There was a time when Desaparecidos’ moniker went from being a politically-charged and perfectly memorable name for a socially-conscience post-punk band, to actually applying to the group itself. How ironic it was then, that the angry unit of synth-mashing upstarts were forced to disappear in the name of the progress and apparently greater good of lead singer Conor Oberst’s increasingly successful gig warbling the ex-girlfriends of a generation to sleep as Bright Eyes.
The timing was most unfortunate as things had just started to really take off for the band of Midwesterners: In my town, at least, just about every shaggy-haired wall-flower I knew owned the gray t-shirt with that low detail airplane scene on it.
Obviously, time has been good to Oberst, and I’m sure the decision to shelf Desaparecidos amid a storm of magazine superlatives and packed shows was never on the list of things that kept him up at night; after all, the guy went from acoustic demos about breakups to being friends with Bruce Springsteen. However, Oberst could not be left out of 2012’s reunion tour melee, and pulled a Mudcrutch on Bright Eye’s Heartbreakers by returning to work, attempting to sonically dismantle the government via Desaparecidos’ wash of jagged guitars and aggro-synths, all while delivering the band back to where it left off in 2002.
Those airplane t-shirts were the first thing to greet fans entering Orlando’s Beacham last night, resting where time had left them on the merch tables set in the club’s entranceway. Unlike many of its reunion class of 2012 peers, Desaparecidos has not limited itself to the big money promised by festival dates, and the group has even released some fresh material. The band’s set last night was as much a sweaty, singalong trip back through the memories as a rallying call for the youth, now a little older, to focus on some of the current political atrocities on Oberst and his mates minds.
The night was opened by the ’90s flavored rock-punk of Joyce Manor. The California based group got the crowd a bit loose with their California-infused take on the punk sounds forged in Gainesville. The set could be likened to walking on the beach in a pair of tattered, black Vans classics. That is, a sunny and fun take on the angst of adolescent life that bathed the early crowd in a bass heavy mix of chugging punk rock. The band closed its set with “Constant Headache” and a screaming chorus of front row dwelling fans cutting through the room shaking bass guitar of the song.
A prerecorded diatribe dealing with Obama, the NRA, and something about King George played over the PA to signal the beginning of Desaparecidos return to form in Orlando. Obviously, we would love to tell you more specifically what the bit was about, whether or not it was rooted in sarcasm, but the crowd was buzzing in anticipation and the theme from The A-Team triumphantly followed, breaking the already loud buzz into a downright riotous amount of applause and shouting. This was the scene that welcomed the backwards mullet-wearing Oberst and his bandmates as they hit the Beacham’s lovely stage.
As the band took off through the rollicking aural diatribe that is “Left is Right”, Oberst’s confident — though somehow still quivering — barks were answered by an audience that rode the steady wave of excitement crashing through the Beacham. Clenched fists traveled through the air, fingers waved about, and the crowd welcomed the first anemic synth flourishes of “The Happiest Place on Earth” with an immediate recognition and, somehow, even more energy. It felt oddly appropriate to see this side of Oberst — the combative side many Bright Eyes fans don’t even know exists — yelling these songs about his hatred for Disney, and American gluttony, and the other ugly topics he tackles in this project in such proximity to the den of the Mouse himself.
While it would be easy to assume protest songs might leave one with a negative outlook, the vibe was entirely positive. This band, it would appear, has been reborn more out of necessity to say something than a simple desire to perform again. Oberst punctuated the noisy, but never sloppy, melee with small, almost unassuming sounding sermons on the nature of the tracks being played. Most poignant of all, however, was Oberst’s request for everyone to start treating each other with a bit more dignity in lieu of the “pessimistic” songs the night was built upon.
The end of the set featured a cover of The Clash’s “Spanish Bombs” before closing with “Hole in One”. The Clash cover placed a fitting light on the band and framed, yet again, the idea that music can be both artistically gratifying and a weapon in the hands of the right individuals. As they left the stage, amps still burning away and humming with feedback, we couldn’t help but see a bit of Joe Strummer in Oberst, and though Desaparecidos have not (yet) revitalized the youth on the scale that Strummer and the Clash once did, we’d like to think that this new era of the band might grow to do something similarly spectacular.
Photography by Cap Blackard.