The Dismemberment Plan
with Enon, Dälek, and The Gena Rowlands Band
The Sapphire Supper Club, Orlando, FL • May 19, 2001
Julio Diaz and Andrew Chadwick
I’ve written in these pages before about the dearth of shows in Melbourne, Florida, and the difficulty in getting over to Orlando (just over an hour away by car) to catch a band. It’s worth the effort for a truly special event, though, and this promised to be one. Having caught the ever-inventive Dismemberment Plan in an amazing but way-too-short show at last year’s CMJ Music Marathon, I knew I’d be in for a treat. The post-Braniac/Skeleton Key noise/pop/post-rock of Enon also promised to be of interest, based on last year’s Believo, and with a couple of fellow Ink 19ers in tow, nothing would keep us from the Sapphire Supper Club.
Unfortunately, though, the distance factor prevented us from making it to Orlando in time to catch opening acts The Gena Rowlands Band and Dälek. Not to fear, though — fellow Ink 19 scribe Andrew Chadwick arrived early, and provided the following report:
The Dismemberment Plan have consistently exceeded my expectations of them live. I would be blown away one show and the next would be even more amazing. I knew I would be at their Orlando show no matter what, especially since it was to be held at the Sapphire. Other than Enon, though, I wasn’t too concerned about seeing the opening bands. Silly me.
The Gena Rowlands Band was tagging along with The Dismemberment Plan for most of their tour. Huh? How did they get such an honor? Who was this band I was going to have to sit through? They were comprised of a guy on guitar and a girl on violin. He began by relating a story from an interview he’d heard Ice-T give once. I missed the beginning of the story, but from what I could gather, Ice-T was explaining his involvement with Body Count. Apparently, back in the day, he wanted to experience hard, aggressive music. At the time, LL Cool J was big in the rap world. So instead, he would go see Slayer. He’d get his aggression out and come home and put on Sade or something. The parallel was drawn to tonight’s show, and the importance of having an equal appreciation for different styles of music. It was also quipped that they were the Sade to Dälek’s Body Count.
The Gena Rowlands Band spun out narrative tales of relationships gone awry and too much televison. As if you couldn’t guess from their band name, there were pop references to movies and shows all over the place (“Garofalo, C’est Moi,” for starters). The singer/guitarist had an intimately confiding, personable presence, and wasn’t afraid to weave some jokes into his songs to make them a little more light-hearted. The violin was a wonderful complement to the guitar, sometimes adding melody, sometimes rhythmic tension. Together, they played memorable songs that made it quite clear why they were brought along. An amazing set from a group I likely never would have come across otherwise. Thank you, Dismemberment Plan. Their four song EP is lovely (with fuller instrumentation, as well), and there are MP3s up at http://www.genarowlandsband.com.
Now for Dälek. I braced myself for Dälek’s assault. I had seem them open up for The Dismemberment Plan last time they came through, and had an idea of what to expect, except apparently I had a somewhat skewed interpretation of what I had seen last time. It’s amazing what sort of difference a quality sound system can make. While I enjoy seeing shows at Common Grounds in Gainesville, they really don’t compare fidelity-wise to The Sapphire Supper Club. Two different sound systems brought two very different Dälek experiences for me. Last time all the sounds were muddled together into one loud distorted attack on the humble P.A. As a result, I was a bit underwhelmed. This time they were able to represent themselves properly and the difference was night and day.
Dälek. Three individuals creating abrasive, unnerving hip-hop. One fellow twiddled knobs and kept the sounds tight. Another brought fury down upon a defenseless needle in the form of turntablism, sawing and scratching records, creating textures that went from hip-hop fare to noise. Effects and a pedal maximized his control over the sounds. The third spit lyrics dealing with the dissolution of black culture. I could actually hear everything clearly this time around and it made all the difference. The lyrics demanded my attention. Missing them before clearly made for a false impression. So here is my public apology for any disparaging words I might have ever said about Dälek. Their music demands your attention. Captivating stuff from their beats to their mix of sounds to their message. Powerful. Check them out at http://www.deadverse.com.
