About ten years ago, Conor Oberst’s fledgling post-hardcore act Desaparecidos hung up their hats so Oberst could focus his attention on his other act, the increasingly popular Bright Eyes. Since then Oberst has branched off into other musical ventures (Monsters of Folk, the Mystic Valley Band, a collaborative EP with Britt Daniel, etc.) but none of them have been able to match the sheer intensity that Desaparecidos conjured up. Then about a year ago, Oberst hinted that The People’s Key would be Bright Eyes’ final statement.
With Desaparecidos’ seemingly one-off reunion concert in 2010 for the Concert for Equality, several (myself included) had their fingers crossed for a full-blown reunion. There was no word on whether or not that would happen past that show until rumors started surfacing of a secret show in Nebraska. Then, in relatively quick succession, the secret show happened, a new song (“Left Is Right”) was unveiled, there was a short tour announcement, and a 7″ (“MariKKKopa” b/w “Backsell”) dropped. There was no guessing anymore, Desaparecidos were officially back in it.
Ever since that announcement, I’d been anxiously awaiting the sold-out tour kick-off show in Minneapolis at a scrappy but charming little punk bar/venue called the 400 Bar. When I finally found out I was cleared to go everything started to seem a bit more surreal. It’s not often a band you thought you’d missed out on reforms after a decade and you are there to see it. After braving some rough patches of weather in Wisconsin, myself and my friend Lauren (an Oberst die-hard, equaling my excitement) finally made it to Minneapolis. It wasn’t long before we were let inside with the most casual “you can come in now” announcement I’ve ever seen and checked out the surprisingly small venue, guessing at the set list and waiting anxiously for things to get underway.
Desaparecidos’ opening act was Little Brazil who I’d only briefly familiarized myself with. Little Brazil was fronted by Desaparecidos’ bassist, Landon Hedges, and they took the stage about half an hour after their scheduled start time, in true basement punk fashion. From what I’d heard of the bands material, I knew I’d be a fan but I had no idea how completely I would be won over by their live show. Their music is similar to that of Desaparecidos’ which is unsurprising, considering the two bands share a member, but there’s more of a power-pop influence present in Little Brazil. That influence, however, didn’t stop them from reaching Desaparecidos levels of post-hardcore heaviness.
Throughout Little Brazil’s set, the band was energetic and engaging, hopping around and completely utilizing all of the available stage space. There were some clear-cut highlights, including a seriously impressive run of songs towards the end of their set where it seemed like they were pouring all of themselves into the performance with no restraint. By the time their 40 minute set drew to an end, each band member was drenched in sweat, clothes a shade or three darker than they had been when they took the stage. It was an unbelievably impressive set that converted more than a few people, judging by the progressively louder and more emphatic applause each song drew successively (which was only partially due to crowd expansion). I’ll be on the lookout for any of their future shows in the area and try my damnedest to get there.
After Little Brazil’s expectation-shattering encore-deserving set, the crowd went back to waiting and got to catch their breath. Some of the amps were shuffled around and re-stacked and Landon got time for a decent breather and some steps were duct-taped to the side of the stage for guitar techs. Then, with virtually no fanfare or announcement, Desaparecidos took the stage, plugged in, adjusted their mics, looked out at the audience, at each other, and started up again, officially, for the first time since 2002. Starting with “Greater Omaha” the feelings that hit me when those first growl-y notes undercut the main guitar riff neared the inexplicable and it was undeniably clear that Desaparecidos weren’t just back, they were as pissed off as ever, and they still meant it.
The 400 Bar offered no unnecessary lighting, it was just the band onstage, as visceral as possible, which is an increasing rarity. Yet, that lack of excess fit Desaparecidos so well, that little fact made the entire experience even more visceral. As strange as it is to see someone who wrote a song as delicate as “Lua” absolutely losing his shit on stage, it’s even more exhilarating when they can do it well. Oberst’s performance throughout the night showed his impressive range and had me hoping he wouldn’t shred his larynx if this reunion is sustained as long as I’m hoping for. “Man and Wife, the Former (Financial Planning)” increased the bands rate of vicious headbanging and stage movement as they slowly set the bar higher for the rest of the night.
“The Happiest Place on Earth” came next and proved as reactionary as ever, with the upcoming election backdrop serving as a timely and fortuitous device for Desaparecidos return. Then, came the first banter of the night where Oberst audaciously denounced Minneapolis’ Mall of America in favor of the West Edmonton Mall in Canada which apparently “make[s] your shit look like child’s play”, Minneapolis. Of course, this was followed by an incendiary stage-rattling version of “Mall of America” which set up the first new song of the night, “Backsell”, quite well. “Backsell”, to me the better of the two songs on the MariKKKopa 7″, was even more vicious live than on record. The anti-music industry rant was a particularly fiery moment that got the audience a little more worked up than the previous tracks.
Another new track, labeled “The Left is Right” on the set list, came next and only cemented the fact that Desaparecidos aren’t joking with this whole reunion thing. This song seemed to be the watershed moment of the night where the crowd finally started matching the band in energy before the crowd took a slight on edge on “Survival of the Fittest / It’s a Jungle Out There” which had Hedges screaming his heart out at the start of the verses harder than he had through his bands own set prior to Desa’s.
Finally, the crowd clearly took over in terms of energetic reaction on both “$$$$” (perhaps the most surprisingly heavy moment of the night) and especially during “Mañana” where I legitimately thought there was a chance someone stuck in the middle could have been taken to the hospital. Somewhere in that run, Oberst launched into another pro-equality tirade against elitist patriotism and the implications of that, especially here, in the face of the two things this country was built on; the oppression of the Native American and the slavery of Africans. Only further demonstrating Oberst’s penchant to be confrontational, which fit in with the set itself extraordinarily well.
The main set closed with “Man and Wife, the Latter (Damaged Goods)” which incited the continuation of the near-riot levels that “Mañana” induced, intense sing-a-long included. “MariKKKopa” was the song they chose to go out with, which gets new life in the live context, elevating from slightly above standard pop-punk style number to a song capable of bringing the house down. With the outro laid on extremely thick, it was a perfect exclamation point to the main set that should have left the audience howling for more. Instead, the most confusing moment of the night hit immediately after; an appalling lack of applause for an encore. While a case could be made for people having lost their voices and being drained energetically, the applause was still abysmally light.
Thankfully, the band was eventually coaxed back onstage after what felt like an eternity with either the completely spent or completely unenthusiastic. There were only three songs left in the bands discography at this point and the band opted to play none of them and instead offered up a ferocious rendition of The Clash’s “Spanish Bombs”, which fit into their aesthetic perfectly. After one last call for applause for Little Brazil, there was only one song left to play and it was the only one that hadn’t been played from the bands extraordinary lone LP Read Music / Speak Spanish, “Hole in One”.
With the pauses in the song accentuated by audience screams, the band gave everything they had left and ended the song with both guitarists on the edge of the stage, knees and legs hitting and being grabbed by audience members, guitars raised up and strings offered to anyone lucky enough to be close enough to strum. It provided the night with a perfect end, finally being a direct tangible bridge between band and audience. Then, an unexpected coda after an extended pause — Oberst held up five fingers and then, in unison, the band all hit the same chord, down-stroked, five times. The whole set only lasted about an hour but was ample proof that Desaparecidos are back and in finer form than ever. We’re all the better for it.