The Dismemberment Plan
Black Cat; Washington, DC

[04-28-2007]

It seems like every band that has ever broken up and still has at least two living members is reuniting. From Iggy and the Stooges to The Police, the past few years have been rife with half-assed reunions. Most have been uninspiring, some have yielded God-awful new albums, and almost all seem to be supported, if not instigated, by major corporate interests. The tickets are expensive, the bands are phoning it in, and we, as fans, eat it up with a spoon, ignoring our misgivings and clinging to the hope that our loyalty will pay off.

But The Dismemberment Plan are not like any other band, and their “reunion,” if that’s what we must call it, went down much differently, too. D-Plan reunited for no more than two consecutive nights at hometown club the Black Cat. Both shows were benefits for Callum Robbins, the son of producer and erstwhile Jawbox frontman J. Robbins. Callum was born with spinal muscular atrophy, a debilitating neurological condition that kills more babies than any other disease.* Tickets cost only $15, and neither the band nor the label made any money on the show. With no new material introduced onstage, one can be sure there is not an upcoming album waiting in the wings for promotion, either.

Without the taint of any hidden agenda, D-Plan were free to rock, and I was free to guiltlessly enjoy it. As a longtime fan who lived in Baltimore from 2001 until well after the band broke up in 2003, I can’t even remember how many times I’ve seen them live. Basically any time they played in Baltimore or DC, that is, at least every other month, I went. If I had to change plans, that’s what I did. They were simply that good live. This show was no different and was perhaps even better because this time I didn’t take for granted that I’d ever be able to see them again.

After a grateful introduction from J. Robbins, met with both respectful silence and heartfelt applause, The Dismemberment Plan opened with “Do the Standing Still.” I’m pretty sure they were reminding us that, even though a few years had gone by, dancing was still de rigeur. Much like the farewell shows four years ago, the set was packed with hits and crowd-pleasers. D-Plan have always known how to give the people what they want. They performed for two hours; they took requests; they played on, good-naturedly, while fans packed the stage (as has long been the tradition) and crushed them in during “The Ice of Boston.”

"Seeing" The Dismemberment Plan is not really a passive experience at all — it’s completely interactive. Almost every song has a call-and-response element, whether it be singing along to the torch-y “What Do You Want Me to Say” and anxious “Time Bomb” or shouting “Dismemberment Plan gets rich!” at the end of the noisy, high-speed farce that goes by the same name. During “Back and Forth,” Travis Morrison exhorts the crowd, deadpan, to “Throw your hands in the air / And wave them like you just don’t care” — and that’s just what everyone does. All of this happened on Saturday, and neither the band nor the audience skipped a beat, as though no time had passed. This is the kind of show we’re all betting on when a band that we love dearly reunites and we go to see them. As far as I can tell, this is the only reunion show that I’ve ever left totally satisfied, without a hint of ambivalence.

According to Morrison, the band have always known they would reunite from time to time for benefit shows in their hometown. Hopefully this means we’ll be able to see D-Plan again in a few years and help them give back to the community that was so instrumental to their success. Meanwhile, I’m not hoping for a permanent reunion, new songs, or even an East Coast tour. The Dismemberment Plan gave us 10 years of intelligent, experimental songwriting and (have I belabored this point enough yet?) some of the most exciting live shows of all time. They quit while they were ahead, and though it’s impossible not to miss them, we can be proud that they’re keeping both their legacy and their commitment to the DC community intact. And when they ask us, as they always have and always will, “How’s Washington?” we can actually believe that they care about the response.

*It’s no secret that working in independent music is not especially lucrative, and care for children with SMA is prohibitively expensive. To donate to Callum Robbins or Fight SMA, an organization that is searching for a cure for spinal muscular atrophy, please visit J. and wife Janet’s blog.