“ … Say we couldn’t tell the difference between the feeling and the sound,”
Punk and its entire bastard offspring is often about much more than music. For those that choose it, punk can be a lifestyle, a movement, a community, and an ethos. There are certain bands that embody this essence and live it fulltime. I believe a good punk/hardcore band has something to say and is not going to be kept from saying it, but a truly transcendent one lives not only by their words but also through their actions. La Dispute are such an act.
Tonight they return to cavernous Amplifier Bar for the second time in 12 months. This time with good friends, Baltimore post-hardcore act Pianos Become Teeth in tow.
The opening act of the evening was locals Flower Mouth who played a pretty decent set of rollicking punk tunes, they managed to keep my toe tapping if not hold my full attention. Well performed but quite different from the two international acts to follow and not quite immediate enough to grab me this time.
Next up were Pianos Become Teeth who have been garnering much buzz for their performances on this tour. Despite recommendations from people I trust I still hadn’t made myself overly familiar with the band, and I have no real reason or excuse to offer for the oversight. They played very well, gave it all they had and put on a brilliant show for the decent sized early crowd. They smashed through their set with intensity and energy and kept me enthralled for the most part. The fact that their sound isn’t instantly gratifying coupled with my unfamiliarity and a bit of a dodgy, seemingly overwhelmed mix meant they didn’t really blow me away. Bits were brilliant, but other parts seemed to get lost in the mud and the only sound consistently cutting through the malaise was the drums, which were being beaten to within an inch of their lives by a very impressive skinsman. When the nuances of their music was allowed to shine through the hit some real heights and I will be pulling my finger out and looking into them some more.
In typical style La Dispute quietly wandered onto the dimly lit stage, did a quick sound check, which then morphed into opening track ‘Such Small Hands’. The transition between acts was so seamless that many punters were caught unawares when they familiar strains of the classic track kicked in.
The band of brothers from Grand Rapids, Michigan again showed that passion & sincerity trump aggression more often than not with another amazing performance. The crux of any form of punk has always been removing the barrier between the audience and the performers. They are our peers, there is no pretentiousness, no pomp, there is no hierarchy here. La Dispute embody this credo perfectly and set the tone with a genuine and infectious enthusiasm to be playing for us again.
These are men with credibility, men who literally put their money where their mouths are by donating to, and raising money for, charities in the cities and countries they visit. In Australia they again choose to promote and assist Headspace, a national youth mental health association, the same organisation they collected funds for on last year’s tour. As well as providing a facility for donations from punters the band also give a percentage of merchandise profits to the worthy cause. There is no browbeating, no preaching from the pulpit. In way of introducing a song around half way through the set frontman Jordan Dreyer simply mentions that the track “goes out to anyone who has suffered from or been touched by mental illness” he then mentions the table near the merch stand where you make a donation or get some information. They then proceed to play ‘Edward Benz, 27 Times’ a song that touches on this sensitive topic as brilliantly as you would expect from such an articulate lyrist and the song is a highlight of the set.
Musically La Dispute sits in a unique space in the hardcore stable and as such are wonderfully difficult to pigeonhole. As I have mentioned on this blog previously I am no fan of arbitrary tags and labels used compartmentalise a band based on its sound, but I guess it is my job to provide some description and context to the art performed by the group so I will try to explain the largely unexplainable (welcome to reviewing I guess!) It is intelligent music devoid of so many of the usual hardcore clichés but the result of a blend of disparate elements from within hardcore as well drawing from so many other varied reference points – jazz, emo, metal are all prominent among them. Their blend of these elements makes for a fresh sound with the main point of difference centred on the vocals – both the delivery and the content. Singer and lyrist Jordan Dreyer’s background was not in music but as a writer, and it shows. Dreyer writes some the most poetic, emotive and complex lyrics I have ever come across and he delivers his words with an unparalleled passionate intensity. It is not quite singing, not quite screaming, not quite spoken word, yet it is all three.
Dreyer pours his heart out on stage and he does so with such eloquence and charisma that it is transfixing. The band around him are super slick and play with a tightness borne of hundreds, if not thousands, of shows as a focused unit. The byplay between the two guitars is a live highlight and something that stands out more than on the albums. The bass sits beautifully in the engine room and along with crisp and powerful drumming add the sizzle and grunt to the sound. The mix was spot on and the more stripped back nature of the La Dispute sound compared to Pianos meant a much more clean sounding set that allowed the intricacies to come to life. The songs themselves aren’t groundbreaking in structure or execution, but they are excellent, well-designed compositions and the ebbs and flows are rewarding live. Unrequited build-ups add tension to the taunt lyrical delivery and are scattered among the eventual, inevitable payoffs – that point where the whole room is bouncing in unison. Whilst in my opinion the bands latest album – ‘Wildlife’ is a little lacking in these pressure value-releasing moments and more seems concerned with texture and tone than power, the fact that it is the most recent work meant it dominated the set list. Personally I would have liked a few more from the previous album – ‘Somewhere at the Bottom of the River Between Vega and Altair ‘ but this is a very minor complaint in the scheme of things. This was a great show attended by an adoring crowd who knew why they were there and what to expect, they danced and clapped, shouted the words back at the band and thoroughly lapped it up. As clichéd as it sounds the sense of community instilled in a crowd by a band like La Dispute is one the attractions for me, no testosterone fuelled dance floor war of attrition, just a room full of people immersed in a performance and lovingly soaking it in. We all revelled in every heartfelt word and note, and when the band left stage scarcely anyone moved a muscle, waiting expectantly for the encore that came in the form of two songs capped off by the amazing ‘Andria’ as the closer for the evening.
A wonderful display of musicianship and performance by a band with something to say and the integrity to stand behind it, devoid of gimmicks and overflowing with heart, humility and humanity.