Debris hung overhead. Beginning at the stage and extending about halfway into to the performance space at 285 Kent was a sculpture that loomed, both literally and metaphorically, over the audience. It was composed primarily of signage for businesses that seem keyed into the economic anxieties of today: in particular, numerous companies offering to buy your house in mere minutes. Some were clustered near the ceiling in the shape of a surreal collage; others hung down, the stalactite as politically-charged art. The occasion was Parts & Labor’s simultaneous tenth anniversary and finale as a band, an event contradictory in its marriage of the celebratory and the bittersweet.
The artwork seemed most apropos for openers Neptune, whose sprawling postpunk was often charged with a domestic anxiety. The metallic sound of their homemade guitars—and presence of a low-grade rumble of feedback throughout most of their set—prompted thoughts of structure both fragile and iconic. Oneida followed them with a set that, unsurprisingly, possessed a solid command of momentum, initially seeming to circle the same riff before the set’s density prompted acceleration. For all that they are, rightly, beloved by critics, Oneida remain a remarkably difficult band to actually describe. Perhaps it’s easier to just invoke the scene about five feet to my left: a guy wearing a vintage New England Whalers jersey, leaping up and down ecstatically while they played.
Before Parts & Labor took the stage, a series of Hüsker Dü songs played over the PA, run through a series of distortion pedals that elongated and compressed them. Stylistically, it seemed an apt, knowing choice. The thing to remember about Parts & Labor is that, for all of the noisy squalls and unexpected choices of instrumentation in their music, both B.J. Warshaw and Dan Friel have a very clear-cut pop sensibility at the center of their songwriting. (Play “Changing of the Guard” on acoustic guitar and chances are good that someone might mistake it for a Billy Bragg cover.)
There was a clear sense of community at the show, from Oneida opening their set with a champagne toast to their peers to how Parts & Labor gave former members a place in the spotlight. Originally on the bill but ultimately unable to play due to illness was Noveller, the ambient/drone project of guitarist Sarah Lipstate, who played with the band around the time of 2008’s Receivers. And the second half of the group’s set found them bringing each of drummer Joe Wong’s predecessors to play on a second drum kit beside him. (Full disclosure: one of those drummers, Christopher Weingarten, is a friend and former editor.) This also prompted the revisiting of a number of older songs. A few of the selections from 2003’s Rise Rise Rise were among the night’s highlights, including “The Endless Air Show” and the blissed-out “Finally Feeling Better Already,” which may well have been the apex of their earlier, more instrumental-oriented, style.
“Changing of the Guard” closed out the night, with four drummers hammering away at anything remotely percussive on stage. As the song descended into squalls of feedback, the band began dismantling the backdrop behind them, hurling squares into the crowd and hacking away the signage that hung above us all. (At one point, I sought to take a photo of this and—like a sign from some minor god of punk rock—a thrown square collided with my phone just as I triggered its shutter.) By the end, only Friel stood facing the crowd, hanging on to one last distorted note, holding it steady for as long as it could go.