Desaparecidos is a band that I don’t quite know what to make of. As a lover of punk rock and politics and as a fan of Conor Oberst’s lyricism and musical talent in his folk project Bright Eyes, an Oberst-led post-hardcore band with a distinctly political lyrical edge seems like assured greatness for me. But unfortunately Desaparecidos, on record, have struck me as preachy rather than revolutionary; a band that hits all the right notes musically but politically flounders in a vaguely liberal anti-consumerist mess. So I went into their concert at the Music Farm, where they were opened by two New York punk bands the Band-Droidz and the So-So Glos, with a certain degree of skepticism.
Things started off well with the Band-Droidz, a Harlem band that is carrying on a brand of hardcore that doesn’t get enough love contemporarily – the amalgamation of hardcore, metal, and reggae that was espoused by groups like Bad Brains. Their sound was great and full, the bassist clearly audible and influenced heavily by dub in his playing style. The lead singer made frequent use of some really impressive throat-shredding screams, and the drummer pulled out some neat stick tricks throughout the night. The perception of punk as a genre for people who can’t play instruments with any technical proficiency didn’t really hold water for this group.
The band was at once quite melodic and perfectly heavy, and the small crowd at this juncture made the performance more intimate. They also knew how to put on a show – at one point, when the drummer felt the audience wasn’t excited enough, he went off-stage and put on a wolf mask before they launched into the next song, and it was one of the most entertaining moments of the night.
The next band was the So-So Glos, and I frankly don’t have much to say. They were a prime example of your usual white-bread pop-punk, lots of whoa-whoas and nasal singing and power chords. They were definitely energetic and having a fun time, and the audience got especially excited when they arrived. Towards the end of the set, Conor Oberst, clad in a hoodie, came on stage to duet with the lead, which was a nice moment. They closed out with a song called “Son of an American”, which illuminated to me why Oberst and the band had selected this group to be one of their openers. Not a highlight of the night for me, but decently entertaining.
Finally, the Desaparecidos appeared. The performance was high-intensity but difficult to hear the details of – they didn’t seem to have a bassist present, just three guitarists, and Oberst made multiple mentions and apologies for losing his voice. Scattered between songs were various soundbites, a couple McCarthy-era PSAs as well as a collage of prescription drug side effects. But the other transitions between the songs were profanity-laden rants by Oberst about politics, touching on the themes of the tracks the band was about to play. Consumerism, anti-Latin American racism…consumerism. These remarks were somewhat rambling and less than nuanced. The recent cancellation by the band of all future tour dates so Oberst could recover from laryngitis, anxiety and exhaustion explains a lot, and I wish him a speedy recovery. But the energy of the performance more than made up for whatever shortcomings there were in the audibility.
For the last few songs, the band did their most popular tracks and a cover of the Clash’s “Spanish Bombs”, inviting the members of the So-So Glos and the Band-Droidz on stage to add guest vocals, wild moshing and dancing, and a return of the wolf mask. All in all, it was a high-energy and fun night of punk rock. While each band varied in their performance and style, each indicated a huge respect for the genre in their solid playing.
You can also catch Seth’s show “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” Thursdays at 10PM only on CisternYard Radio.