ASBURY PARK, NJ—I’m not really a “nostalgic for the music I listened to in the early 2000s” person. I say this with all due respect for the bands that made adolescent life a little less miserable and helped me develop an identity that still exists in my deepest core today. But my preference for listening to screaming as a primary means of catharsis has since faded, though it served me well for several years.
Therefore, I never thought I’d be in the audience of a band whose last album came out in 2002. Desaparecidos are one of Conor Oberst’s many side-projects—abandoned in 2003 as Bright Eyes took off—and a hardcore departure from his poet-and-an-acoustic-guitar vibe. Not that his other work isn’t totally hardcore in its total emotional nakedness, but Desaparecidos are a full-on noisy, early millennium-style thrashing punk band. After a decade off, the band released two new songs in 2012 and announced a few 2013 tour dates. I knew I had to see them—I think that Oberst possesses intellectual talent that goes way deeper than the typical superficiality of some “revival” tours.
The Stone Pony was packed to the point of being unable to move through the crowd. As far as I could see, it was a very large group of people in their early to late 20s. (I thought there would be more teenagers there, but then I realized that a 14-year-old today was three years old when Desaparecidos’ sole album, Read Music/Speak Spanish, came out. Um, what?) It was also Oberst’s 33rd birthday, and the crowd yelled birthday wishes at him as soon as the band walked on stage. He and his fellow Omaha natives energetically dove into their catalogue of approximately 15 songs, but played each one with explosive energy and superbly satisfying screaming by Oberst. At one point, the band blew a fuse that temporarily killed a speaker, but they soldiered on furiously and the crowd sung louder to compensate.
Is “adult punk” a genre? Because that’s what I would call Desaparecidos. The sound of the group made me feel like I was back at Warped Tour, kicking up some dirt in a mosh pit amidst general adolescent rage. But I didn’t get that disingenuous “I’m too old for this” feeling that I get now when I listen to certain music of that era. No, I felt a truly genuine urge to headbang through the hour-long set.
Desaparecidos’ songs center around a “society/capitalism is oppressive and sucks” theme. This theme is relevant to adults, maybe now more than ever. It’s hard to really identify with a song about corporations and special interests stealing opportunity from the working class until you’ve struggled to make ends meet. For this generation of young adults realizing the recent decline of the American Dream, hearing Oberst yell, “It’s like I’m under water/Or on an endless escalator/I go up and up but I never reach the top,” hits hard. It’s like he predicted that post-9/11 America would rapidly descend into total shit, then came back 10 years later to commiserate when the people who grew up with him were really feeling it.
Oberst is still riled up, too. He dedicated a brand new song, “Anonymous,” to Bradley Manning, a “true American hero,” and called the president a “coward” for not delivering on campaign promises. He sent out another new song, “MariKKKopa,” to “Arizona, a state that made racism public policy.” The new songs—plus a cover of the Clash’s “Spanish Bombs” in the encore—hint that Oberst is taking up a renewed interest in musical activism. So far there is no confirmation on a new Desaparecidos album, but hopefully we’ll get one. In the politically and economically bizarre times we live in, we seriously need it.