The Dismemberment Plan
with Ted Leo + Pharmacists and El Guapo
The Social, Orlando, FL • December 6, 2001
For some reason, every time I’ve gone to see The Dismemberment Plan, I’ve been completely exhausted before the show – the kind of bone-tired that makes you wish the show was another night, the kind that you wouldn’t drag yourself out to the gig unless it was one of your absolute favorite bands playing. I’m not sure if sleep deprivation was a factor in my enjoyment of the band’s performances or not, but I do know that after each show, I was twice as invigorated as I’d been tired.
That track record held true for the band’s recent performance at the venue formerly known as The Sapphire Supper Club, freshly sold and renamed with the less-appealing sobriquet “The Social.” Before the show, I was ready to collapse, but afterwards, I was ready to run a marathon.
First up, though, was the enigma known as El Guapo. At this writing, I’m still trying to figure out whether I liked them or not. At times, I thought they were brilliant, but then, often in the same song, something would switch and they’d seem completely unlistenable. Their first song, “Plate Tectonics,” came across like They Might Be Giants trying to channel Shellac – an interesting combination of sounds, and a strange dichotomy for me, as I adore the former and have never understood the appeal of the latter. On they’d go, their next number a strange quintet of accordion, clarinet, bass, and drum machine, then following that with what a song that approximated what Wall Of Voodoo might have sounded like had Robert Smith joined on guitar. If it all sounds wildly uneven, well, at times it was – but somehow, that was part of the charm. If nothing else, El Guapo were compelling – like a train wreck, sometimes, but it was hard to turn away from them.
Next on the bill was indie legend Ted Leo and his band, Pharmacists. I’ve heard great things about Leo for ages, and now I understand that they’re all true. Taking the stage solo, Leo – accompanying himself on electric guitar – still managed to blast out full-on, impossibly hooky power pop, despite the lack of a band. Then, in the midst of his second song, the Pharmacists started to file onto the stage, joining in and filling up the sound with guitar, bass, and driving drums.
Alone, Leo had been a force to be reckoned with. But when joined by the Pharmacists, his songs became impenetrable walls of sound that no one could – or would want to – break down. Despite the dubious taste in hockey teams he revealed during between-song banter (sorry, Ted, but the New Jersey Devils are a boring team, and will continue to be as long as they cling religiously to the neutral zone trap), Leo won a new fan in me, and I’ll certainly check out anything he does going forward.
Finally, The Dismemberment Plan took the stage. After teasing the crowd by singing Oasis songs a cappella to check the mic, lead singer Travis Morrison launched into a story about leaving his one pair of “rock pants” in Tallahassee the night before. He’d been out of luck had he not discovered the last pair of “rock pants” at the punk rock boutique around the corner from the club – and they happened to be his size. Travis wondered aloud whether that was an omen of “an awesome show or a horrible show.”
Then the band launched into stellar version of “Gyroscope,” and erased any doubt. It didn’t even seem to take much more than that to convince Travis himself, and he was all smiles by the time the band kicked into their second song, “Ellen & Ben.” The crowd roared their appreciation and started shouting out requests, but as the band moved into “Falling Through” – another song from their new album, Change – Travis admonished that “this part of the show is our requests only.”
Luckily, the band’s requests proved to be crowd-pleasers, too. “The City” was up next, and the crowd erupted as the song built to a crescendo. “Secret Curse” followed with a nice post-punk edge on the intro, then “Time Bomb” got everyone singing along. A shredding, double-speed version of “The Dismemberment Plan Gets Rich” took things to another level, as Travis started to bust out the dance moves, then “Girl O’Clock” kicked things up another notch, getting so intense that at one point, Travis was playing keys with his head! By the time the set reached its midpoint with “The Face of the Earth,” Travis admitted that the new pants were working out well so far.
But the best would be yet to come. A few songs later, the band did what’s become a regular part of their show – inviting a few audience members on stage to act as “Pips” to Travis’s Gladys Knight on fan-favorite song “The Ice of Boston.” “A few” quickly turned into a couple dozen, as the stage was flooded with dancing, singing kids, nearly crowding bassist Eric Axelson off the stage. When the song ended, the “Pips” refused to disperse, and so stayed for “Superpowers” as their numbers continued to grow. In fact, the “Pips” remained for the rest of the set, becoming almost as much of the show as the band, and spurring the band to more manic and raucous behavior and leading to a barnstorming close.
With the crowd so enthusiastic, it didn’t take long for their cheers to bring The Plan back to the stage. A quick, thrashy “Onward, Fat Girl” was a nice surprise, then the band closed out the evening with a groove-y, danceable “Back And Forth” that had the whole of the crowd dancing, singing, and throwing their hand in the air, waving them like they just didn’t care.
And indeed, why should they care? They’d just had one of the most energizing, empowering experiences a person can have. They just saw one of the best shows of the year, from one of the best live acts out there, period. You can’t see The Dismemberment Plan live without becoming a fan, and you won’t leave the show disappointed. I can’t stress this enough. If this band comes to your town, see them at any cost. And bring two sets of shoes: one set to dance the night away, and another for that post-show marathon to burn off the energy. ◼