David Bamfordʼs Weblog

Retrospective (I): La Dispute

I write for two excellent weblogs, Manchester Rocks (who you can also follow on Twitter here) and Get Your Rock Out (who you can also follow on Twitter here), and the below review was first submitted to GYRO back in May.
La Dispute and O’Brother and Eugene Quell, Gorilla Bar, Manchester, May 20th
Brighton outfit Eugene Quell opens this gig with a blistering fifteen-minute set filled with tight, vital energy and excellent stage presence, rattling through their set laden with well-rehearsed hooks and catchy lyrics. They’re certainly set for bigger things and this opening slot will do wonders for increasing their fan base.
Atlanta’s O’Brother are up next, combining iLiKETRAiNS-style ambience with soaring vocals reminiscent of ‘Showbiz’-era Muse, their driving, building riffs blending with the vocal sound to create a soundscape worthy of Bossk or Caspian. It’s technically perfect, and while this reviewer feels more facets could have been added to the vocal, this is a solid and interesting support choice and I feel sure O’Brother will make many more appearances on our shores. Check them out.
Michigan’s quartet La Dispute are not exactly known for doing easily accessible, straightforward rock music. Their propensity for long, wordy lyrics and songs that deal with really quite disquieting situations is fast becoming legend on the post-hardcore scene, stretching right back to the band’s inception in 2004. They have ever delivered hard-hitting poetry on their records, and while they released several EP’s back in the couple of years after they formed, really it was 2008’s ‘Somewhere At The Bottom Of The River Between Vega And Altair’ that put them firmly on the map, with songs like New Storms For Older Lovers, part of a trilogy of songs about an infidelity that catastrophically destroys a relationship, and The Last Lost Continent, a 12-minute epic about death and love and where the human race is going.
The band then went quiet for three years (besides doing splits with Koji and Touché Amoré) before emerging in 2011 with the excellent 50-minute full-length ‘Wildlife’, an album about the band’s hometown with songs so emotionally ruinous and intense that it is still a struggle to listen to the whole record in one go. Tracks such as King Park, about a drive-by shooting that goes wrong, Edward Benz, 27 Times, about a man who is nearly murdered by his schizophrenic son and I See Everything, which charts a mother’s struggle to cope with the fact that her seven-year-old son is dying of aggressive cancer, will all leave the listener gasping for breath with tears in their eyes, such is the emotional impact. (A side note: vocalist/lyricist Jordan Dreyer famously has said that the above three songs from ‘Wildlife’ are all based on true stories.)
Heart-wrenching stuff. So, expectations were high for their new record, this year’s ‘Rooms Of The House’. It did not disappoint. The album depicts in minute detail the slow disintegration of a relationship, the ‘motions of ordinary love’ as Dreyer soulfully puts it in the track Woman (In Mirror), and coldly juxtaposes this with a tornado touching down in Hudsonville, Michigan, resulting in the collapse of a bridge which carries one of the city’s major highways at rush hour.
Opening with the first two tracks off the new record, Hudsonville, MI 1956 and First Reactions After Falling Through The Ice, it doesn’t take long for Jordan Dreyer to descend into one of his now-legendary onstage freak-outs, stamping and flicking his head from side to side and twirling as he shouts the lyrics. This energy, pent-up in the crowd for the first tracks, suddenly catches and is released for the third song played, The Most Beautiful Bitter Fruit, which sends the assembled flock of fans into a whirling, frenzied mosh pit (during which two young men actually nearly get into a real fight, much to the amusement of those around them). Two more fast tracks follow, one of which is the second single from ‘Rooms Of The House’, and then Dreyer and the rest of the band decide to slow things down a little by playing Woman (In Mirror) and then A Letter. The band then perform Andria, from their 2008 record and then blister through five more tracks before closing out the main set with Woman (Reading).
The guitarist and drummer both remain onstage at the end of the song and deliver a nice little instrumental duet before the stage lights go down and they walk off stage, but there’s still a buzz in the air, still something that feels unfinished, a thirst unquenched. About a minute later, Jordan Dreyer comes back onstage followed by the rest of the band and amid joking calls for them to play songs by other bands, Dreyer calls a huddle so the band can decide what to do for the encore.
There are three songs played, one of which is A Broken Jar (a song which serves as a kind of accompaniment to A Letter and A Poem) and then, with barely a pause, Dreyer looks the crowd straight in the face amid kids screaming song titles and announces: ‘King Park’. This song is a fan favourite and the perfect way to end a perfect set. I will admit a slight shiver crawled coldly up my spine when the entire crowd (myself included) screamed that final set of lyrics, those devastating words spoken by a kid with a loaded gun, alone in a locked hotel room with no hope left and his family scrabbling at the door:
‘Can I still get into heaven if I kill myself?’
Set list:
Hudsonville, MI, 1956
First Reactions After Falling Through The Ice
The Most Beautiful Bitter Fruit
Stay Happy There
St Paul Missionary Baptist Church Blues
Woman (In Mirror)
A Letter
For Mayor In Splitsville
All Our Bruised Bodies And The Whole Heart Shrinks
The Child We Lost 1963
A Poem
The Castle Builders
Woman (Reading)
You And I In Unison
A Broken Jar
King Park