On a Friday night, practically every generation of Detroit punk fans were united in a sea of black and gray jeans, waiting by the dock to board the Detroit Princess Riverboat. There was a slight disconnect, given the more preparatory-school-like connotation of a riverboat cruise. That dissonance evaporated when we boarded and the first of seven bars offered us a Pabst Blue Ribbon. It felt very right.
Protomartyr, Detroit’s preeminent punk band today, chose this venue to celebrate their fourth album, Relatives of Descent, a week early. The album was officially released on Friday, September 29, to much acclaim. They brought along with them five other acts in what was an evening long party for the local scene.
We caught the tail end of Detroit producer Matthew Dear’s set, a University alum and near legend of the techno world. He is currently teaching a music production class at the University. His was a loud, strange, noise-filled sound that felt hardly contained within the low-ceilinged room.
That was around 7:00 p.m., and the crowd dissipated and filtered through the multiple floors of the boat afterwards. Each floor was, naturally, complete with a bar. On the quieter third floor, where the merchandise was located, seats and tables were arranged in front of a screen showing “Waterworld” with Kevin Costner. Tables were also selling physicals of the new Protomartyr album. The cover features a stark image of a woman in a white head cloth in front of a pink background.
We moved to the deck for some fresh, cigarette-filled air, and a DJ alternated between upbeat sounds and Beach House’s Teen Dream, which felt fitting looking down the river that separates Detroit and Canada. There was a calm on this level that felt odd for a punk show, but enjoyable nonetheless. Some even brought their Moleskines for some quality time to think.
The boat set sail shortly after, and Tyevk and ADULT. both played strong, energetic sets during the sail. The stage room didn’t truly fill until we docked again for the final two bands, and then Preoccupations (formerly known as Viet Cong) played to an enthralled crowd. Their set, which opened with their hit “Anxiety,” was characterized by improvisation and pure, unbridled emotion. At the tail end they spent over ten minutes slamming out the same final chord, each time seeming like the last. It was a game with the audience and it worked — the room vibrated still after.
The climax of the evening was clearly Protomartyr. Part of their cult fandom comes from the sheer energy of their live shows. Joe Casey will, without fail, quite literally sweat on you if you’re close enough. You can usually see it drip down his forehead by track four, and he certainly went headfirst into this performance. The luckiest among us were spat on. They played through their new album from front to back, and added a few crowd pleasers in between, like “Cowards Starve,” dripping out the words “I’m going out in… style!” with disdain and immediacy. It was entrancing, it was angry and it was head banging. The mosh pit opened quickly and sustained a good tempo through the show, and it never became antagonistic — the crowd was in sync with itself, and with the band. When someone dropped their purse, everyone stopped and let her pick it up. And the boat remained afloat among the communal noise.
— Matt Gallatin, Daily Music Editor
On a warmer-than-usual mid-September Friday, three friends and I drove to the Michigan-Canada border for a miniature cruise aboard the Detroit Princess, a riverboat whose existence, I must confess, I wasn’t even aware of until Detroit punks Protomartyr booked it for their record release show. After parking on the Cobo Center roof, we made our way down to the channel to wait with hundreds of others in line. The crowd was about what you would expect, an interesting mix of yuppie, grimy and old-timey, but nothing if not brimming with excitement. Meanwhile, Graeme Flegenheimer — owner of Detroit’s El Club, who helped curate the event — anxiously paced up and down the line, reminding people to have their IDs ready and that the boat was shoving off promptly at 7:15 p.m.
Though billed as a show, the event was more like a festival. Sets started at 6:30 with special guest Matthew Dear and featured more-or-less local acts — Detroit rockers Tyvek and ADULT. as well as Protomartyr alongside Calgary-based post-punks Preoccupations and Toronto noise rock band METZ, whose new album also happened to be released the day of the event.
The shows were all held on the first floor of the boat, but plenty of entertainment could be found in just about every corner of the five-story ship. Movie screenings took place throughout the night on the second floor, with food and band merchandise on the third floor and myriad bars throughout the entire venue.
It wasn’t until we had reached the fourth and fifth floors, though, that I decided I would one day be doing everything in my power to have my wedding — let’s hope I can manage to get married one day, anyway — on the Detroit Princess. It’s difficult to describe precisely the feeling I felt when we first stepped out onto the fourth-floor deck. The temperature, oppressively hot and humid earlier, was a perfect 70 degrees, tempered by the river’s coolness. Four stories up was also just high enough to see at least a portion of Detroit’s (and Windsor’s) sprawl under the setting sun, itself a beautiful menagerie of oranges, yellows, purples and soft blue-grays. When the Princess started moving, it was hard not to feel like one of the luckiest people alive, and for only $20! (This still blows my mind.)
As the night progressed and the boat ran out of food — arguably the only hitch in the entire evening — a rotating set of DJs spun smoother, poppier tunes on the deck while the punks set fire to the first floor. (Not literally, of course; Pitchfork actually published a piece titled “Detroit Punks Charter a Riverboat. Somehow Nothing Gets Trashed.”) When Protomartyr finally took the stage, the crowd was no less energetic than it had been two or three hours earlier, and the band brought the heat to match — frontman Joe Casey actually kept a full-size bath towel on his mic stand, citing his imminent sweatiness.
The band’s set was composed of new material from Relatives in Descent — the album wasn’t officially released until the week following the show — as well as songs from all three of their previous albums. Though the audience’s unfamiliarity with the new songs threatened to kill momentum at times, favorites from Agent Intellect and Under Color of Official Right ensured success through and through. At the end of the night, I had only two remaining coherent thoughts: first, I cannot wait to have this album and second, how the hell does anyone still have the energy to go to the aftershow?
— Sean Lang, Daily Arts Writer