words: Jarith Hughes // photos: Ben Gunzburg @benshootspeople
“..a force to be reckoned with. The energy between the band and the crowd was organic and alive. There was also a sense of light hearted joy that hung over the room..”
It’s a stinking hot summer afternoon and I’m sitting solo with a cold pint in my hand. It wouldn’t be an overstatement to say I’m pretty excited for tonight, I can already tell by the energy in the building that it’s going to go off.
As I enter the bandroom, there is already a swarm of kids holding their ground at the very front of the stage. Looking around I can see an array of new and old La Dispute merchandise, people that seem barely old enough to enter a bar, and some that look as though they’re fans from the beginning. The room is more than half full and we’re still waiting for the opening band to kick off.
Bright and energetic, Melbourne locals SELF TALK take to the stage. The female fronted group bust into their songs with zealous enthusiasm. The band carries a striking sound with the mixture of 00’s aussie emo / punk that I love (the likes of Kisschasy, British India) with a upbeat pop flair and vocals (reminds me of Land of Talk, Tegan and Sara) that engage the listener and make their music approachable to a broad audience.
Bright chirpy synths, solid rhythm sections and two-three way harmonies make these guys a fun band to hear and see. At first I considered Self Talk an interesting juxtaposition to the headliner, but as I listened closer to the songs I could see the parallels in the introspective, nostalgic and observational lyrics. It was encouraging to see a young band play with so much passion, not looking too cool for school. Toward the end of their set I was glad to turn around and see Self Talk playing to what was now a packed out room.
Most crowds disperse and charge the bar during the change overs, but this crowd didn’t budge. No one wanted to lose their spot, there was a deep sense of anticipation in the room and it was almost as if the setting up ritual was as important as the show. To my surprise the band themselves took to the stage to set up, not a group of fancy stage techs. Smiling, with a joyful and relaxed sense of ease the band greeted fans, laughed and instantly cemented the positive energy in the room.
Without hesitation and almost no warning the lights dimmed, drummer four-clicks and La Dispute blast into their opening song.
The Grand Rapids, Michigan based group blur lines between hardcore / post rock / jazz and spoken word. But to me (and I imagine to them) it’s simply raw, honest and expressive music free of boundaries and limitations, both musically and lyrically.
With deep pounding drums, warm growling bass, lively guitars ranging from clean glassy riffs to roaring feedback, open strummed chords and vocals that shift from gentle spoken word to gut wrenching screams; La Dispute’s music carries a unique balance of tension and release. Their songs rise and fall, lending themselves to the narrative in the lyrics instead of a typical “verse/chorus” format. Moments where the music could almost be considered a soundscape, assisting the story with sonic imagery and landscapes. The songs tread through delicate introspection, ride moments of building tension, exploding into chaotic yet driving ferocity, then collapse back into light and beautiful moments of reflection - all while holding melody and groove throughout.
There’s a strong connection people share through La Dispute’s lyrics, their songs journey through the heavier subjects others may be apprehensive to; while other songs reflecting on nature, love, and appreciation for the small moments we share.
Nostalgia was thick in the room as the band charged through their setlist comprised of their best known singles from each album, (including the 10 year anniversary of their debut album ‘Somewhere at the Bottom of the River Between Vega and Altair’ ) spanning their almost 15 year existence.
La Dispute’s performance was a force to be reckoned with. The energy between the band and the crowd was organic and alive. There was also a sense of light hearted joy that hung over the room with jokes and banter shared between songs. The audience is diverse with people of all backgrounds, immersed in the music and in a symbiotic state, screaming every word with a sense of ownership and conviction to these songs. The experience is weighty and emotional but altogether beautiful. One of the purest examples I’ve seen of how music can impact people's lives and move them in a positive manner.
Frontman Jordan Dreyer also shared from his heart some thoughts and opinions on the current state of music and the industry and how important it is to support your local artists and honest art, to disrupt the system designed for people to exploit and profit from others art, and how rock and roll is not devoid of all joy, but can help bring healing and growth through the hard times.
This was a show I never wanted to end. La Dispute explained their discomfort with encores and that they would play their set then come to meet and hangout with everyone. The night came to a close with their short but compelling opening track ‘Such Small Hands’ from their now decade old debut album. The whole crowd screaming “I Think I Saw You In My Sleep Darling...”