't" and magically produces another Heineken can from inside his jacket. There isn't much more interaction beyond stray comments as the band rattle through their set seamlessly- leaving time only for the songs- which eventually conjure up a healthy mosh pit in the crowd. As I dive for safety I'm free to watch the encore next to Greg's side of the stage and take in the crowd which ranges from diehards bellowing the lyrics at the foot of the band with arms raised, to people taking the show in from further afield.
Eventually the set comes to an end. Between the hazy lights, lingering sweat and feedback the band say their goodbyes with a spread of spent expressions across the group. I get the feeling they must be tired, now on the penultimate show of the UK tour and they've given it their all. It's funny, but I've never seen a band speak to the crowd less at a show. I think its because the music lets them speaks for themselves. The instruments: bass, guitar, drums are precise and loud at the same time, all synthesised into Casey's narrative creations. As the crowd leaves, the words of Pontiac 87 ring in my ears on a loop: "there's no use being sad about it, what's the point of crying about it."Featured Image: Ifan Davies
Have you seen Protomartyr live?