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Thursday, April 21, 2011

Parts and Labor @ Cactus Club

April 18, 2011

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In the wrong hands (and perhaps feet), the array of electronic devices and pedals that Brooklyn-based Parts and Labor employed during their stellar set at the Cactus Club Monday night would have only drawn attention away from the songs themselves. Too many bands now rely upon technology to cover up the weaknesses of their material or, even worse, rely upon sheer noise to simply overwhelm the listener.

These were not issues for Parts and Labor, who have made a career out of crafting infectious songs that feature indie rock sensibilities with a noise-rock backbone. Playing material from their four full-length records, the band illustrated to a near-capacity crowd how they've become one of the most consistent acts of the new millennium. Songs like "Echo Chamber," "Hurricane," "Never Changer" (from the recently released Constant Future), along with older material like "The Gold We're Digging" (from 2007's Mapmaker), were both relentless and catchy, noisy and subdued. In fact, such juxtapositions highlighted the ways that the band has used its best songs to unpack the often complicated relationship between humanity and technology. Rather than let the sounds emitted from the band's collection of electronic gadgets drown out the warmth of their material, Parts and Labor have shown how technology can actually enhance the appeal of their songs, drawing the listening in in a way that is quite inclusive. This dynamic was present in the band's performance of "Wedding in a Wasteland," a stand-out track from 2008's Receivers. Here, the blips and other sounds produced by band co-leader Dan Friel served as actual hooks, driving the song in a manner that is often exclusively the domain of the guitar.

Crucial to the band's ability to tap into this populist vein is the drumming of Milwaukee native Joe Wong. While many Parts and Labor fans were dismayed by the loss of explosive original drummer Christopher Weingarten, Wong has developed into a top-notch player over the course of the band's last two albums. His drumming drove such songs as "Nowheres Nigh" (from 2008's Receivers); heads bobbed as Wong turned this mid-tempo rocker into something more propulsive. And despite the seriousness of this material ("Nowheres Nigh" discusses "Molded coffins chromed and shined"), the band attacked such songs with a ferocity tempered by joy. This is a band enjoying what they are doing, and this is what independent music in the early 21st century should sound like.
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