Tag Archives: Two States

TWO STATES: The Dismemberment Plan

By Hollister Dixon and Gabriel Mathews

The Dismemberment Plan – 12/8/13 – Wonder Ballroom, Portland, OR

The first time I heard about Dismemberment Plan was in an interview with Ben Gibbard. “Half the fun of seeing Dismemberment Plan was wondering what they were gonna fuck up next.” The sentiment stuck with me until I began listening to D-Plan, digging my way into Emergency & I, which still is – admittedly – the only one of their records to stick for me (the others are good albums, however). They broke up before I ever got the chance to see them, but there would always be something alluring about a band like The Plan: reckless, insane, stream-of-consciousness, heartfelt, and balls-to-the-wall talented – and they were all of that at all times. And then, something remarkable happened: the band got back together, to celebrate the 10th anniversary of Emergency & I, but then decided they would just stay together. When asked about new music, they said, “We’re not planning a new record, but we’re doing these shows and taking it day to day after that,” but then they did make a new record, this year’s pretty terrible and universally panned Uncanney Valley. Terrible as it was, it gave them a very good reason to make a full go of touring – which brought them to Portland, at long last.

First and foremost, Telekinesis were the opener. Michael Lerner’s drum-forward (that’s not figurative, his drumkit was on the edge of the stage) Seattle band were the opener, and from the get go, I realized that I’d made a terrible mistake by sleeping on the band. They played a good 35 minutes, and throughout, I remembered the fact that I had their newest album, Dormarion, sitting on my hard drive at home – and I had never once listened to it. What the hell was I thinking? Despite knowing almost nothing about the band, other than the fact that it was an awesome performance, I couldn’t shake the fact that it was one of the tightest opening acts I’ve ever seen.

“We learned something new today, you guys,” Travis Morrison said, taking his place at a small synthesizer at the front of the stage. “If you put regular gasoline… in a diesel van… it stops running.” Without much time to react, the band launched into the unbeatable “Doing the Stand Still,” which was just enough to whip the crowd into a complete frenzy – just before barrelling head-on into “The City”, which really got things moving. It wasn’t until a few songs later, during the spectacularly unhinged “Girl O’Clock,” that I realized that Ben Gibbard had completely duped me. Rather than having the esteemed pleasure of watching a bunch of dudes fucking up and failing to apologize for messing shit up, all I got was a bunch of dudes at the top of their game, proving that they can not only play like motherfuckers, but play like motherfuckers in exactly the right way to get the crowd unnaturally excited. Despite the – ahem – lukewarm reception to Uncanney Valley, the songs resonated more in this setting, blended in with a soup that relied more heavily on Emergency & I than the album they were promoting, as well as those old gems like “The Ice of Boston” – though more on that one in a few. In fact, the energy in the room was palpable enough that, even if everyone in the room hated the new material, it would have been impossible to tell.

This can all be chalked up to the fact that, yes, these guys are stars now. It has been ten years (and 6 months) since The Plan were last in Portland (their last PDX show was June 9th, 2003, at the now-defunct Meow Meow, to be exact), and in that ten years (and 6 months), the band have realized their full potential, and they’ve brought it all to the table for the revitalized D-Plan. Rarely am I ever forced to rewire the connections in my brain to disassociate connections like “The Dismemberment Plan” and “sloppy-ass band”, but, around halfway through 20 song set, I realized that those old connections needed to go, and the new ones needed to step in – all soundtracked by the temperamental Emergency & I cut “You Are Invited,” a song that only explodes for a few moments, but never stops being brilliant. That feeling held on throughout the rest of the show, right on through to “OK, Joke’s Over” – which, this evening, included splashes of Kendrick Lamar and “Royals” by Lorde.

But, that wasn’t it. They still had a monstrous three-song encore to perform. They began with “Waiting”, the very first new D-Plan song after the long drought, which paired well with the rest of the show. Morrison brought two people up to model their merch, which in turn started the traditional stage-surge for “The Ice of Boston”, which inspired more hugs than I’ve ever seen in one place. Finally, as if that weren’t enough, they sliced their way through “What Do You Want Me To Say?”, a song who’s chorus was sung loudly (and drunkenly) by the crowd during the pre-encore break. It was a madhouse, to say the least.

