The Commodore is only full at the fringes when I arrive. Most of the tables are taken, and buzzing, but I find a dark corner to hide away in. Its just before eight, but the mood is already catching.
The lights dim, and the crowd is already roaring: Dispatch’s first time in Van-COO-ver, first concert of their reunion tour, first show after their newest album “Circles Around the Sun” dropped in 2011; this show was expected to reach Ron Burgundy levels of legendary.
The Current Swell opens with a strong drum line, emphasized by the band jumping with it, and playing the harmonica between. It was lovely, and the people took notice. The Current Swell is the perfect opening band. They are folksy-country-reggae, and filled the dance floor, without ever being in danger of stealing the show. The lead’s voice is one of those that sounds like honey dripping over sandpaper, (a la Black Keys), and he poured it out. The moment felt so enjoyed by the Scott Stanton, Chris Petersen, Dave Lang, Ghosty, and Dave St. Jean that it seemed like it was the pinnacle for the Current Swell. Perhaps, this was to be to the furthest this band will go. Their theatricality, with the slide guitar, and trombone suggested it would be, as did their failure to instill silence in the crowd for their recently deceased friend’s song. Nonetheless, the Current Swell played so well, and their music is truly great, that it was hard to mind that their songs do not differ greatly from their genre, and from each other.
Brad Corrigan, Pete Francis, and Chad Urmston looked almost nervous as they stepped onstage. But when they began their opener, appropriately named “Open Up” – Dispatch – they were seamless. Their music is a beach day, driving with all your windows down, sex with a good friend, and you’re laughing. They do it well, and they looked so happy to be officially becoming Dispatch again after 12 years.
The joy in returning was most transparent in Chad, who looked like had finally gotten the kiss from the girl he wanted for a long time, most of the set. Their effortless playing continued throughout, and by the third song they were introducing Brad on the guitar, and getting into their funk feel. Brad looked thrilled to be centre stage singing, but on this night his nasally voice detracted from the songs themselves.
After this lapse in the performance, Dispatch returned to the old favourite “Bang, Bang” This is when the crowd began to fully engage. The overwhelming preference for the old songs of Dispatch over ‘Dispatch 2011’ began to glimmer. Francis’s marshmallow voice whispered into the microphone for “Beto, “in which both Chad and Francis soloed nicely. Francis’s was especially wicked, and Chad’s stage time with his alternative-punk band “State Radio” was there in his thrashing. These solos, these unexpected moments are why Dispatch became famous, why people have come out saying that they are capable making you believe in music and change again. Another old song “Small Change” was next, and this too was a crowd favourite to which they sang along and stomped their feet.
“Fly” from the new album was played, and it was beautiful, but the tensions that speculations called rivalry seemed to linger, as Brad jockeyed for centre stage, and Chad laughed. While beautiful, the players seemed to hold back, their nervousness returned like unprepared high school project presenters. Another song from CATS, “Feels so Good Now,” which has been described as only feeling so good “because it’s the last track, and after listening to this one, you really can’t handle any more ,“ had the same empty, void feeling as “Fly,” but perhaps this was merely from being compared to the wildness of the crowd reaction for the old songs. Those songs that have the comfort and smell of your dad’s old sweater found locked away in a drawer. Larry’s song “Circles Around the Sun” followed, and the crowd continued to politely listen.
Then they played “The General.” With the crowd singing the refrain ‘you are forgiven’ over and over, it was a gorgeous moment, just the best. That song, like much of the old Dispatch captured something that our generation, with our hipsters and consumerism has lost, or hid away in irony and iPods. Its authenticity. Its tender rawness. This is why Dispatch is great, because it reaches back down before we were in college and learned why we were wrong about everything, and why we can’t know anything, and into a time where we could just be youthful, like Gatsby. This song was shortly followed by ‘Josephine,’ which left me with the hope that all Dispatch was is not shadows of what they once were. They are still there, and that song reached deep in all its simplicity. We danced for the encore, for Elias in Zimbabwe and the drumming by Brad led us. And we felt alive, and like all great concerts we felt together.
By the way, Dispatch is back, and they are going to pick up speed.