The Dismemberment Plan, Jukebox The Ghost, Bells
Steven Morgan 30/01/2011
If I need to explain to you who The Dismemberment Plan are, then I envy you. Where as I've played their back catalogue more than I care to admit to right now (though debut album ! less than the others admittedly), you still have the chance to hear it all for the very first time.
Every so often, a band will arrive at odds with the sound of an era, but with material powerful enough to disrupt the status quo. This was one of those bands, and ten years later, the material still stands strong. Think Fugazi, Prince, Q And Not U, De La Soul, Radiohead and you're someway there, yet simultaneously nowhere near.
Here are some bullet points for the bemused:
- Four piece rock band from Washington D.C.
- Listen to The City, One Too Many Blows To The Head and The Other Side right now if you aren't doing so already.
- Formed early nineties, released four albums, split 2003.
- Most popular album Emergency & I recently re-released on Vinyl by Barsuk in the US which prompted a mini US/Japanese reunion tour.
- Good enough that I flew from London to New York just to see them live.
- You may have noticed that this isn't going to be the least biased review ever written.
The set begins with the rising keyboard slide of Ellen And Ben. Even with this, one of their weaker songs and positively bland by their standards, I still stand there like a fool with a smile across my face. The Dismemberment Plan were just one of those bands who could blow you away even when they weren't at 100%. It's the opener in a set list that draws predominantly from the latter two albums and generously lasts over two hours. As these were their most popular releases, it makes sense, though on a personal level I can't help wishing for more from my favourite, Is Terrified.
They're a band who draw from so many varied influences, that it makes them incredibly difficult to pigeon hole or judge on one song alone. The crowd don't know whether to dance, bounce or scratch their beards. It's evident from the similarities with front man Travis Morrison's solo material that he was the primary songwriter, but it was the collective collaboration of the four that made them greater than the sum of their parts. Listen to the drumming on Girl O'Clock, the bass on I Love A Magician and the guitar on Following Through. All examples of the band at their best and to my joy, all played on this night to the rapturous New York crowd.
It would be hard to tell that the band had ever stopped playing these songs with the tightness of the performance and the lack of animosity between those on the stage. There's a refreshing lack of pretension with the band, as you'd expect based on the blunt honesty within Travis Morrison's lyrics "If I don't have sex by the end of the week, I'm going to die / If I don't feel a pair of soft lips on my own, oh, I'm going to hang my head and cry". This is never more evident than when they gather members of the audience onto the stage to join them in the drunken new years eve rambling vocals of live favourite The Ice Of Boston. There are no need for microphones during the collective "Hey! The ice of Boston is muddy!". There are familiar smiles on their faces and the conversational banter flows between songs as though in conversation with a room of close friends and not the thousands of faces staring back at them.
However, all good things come to an end, and with another live tradition they kick into the opening notes of OK, Jokes Over. It's not their strongest song by any means, but at some point it became a tradition within the band to close their shows with an extended version that includes a vocal verse from Travis of what seems like the first song that comes into his head. This time it's The National's Afraid Of Everyone that performs the duties, the most recently written part of the entire set. It may lack the finesse of their latter material, but the band explode through the thrashy punk from start to finish making it one of those tracks that most definitely translates better in the live environment.
As the final notes play out, the band wave to the sold out audience once again to leave the stage, perhaps for one of the last times. I never know what to make of it when a band reforms, the motives can play a great deal. When The Plan split, they always said they'd come back together to play occasional shows. Let's hope that the reaction to this tour allows that to continue to be the case.