So, where does that leave us? It’s a weird thing to be disappointed that all you got from a band was an incredibly tight and impeccable show by a band that you love. Looking back at it now, though, I can’t help but feel like I would never trade that show for any of the more chaotic shows that came in the band’s salad days. I can’t wait to see how they perform the next time they come back into town. I’ll be there.

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The Dismemberment Plan –  12/12/13 – Fonda Theater, Los Angeles, CA

By Gabriel Mathews

There’s a Chuck Klosterman essay about Rivers Cuomo as a songwriter, which essentially validates the dude’s entire (and entirely mediocre-to-shitty) post-Pinkerton output as simply continuing his wholly unselfcoscious project of saying exactly what’s on his mind. The argument goes like this: The Blue Album and Pinkerton were excellent and relatable albums for alienated twenty-somethings because Cuomo was, at the time of their writing, an alienated twenty-something; his Green and onward work has continued his perfectly honest expression of his own feelings, but now he’s a a forty-year-old lech who actually does want to live in Beverly Hills and you’re regressive for continuing to relate to the first two records and to call Weezer’s newer material out as shit.

I think a similar reading can be applied to The Dismemberment Plan’s first post-reunion record, Uncanney Valley, which came out earlier this year. I say this because, well, we’ve got to talk about Uncanney Valley for a minute if we’re going to acknowledge any D-Plan show that occurred after its release. Travis Morrison wrote two of the best albums ever about being an isolated young person, 1999’s legendary Emergency & I and 2001’s hideously underrated Change, before the band broke up and Morrison released a couple of universally panned solo records. The Plan reunited a couple years ago to play some shows, and apparently gelled well enough, twelve years on from Change,  to make a record. Unfortunately, this record is their Make Believe, or maybe even their Red Album. Which means it’s pretty bad. If E&I was Morrison’s Pinkerton, which it was, then Change was an album Rivers Cuomo never managed to make—essentially Pinkerton a few years down the line, less horny, less bitter, but still very much alone. Change is a subtle record, in a way that nothing The Plan had done before ever was. Us fans could have reasonably expected Morrison’s reunion with his band to bring him back around, and maybe make an awesome, even more subtle and insightful extension from Change. Spoiler alert: Uncanney Valley is not that album. The refrain to it’s first song is: “Like a fat nun on drugs / Drowning in hugs / You know that I love the lovin’.” Morrison’s Cuomo quotient almost surpasses Rivers himself on this record, and it’s kind of really sad, if you’re the kind of person who wants a miserable person to stay miserable forever so they can keep making good art. Which I kind of am.

Okay, so, the show. Telekinesis opened, and were pretty solid. I don’t have a lot to say about them. Frontman/drummer/mastermind Michael Benjamin Lerner was fairly impressive simply for being simultaneously a good drummer and a good singer, which strikes me as very hard to pull off. His Seattle/Portland-culled live band was really solid, and the band ran through some really solid pop-punk songs that ended up kind of bleeding together. Their stage presence was actually really great, though, with Lerner initiating a couple of Q&A sessions with the audience, and being generally adorable.

Anyway, who cares? No one was at this show for Telekinesis. We went to see The Dismemberment Plan. I didn’t know until Morrison mentioned it that this was the last show of the tour, but in retrospect I think LA really benefitted, as their set was, I think, about three or four songs longer than other sets on this tour. As the curtain rose, the band immediately called us all out by jumping into “Do The Standing Still,” an ode to everyone’s favorite indie rock dance. The Fonda crowd by and large didn’t follow Morrison’s lead and boogie like it was the last night on earth (that man’s pelvis is a creature of its own), but some of us did get down, and it was rad. They immediately segued into Change highlight “Time Bomb,” and proceeded to play a super great, super long set that did a commendable job of balancing the Uncanney material with favorites from E&I, lesser favorites from Change, and a few weird tracks for the die hards from their first two records, “!” and The Dismemberment Plan Is Terrified.

