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Thu Feb 28 08:20:54 MST 2013
NY Times February 27, 2013
Still Raging Loudly, Headbanging Included
By JON PARELES
Conor Oberst half-apologized for the “very pessimistic” and “very
sarcastic” songs of his band Desaparecidos when they performed at
Webster Hall on Tuesday night. But he knew that sarcasm, pessimism and
rage are the essence of Desaparecidos’ songs, which proudly and
knowingly join the tradition of punky protest music.
Between albums with Bright Eyes, Mr. Oberst’s main songwriting outlet
since the 1990s, Desaparecidos appeared in 2002 with their only album,
“Read Music/Speak Spanish.” It was a loud, raw-voiced yet thoroughly
melodic tirade against materialism and corporate exploitation, against a
culture with wealth as its only aspiration:
“I’m overflowing with ambition but I got to keep in mind/The bottom line
is the dollar sign,” Mr. Oberst blurted in a song called “$$$$.”
After a decade of economic crisis, stagnation and increasing income
inequality those songs haven’t gone out of date. The sound of the album,
infusing the unkempt urgency of the Clash with the muscle of Bruce
Springsteen’s E Street Band, clearly influenced 21st-century
indie-rockers like Titus Andronicus and Gaslight Anthem.
“Read Music/Speak Spanish” was also apparently memorable for listeners.
At Webster Hall a good part of the audience sang along on the album’s songs.
Desaparecidos (The Disappeared) have regrouped sporadically since 2010 —
often to perform for a cause — and released a handful of newer, more
directly topical songs, like “MariKKKopa,” about mistreatment of
immigrants in Arizona and elsewhere, and “The Left Is Right,” an echo of
Occupy Wall Street: “If one must die to save the 99/Maybe it’s
justified.” On Tuesday, in a set lasting just over an hour,
Desaparecidos played the entire album and all their newer songs, along
with one from the Clash and one from an opening act, Joyce Manor, who
joined Desaparecidos onstage to share “Constant Headache.”
Desaparecidos have been, like all of Mr. Oberst’s projects, both
heartfelt and openly self-conscious, questioning any self-righteousness
and admitting the singer’s own place in a consumer market. At Webster
Hall Mr. Oberst joked about offering a 20 percent discount on one song,
and introduced another — “Backsell,” about the state of the recording
business — by dedicating it to his business staff. He also turned
serious, dedicating “Anonymous” — a barreling tribute to the hacker
group and WikiLeaks — to Pfc. Bradley Manning, who is awaiting trial for
supplying material to WikiLeaks.
Mr. Oberst is not, after many years as a bandleader, a guileless punk
novice. He shouted his way through the songs and interspersed his
between-song banter with four-letter words, because that’s what punk as
a genre requires. Band members did as much headbanging as they could.
(The audience did its part too, churning and moshing and crowd surfing.)
Yet the songs, even with the instruments cranked up, weren’t simplistic.
They had tidy lead-guitar hooks and built-in dynamic surges. But for
Desaparecidos professionalism only stoked the passion in the songs. This
pose came across as honest.
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