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March 18, 2002
I got off the Subway at Delancey Street expecting to see at least a few people milling about outside of the Bowery Ballroom, but the street was deserted save for a big man standing at the door, checking IDs. Only as I proceeded inside was I able to catch the first glimpse of the crowd I knew would inevitably populate the space. I had figured the bands and the hype surrounding the tour was sure to bring in a bunch of hipster types, so I was completely unsurprised when the first person I saw as I walked down the steps into the sitting area was a guy in a Diesel sweatshirt.

Yet despite all of the hype surrounding the Death & Dismemberment Tour - the pairing of indie rock dreamboats Death Cab For Cutie [LAS feature] and The Dismemberment Plan [LAS feature] - aside from some underage girls I overheard in the bathroom, no one seemed excited. Even when the opening act, Cex, came on, most of the people lingering in the bar downstairs didn't stir, although a few did gingerly make their way upstairs to see the last few songs at the end of his performance. The crowd's disinterest was likely more shocking to Cex than it was to me, considering he claimed himself to be "the number one rapper in the whole mother fucking world." Perhaps these people had not been informed of his verbal prowess, or had taken a peek earlier and remained unimpressed. Cex's set was centered as much on his rapping as it was his fantastic ability to engaging the crowd, whether it be with talk about his nipple hair, the removal of his pants, or a lengthy rumination on why indie rockers should listen to his music. "Indie rock's been your boyfriend for years now. Cex is the other guy, a friend of a friendů Cex doesn't ask you call him bitch when your making love," is how his argument went.

By the time a sizeable crowd had formed The Dismemberment Plan, the notoriously quirky and geek-centric quartet from Washington DC, had already taken the stage, Travis Morrison, the band's charismatic frontman, took a moment to apologize for playing "terrible last night," during the first of the tour's two nights in New York, and sizing up his obligations out loud. "Tonight I gotta' bring it." And bring it they did. Without question the best of the evening's performances, the Dismemberment Plan's set was packed hard and tight with energy and crowd connection, from an open invitation for spectators to come and join them on stage to Morrison's running banter with fans on the floor during their performance. Although the band seemed to be firing on all cylinders, the songs that stood out as their best efforts were "Gyroscope," "Ellen and Ben," and "What Do You Want Me To Say," the set interspersed in the middle with a bit of Britney Spear's otherwise awful "I'm a Slave 4 U," and closed out with "Ok Jokes Over." In the span of the band's last song, Morrison fell writhing to the floor as Cex came up from a hidden stage door and took him out. As the band is known to do, the closing number was spliced with sharp cuts into a number of other songs - including the classic Bill Withers cut "Lean on Me," one from the White Stripes, and their tourmates' "Steadier Footing" - all interspersed throughout the song. A fitting way to end a charictaristically strong set, the last song gave way to Death Cab's performance.

Though they were in their reliably strong form, the fact that West Coast emo conquistadors Death Cab For Cutie performed after their East Coast blood brothers served only to dampen their performance. While their songs are notably well crafted and the band is dependably sharp on stage, Death Cab are probably not the ideal band to follow such an energetic set. The Seattle group may be one of the most adept at translating their recorded material to a live setting with clarity and precision, but the material itself is more than a stone's throw from the hyperactive fare of the D-Plan. Even when a band like Death Cab are completely on their mark, their songs do not lend themselves to the kind of riotous, anything-goes stage format that their tourmates thrive upon. While the early going of their performance was great - with especially strong deliveries of "Movie Script Ending," "We Laughed Indoors," "Photobooth," "Company Calls", "Why You'd Want to Live Here," and "Blacking Out the Friction" - their plain black coffee felt rather restrained after the espresso that had immediately preceded it. Towards the end of the seventeen songs they played, Death Cab seemed to have all but fall asleep, their energy lagging a great deal.

Had the night's billing been reversed and Death Cab For Cutie played before the Dismember Plan, the cleverly marketed Death and Dismemberment Tour would have been the consummate indie rock experience. Cex's outlier of a performance aside, Death Cab could have gotten the crowd's blood flowing and filled the room with their strong albeit relatively subdued songs, and even if they lagged in energy a bit towards the end, the ensuing barrage from the Dismemberment Plan could have raised the crowd's spirits and energy level up again and then taken it to a whole new level. Worth the hype? I'd say so. Despite the endorphin letdown of the night's order, it was still one of the best shows I've seen in a while.

SEE ALSO: www.dismembermentplan.com
SEE ALSO: www.deathcabforcutie.com

--
Jeanette Samyn
A contributing writer for LAS and a former music director WBAR at Barnard College.

See other articles by Jeanette Samyn.

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