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Music history is wrought with tales of bands’ demise, evidenced by the VH1 shows that explore their downfall due to drugs, women, creative differences and financial disputes.
For many legendary but worn-out bands, breaking up is something that is long overdue. But for some—like the relatively overlooked Washington DC’s Dismemberment Plan that recently announced their impending breakup—one can only hope a reunion comes quickly.
Formed in 1994 and quickly signed to Desoto Records, the Dismemberment Plan employs the standard rock four-piece—singer, guitarist, bassist and drummer. The band quickly earned a strong following and critical applause for their frantic loud-soft, fast-slow, edgy-yet-happy aesthetic, a cross between Gang of Four’s harsh politics and XTC’s wispy romanticism.
Over the course of four full-lengths stretching from 1995 to 2001, the Plan refined their sound and reached beyond the independent music scene. Its concerts made waves and its reputation as a touring band quickly became the band’s focus.
“Live shows are really our thing,” Bassist Eric Axelson said. “We like to believe that our songs sound much better in concert than on the albums, and that’s why we’ve toured so much over the years…And we realized that the more we toured, the more people showed up at each concert.”
Although their four albums each enjoyed critical acclaim—especially the band’s last two releases (Emergency & I and Change), the band’s main outlet has always been the shows.
“What was important to us in those days was getting the indie kids out and dancing,” Axelson said. “The scene was stale; there were just all these shows with kids nodding their heads and standing there. We got them energized, moving. That’s what I like to see as our legacy to the scene.”
But after four fine records and many tours, the Dismemberment Plan is packing it up.
“No Yoko Onos, no problems like that,” Axelson said with a laugh. “We’ve done all we can do and we’re ready to move on…It’s been eleven years. We’re tired.”
Nonetheless, the Plan was at the prime of their career at the Roxy Nightclub earlier this month. After the visceral attack of concert favorites Les Savy Fav, whose lead singer could barely be held back by the venue’s security guards, the mellowness of the Dismemberment Plan’s “The Face of the Earth” and “Timebomb” (from their final album Change) provided a welcoming contrast.
But the eager crowd—a strange cross-section of 20-something hipsters and what seemead like indie teenyboppers—didn’t stand nodding their heads for long. The Plan’s rollicking version of “Bra” had the crowd dancing.
Playing as tightly and with as much synergy as ever, the band backed up the claim that their split was amicable.
A smiling Travis Morrison crooned through their entire catalog, hitting favorites like “Gyroscope,” “You Are Invited” and “Sentimental Man” with style and passion, before inviting the whole audience onstage—much to the chagrin of weary security guards—to join in “Ice of Boston.”
As Morrison sang about being alone, drunk and in a city far from home on New Year’s Eve, his pathos suggested that the band’s waning days were on his mind.
While his bandmates move on to other things, Morrison faces the prospect of touring alone in support of his upcoming solo album.
The show concluded uneventfully, save a crowd-pleasing redition of “What Do You Want Me to Say?” and a few thanks, farewells and assurances that the break-up would be for real. The band waved to the crowd before it headed backstage—and the fans took their time to savor the show’s final moments.
They’re quitting while they’re ahead. Besides Morrison’s solo record, Axelson says he plans to continue with music either playing bass or managing, and drummer Joe Easley says he wants to go back to school. They will be back in Boston this summer for their real farewell tour.
Despite their hard-won reputation as the independent music scene’s greatest hope, the Dismemberment Plan will probably not be a major entry in the annals of rock history. But they are merely content to know that they got the indie scene dancing again.
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