I have to admit that the new songs definitely shone more here than they do on record. This could be attributable to the Fonda’s always excellent sound, or the band’s utterly infectious enthusiasm for the show. While guitarist/keyboardist Jason Caddell remained pretty reserved, the rest of the band was going apeshit almost the entire time. Morrison never lost his manic grin, and bassist Eric Axelson grooved hard all night. Axelson and drummer Joe Easley are probably one of the best rhythm sections of the past twenty years, definitely the best all-lefty rhythm section of the past twenty years. Easley is a maniac, incredibly talented, ferocious, and able to sing along with his favorite lines while playing even The Plan’s most notoriously complex beats.

One mid-set highlight was Change closer “Ellen & Ben” into Emergency closer “Back and Forth,” which made for a surprisingly moving pair of conclusions thrust into the middle of a set. Morrison is an adept vocalist who bounces around between singing his songs straight and switching them up rhythmically without ever showing the seams. Sometimes he was almost rapping, as on deep cuts “Bra” and “The Dismemberment Plan Get Rich.” I found myself shockingly into “Living In Song,” the Uncanney song about Madonna’s art collection. This probably had a lot to do with Axelson’s rad bass/cuira riffing. The dude played with a goddamn cuira in his fret-hand. It was nice, also, that while the new songs are pretty straight-forward, older, spazzier tracks like “Gyroscope” proved that The Plan can still make incredibly complex musical moves and pull them off effortlessly.

Towards the end of their set, the band convened onstage to switch up the setlist, apologizing to their tech people for their spontaneity. They threw in “Daddy Was A Real Good Dancer,” one of the better songs off the new record, and then concluded the main set with the now-standard closer “OK, Joke’s Over,” from their debut. Morrison has a habit of turning this jam into a medley of recent songs, popular and not, and this iteration certainly did not disappoint—he did the entire first verse and chorus from St. Vincent’s three-day-old “Birth In Reverse,” (How of-the-moment!) followed by a beautiful rendition of Lorde’s ubiquitous “Royals.” They then returned (very quickly, these things are becoming such jokes) for a five-song encore.

The encore opened with awful Uncanney closer “Let’s All Go To The Dogs Tonight,” which had me a little nervous that we weren’t going to get the payoff I was hoping for. The drunk dude next to me who looked exactly like the Comic Book Guy kept shouting for “8.5 Minutes,” but he didn’t get what he was hoping for either. Instead, we got a couple of Change cuts, “Following Through” and “The Other Side,” both of which were played with skill and poise, and then the requisite one-two punch of “The Ice Of Boston” and “What Do You Want Me To Say?” It’s become tradition at Plan shows to get up on stage for “Boston,” but Morrison had some bad news—the stage is real old and fragile. “You could all get up here and it would be a lot of fun, but we’d all die. Which maybe would be worth it, but let’s not find out!” Even without the stage jumping, the song was a blast, as was being a part of “WHAT DO YOU WANT ME TO SAYYYYY??!???” as sung by an entire venue of drunk Plan fanatics. The band left the stage gracefully, and we dispersed.

Was this a life-changing experience? I kind of hoped it would be. Over the past several months, Emergency & I and, to an even greater degree, Change have become crucial pieces of my personal soundtrack, and I thought that maybe seeing The Dismemberment Plan live would somehow validate my feelings. And it sort of did. But the set was a bit bogged down by crappy new numbers, and even during the emotional peaks of “Back and Forth,” “Time Bomb,” “What Do You Want Me To Say?” and the rest of the classics, Morrison seemed very removed from the subject matter, and it was hard to forget about the fact that he’s now contently married and doesn’t actually feel all this shit anymore.

