DEATH CAB FOR CUTIE, THE DISMEMBERMENT PLAN, AVEO
EMP SkyChurch, sold out 8 p.m. Fri., Feb. 22
HERE'S A THEORY I spent about two minutes developing: "Emo" is so ensconced in the mainstream rock vernacular that it has become this decade's "grunge"—the ubiquitous, vague, backhanded compliment of a descriptor that no self-respecting musician wants applied to their work, legit or not. Punk, math rock, Britpop, hardcore, and nu metal are all peachy keen, but emo? No thanks. Buzzword today, venomous eulogy gag tomorrow.
I tested my breakthrough on Travis Morrison, the bright, contrarian frontman of Washington, D.C.'s homicide- by-keyboard outfit the Dismemberment Plan. No dice. In the enduring spirit of 2 Live Crew, "T" and his post-punk pimps are as emo as they wanna be.
"As long as you don't push genre terms too hard, they're very useful; actually, the more you can throw on, the better," he volunteers. "It's when you get trainspotter types bickering about whether a band is or isn't that, then those words lose their value. But as long as you accept that 'emo' is one of about 25 or 30 musical descriptive words that could be applied to the Dismemberment Plan, I have no problem with it, because 'emo' is definitely in, like, the top three.
"How pathetic is it, like, people are talking about your band and you get mad? 'I wish they would say the right things about me.' Fuck you!"
Our telephone t괥-୴괥 begins an hour late. While I undertake a hunger strike waiting for Morrison's call, the bastard's scarfing pizza and hushpuppies at Two Amys in D.C. ("the kind of dinner that makes you want dessert"). During our chat, he finalizes posters for the Death and Dismemberment Tour ("Graphic design is kind of an ulcerous industry; that's why I rock"). As you may surmise, Morrison is a superconfident blurb machine—argumentative, funny, and incredibly loquacious in describing his chameleonic rock band.
The Plan's appropriately dubbed new album, Change (DeSoto), is a jarring 180 from their back catalog's spastic Billy-Joel-goes-gangsta attack. It took three albums for Morrison, guitarist Jason Caddell, bassist/keyboardist Eric Axelson, and drummer Joe Easley to mold a heap of synth farts and shredding bar chords into perfectly bittersweet pop. Change's restrained "Sentimental Man" and "Superpowers" pour welcome molasses into the mix but never disrupt the band's live boogie nights.
"If you hear those songs sprinkled throughout the rest of our catalog, they don't sound nearly so subdued," Morrison says. "What they are is less emotionally demonstrative. The record, as a whole, is a document of a certain kind of detachment, not something you associate with wanting to go out and dance."
GETTING loose on stage has never been tough for the Plan. During "The Ice of Boston," Morrison frequently summons "Pips" from the audience to hot step it with the band. Berserk staples like "The Dismemberment Plan Gets Rich" and "Onward, Fat Girl" send all the players into a Springsteen-meets-Sex-Pistols thrash frenzy. Naturally, Morrison is quick to pooh-pooh my admiration of his happy feet.
"The people that can actually break-dance . . . that's one of our great American art forms and someday the powers that be, like the Kennedy Center, will notice," he gushes. "It's as amazing as anything you see in the ballet, but it just doesn't get the credibility."
He happily extrapolates on the formidable footwork of Jackie Wilson, then catches himself and says, "It's comical to be even comparing me to the dancing of Jackie Wilson."
I say that I was thinking of Morrison more in the vein of Tom Cruise in Risky Business. Remarkably, he doesn't reach through the phone receiver and break my neck.
"What you ask for—and don't get every night—is that everyone comes together and, in kind of strange, underlingual ways, communicates about where they're at and the mood they're in," he says. "People can dance and look hopelessly self-conscious, calculated, rote, unsurprising; it has nothing to do with whether you're actually dancing."
God bless spontaneity, for without it, the world would never have the Dismemberment Plan's inconceivable European tour opening for Pearl Jam last year. The legend: Jeff Ament heard the Plan at Easy Street Records, asked what the fuck this was, and voil୭instant mass exposure.
"They're a major-label band that actually learned the right things from people like Fugazi," Morrison says of his benefactors. "I studied them the way younger [NBA] players study Jordan. I thought I was a good frontman, then I realized how lazy I was. That guy (Eddie Vedder) is so clearly serious about what he does. There were times when I felt humiliated to be on the same stage.
"You know, I tell [journalists] this, and they don't get it. They're like, 'Right, so you were up there singing 'Even Flow?' Shut up. They're a great band."