Review By Nikki Eenink
Towards the end of their show at The Forum, La Dispute vocalist Jordan Dreyer gives us a speech that sums up why I love emo music, emo shows and the Emo Community at large. “There isn’t a hand coming from the sky to fix the issues that befall all of us, especially the marginalised who have no safety net protecting them from a fall. What we do have, is each other. We have the ability to build a better world, Neighbourhood to neighbourhood, street to street, community to community. Looking out for our friends, looking out for each other, looking out for our Trans, LGBTQ, Indigenous friends. Genuinely fighting for each other. Whatever this subculture is; punk, emo, hardcore, whatever – we all found it looking for somewhere to belong. Life is really fucking hard, and the world is shitty. But it doesn’t have to be. When we come to these shows it reminds us that we can make it better, together. That we are in this together. You can save somebody’s life, man. Do that, save each other, because we need you here right now. We will never let each other lose hope for the better things.” No crowd, no show, no band has ever made that statement feel more real than La Dispute did on Sunday night. This was one of those once-in-a-lifetime shows.
La Dispute’s 2011 album, Wildlife, has to be one of the most highly acclaimed and widely loved emo albums of the century. And tonight, 12 years after its release, the Michigan 5-piece are performing it in its entirety for a sold-out show. The house is packed. Goths, tattooed 30-something’s and Prozac teens in baggy pants move between each other, all jostling for a place in the middle of the ever-growing sea of people packed onto The Forum’s main floor.
Punching out the first 4 tracks of their knockout album without breaking a sweat, the energy from this band is just incredible. “We’re La Dispute, from Michigan.” Hell fucking yeah they are. The crowd is going fucking nuts. By the second song I think I’ve seen 2 people crowd surf. Hoots and hollers and a seat of heads and hands and cups are amped up and ready to go. Often, Dreyer will point his microphone at the crowd for a while, and just smile as 2,000 people scream until their vocal cords hurt back at him. As Edit Your Hometown draws to a close, he takes a moment to address us all.
“We’ve been making the long trek to Australia for 14 years. The last time we were here it was… 2009? We got hit up on MySpace. MySpace! It was a powerful tool, which sounds crazy to say. We got asked by a guy from Brisbane whether we wanted to make the trek down here. I want to say it was dumb and irresponsible, but at the time we didn’t care if we lost money or it took months, we just wanted to get to as many places as we could and perform for different people. We toured and we played practice spaces and an abandoned house, community halls… I’ll never forget those shows. And to come back and still be greeted that way… Thank you. It’s insane. This is the biggest venue we’ve ever headlined in our history as a band so… Thank you. From the bottom of my heart. This is fun. This is so much fucking fun. We wouldn’t be here without those guys who brought us over in 2009, so all of these songs tonight are dedicated to them. To Simon, Josh and for Errol. For all the friends that we’ve made. For all of you. Thank you. This song is called A Letter.” And we are sucked back into the Wildlife tour.
Every song is just incredible. Guitarists Chad Morgan-Sterenberg and Corey Stroffolino get this unbelievable tone with their guitars. Their playing mirrors each other, notes and strums melting together like butter. It’s luscious, rich and lingers in the room, it’s completely captivating. The bass work from Adam Vass is subtle, but adds a thickness to the sounds, bolstering those guitars so their instrumentals sit thick in the air like treacle. I can feel those bass runs in my legs, and Brad Vander Lugt’s drumming in my feet. The foursome are some of the best in the game, I’m certain. They’re never ego-driven, never wanting to detract from the others, but they all shine under the heavy red and purple spotlights which wash over the band. Dreyer’s distinctive scream pierces over the top of these intricate instrumentals, his brutalist poetry awakening something powerful within me. Dreyer is a master of combining a hardcore “scream” with wonderful singing voice, soft but sure of itself. He has an incredible range. He really feels his songs. He screams like someone is reaching down his throat and pulling out those ugly feelings, and he sings with the gentle assuredness of a lullaby. La Dispute, in every way, captures the duality of the world through their musicianship.