All that said, the show’s most poignant moment rested in what is perhaps the Plan’s most poignant song. “You Are Invited” functioned as the set’s peak, as everyone but Morrison left the stage after the first verse, only to come back for a resounding reunion that established, in very simple terms, their love for us as a crowd, and for each other, and for the process of making music. If we’re honest, “You Are Invited” is proof that Morrison has always written incredibly dumb lyrics. The song’s central fantasy of a universal invitation is just plain silly, and it includes lyrical blunders such as “There was no time or location / There was really no info at all / No date, no place, no time, no RSVP.” Dude, you’re repeating yourself. But the thing is, even if Morrison is Riversing like crazy, it doesn’t matter in the live setting, where the band is having such a great time that you can’t not feel invited for all time.

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TWO STATES: Savages

By Hollister Dixon and Gabriel Mathews

There’s often no way around more than one person on the Faces on the Radio staff covering the same band on the same tour, in two different cities. This, of course, brings us a few questions: what changes in between shows? How are the two nights going to be different? Even if they perform identical setlists, what’s going to be different about the songs being played? With those questions in mind, we present to you the first in (what we hope to be) an ongoing series: Two States: This edition features Hollister Dixon covering Savages in Portland, OR, and FOTR correspondent Gabriel Mathews covering them in LA. Enjoy.

9.25.13 – Wonder Ballroom, Portland, OR – Hollister

Savages // Photo Credit: Yousef Hatlani

One of the things that I enjoy most about indie rock shows is going to them knowing absolutely nothing about the bands you’re about to see. This has been a whirlwind year for Savages, having released their debut record, Silence Yourself, to a massive burst of extremely positive press. They’ve spent some time in the limelight being compared to everyone from My Bloody Valentine to Joy Division (both comparisons were drawn by our own Yousef Hatlani), and with that in mind, I took it upon myself to go into the show knowing only one thing about the band: that they are, apparently, excellent. Which they are, but we’ll get to that in a moment.

First we need to talk a little bit about Duke Garwood, a musician who spent the entirety of his time onstage looking like a bearded Nick Cave. This is never a bad thing, of course, but what about his music? That presents a mild problem: I spent a good chunk of the performance waffling between adoring Garwood’s sound, and being utterly put-off and bothered, because it simply wasn’t what I wanted to hear at that moment. This brought me to an interesting question: if a performer’s act doesn’t fulfill what I’m looking for in the moment, does it mean that the performance was bad? It certainly doesn’t, but I then have to ask myself: if I didn’t enjoy Duke Garwood, who would I have enjoyed in the moment? Who would have been more fitting for this show? School of Seven Bells? Secret Machines, circa 2004? Interpol, circa Turn On the Bright Lights? By the end of it, I still wasn’t quite sure if I did enjoy it, but what I do know is this: Garwood can play pretty goddamn well.

There’s something almost ethereal about how Savages play. The London four-piece don’t play music so much as they inhabit it; arriving on a stage almost whited out by the smoke machine(s), frontwoman Jehnny Beth stalked the stage, somehow making the one-foot-on-a-monitor cliche look a lot less contrived. The other four players managed to turn the contructs of post-punk inside out, making typical rock conventions feel almost sexy amidst the strobe lights. They even tore up a frenetic, throbbing, eternally building cover of “Dream Baby Dream” by Suicide. Moments like these don’t come along very often, and when they do, it’s hard not to bask in your luck.

One of the things that I enjoy most about indie rock shows is going to them knowing absolutely nothing about the bands you’re about to see. Watching Savages play, there were moments where I wished I knew every word, so that I could fully enjoy every moment, as much as some of the people near me in the front row, eyes bright, hanging on Beth’s every syllable. And on the other hand, there is an undeniable magic in hearing a band for the first time in the moment, not on record, but in the flesh, a few feet from you. Savages are a band that feel necessary for the moment, despite having a sound that would have worked just as well in 1983. They somehow managed to go on the road with a fully-formed sound, and as a new admirer, I have to ask myself: what’s next for this band? How do they improve on a sound that most bands spend five albums and an EP chasing?

