Joyce Manor was a perfectly chosen opener for this long-awaited return to the U.S. east coast by Desaparecidos, far and away one of the best things the cultishly loved Conor Oberst has attached his name to (although honestly, the Bright Eyes catalog is pretty solid). Joyce Manor may not carry a lick of Desaparecidos' political fervor, but their ambitious collision of sloppy, bash-away punk and indie rock sensibilities just made perfect sense as an opening taste. The crowd's reaction wasn't actually as wild as I'd have expected, given the long line queued up outside the venue before doors opened and the huge response I saw them get only a state away last summer. "Comfortable Clothes" did erupt in some push-pitting that maintained some steadiness for the rest of the set, which overall included only a pair off last year's sadly neglected Of All Things I Will Soon Grow Tired, a bunch from the self-titled, and a handful of new songs. These new jams retained the band's concise approach, though "City by the Ocean" was noticeably more adventurous in the vocal department.
Set list (8:01-8:25):
City by the Ocean [new]
Heart Tattoo [new]
Five Beer Plan
Desaparecidos took the stage a half-hour later and promptly began to rock the entire house to its core. While half this crowd was there in blind appreciation of Oberst's unintentional cult of personality (judging by the silly "CONOR! CONOR!" chants during the encore break and a handmade ashtray he was gifted in the middle of the set), the other half were clearly diehard Desparecidos fans psyched to finally see one of punk/rock's best long-dormant acts as they sang and shouted along to every song in a massive tidal wave of bodies. Everyone seemed to lose their minds for the entire hour and change while the band plowed through almost every song they've written with joyful energy, grit and professionalism. It was honestly one of the best sets I've seen any band play in a long time, although that opinion might be tainted by the fact they released a favorite record of mine with songs from which I'd never even seen performed live at all. Still, the whole set was a thrill ride.
While there's some nostalgia and joy behind reunion tours like this for sure, the band have kept their revival decidedly relevant with some new songs tackling current topics like hacktivist group Anonymous (Oberst encouraged everyone in the audience to hack into government computers) and Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio ("He's not a sheriff, he's a criminal," Oberst remarked). Oberst also spread some awareness about imprisoned U.S. soldier Bradley Manning (jailed for allegedly passing info to WikiLeaks), and during the encore let one audience member announce an upcoming show taking place on the streets of Boston to protest the local epidemic of city police shutting down DIY show spaces (for perhaps a minute too long, as a regretful-looking Oberst began to motion for the mic back a full minute before the confident, self-proclaimed queer punk in the audience was finished speaking).
Speaking of the encore, what a weird scenario. Oberst and company came back on stage and said they were going to play a song by their favorite band before busting into "Constant Headache"...by Joyce Manor...who had just played the song an hour and a half prior to that...on that very stage. It was one of the strangest things I've ever seen live, but it totally worked. Hell, a smiling band of Desaparecidos probably played it better than JM did, who were standing on the back of the stage watching and smirking before their singer strolled out to join the frenzy at one of the mics. Then they mentioned they would play a cover by their second favorite band and segued into a great, more distortion-laden take on the Clash's "Spanish Bombs."
Set list (9:01-9:53):
The Left Is Right
The Happiest Place on Earth
Mall of America
Man and Wife, The Former (Financial Planning)
Survival of the Fittest / It's a Jungle Out There
Man and Wife, The Latter (Damaged Goods)
Constant Headache [Joyce Manor cover]
Spanish Bombs [The Clash cover]
Hole in One