It's cruel, really. First, back in 2003, the Dismemberment Plan up and quit at the top of their game. The albums had honed and perfected the band's creative and intelligent emo-rock, and the stage shows had become must-see affairs, electric and engaging. But then suddenly, nothing. Other than a one-off charity show in 2007 in their hometown of Washington, D.C., the band stayed dismembered until this new, short tour in support of a vinyl reissue of its 1999 masterpiece "Emergency & I" -- and damn if they don't sound even better.
Sunday's concert, the second of the Dismemberment Plan's two-night stop at Chicago's Metro, was magnificent and maddening. After a laid-back start, the band's energy warmed and crackled through 20 songs. Singer Travis Morrison eased into the show with a self-satisfied grin, doing little funky dances at his keyboard that seemed born less from the actual music played than from his own thrill before the rapturous crowd. He started cooking during "The City," a tale of heart-breaking longing, warming up his tuneless holler and bouncing as he strummed. In no time, he was laughing rhythmically like a man possessed during the hairpin turns of "What Do You Want Me to Say?" and spitting out the stuttering lust of "Girl O'Clock." By the encore of "Whip My Hair Back and Forth," a layered meditation-slash-freakout, Morrison's hair, short as it is, was indeed flying.
In our recent interview, Morrison said, "The Dismemberment Plan is very improvisational live -- I guess you could say sloppy. We just like to go up on stage and do whatever." Don't let his carefree attitude or occasional open-fisted keyboard mashing fool you. The Plan definitely has one. This is music that's tightly wound and tightly constructed. Bassist Eric Axelson and drummer Joe Easley comprise one of rock's sharpest rhythm sections, careening around the angular bends of "Doing the Standing Still" and revving the bottom-end beats of "Back and Forth."
The 90-minute lovefest was peppered with genuine moments of mutual admiration and adoration largely free of gimmickry, stagecraft or commercial strategy. Oh sure, Morrison still invites dozens of fans to join him on stage during "The Ice of Boston." It's a cute tradition that needs to go away now; it forces him to plow through the song like a mobbed Morrissey. The crowd's always with him, anyway. As "Gyroscope" staggered toward its close on two different time signatures, the crowd kept up, singing loudly as the music faded out on the last verse. For "You Are Invited," the crowd sang along again, throwing back Morrison's words about a magic invitation that gained him entry anywhere he went. "You are invited for all time," the chorus goes. "You are so needed." So true.