The Dismemberment Plan
Thursday, June 20, 2003
Local hipsters and children of the emo might have a foggy memory of the Dismemberment Plan as the last big thing of 1999-2000. It's unlikely the D Plan enjoys the same vogue of three years back, without being too much of a jerk about it. Thankfully, the Dismemberment Plan are more interesting than yesterday's papers. Somewhat more interesting. It depends, really, on which newspaper we're talking about and how much stuff happened yesterday, and so on and so forth. A few brief remarks by way of explanation, then.
The Plan were poised for total world domination after deSoto's release of their Interscope-funded gem Emergency & I in the fall of 1999. For a time after the release of that LP, it seemed that the DC foursome might return to a major label (they were signed to Interscope for all of one EP) or at least jump to a bigger indie. As it was, the momentum generated by Emergency and a gig supporting Pearl Jam in Europe dissipated in a two-year wait for 2001's unfairly maligned (but not that great) Change. Since then, the Plan has plugged away, but rumors of a solo project by lead singer Travis Morrison surprisingly turned into a full-scale (but amiable) breakup earlier this year. Thus, we have the Dismemberment Plan farewell tour of 2003, full of hug exchanges and beer toasts, featuring a rotating cast of openers, and stopping this particular Thursday night in the great metropolis of the American Middle West, the backyard of the Chicago Maroon.
Warming up the Metro were two low-profile bands: one you don't need to worry about and another you might consider worrying about. Wisconsin's Paris, Texas began the proceedings with 30 minutes of indistinguishable yelping and weird chords. Middle act Lake Trout, erstwhile jam band and current mostly instrumental indie outfit, contributed a brooding, dense set of songs, for the most part a total contrast to both the first act and the upcoming headliners, but oddly appropriate. While short on time and excitement, they made a good impression in their half-hour set before clearing out for the feature presentation.
The Dismemberment Plan, on their best day, were fun enough to get people dancing, loud enough to gratify the meathead population, emo enough for the kids, and poppy enough for agnostics to bob their heads along as a form of toleration. This was not quite their best day, in fact, and the crowd was sluggish for the better part of the show. The first four songs were rough and rusty, putting the set into a holding pattern. Morrison's insistence on an all-request format worked out as well as a prison riot on the first few attempts. It's very difficult to call on individual people in a dark, smoky, loud club, but the raise-your-hand system wound up getting the job done, despite a few mix-ups. By the end of the night, the band had rounded into form, punching out strong renditions of their best songs, "The Ice of Boston," "Time Bomb" and "What Do You Want Me to Say?" in a three-song encore.
At odd moments, an observant concertgoer could pick up some hints as to why the Dismemberment Plan are hanging up their spurs. Morrison copped to his own age (a surprising 32) during the obligatory singing of "Happy Birthday" to an audience member. While Morrison has years left by indie rock standards, his particularly spastic métier as a performer can't be as easy as it once was. Elsewhere, the band seemed a bit worn out, more so than can be explained away by the burdens of touring. Drummer Joe Easley was his usual energetic self but everybody else seemed a bit drained, especially Morrison. Morrison's regular trick of gently ad-libbing the lyrics to bubble gum hits du jour into his songs fell flat in comparison to previous shows -there's nothing much left to make fun of in either Christina Aguilera's "Dirrty" or Jennifer Lopez's "Jenny From the Block." That image, after a fashion, is the story of the Dismemberment Plan. Good but not quite great, dynamic yet just a bit predictable, but overall, somewhat fun for almost everybody involved.