Saturday night at Slim’s was an all-ages show: La Dispute, Pianos Become the Teeth and Mansions, the kind of show which for someone like me (I grew up in a suburb of San Francisco with very trusting parents) creates an all-too-familiar scenario. There’s a distinct “brand” of show that exists in this type of environment; bands that insist on it, actually.
There has been much exploration within the in-betweens of punk, hardcore and ambient rock since the early ’90s, but the early 2000s saw a somewhat forgotten movement of bands emerge in these crossover (often dubbed “post-“) genres, such as At The Drive-In, Thursday, and mewithoutYou — which brings us to Michigan’s La Dispute.
Formed in 2004, La Dispute has undergone little musical evolution since its start, and instead has honed in and maintained a heady, post-hardcore persona while keeping an intimate relationship with its fan base. What confuses me is why the Internet has put so much focus on newer post-hardcore bands like Touché Amoré, when La Dispute has been using the same approach since early on — honest, directly relatable lyrics and “slowcore” songwriting — and with more momentum. The first few La Dispute records, especially Somewhere…, maybe took it a little too far with the nasally, weepy-sounding and overly theatrical vocal delivery (see album opener “Such Small Hands” for an example). Regardless, the band has become tightly conceptualized with their latest, the self-released Rooms of the House. It’s more thoughtful and literary than an overcharged collection of in-your-face post-punk.
La Dispute opened their set on Saturday night with the album’s first track, “Hudsonville, MI 1956”, which fully activated the crowd. They played most of the album’s highlights, even the mellow numbers such as “Woman (In Mirror)”, which holds a strange resemblance to In Rainbows-era Radiohead with its minimal guitar work.
Lead singer Jordan Dreyer was constantly winded from jumping around the stage, at times merely breathing into the mic with verbal clarity being articulated by fans offstage. The older the song, the louder the lyrics were yelled; the level of respect and engagement from their fans was nothing short of admirable during the 45-minute set. Before taking the stage, security taped a small sign to the monitors asking fans to refrain from having their phones out while La Dispute performed, and Dreyer thanked fans for “being here, but also for being present.”
Although Dreyer has confessed previously his limited musical ability, it feels as if many of La Dispute’s songs were written around the vocals, in a way. They played songs that attest to this, like “A Poem” and “Andria”, which contain lyrics so prose-like and personal yet relatable — they’re worth looking up. In its decade of activity, the band has created 50-plus songs, and yet, somehow, the fans have memorized them all like a long-form poem.
Pianos Become the Teeth from Baltimore were a perfect compliment to the bill, channeling a somewhat heavier, more melodic style of post-rock that was clearly more screamo-influenced. The energy of their set was pretty unchanging and never really pushed boundaries, other than when lead singer Kyle Durfey left his mic stand and scaled the pole closest to the stage on occasion. They ended with their very gorgeous contribution to the 2013 Topshelf Records split with Touché Amoré, “HIDING”.