Saturday, February 19, 2011

The Dismemberment Plan/JC Brooks and the Uptown Sound/Kid, You’ll Move Mountains; February 19, 2010; Metro, Chicago

It’s been eight years since the much-loved DC band the Dismemberment Plan bewilderingly called it quits. There has been a reunion show or two on the east coast, but I had little hope of ever getting to see one myself. That is until back in October a friend told me he had a pair of tickets to their show in Chicago that I didn’t even know existed, and that the second ticket was mine if I wanted it. It was appropriate as the Dismemberment Plan was the first band we saw together after meeting at a Ryan Adams show. (Which was undeniably terrific, and we’ll both tell you it was the only great show either of us ever saw him do.) I’ll admit I was nervous, there was a high potential for disappointment. They hadn’t played (much) together in the intervening years, how could they be as good as they were back then? As it turns out, they were awesome, even better than I remember them. At the end of the show my face hurt from smiling and my neck ached from head banging (though not as bad as it would the next day).

Of course, always adorable lead singer Travis Morrison had me from the beginning when he dedicated the whole set to “the people of Wisconsin and everything they are fighting for.” I remembered his rapid-fire vocal delivery and propensity for falsetto, but I’d forgotten about his herky-jerky robot dancing and his earnest banter. You can hear how good bass player Eric Axelson is on every song on every record but seeing it live is another thing entirely. He’s playing much more than basic rhythms. Drummer Joe Easley is a force of nature powerhouse behind the kit. I was so delighted with the band that I even forgave guitarist Jason Caddell for Poor but Sexy. (They opened for the Wrens in DC in ‘09. And like all Wrens’ openers, they were terrible. The best thing about them was the name, and I spent most of their painful set trying to figure out why the guitar player looked so familiar.) Their time slot was posted as 10:30-12, but they started earlier than that and by the time the third song of the encore came to an end they had played almost two hours.

That two hours contained pretty much every Dismemberment Plan song I knew, plus a couple I didn’t (we figured they must have been on the first record). Emergency & I is often considered their breakthrough record, and it did yield some of the most mainstream music of their career. The Weezer-esque “What Do You Want Me to Say” encouraged a song-along, as did the song of perceived privilege and acceptance “You Are Invited.” Surreally, I’d heard the band talking about the latter on NPR’s Weekend Edition, and I was pleased to note that the drummer was wearing an NPR shirt. They’re smart and they rock. I’d always leaned more toward … is Terrified and its smart ass songs like “Do the Standing Still,” which mocks indie rock kids for their refusal to move during a show (not a problem tonight), and “Tonight We Mean It” were forgotten friends. And of course it also has the song that made me fall in love with them.

It happened long ago at the now-demolished Union South, one of the worst places to see a show, but where I’d seen some pretty awesome shows all the same. They were opening for Burning Airlines, and I missed part of their set since I was late. But not too late to hear “The Ice of Boston.” I was sold; I bought a CD and saw them whenever I could. The half sung-half spoken song about a pathetic New Year’s Eve celebration remains a highlight of their live show, but tonight I was getting a little worried. We were a song into the encore before the familiar chords sounded. I confessed my concern to my friend. “C’mon,” he scoffed, “you know they have to play it. And now all the people will start piling on stage.” And so they did. Admittedly I’d totally forgotten about that, it has been long time.

The openers seemed almost random choices. Kid, You’ll Move Mountains is a Chicago band, and their love of sprawling rock was only matched by their enthusiasm for being on this bill. While you couldn’t hear any influence of the Dismemberment Plan’s scattershot rock in their dirges, there is no doubt it was there. JC Brooks and the Uptown Sound made even less sense. Watching them set up with their suits and horns, we worried they were a ska band, but instead they were a very soulful band led by the impeccably dressed Brooks. They were likeable enough, but they won me over with “a song from my favorite Chicago blues singer.” With the plethora of blues singers to choose from, I was surprised to hear the first line of the song. “I am an American aquarium drinker, I assassin down the avenue.” That seemingly nonsense sentence is of course the opening of Wilco’s “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart.” Brooks did what is essential to a well done cover, he made it his own, and it was an absolutely inspired version. So inspired, that many people didn’t seem to recognize it till the chorus. It was just the icing on what would turn out to be a pretty tasty cake.

Kid You'll Move Mountains

JC Brooks & the Uptown Sound

The Dismemberment Plan

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