Thanks, Andrew. Now, the rest of the Ink 19 party, myself included, arrived just a few minutes before Enon took the stage. Said stage seemed unusually dressed, with open suitcases hanging out on top of amplifiers and equipment cases, and a couple of buzzing black & white TVs in the background. All part of the act, it would seem. Once the band came on, they displayed an intensity that did not let up for the entirety of their set. Thundering and dense, their music was a solid wall of sound, even on their most minimalist songs, It could be pretty and angular one minute, and atmospheric at other times, and straight up in your face the next, but it was always dense, full, and loud, putting out a massive amount of sound for a four-piece. Their traditional guitar-bass-drum setup (with frontman John Schmersal occasionally chiming in on second guitar) was augmented by the keyboards and electronics hidden inside the aforementioned suitcases –so that’s what they were for! One song was simply bass, drums, sequencer, and vocals, and even that felt like a massive chunk of sound given solid form.
Schmersal’s stage persona was just as intense as the music. He stalks the stage with a commanding presence, sometimes screaming in people’s faces (as they sing along), shifting into slippery-slide James Brown dance moves, and generally taking possession of the room. The most memorable moment came when Schmersal dropped into the audience for a number, singing directly to various audience members one by one, stealing their cameras to take their photos, swiping their beer, and most interestingly, actually stopping the song to chat with people on the live mic, inviting them to make up their own lyrics and then critiquing them on the spot (“no, that doesn’t even rhyme”). The net effect of Schmersal’s presence and the wall of sound left me feeling that I’d been physically assaulted, in the best way possible — with the intensity of the closing “Conjugate The Verbs” actually causing my legs to vibrate from the waves of sound crashing into me. To say that Enon are worth seeing is an understatement.
There are moments in a Dismemberment Plan set when broad smiles break out over the faces of the band (especially frontman Travis Morrison), and you can feel that the band is just as moved by the music they’re making as the audience is. It makes the performance even more special when you can feel that energy, that devotion, and that sense of excitement coming from the stage, and I think that’s a big part of what makes the band so appealing live. There were plenty of those moments during this (blessedly!) extended set, as band and crowd seemed to draw energy from each other, spurring the band to ever more dizzying heights.
Opening with the newish “Time Bomb,” the Plan had the crowd’s hearts from the get-go, any lingering skeptics quickly won over by the time the band launched into its second song, a devastating version of the crowd favorite “The Dismemberment Plan Gets Rich.” Morrison exhibited some of his own James Brown-style dance moves as the crowd erupted in a singalong frenzy. From there, the set went from strength to strength, from well-received new songs like “The Other Side” and “Following Through” (the latter with a breakneck chorus that really stood out) to long-time favorites, as the crowd screamed out request after request.
One of the most memorable moments came early on, as the Plan prepared to launch into a tune the crowd was demanding even before the band took the stage, “The Ice of Boston.” Morrison delivered a bit of snappy patter about how sometimes he feels that he just needs a chorus of three middle-aged black men standing behind him, performing synchronized dance moves and giving him criticism — “never mean, always helpful,” then wrapped it up by saying, “so if any of your skinny indie rock asses want to come up here and do an approximation of that•” Sure enough, three guys did get up, and while they were nowhere near in synch with their dance moves, they more than made up for it in enthusiasm. Morrison looked overjoyed as the crowd shouted along.
Indeed, it seemed that nothing could stop the Plan — even when Morrison’s guitar strap spontaneously fell apart during a thundering, raucous “What Do You Want Me To Say?,” he didn’t miss a beat. The crowd sang along in unison for a truly special “You Are Invited,” finding Morrison so excited he actually started laughing as he got to the “bad joke” line,” while the song’s sparse intro built into an explosion of sound before the song ended with Morrison leading the crowd in an a cappella singalong.
Wrapping up with a rocket-powered version of “Gyroscope,” the crowd’s demanding cheers soon brought the Plan back to the stage with a devastating one-two punch of the requested “Memory Machine” and a groove-heavy “Back & Forth” that found Morrison banging on his keyboard hard enough to actually break off a few keys, while the entire crowd heeded his lyrical command to “•put your hands/in the air/and wave ’em like you just don’t care” on the distinctive “back and forth” choruses. A perfect ending to a perfect show, the Plan amazingly exceeding the high expectations set by the shorter set I’d seen in New York.
I cannot more heartily recommend that you see this band live. I think that even if (for some insane reason) you didn’t appreciate their music, you’d be won over by their sheer enthusiasm and energy in a live setting. This is easily one of the best bands in existence at the moment, and their live skills are at a peak few could hope to match. Miss them at your peril.