After a decade in the dustbin of indie-rock, Conor Oberst’s Desaparecidos returned with a roar last night at 400 Bar. The reunion gig was the first of just seven dates on the politically-minded punk band’s touring docket, and the sweaty and nostalgic crowd heard a band that hadn’t missed a beat during its lengthy hiatus.
Conor Oberst – of Bright Eyes fame, but if you’re reading this you probably know that – led the charge with “Greater Omaha,” a chunky screamer off the lone Desaparecidos album, 2002’s “Read Music/Speak Spanish." ”They’ll be feeding us, they’ll be feeding on us/One more mouthful and they will be happy then,” belted the forceful frontman, addressing the ideological thrust of that LP: the sanitized soullessness of urban sprawl and a dollar-first mentality.
Oberst, known for his folk and roots music, looked almost more comfortable screaming in front of warring guitars; the man can front a punk band. “I was very impressed with the mall, until I saw the one in Edmonton,” Oberst goaded the audience prior to song “Mall of America.” "Get your shit together and build a real mall.” The band was particularly crisp, punchy and angry on two recently-released new songs, “Backsell” and “MariKKKopa” – the ladder a track serving as a takedown on notorious anti-immigrant Sherriff Joe Arpaio, of Maricopa County, Arizona.
For all Desaparecidos’ anti-capitalist soap boxing, it was a tad ironic when bassist Denver Dalley snapped an iPhone photo of the crowd between songs (this band’s scruples aren’t that of Fugazi’s, but that’s OK). The audience, by the way, was an amped collection of die-hards, all of whom shrieked along to every lyric. As for banter, we were treated to just one political rant by Oberst, wherein he covered the college freshman basics of reconciling American exceptionalism (genocide, slavery, global imperialism, etc.). Mostly, though, the band put its energy into the songs, trashing and shredding throughout the night with genuine enthusiasm.
To close out the night Desaparecidos returned for a two-song encore, featuring a punk-ish cover of the Clash’s “Spanish Bombs” (the one song the crowd didn’t know the words to, oddly enough) and a ripping rendition of “Hole in One” (it was reciprocated with a gentle mosh pit). The biggest trap Desaparecidos could have fallen into was phoning-in this reunion show for nostalgia bucks. That wasn’t the case last night, as the Omaha quintet translated the fire in Oberst’s belly into a scorching and memorable live show.
-- JAY BOLLER