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Sorry About Dresden

April 21, 2001

Holy Name Fieldhouse, Omaha

It's impossible to be critical of a benefit concert, especially one of such a dire nature. The Collin McElroy Benefit (the event where these bands played), raised money to help pay for Collin's funeral -- he committed suicide March 26 (click here for details about the cause).

About 450 were on hand by my best guestimate (I counted about 250 sitting in the bleachers and another 200 or so standing in front of the stage or milling around) to give their support to the family, but also to see the unveiling of Bright Eyes frontman Conor Oberst's new rock project, Desaparecidos. The full line-up for the benefit was Desaparecidos, followed by Sorry About Dresden, Cursive and finally Bright Eyes.

The Holy Name Fieldhouse is your basic high school gymnasium, though this one was built sometime in the first half of the 20th Century. -- we're talking concrete blocks. As you'd expect, the acoustics were nightmarish. Look, no one expected the sound to be terrific, but I wasn't quite prepared for the echo-chamber that followed. The sound bounced off every concrete and metal surface like a sonic pinball, blending guitar, drum and cymbal like a moist stew. If you stood within 20 feet of the stage it was possible to get a pretty good idea what was being performed, but if you sat on those bleachers pushed up against the opposite wall -- forget it.

I had heard there was some concern that an overly active Napster-user might pirate a live bootleg of the show. Heh-heh-heh. No way. On a scientific note, ear plugs took out much of the overall frequency distortion, and I was glad I had mine. Those who didn't, specifically the older people -- friends of the family or parishioners who didn't know any better -- spent the night with palms over ears or outside with the smokers.

Enough about the acoustics -- what about Desaparecidos? Well, discounting the overall noise factor, I think Conor and company might be onto something. Unlike Bright Eyes' acoustic-driven, heart-achy balladry, Desa... (That's it! D-band on further references) is first and foremost a rock band. And I'm not talking of the emo-variety, either. Yes, there was a distinctive power-indie sound, but not in the usual we-love-the-Pixies sort of way. Oberst is a crooner, and when he sings like a rocker, backed by mainly upper-end power chords and heavy-as-hell drums, you tend to get something altogether different and distinctly poppy. And, well, appealing, or so it seemed amidst the waves of distortion. A couple of the five or six songs that made up their set even had nice breaks, not to mention good old-fashion rock hooks (Oberst knows how to write traditional pop songs, as anyone who's heard Park Ave., one of his former projects with The Faint's Clark Baechle, can attest). 

I couldn't tell you what Conor was singing about if my life depended on it, which is a shame because Dalley had said the lyrics would have a socio-political bent, unlike Oberst's usual confessional relationship dialogue in Bright Eyes. Overall, it's impossible to give a definitive assessment of their music because of the acoustics. It'll be interesting to hear what The D Band sounds like in a club environment -- if they every play one. Oberst will be in Europe for the next month, opening dates as Bright Eyes for Arab Strap. If this project has the fate of some of Oberst's other side projects -- and if Bright Eyes continues to take the world by storm --  there's a chance that this was the band's first, and last performance. Let's hope not.

As for Sorry About Dresden, they suffered the same sonic fate as The D Band -- a mish-mash of bouncing acoustics. Through the mumble it was possible to hear a more poppy, more rocking form of emo than on SAD's last full-length. Their set seemed enormously long, but maybe that was because everyone just wanted the noise to stop. After SAD, I'd had enough, leaving before Cursive or Bright Eyes performed. Regardless of the PA problems, it was fun just being at a show with such a diverse audience and for such a worthy cause.

back torevhead.gif (1924 bytes)   Posted April 29, 2001. Copyright 2001 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

Desaparecidos rock the gymnasium.







A break from the usual Bright Eyes play-sitting performance style, Oberst (center in blue t-shirt) stood up during the entire set.








The D Band, from left, Landon Hedges, Oberst, Ian McElroy and Denver Dalley. Matt Baum is hidden somewhere behind a drumset.