Desaparedicos at the 9:30 Club

Omaha, Nebraska's post-hardcore band Desaparecidos perform at DC's 9:30 Club. Photo: Desaparecidos

WASHINGTON, March, 8, 2013 —Conor Oberst is the kind of performer who brings an audience with him wherever he goes. He’s been one of the more renowned singer/songwriters on the indie rock circuit since he first hit the scene back in the late ‘90s. So it’s no surprise that when he dusted the mothballs off his post-hardcore band Desaparecidos and pulled it out of the closet to go on tour, their recent show at the 9:30 Club was sold out.

Oberst is primarily known for his indie rock outfit Bright Eyes. But at this point in his career, his name alone carries considerable clout. This is mainly due to the fact that Oberst has trouble staying in one place musically for very long. Bright Eyes might be his most visible project. But he’s branched out in so many different directions, that when he throws out a distorted post-hardcore band like Desaparecidos, it seems like the most natural thing in the world.

Desaparecidos was formed in 2001, and they released their only full-length album Read Music/Speak Spanish in 2002. The band’s name can be translated into English as “disappeared ones” from either the Spanish or the Portuguese. The term is a reference to the large but precisely unknown number of left-leaning citizens and officials who vanished in South American countries whose governments were overthrown by military dictatorships in the 1970s and 1980s.

That historical allusion became an oddly appropriate name for a band that has been off the map for the better part of a decade. The band’s recent re-formation is somewhat curious, though. While the band did make some noise when they were around in the early ‘00s, that had more to do with the contrast the band made incorporating Oberst’s more highly regarded work. While the band is remembered fondly in some circles, however, they never made much of a dent other than to illustrate the different areas of the indie rock world Oberst wanted to cover.

In fact, much like their name implies, this is a band that could’ve easily vanished without much notice or fanfare, relegated to an interesting footnote not only as part of Oberst’s string of projects, but also gaining the notice of the post-hardcore and emo crowd. That said, it’s to the benefit to everyone in attendance at their recent concert here that Desaparecidos decided to start touring again. They seem at times like a time capsule from the early ‘00s indie rock world. But even as a virtual time capsule, they represent that era fairly well.

Despite the political implications of the band’s name, they seem to be more focused on the inner workings of life, relationships, and family. Their sound evokes these themes well. On stage their already loose sound feels chaotic, echoing just how tumultuous someone’s inter- and intra-personal life can be. Oberst’s vocals serve to strengthen this point even more. His voice has always been one of the more emotive instruments in the world of indie rock. That’s one of the reason people are drawn to him. But transferred to a post-hardcore/emo setting, these virtues are enhanced that much more. He ranges from low hum to high crack as each song progresses, signifying a total spiritual break at the emotional high points.

When Desaparecidos first appeared on the scene, their loose, distorted sound was a major point of contention among critics and fans. It can still be fairly jarring, and this is even more evident when the band plays live, given that they’re not so much concerned with how coherent their sound is as they are with simply blistering the audience with a withering blast of noise. This is all for effect, of course, and it lays out the proper emotional landscape, which, in turn, is the most important part of Desaparecidos’ sound and stage performance.

Desaparecidos is definitely a band you can date to a specific era. But if their recent set at the 9:30 Club proved anything, it’s a sound that has aged well. The chaotic, hyper-emotional atmosphere the band creates is something that will always be relatable to by any successive generation.

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Stephen Bradley

Stephen Bradley is an avid music listener and an occasional writer.  He grew up in the Washington DC area and has been embedded in the local music scene for years.  Currently he lives in Vienna, VA.   He enjoys bands that have been broken up for at least a decade.

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