Eminem’s “Stan” has to be one of the most talked-about, highly regarded, incredibly intricate narrative rap songs of all time. In the same way that Stan is seminal to rap, and a light in Eminem’s career, King Park is one of emo’s golden children. From the weeks before the concert, to the train ride there, I was listening to it. I have blasted King Park since I was like, 14, and riding the school bus home, brooding. It’s been insanely influential. As soon as a Poem finishes, and the irratic, jumpings drums of King Park is upon us. If the crowd was jostling before, now they are rioting. Three people get lifted up to crowd surf and reach fpr Dreyer’s hand. He is more than happy to grab them at the wrist and share a moment of understanding with them. Fuck me these guys are slick. It sounds just as good as the recording, if not better. And this baby is intricate. Constantly changing time signatures, amazingly interwoven guitars, vocal control – it has it all, and they can do it all. The bridge in King Park has been memed to death, but is a genuine hallmark of Emo-tude. I see hands and phones go up. I take a big breath in, and scream with the army of people around me. Dreyer helps us out the first time.
CAN I STILL GET INTO HEAVEN IF I KILL MYSELF?
BEAT. He just holds the mic to us. My voice gives out.
CAN I STILL GET INTO HEAVEN IF I KILL MYSELF?
He waves his arm for us to get even louder. The walls shake.
CAN I EVER BE FORGIVEN?
This is catharsis.
A room full of people who would’ve been lobotomised 70 years ago hug each other and scream until they cry and cry until they scream. The greatest cure to our ills, is each other. The band head towards each other and wrap their arms around each other, like a knitted jumper. The two guys in front of me move their hips off their respective girlfriends and squeeze each other. One guy gives another his hat. The girl next to me wipes tears from her eyes, her friend yells “Thank you!” with a raspy voice. It doesn’t matter if we’ll go to heaven. We aren’t going to kill ourselves. Not now. Not with each other. There is so much love in this room. Strangers pass water around, lift shorter members of the mosh to the front. Solidarity. Community. It’s emotional and wonderous.
The main set draws to a close. I screamed, I cried, I laughed. As Dreyer gave the speech I quoted at the start of this review, some bloke behind me heckles; “Just play the songs fuckwit!” and he is booed. We are a politically aware bunch. It is the hardcore way to be against injustice, to be about self-betterment and community activism. I always say it’s funny that many emo followers are straight edge. A crowd of little stinkers losing their minds and never easing up for over an hour are powered by nothing but Coke Zero and a black nose ring.
The guitar work on I See Everything is gorgeous. It soars around the room, settling in our ears and making me out-loud groan when the song ends because of how spectacular those notes are. Dreyer never runs out of steam. His Ian Curtis-esque dancing becomes only more erratic and fuels the energy in that room. He kneels above the crowd, and they reach for him. The red lights make him look like Christ, saving the damned. Every time a song ends he pulls the microphone up, and in a whisper just says “Thanks”.
I proudly and openly hate encores. But this encore is a separate show. It’s 5 songs long, and next level. Andria is insane. The guitars are so beautiful, yet again. “Fuck transphobes!” Dreyer screams before leading the band into Said the King to the River, a masterpiece of a song. I am a ball of fury, all limbs. The drumwork is perfectly controlled chaos. It mirrors our body movements. It’s impossible to tell where the music ends, and the sound of our feet hitting concrete begins.
And finally, we finish with Such Small Hands. I had given up hope that they’d play this absolutely miserable, undeniable banger. It’s spiritual. I am herded to the back, desperate to de-sweat, when I hear those twinkling guitar notes. An animalistic noise comes from the crowd. Dreyer isn’t going to let us go without a bang. Immediately, we all push forward again. The people in the seats are screaming, too. The song is barely 90 seconds long, but I wish I could bottle them and live there forever.
I THINK I SAW YOU IN MY SLEEP
Dreyer points the mic at us;
L O V E R
We yell and scramble over each other. Washing ourselves clean of all our heartbreak.
And then it’s done.
A girl on my train cries with her headphones on, donned head-to-toe in La Dispute merch. We smile at each other.
I love emo music. I love this community. I. Love. La. Dispute.