Jam band titans Dispatch didn’t have to try hard to charm Chicago’s packed Riviera Theater on the first night of their two-night stand there—but that didn’t stop them from trying plenty hard anyway. Their set featured the long, drawn-out jams and epic guitar solos the band is known for on a mix of old favorites and new tracks.
Honestly though, the crowd would’ve been fine with anything the band did—Dispatch fans are notoriously ardent, and following 2012 release Circles Around the Sun, the band’s first new album in over ten years, this fall tour was much anticipated. People were screaming and wolf-whistling during quiet numbers and singing along louder than the band on well-known ones. Indeed, it was often hard to hear the band at all—when they weren’t blasting full-on rock, that is.
The rocking out started early and happened often; after opening with a burning rendition of the new album’s title track, the band gradually segued into “Passerby”. By the time they’d been on for ten minutes, guitarists Chad Urmston and Brad Corrigan were playing leaned together back-to-back, suspended over the stage by teamwork and sheer force of will. They collapsed in slow motion onto the stage together, finishing the riff on their backs with their legs in the air.
Though they played hard, surprisingly the band didn’t do much of the instrument-swapping characteristic of their live performances. Urmston stuck to his guitar and Pete Heimbold the bass, though both switched out for acoustic models from time to time. Drummer and vocalist Brad Corrigan did the most double duty, coming off his kit to pick up another guitar and playing the hand drum center stage on several occasions. The band was joined by back-up members for several numbers, including “Two Coins”, which lent a fuller sound to the classic track.
Dispatch experimented with the arrangements on a few other crowd pleasers, including “Flying Horses” and “The General”. The former saw a raucous, hand-clapping, banjo-infused intro before a harmonica explosion blew out the windows on the familiar verses. “The General” flew by at a quick tempo, the verses sung so fast as to sound like a rapped tongue-twister. It would’ve been impossible to understand for someone who didn’t know the lyrics—but of course no one at the Riv seemed to be in that boat. The crowd sang along just the same, arms aloft, in thrall of the band’s every note.
Tracks from Circles included “Flag”, “Sign of the Times”, and “Josaphine”, which in particular plods a bit on the record but came out much better with live-act energy. The new material meshes well with the band’s older tracks, and the audience seemed very familiar with everything. They were so familiar that sometimes the singing along (which the band encouraged, to be fair) was so loud that it covered the guitar solos. This was often a pity; as Heimbold and Urmston played face-to-face or leaned backwards into the instruments, attentive observers could read in their expressions how much detail was being lost to the Riv’s fuzzy acoustics and the crowd’s unrelenting screams.
But amidst the chaos they inspired, Dispatch was as cool as ever, giving shout-outs to teachers and to those in the audience taking care of each other. Their rendition of “Carry You” was easy and peaceful, and it was obvious that they were enjoying themselves. Said Urmston to CoS a few months back, “It’s exciting to play the new songs and just feel like we’re a band again, with blood running through us. It’s really fun to play with Brad and Pete.” After their firecracker of a first night in Chicago, one can only imagine the spectacle they’ll ignite tomorrow.