I’m glad I got to see Savages exactly when and how I did. I admire that band so very much already, because there’s a definite feeling of certainty in the way they play, as if they’re saying, “Don’t worry: we’re gonna be at this for awhile. You can get comfortable and watch what happens.” I, for one, am very excited to see where it goes from here.

 

9.30.13 – Fonda Theater, Los Angeles, CA – Gabriel

Seeing as I seem to have started a pattern of putting little introductory anecdotes at the tops of my reviews, I see no reason to stop now, especially with this particularly harrowing tale.

I had tickets to see Savages back in July at the El Rey, where they were playing two nights in a row. It was going to be pretty rad. But as my friend and I approached the venue, I realized that I’d been a little bit confused as to day of the week vs. day of the month, and there was a distinct possibility in my mind that we’d arrived a day too late. Approaching the box office, I said, “Hey, I should be on the will call list, but I’m a bit worried my tickets were actually for last night.” The guy failed to find my name, and I went home angry with myself. But then, upon looking at my email receipt, I discovered that I did in fact have tickets for that night, and the box office dude had merely fucked up. I was livid, until I got a promise that Goldenvoice would comp me tickets to any upcoming show as an apology, and found Savages, playing the Fonda two months later.

Flash forward two months, here I am, dressed all in black (it seemed only appropriate) at the Fonda, fka the Music Box, a vastly superior venue, waiting to see the band I’d been so unbelievably stoked for in the summer. Silver linings, right?

The Fonda is like a jacked up Crystal Ballroom— the paintings on the walls and ornate woodwork on the ceiling put the Crystal to shame with their baroque, Alice-in-Wonderland-meets-Edward-Gorey styling. The checkerboard floor is classy, and the place is about a quarter of the size of the Crystal, making for an intimate evening every time. Last time I was here I saw Divine Fits, and it was one of the best shows I’d seen in a long time, simply on a technical level—The Fonda’s sound and light people know exactly what they’re doing, unlike those at the Crystal. Fuck the El Rey.

First up was Duke Garwood, best known, I think, for last year’s collaboration with Mark Lanegan, Black Pudding, which was released on Mike Patton’s Ipecac imprint and which I now desperately want to hear. Garwood, with Savages’ frontwoman’s boyfriend and emaciated band swami Johnny Hostile in tow on bass, looked like a grizzled old man, dressed in all black, playing some bluesy noise-groove shit that definitely would sound excellent with Lanegan singing over it. Garwood’s mumbled delivery left a bit to be desired (honestly, the guy said a few things to the audience, none of which were remotely audible), but his inventive and intuitive guitar playing was pretty transfixing, and when he occasionally pulled out his bass clarinet to do some Colin Stetsonesque squaking, it became that much more interesting. The backing drum tracks were all unshakeably groovy and unshakeably weird. While there was tragically no surprise appearance from Lanegan, Garwood did invite Jehnny Beth, Savages’ singer, onstage for a duet. I was shocked to see her in a white blouse.

When Savages came on, though, they were all in black, through and through. Visually speaking, Savages are not only four objectively beautiful women, they are four objectively beautiful women who have clearly put a lot of thought into their visual presentation. I’m fairly certain Beth, guitarist Gemma Thompson, bassist Ayşe Hassan, and drummer Fay Milton wear exactly the same black clothing every night, and their hairstyles never change either. Beth’s NatPo buzzcut is entirely appropriate, as is Thompson’s eye-shielding mop. Milton’s top-ponytail makes her bounciness as a drummer even more apparent, and Hassan’s banged updo fits her lackadaisical stage personality perfectly. Throughout Savages’ performance, only white lights are ever shed on the band. And this is only the tip of their theatricality.

A Savages show, it is clear, is not merely a rock concert. They know how to bring on the pageantry. Beth had clear set-piece moments throughout, such as climbing out on the railing during new track “I Need Something New” and her speech about her masochistic friend Michelle jammed in the middle of “Hit Me.” In fact, everything this band seems so of-a-piece, from their clothes to their mission-driven songs to the signs posted outside their shows requesting that phones be silenced and pocketed (some asshat had his cameraphone thee inches from Beth’s face while she stood on the barricade and I wanted her to punch his lights out) that it feels almost less like a band than an art project.

