By Dave Pehling
SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — Two of the more celebrated modern bands to mine the dark, foreboding sounds of classic post-punk make a San Francisco stop on their current tandem tour Tuesday when Canadian act Preoccupations and Detroit-based group Protomartyr share the stage at the Independent.
Canadian outfit Preoccupations has established itself as a powerhouse act in the space of six short years. Rising from the ashes of star-crossed Calgary-based band Women (who had gone into a holding pattern after an onstage fight in 2010, two years before guitarist Christopher Reimer died suddenly in his sleep), bassist/singer Matt Flegel and drummer Mike Wallace formed a new quartet called Viet Cong with guitarists Scott Munro and Daniel Christiansen in 2012.
Nodding heavily to the brooding music of goth forebears Bauhaus (whose song “Dark Entries” they covered), Joy Division and the Cure, Viet Cong quickly attracted attention given the members’ pedigree. The following year, the group self released a cassette (appropriately entitled Cassette) that soon stirred interest in a number of independent labels with its terse, guitar-driven tracks tracks like “Throw It Away” and “Structureless Design.” A fiery set at South By Southwest in 2014 would lead to the group signing with Canadian label Flemish Eye and U.S. indie imprint Jagjaguwar.
In 2015, the band garnered still more acclaim with its self-titled debut and even got some airplay on college radio with the churning intensity of “Continental Drift.” However, the group also started getting some unwanted attention because of its name. Criticized for being culturally insensitive, the band made headlines when a promoter pulled the plug on a planned gig at Oberlin College in Ohio because of the name. Viet Cong posted on its Facebook page a few months later that it would in fact change it’s name to appease detractors. In April of this year, the group announced that it would switch its moniker to Preoccupations.
Issued in 2016, the outfit’s eponymous debut under the new name earned the quartet another round of overwhelmingly positive reviews. Drifting away from the angular guitar riffs that had marked their earlier work, Preoccupations delved deeper into pulsing synthesizer drone and Eno-esque ambient soundscapes, especially on the dreamy, epic 11-minute track “Memory” featuring guest vocals from Dan Boeckner, the leader fellow Canadian contemporaries Wolf Parade.
The group would spend a busy summer playing festivals and touring with cinematic instrumental rockers Explosions in the Sky before spending most of 2017 off the radar, writing and recording songs for their second effort as Preoccupations. Released on Jagjaguwar Records this past March, the aptly titled New Material continues the band’s embrace of chilly atmospheres and urgent, post-punk throb but features some of Flegel’s most accessible vocal melodies yet.
The quartet played the Rickshaw Stop (the site of one of their earliest headlining shows in the Bay Area) last spring, but returns to SF for this second to last date of a nearly month-long tour with Detroit’s Protomartyr. Initially working as a duo in 2008 under the unfortunate moniker Butt Babies, guitarist Greg Ahee and drummer Alex Leonard would be joined by singer Joe Boyd before eventually filling out the band with bassist Scott Davidson and adopting the name Protomartyr.
The group would refine its post-punk sound around Casey’s strident vocal incantations, nodding to the influential sounds of the Fall and Pere Ubu while still staying true to the raw, garage-punk roots of their native Motor City. The band’s 2012 debut effort No Passion All Technique maintained their grittier edges and earned the foursome their first round of positive press. By the time Protomartyr issued their sophomore album Under Cover of Official Right two years later, the group was adding more experimental atmospherics and smoothing out some of the rougher edges of their early work.
In 2015, the band released another universally acclaimed collection, their bracing third album The Agent Intellect that furthered their mix of Casey’s probing, philosophical musings and Protomartyr’s dense thicket of reverb-heavy guitars. Their creative hit streak has continued with last year’s equally celebrated Relatives in Descent and the band’s recent EP Consolation featuring contributions from the Breeders’ Kelley Deal. For this Tuesday night show at the Independent, Preoccupations and Protomartyr will be joined by opening tour mates Hurry Up, a trio from Portland, OR that features members of Thermals Kathy Foster and Westin Glass alongside Maggie Vail of the now-defunct group Bangs.
Preoccupations and Protomartyr
Tuesday, December 18, 8 p.m. $17-$20