La Dispute have always been a special band to me. I found their music during the summer of 2012, falling in love with their sophomore LP Wildlife, and as I watched my friends depart for university just a few months later in September, the words and songs took on a whole new meaning and it soon became my gospel. In that same month the Michigan band played a tiny charity gig upstairs at The Garage in Highbury to about 150 people and it proved to not only to be my first time seeing them live, but also the first gig that I ever attended by myself.
At the time, I was angry and sad in equal measures, mad at myself whilst feeling truly alone for the first time in my life. Dare I say I was nearing depression, but in reality I was just a bit lost. I realise that now, but at the time I couldn't see the wood for the trees.
A lot has changed since then, but my love for the band remains the same. Last year they followed with Rooms Of The House, my second favourite album of 2014, and it presented an extension and maturation of their sound without compromising on their previous works. Vocalist Jordan Dreyer continues to develop as a superb writer and artist, and the solid band of musicians behind him perfectly orchestrate his stories to allow them to live on like myths.
When this gig was announced I initially held off from buying a ticket as I was departing for Barcelona the following morning, but seeing that tickets were still available a few days before, I treated it as a sign and took the plunge. It was only after the fact that I realised the significance in timing of the two concerts, perfectly bookending the time my friends were in uni down to the week, and my own experience outside of that process.
Canadian Hardcore punks Fucked Up, who provided brilliant support, were late to the stage as two of their members of were stuck in a dressing room, and the crowd were informed that efforts were being made to "get them out with hammers and chisels". Once all the members emerged (including members of a band called Doomsquad who joined them on stage), they launched into a setlist that was shortened in time but not in pure energy.
Whilst frontman Damian Abraham looks like he would rip you in two he's more likely to hug you into submission, and he spends the majority of their set in the crowd standing face to face with their doting audience. 'Queen Of Hearts' remains ringing in my ears even now, and proves that love songs can come in all shapes and sizes.
With the audience sufficiently warmed up, La Dispute took to the stage to thunderous applause, and opening with 'King Park' ensured that things instantly kicked off; there was no time to breathe. During the song however I found myself thinking just how morbid it was for 1400 people to be singing together about a drive by shooting and the death of an innocent teenage bystander. That was the story of the evening, I found myself questioning my place within the audience and the reactions of the people surrounding me rather than focusing solely on the people on stage, who never really put a foot wrong.
As they grew into the main body of the set the band traded off tracks from their second and third albums, none of which needed much introduction, the audience always knew the words as they nimbly tried to keep up with the carefully crafted lyrics that are strung together in a way that most rappers would be proud of. Slower cuts 'Woman (In Mirror)' and 'Woman (Reading)' never sounded out of place, but I would much rather have solely listened to the man onstage for these gentle moments than the screaming teenagers in attendance. However, I'd expect nothing less for the majority of the tracks, such as 'a Letter', 'Harder Harmonies' and 'HUDSONVILLE, MI 1956', although none more so than 'Stay Happy There', which ranks as one of the band's most urgent and frenetic tracks which still makes my heart race.
A setlist of only 13 tracks meant that there were plenty of absentees, including my favourites 'Edit Your Hometown' and 'Andria', two tracks that have meant so much to me at different periods of my life. This could have once spelt extreme disappointment, but the overall performance ensured there were no hard feelings.
Walking back out for their encore, the obligatory screams for 'Such Small Hands' rung out, and Dreyer laughed, stating "We don't know that song". Instead they closed with the collosal 'The Last Last Continent', a 12 minute behemoth that envokes every emotion during its run time. It was the sole inclusion from their debut album Something At The Bottom Of The River Between Vega And Altair, and I think that's due to the change in the band's subject matter.
Whilst the words, stories and emotions often stem from personal experience, what Dreyer has seemingly learnt is that he can wear a heart on his sleeve without it having to be his own. He can sing and dance and unleash the pain without opening himself up too much, as he did on LP 1. As a storyteller as opposed to a troubadour, he can create the facade to protect himself whilst continuing to deliver the same performance. It's a self defense mechanism, and one that works well.
Dreyer still doesn't resemble you traditional front man. He stands small, unassuming, and unashamedly meek, but when the music starts to play, he thrashes into life, moving and screaming manically. I've stated it before, but for those who criticise his vocals fail to realise that it's not an act, his performance is a physical catharsis, and it's mirrored by the crowd who subscribe to his eulogies.
So after 2 years, 7 months, and what could have been a university degree, I once again found myself departing alone into a London night in shock & awe and dripping with sweat, but this time it wasn't tinged with sadness, much more excitement and enthusiasm. I feel we've both come a long way in that time, and while it's not the personal affair it once was, that's not something to criticise a band for. I still don't know what I'm doing myself, but I know that La Dispute are a brilliant band who haven't let me down yet.