When you release only one album and then disappear for almost a decade leaving a horde of young fans with nothing to do but grow up listening to that one album, odds are that when you finally reunite those fans are going to be really really excited. Such was the case for last Saturday’s show at the Showbox Theater, featuring the legendary and elusive Desaparecidos. The emo/indie/punk political band hailing from Omaha, Nebraska known as much for their powerful sound as their lead singer’s musical fame did not disappoint, playing through the entirety of their album Read Music/Speak Spanish as well as throwing in a handful of new songs.
Virgin Islands kicked off the evening with their suave and simple blend of political punk rock. Having been described as “The Clash, if they recorded for SST” by The Stranger, the Seattle four-piece became a whirlwind of sweat and power chords as they tore through their 45 minute set. (Lead singer Mike Jaworski’s slip up when pronouncing the headlining band’s name betrayed the deep dark secret that even the truest Desaparecidos fan is only 75% sure they’re saying it right, a fact noticeable only when you get a couple hundred of them together and listen to the many different inflections.)
Stepping onto the small Showbox stage the band opened with “The Greater Omaha,” building up the unforgettable echoey riff as the crowd pushed closer and closer until launching into the chorus, causing the entire audience to erupt in an explosion of raised fists. The audience continued their frenzy as more classics from Read Music/Speak Spanish followed, notably “Man And Wife, The Former (Financial Planning)” and “The Happiest Place On Earth.” Lead singer Conor Oberst did his best to sing/speak along with some of the band’s samples interspersed throughout their songs, notably impersonating a major label suit and an auto-tune obsessed sound engineer in their new song “Backsell.”
Although Oberst’s roars sounded less angry and familiar than on album and they occasionally sounded slightly off tempo, the band more than made up for it with their truly impassioned stage presences, thrashing about and headbanging together in spectacle of guitars and hair. (It should be noted that only the drummer had hair that could really be considered “short.”) Regardless, the audience couldn’t have cared less about precision at that moment as they danced, shouted, and jumped along to literally every song. The moshing stopped temporarily only when security forcibly dragged some guy out of venue, but commenced shortly after.
Finishing almost the entire album, as well as the politically charged unreleased track “The Left is Right,” the band left the stage briefly after tearing through the obvious crowd favorite “Mañana,” the closest thing possible to a Desaparecidos anthem. Opening the encore with “Man And Wife, The Latter (Damaged Goods)” and their new song “MariKKKopa,” which Oberst prefaced with a speech on unjust immigration policy, the band treated the crowd to a cover of The Clash’s “Spanish Bombs,” proving that perhaps Oberst really had learned to speak some spanish in the last decade. The band also dedicated a new song, titled “Anonymous” according to their setlist, to Bradley Manning, the American soldier who allegedly released a trove of classified material to Wikileaks in 2010. “Get him out of jail, and give him a parade” Oberst said introducing the song. Having never played the song live before, the band played 30 seconds in before starting over with Oberst appropriately yelling “I believe in second changes.” The song, which includes the chorus “You can’t stop us/We are Anonymous,” continues in the more blatantly political direction of their new song “MariKKKopa” and is likely the most straightforward punk rock song in their catalog to date.
Closing the show with the absolutely incredible “Hole in One,” Oberst didn’t even bother singing the final words as the audience shattered the room screaming “My Big House.” Overheard in a pack of sweaty twenty something’s on the way out: “When’s the Commander Venus reunion?” Keep your fingers crossed.