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Emo Bands Dismember Middle East Audiences

By Steven N. Jacobs, Contributing Writer

What do you get when you combine sex, death and dismemberment in a crowded basement on a cold evening in Cambridge? One incredible and intense concert experience.

On March 16 and 17, the Death and Dismemberment tour—featuring Cex, Death Cab for Cutie and the Dismemberment Plan—came to the Middle East. This eclectic and talented collection was an array of talent not to be missed.

Cex (pronounced “sex”) was a little out of place as an opening act for the evening. Both Death Cab for Cutie and the Dismemberment Plan are indie rock/emo bands. Cex is not so much a rock band as an irreverent rap MC.

Setting the tone for his performance, before the show started he walked across the stage to the back room. In response to the cheers from all the audience members who recognized him, he rolled up his sleeve and making motions to the veins in his arm, said he would be right back because he needed to go shoot up some heroin. For the next ten minutes, I stared at the stage, empty except for a lone stool holding an iMac laptop, wondering what kind of show this would be.

Upon his return, Cex entertained the crowd, occasionally rapped over background music he played from his laptop on such topics as bicycles and his love for them, and, in the style of Whose Line is it Anyway, freestyled about three themes suggested by the audience: Buddhas, babies and chainsaws.

When Death Cab for Cutie took the stage, the tone changed completely. An uncomplicated and mellow band, they began with a simple but enjoyable song called “Bend to Squares.”

The band’s on-stage dynamic was unusual. Lead by singer/guitar player Ben Gibbard, the band included bassist Nick Harmer, drummer Nathan Good. And another guy, Christopher Walla, who held a guitar for most of the time, but rarely, if ever, played it. He had a microphone, but never sang backing vocals. Instead, he made bizarre, non sequitur comments in between songs, eliciting awkward laughs and puzzled smiles from audience and band members alike.

Essentially, Gibbard is the life and soul of the band and its defining element. When, in songs such as “Guinevere,” he played the guitar, the song was a guitar song. In songs such as “Information Travels Faster” or “I Was a Kaleidoscope,” when he played the keyboard, the song was a keyboard song. Although he was not a particularly overwhelming performer, the rest of the band pretty much fell into the far off background. Predictably, no one danced or jumped while Death Cab played but that didn’t seem to be their intention.

However, everything changed when the Dismemberment Plan came on stage. Despite the violence implied by their name, the Plan are, like Death Cab, an upbeat emo band. Unlike Death Cab, they are loud, energetic, complex, irreverent and eclectic. The band consists of Travis Morrison (lead singer and rhythm guitar), Jason Caddell (lead guitar and keyboard), Eric Axelson (bass guitar and keyboard) and Joe Easley (drums). Each of them played a strong role in the sound of the band and the leadership position seemed to pass back and forth between them over the course of the show.

Their set began with “The Face of the Earth,” a nice opening song that started out somewhat slow and gradually increased in volume and tempo as time passed. Like the song itself, Morrison had a bit of a slow start; having sat on the side of the stage throughout all of Death Cab’s set, he had not taken any time to warm up his voice, so the opening of his performance was slightly disappointing.

However, any disappointment the audience may have felt about the first song was immediately swept away by every song that followed it. Over the course of their set they played standard-type rock songs, such as the anthemic “What Do You Want Me to Say?” and the location-appropriate “Ice of Boston.” Dissonant and chaotic songs like “Girl O’Clock” relied upon Morrison’s incredible lyrical speed and pyrotechnics, and other songs simply belied categorization, such as “You Are Invited.” Reminiscent of David Byrne’s opening performance of “Psycho Killer” in the Talking Heads’s concert film Stop Making Sense, the Plan’s song, for the most part, is just Morrison’s vocals accompanied by a simple synthesized dance beat.

The general attitude of the performance was enthusiastic, intense and fun. I don’t know how he managed it but Morrison danced while playing the guitar and did it well. I’m not talking about your standard run-of-the-mill mosh pit heand-banging; he was actually dancing. Little details such as this gave the audience an incredible sense of exuberance that radiated throughout the crowded basement of the Middle East. The evening ended when, after two encores, Cex and Gibbard joined the Plan onstage. Gibbard immediately faded into the background, choosing his new role as assistant to the drummer. Cex, on the other hand, engaged Morrison in a freestyle rhyming competition/wrestling match as the rest of the band played an incredible, extended electric jam.

What followed involved spitting mouthfuls of water, snarling dog fights over cigars, a tug-of-war match over Morrison’s salmon-colored guitar, Cex’s awkward and unskilled attempts to play said guitar after winning the battle for it and a good deal of confused and amused looks from members of the audience. Interspersed throughout were shouted, yet barely audible, familiar rap lyrics made all the more hilarious by the on-stage goofing While Cex growled and snarled, Morrison maintained a babyish and docile facial expression reminiscent of a young Sarah Jessica Parker as Annie singing “Tomorrow.”


Death and Dismemberment Tour

Cex, Death Cab for Cutie, Dismemberment Plan

The Middle East

March 16, 17

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