The Washington, D.C. music scene has produced some of the best angular post punk/indie rock of the past 20 years. It seems many of the '90s "scene darlings" have experienced a recent nostalgic reemergence over the past few years. Shudder To Think did a few shows in 2008 and released a live album. In 2009, Jawbox reformed to play Late Night with Jimmy Fallon and promote the re-released version of their most endeared record, For Your Own Special Sweetheart. So, I was not surprised when I heard The Dismemberment Plan was also throwing their hat in the reunion ring. They previously played 2 sold out (in 4 minutes) benefit shows for Cal Robbins (J. Robbins' son) back in 2007. When Barsuk Records announced an expanded vinyl reissue of The Dismemberment Plan's seminal record, Emergency & I, and a small US tour, I vowed not to miss it.
By the time I could secure tickets to these two shows, the all-ages Sunday show was the only available option. The lineup for the Sunday show also featured (The Plan's ex-labelmates from DeSoto Records) Maritime and The Forms. The Metro doors opened at the early hour of 6 p.m. on this rainy Sunday evening. Most sold out Metro shows start with a line down the block and end in a crowded concert experience. This show was a bit different because of both the weather and the show time.
The music started at 7pm with Brooklyn-based duo The Forms taking the floor, not the stage. The Forms slowly sauntered to the stage from the back of the club while playing both a steel drum and accordion while singing. They played an odd droning song; a great way to open a set and an intimate way to engage the audience of a half-filled venue. After this song, they took the stage played a solid 30 minute set of mostly keyboard and drum machine based indie/dance rock peppered with a little guitar. It was a bit of a departure from the more emo/math rock sound of their earlier records. The Forms tried to appeal to D.C. music fans by playing "Finally", a song off their new EP Derealization which features Craig Wedren (Shudder To Think). They definitely got the early crowd amped up on a dreary day.
Next up was the Milwaukee band Maritime. This group started in 2003 as an indie rock supergroup featuring half of the band The Promise Ring (Davey von Bohlen/vocal & guitar and Dan Didier/drums) and Eric Axelson the bass player from The Plan. With their previous respective groups winding down, they decided to give this new project a go. While Axelson left in 2006, Maritime expanded to a 4-piece and have consistently gotten stronger with each record. They were more cohesive as players than previous times I have watched them perform. Maybe with their new album, Human Hearts, only a few weeks from release and a new, high-profile indie label giving them some well deserved support they have been reinvigorated. They played a mix of songs mainly from their last 2 records along with the few new ones. Their newer songs seem very tight and a bit more dance influenced than their earlier acoustic based songs. All 4 members of the band were wearing red t-shirts that said "Solidarity" in support of the recent Wisconsin teacher's union strike. The shirts were (unintentionally) a perfect statement about the band and their new music.
There was (thankfully) only a 15 minute break between each band, this was barely enough time to get one $7 draft beer. By this time the venue had reached their 1150 person capacity and people were ready for The Plan's big return after a 7 year absence. I managed to score a VIP pass just hours before the show thanks to a friend with important friends. After The Forms finished their set I left the growing crowd for the spacious luxury of the VIP balcony. In the middle of Maritime's set, The Plan's tour manager came over and asked us if we would give up our table because Travis Morrison's (The Plan's singer) mother, sister and nephews showed up at the last-minute. We obliged and a bit later they showed up and enjoyed front row balcony seats. His nephews looked roughly around 5 and 9 years old respectively and both wore some totally cute kids ear muffs. As The Plan came to the stage they all seemed genuinely enthused to be onstage and overjoyed to be playing with each other again. They had the same Cheshire grins when they performed on Jimmy Fallon's show a month earlier. Before The Plan actually played a song, Morrison told a funny family story.
It was great to see early on that Morrison still had the gift of quick repartee and would keep us entertained between songs. The Plan opened up (appropriately) with 2 tracks from Emergency & I, "Spider In The Snow" and "A Life Of Possibilities". This proved that The Plan was here to celebrate their 1999 musical masterpiece, recently re-released on double vinyl. Song three was "Ellen And Ben" and Morrison ends the song with a lyric about hanging with his nephew and it is probably the same one who called him a sellout. Sorry Uncle Trav.
They eased into the set with three slower numbers and then began to build the tempo with a deep cut from their debut cd !, "If I Don't". This song seemed out-of-place on their manic/freak out first album, but alongside their later material it flowed seamlessly. The crowd needed only two notes of Jason Caddell's (guitar) opening riff to key in that "The City" was coming next. Immediately, the crowd began clapping and building energy, which continued through the entire song. It sounded like everyone in the crowd was singing throughout the choruses and even the bridge. I suspected that maybe they were just new fans and maybe everyone Tivoed The Plan's performance on Jimmy Fallon and memorized the words. I was quickly proven wrong by the whole song sing along of the next number, "Sentimental Man", from their swan song 2001 release, Change. This crowd energy definitely fed back into the band and helped propel the show in a great direction.
The band started to reach their peak energy mid-set, on the song "Timebomb". With the blisteringly fast high hat work of Joe Easley drawing nearly all my attention for the majority of the song, I nearly forgot about the rest of the band. Easley continued his one-man drum circus through the next two songs "The Other Side" and "Girl O'Clock". Between Easley's maniacal, seemingly eight-armed drum skills and Axelson's indie rock channeling of James Jamerson, this rhythm section was as solid as any moment of their 10 year career. When the band got to the song "You Are Invited" everyone but Morrison left the stage like it was the end of the show. Morrison began the song solo and slowly the band returned to stage just in time for it to kick in a full force ending to a full crowd sing-a-long. When the song ended they called a rock and roll stage audible and decided with only 17 minutes left to cut a couple of songs and forgo the motions of the encore. They ripped through the breakneck farcical autobiography, "The Dismemberment Plan Gets Rich". The band then cleared the front of the stage except for Travis and his guitar...and about 50 dancing Plan fans for the all-time crowd favorite, "The Ice Of Boston". Some unruly fans were slow to leave the stage and became a bit confrontational with Morrison before finally leaving. The Plan finished the night with a monstrously improvisational extended jam from the track "OK, Jokes Over". Travis proceeded to switch his regular lyrics to include some from Willow Smith's "Whip My Hair" and his personalized derivation of whipping his beard. He also managed to work in some of B.O.B.'s "Nothin' On You" before bringing this juggernaut to a halt promptly at a very reasonable 10pm.
The Plan drew 75% of set list from their last two releases, which is no surprise. The real surprise was the inclusion of some of the more obscure songs from the first two records. Expectedly, the Plan culled the majority of the set (9 songs) from Emergency & I for a very important reason, the record's near-perfect greatness and legend. The Plan seems perfectly content to briefly revive the music they left behind. I believe history will have a special place for The Plan because of their foresight to quit while they were ahead. With their last studio record nearing ten years old, I still think most bands are trying to catch up. (Even with a ten-year head start).
The Dismemberment Plan setlist:
01: Intro (Fallon)
02: Spider In The Snow
03: A Life Of Possibilities
04: Ellen And Ben
05: If I Don't
06: The City
07: Sentimental Man
08: What Do You Want Me To Say?
10: Time Bomb
11: The Other Side
12: Girl O'Clock
14: Following Through
15: Do The Standing Still
16: You Are Invited
17: The Dismemberment Plan Gets Rich
18: Back And Forth
19: The Ice Of Boston
20: Ok, Joke's Over
Listen to the entire show here: http://www.archive.org/details/dplan2011-02-20.ca14.flac16
All pictures except for the marquee courtesy of Jeff Fields.