Perhaps this explains why the crowd at the Fonda was so staid. We weren’t exactly watching a rock show, no matter how much it sounded like one, and despite the raucousness of songs like “No Face” and “Husbands,” people who moved did so alone, while people who didn’t stared intently at the band, waiting to see how the piece would unfold. Some of this crowd dullness also seems attributable to age— the median was probably 32. Savages, I think, appeals to a certain rockist nostalgia for a time when a band was a unit that performed with real instruments (they eschew electronics completely), had an ideology, aimed at something other than creating sound.

Not to say that this band doesn’t create an awesome sound. These are four incredibly talented musicians, and every song (and they hit pretty much every song from their debut record Silence Yourself) was pitch perfect. Everyone always focuses on Beth and Thompson, who apparently started the band and is its overall mastermind, but I have to say they’d be mere preachy noiseniks without Hassan and Milton, who have got to be one of the best working rhythm sections right now. Hassan is especially impressive—unlike Thompson, hunched over her guitar and coaxing notes out of it, she bounced and jived continually (whether actively playing or not), standing upright, eyes closed, pretty much never looking at her hands even as they played the intensely complex and melodic basslines Savages’ music calls for. When your guitarist spends most of her time making noise and your singer is more of a wailer, it falls to you as the bassist to hold down the melodic structure, and Hassan is probably one of the best I’ve ever seen at doing this. Milton, too, seems technically trained and impressively creative, as with her sickly lurching beat on “Strife” that always just barely misses time in the most tantalizing way.

When the roadies lugged out a piano and Duke Garwood with his clarinet, it was time for album closer “Marhsal Dear,” which struck me as an odd choice. Following the morose “Waiting For A Sign” with another relatively subdued track seemed to force a weird, midset slump. But they pulled out of it and straight into “She Will,” “No Face,” “Hit Me,” and “Husbands.” I began to see exactly where this band’s sense of performance comes from when Beth, over the intro riff to “Husbands,” started saying, “This is not my beautiful house! This is not my beautiful wife!” Like Talking Heads before them, Savages is an idea-oriented act, and as such, simply getting on stage and playing some songs is not an option.

Garwood and Hostile came out one last time for closer “Fuckers.” This song is not on any record, as far as I can tell, but it seems they close every set with it. It revolves around a mantra, imprinted on their t-shirts and CDs, which Beth explained in a remarkable pre-song monologue. I paraphrase: “I have a friend, in London, who said to me: Don’t let the fuckers get you down. He stayed over at my house, and in the morning he left me a note that said, ‘Thanks for the conversation, but don’t let the fuckers get you down.’ And it made me think. It made me think that, before I decide that I need to change, or that there’s something wrong with me, first, I must look around myself and ask… Are the people around me cunts? —’We will be cunts to the cunts and we will be good to the people we love.’ This is another thing he said. He should be a priest. . . Amen.” While I can’t say I agree entirely with the age-old anti-authoritarian sentiment, I wholeheartedly concur with the rage of sound Savages and friends followed it with, ending their set with a wail from Beth and a ringing chord from Thompson. The band took bows, appropriately. There would be no encore. Appropriately.

Throughout their set, I found myself thinking a lot about this sense of appropriateness, of deliberateness to everything Savages does as a unit. And I decided something sort of odd: I don’t want to see this band make another album. I don’t think they should even last past this year. It’s clear all involved will go on to do remarkable things, but they currently have such a perfect package of music, ideology, and aesthetic that adding anything to it would be frivolous, it would be extraneous to this project. Interviews with Thompson seem to suggest that Savages for her was always rooted in an idea more than in four people coming together to make music indefinitely, and it seems to me they’ve embodied that idea perfectly. There is so much deliberate intent behind this band that I’d be scared to see what a multi-record contract might force them into. Please, Savages, continue rocking faces for a little while longer, and then silence yourselves.

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