Electric Ballroom, Camden | February 11th
Of Conor Oberst’s many musical factions, Desaparecidos pack the most immediate punch. Even compared to the anguished yells and trembling whispers showcased on Bright Eyes’ most emotive material, the ferocious bite of ironically-titled The Happiest Place On Earth signals the beginning of a set that’s post-hardcore proper; coarse, frantic, unyieldingly tight.
Until last year, these songs were a nostalgic memory for the majority of early millennium basement show dwellers who presently pack out the Electric Ballroom. No wonder the giddy thrash of Mañana gets such an impassioned reaction; every song plucked from defining 2002 LP Read Music/Speak Spanish feels like a rare, raucous luxury, a wistful resurrection of genuinely justified teenage angst.
Oberst is impressive as he belts out anti-political lyrics through tormented vocal cords, although a tuned-down version of Man and Wife (Financial Planning) doesn’t go unnoticed – his is a raggedly raw projection that leaves listeners commiserating for the poor bastard who felt strongly enough to scream that much in a recording studio, let alone every night on a sweltering foreign stage. Regardless, hearing such an iconic voice recreate classic ‘fuck the state’ anthems like Mall of America and Greater Omaha so accurately is a unique joy; the 32-year-old retains his relentless delivery, despite dressing like he’s just been dragged through Camden Market in a whirl of shitty chain wallets and £1 bandanas (he almost definitely has).
Elsewhere, Desaparecidos are an electrified force of guitar fuzz, rattling snares and overdriven bass amps – guitarist Denver Dalley is particularly impressive as he navigates distant frets atop Ian McElroy’s whirring synth attack.
The band’s newer songs strike down upon current affairs with ruthless lyrical fire – before MariKKKopa, the band suggests that lawmakers in Arizona should be ‘hung by their fucking necks’ before bursting into an outraged anthem of political injustice. Anonymous is a bit corny in its ‘You can’t stop us!’ chorus and ‘We are a legion!’ verse, feeling scarily close to the cultish antics of those over-emotional twats in 30 Seconds To Mars. Luckily, the music itself is crude as ever – rest assured that any comeback album should be devoid of conceptual wankery and U2-ish ‘epics’.
After a twin encore of a ravenously received Clash cover (Spanish Bombs) and album-closer Hole in One, we’re cast outside exhausted; invigorated. The reunion of Desaparecidos hasn’t killed the fervent aggression that marked them out as first class in 2002. In an age when even DIY punkers seek quality production values, it’s a thrill to see such experienced musicians crash the party, complete with battered guitars and broken cymbals.
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Words: Matt Ayres