It started with the tremble of a cabasa and some spoken word. Taking the quaint stage of the chapel in the Masonic Temple last Thursday night, La Dispute opened with a poem. The chapel was silent as frontman Jordan Dreyer recited the piece, his voice accompanied only by his own echo and the vibrating air of percussion. Ending with a quick breath and a “Thank you,” the crowd burst into cheers.
The atmosphere was intimate, with an audience of little more than 300 people. A vaulted ceiling, velvet-cushioned pews and a hanging, illuminated cross made it obvious from the start that this would not be a normal concert experience. The show was broken up into three parts: a musical portion, followed by a question and answer session with the crowd and then more music from the band. Attracting diehard fans, this type of show was perfect for those who wanted more than just a performance. It was a conversation.
The group opened with “A Departure” off of Wildlife, setting the mood for the rest of the show. Playing mainly from their latest two albums, Wildlife and Rooms of the House, La Dispute kept it recent, despite their long history as a group. The setlist spanned 11 songs, much of which paid homage to Michigan, as the group is originally from Grand Valley.
These Michigan roots came out again in the question and answer, as a large portion of the crowd consisted of Grand Rapids natives, or close to it. Drawing inspiration from the company they found around them in GR, the band talked about how it has been able to grow, both musically and through the addition of new members, over its 11-year run. They told stories of playing in abandoned homes and having to sing into the left ear of a headphone set due to faulty microphones – the sort of things fans eat right up.
Though La Dispute was not entirely at ease with this kind of back-and-forth with the audience, it was clear that the musicians were trying to make it work. Dreyer openly admitted to the “sheer terror” he felt while performing, but he also felt that the admission of his unease was healthy and honest. At the opening, he even apologized for the slight shake in his voice, as this type of show took a lot of courage for him and his band mates. While singing, Dreyer remained seated, eyes closed, rocking back and forth atop a pleather-upholstered chair. His delivery, as well as the instrumentals, was less aggressive than the group’s studio sound, adding to the intimacy.
The Q&A also brought out the quirks of the band members: They unanimously hate playing “Such Small Hands” (even though many think it their claim to fame), a guitar riff on “Scenes From Highways 1981-2009” was stolen from a bird chirping outside the window of the band’s cottage, their music has been influenced by Stanley Kubrick movies. Dreyer even asked for an update on the Red Wings game from time to time. It was a refreshing change of pace to see a band that is usually dripping in sweat in front of a crowd of thrashing bodies replaced by one engaged in casual banter with its audience.
La Dispute’s toned-down musical performance was the perfect compliment to the conversation. Still harnessing their emotional prowess, Dreyer’s vocals were slightly less strained than his usual shouting delivery (think slam poetry). The instrumentals also took a step back, somehow managing to be soft yet still maintain their post-hardcore sound. There was no one peak song or breakaway moment of the performance; it was largely about how each individual audience member related to different pieces. Looking around, the connection was obvious – whether it was head bobbing, mouthing of words or just a subtle tap of the foot.
The show wrapped with “Objects In Space,” another breathy, heavily appreciative “Thank you” and the band’s exit. The emotional aftermath was one of appreciation – for the band, for their work, for the arts in general. This type of open and authentic presentation of their music, and of themselves, was so successful for La Dispute because they have never had anything to hide. Emotionally and mentally, they have always been willing to sharing it all – and that is exactly what they did.