By Patrick Czapla
In 2006, I went to my first show with a couple of friends on a Saturday afternoon. Five or six bands were playing that night at a tiny coffee shop in Valparaiso, Indiana. For some that was their first show, for others it was the biggest show they would ever play (there were about 30 people jammed into the shop around stacked tables) and then there was La Dispute.
A five person band, featuring one local and four guys from Grand Rapids, Michigan, stood out from the rest of the bands. By that I mean that when the lead singer’s microphone died mid-set, he just jumped into the crowd and started yelling all of his lyrics as loud as he could with anyone who was singing along. Talk about making a first impression: I loved it, and I hold that moment responsible for me spending most subsequent weekends in coffee shops, garages and bars going to whatever show looked most interesting.Eight years later I found La Dispute in my new home city, San Francisco, playing at Slim’s in front of a sold-out crowd of about 400 people. This show was part of the American leg of their international tour, which will be hitting Europe in the summer and Australia / New Zealand in the fall before wrapping up.
Mansions (who I had never heard before) opened the show playing mostly material from their newest album Doom Loop. There is something so mind-blowingly awesome about a tiny girl in a sundress thrashing away on a low-tuned P Bass; totally worth seeing if you are in to alt-rock, and you should listen to them now. “Climbers” and “The Economist” are gems that rock real hard.
Next up to bat was Pianos Become The Teeth. The Baltimore group was definitely more in line with what I was expecting for the show. They stick to the the tenants of post-hardcore, more so than La Dispute I’d say: there’s a lot of screaming, some gnarly breakdowns, and you never know when the lead singer might just jump on a crowd surfer. I can dig it.
When La Dispute took the stage they opened with “Hudsonville, MI 1956” off of their new album Rooms of the House which came out only a week before the show. They played mostly new material. Songs like “For Mayor in Splitsville” have a much more mature and developed sound than the sonic dissonance of old standbys like “Future Wars” and “Fairmount.” Cryptic lyrics and frantic riffs have been replaced by a much tighter sound. My personal favorite off the new album, “Woman (In Mirror),” is down-right soothing and acted as a sort of ‘half time’ for the set.
In general, I can’t say much has changed with La Dispute’s live show in the past eight years. They still spurn complicated lighting for floor lamps. You still really can’t hear what Jordan Dreyer, the lead singer, is shouting, but it doesn’t matter because everyone else around you is shouting along with him. By the time the set is done you’re sweaty, you have no voice, and you may have a bruise or two from the ever-present mosh pit. Most importantly, when all is said and done, you, and everyone else, look like you have just been through a catharsis.
While La Dispute may not be everyone’s cup of tea their music is raw emotion and a cure-all for whatever ails you. Are you sad, lonely, angry, bored? They have a rallying cry for it. Maybe this is why eight years later they are selling out shows and have built a loyal community of listeners around the world.
As I shuffled out of Slim’s I struck up a conversation with a group of people in front of me: three teens from Palo Alto who drove into SF to go see their first show. They loved it.