Saturday, August 25h
The Showbox at the Market
If you weren't sure about the politics of Conor Oberst's reunited band Desaparecidos from>"/>
Saturday, August 25h
The Showbox at the Market
If you weren't sure about the politics of Conor Oberst's reunited band Desaparecidos from their screaming, seething power-pop/emo/indie rock songs, you'd get a pretty good idea from their dedications Saturday night at the Showbox. Those shout-outs included: Pussy Riot, the Occupy movement (or "anyone who's taken to the streets in the past year"), "all the wonderful people of Arizona who happen to have brown skin and have are dealing with that state's institutionalized racism," Joe Strummer, and military Wikileaker Bradley Manning ("a true patriot, who spends 23 hours a day in solitary confinement for telling the truth about our government...and our government doesn't like the truth...and shame on you, Barak Obama.") More broadly, at one point, Oberst said "come on, we're all in this together," and it felt sincere.
To Pussy Riot, the band dedicated new song "Back Sell," a number about payola and music industry corruption--a weird choice for an art punk protest group that isn't actually engaged in the traditional music business, but maybe Desaparecidos don't really have a ton of great feminist songs (the "Man and Wife" diptych coming perhaps closest in its deconstruction of "bitches be shopping" mentalities). For the Occupy movement, they did new song "The Left is Right," whose lyrics invoked taking "baseball bats to the limousines." To the brown people of Arizona, they dedicated "Back Sell"'s A-side, "Marikkkopa," about Maricopa county's rabidly anti-immigrant sheriff Joe Arpaio. For Joe Strummer's belated birthday, they played the Clash's homage to Catalonia '36, "Spanish Bombs." To Bradley Manning, they dedicated a brand new song, never before played live that had one chorus about "freedom isn't free/and neither is apathy" and another raging, breakneck chorus repeating "you can't stop us/we are Anonymous," seemingly shouting out the loosely anarchistic hacker collective (and putting Desaparecidos in the good company of Atari Teenage Riot.)
Now, some people will make fun of bands or artists for taking political stances, will rag on Conor Oberst for not being thorough or nuanced or logically coherent enough in his art or his supporting statements. And while it's true that political art always runs a greater risk of coming across heavy handed or laughable--cf. Macklemore--this kind of critique misses at least two things...
1. In a post-modern, Death of the Author world, we can evaluate the works of an artist separate from what we think we know of them as people, and 2. We don't expect Conor Oberst to have exactingly detailed solutions to the problems of terrorism and the Middle East for precisely the same reason we don't expect Bill Clinton to be the World's Funkiest Saxophonist and go on tour with soul-brother George Clinton: We look to art for inspiration, we look to the political sphere for public policy (and we don't always need the former to be as real-world coherent as the latter). So when a band incorporates politics into their songs, we may find ourselves driven to further reading or action--as Oberst directed show-goers to a table for more information about immigration rights--but we ought to still evaluate those songs as stand-alone works of art. And Desaparecidos' songs fucking rock.
Their show on Saturday night reminded me of nothing so much as the time Weezer played the same room back in 2000. That was four years into the hiatus after Pinkerton, and before anyone knew the band was coming back for good (and increasingly for ill), so that show also had a bucket-list, one-off reunion vibe. But more than that, you'd be a fool not to hear noisy, messy Pinkerton in some of Desaparecidos' songs (especially the slow-chugging and riffing "Mañana")--like I said, "like Weezer reading you Adbusters"--in their big power chords, their blown-out live volume, or Matt Baum's super hard hitting drum fills. Desaparecidos flubbed a couple guitar leads here and there--they mentioned that this was their first proper tour date following a few individual shows--and their loud/quiet/loud structures had the unintended consequence of making the quiet parts feel almost as rote (far more so than on record) as the loud parts were explosively cathartic. Overall, though, it was a raggedly exhilarating show, with a set list covering all of sole album Read Music/Speak Spanish as well as new material. It should have been a sold-out crowd.
Critic's Notebook: On the way in, I stood behind four Hispanic gentlemen, who weren't there to hear Desaparecidos sing "Marikkkopa" but were looking for El Tri, an actually Mexican (not just Spanish-named) band playing that same night at the Showbox SoDo. On the way out, a young woman was shouting about revolution and reading loudly from some literature while the crowd milled, mingled, and dispersed.
1. "Greater Omaha"
2. "Man and Wife, the Former"
3. "The Happiest Place on Earth"
4. "Mall of America"
5. "Back Sell"
6. "The Left is Right"
7. "Survival of the Fittest/It's a Jungle Out There"
10. "Man and Wife, the Latter (Damaged Goods)"
12. "Spanish Bombs"
13. (new song)
14. "Hole in One"