All words: Dan Singer
All photos: Ryan Kelly
Two hours after Desaparecidos finished up their Saturday night gig at the 9:30 Club, my ears aren’t exactly ringing or throbbing. It’s more like there are these two columns of air sitting on both sides of my head, compressing my skull and allowing only a select group of vibrations to get picked up by my insides and recognized as sound. I am exhausted, and maybe a tad dizzy, but I feel wonderful.
I had seen Conor Oberst live one other time, when Bright Eyes played the 9:30 Club in 2011 with First Aid Kit. That show went down as one of my favorites of all time, as Oberst and his band did their thing for over two hours. Mr. Oberst may not have had the precise intonation of his opening act, but he navigated between complex layers of emotion in a way that was so powerful it defied my limited vocabulary of hyperboles. He never fails to convey the passion and conflict in his music, and he’s not afraid to sweat, scream or revel in a state of despair.
Fronting Desaparecidos, his post-hardcore band who released an album in 2002 and got back together last year, the Oberst I saw on stage was clearly the same guy who wowed me with Bright Eyes. But his arsenal was a little different this time around. Instead of his spinning acoustic guitar and a beat up piano, he had a Gibson electric and a tinge of distortion on his voice. Instead of rowdy folk numbers and raw ballads, there were thrashing power chords that married Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound with ’90s emo. Instead of a cover of Gillian Welch’s “Wrecking Ball,” there was a gritty take on The Clash’s London Calling classic “Spanish Bombs.”
It was ultimately refreshing to see Oberst work in this environment. Akin to the other great side projects of the indie world, Desaparecidos is an outlet for him when he wants tap into a level of unabashed catharsis that might be a little out of character for Bright Eyes or his solo stuff. Oberst’s politics were unsurprisingly in the mix, complete with a dedication to Bradley Manning, a “fuck Wall Street” moment and an introductory recording of Ted Nugent rambling about gun control. With that said, the music is fitting for the discourse, since Oberst is not one to let his words fade away quietly. Ideologically, he went as far as handing the mic to a fan who thanked him for giving people hope in tough times. That fan could’ve drunkenly ranted or screamed requests for Bright Eyes songs, but Oberst wasn’t going to deny him his free speech. Matthew and Nancy Oberst were in attendance, and I hope they are proud of their son. They should be.
I don’t think Desaparecidos’ set was as affecting as the Bright Eyes show two Septembers ago. It’s hard to top the climax of “Road to Joy,” or a heart-stopping rendition of “First Day of My Life” during which Oberst changes his lyrics to unveil new colors in something timeless. But when he was vigorously picking eighth notes and shouting throaty battle cries about Anonymous and Arizona SB 1070, I had no doubt that he was invested in what he was doing, and that he was using his influential voice to take a stand on something. Maybe this is where Oberst’s creative inspiration lies at this point in his career. Maybe this is what we need from him right now.
P.S. – Desaparecidos were preceded by sets from openers States & Kingdoms and Joyce Manor. The former was comprised of members of several post-hardcore bands, but their material seemed to draw more from dense, meandering post-rock. I didn’t warm up to them until a few minutes into their set, but there was definitely intellect behind their music, which I admire. Joyce Manor brought a surprisingly large contingency of fans to the 9:30 Club, and many of them appeared to be singing along religiously. Most of their songs functioned as bite-sized bursts of riffage with a hook or two, but I didn’t mind. I brought my mom to a couple of Warped Tours when I was in middle school, and she can probably attest to the intensity with which I embraced my favorite bands. It’s always nice to get excited about something.