The So So Glos, Desaparecidos
Paradise Rock Club
August 4, 2015
I went for Desaparecidos - Conor Oberst’s (of Bright Eyes fame) hardcore band - who put out the great political punk album Payola this year, 13 years after their first album Read Music/Speak Spanish. I gotta say, though: The So So Glos absolutely killed it and were the best part of the night.
The band had a particularly Boston introduction: Josh Kantor, the organist for the Red Sox came onstage and played the old-time baseball “Charge!” song before cornily introducing The So So Glos one at a time - “And next up base, ON BASS...Alex Livne!!!” Each So So Glo laughed as they walked on stage, four of the five wore oversized baseball caps while Ryan Livne sported a mohawk and wide, never-blinking eyes but a loving smile. Alex Livne and guitarist Ryan Livne are brothers, while drummer Zach Staggers is their step-brother, and you can immediately tell that these guys are a family band having a great time. They gave off that good-guy-punk vibe perfectly - the kind of vibe I got when I saw The Menzingers or Diarrhea Planet, the latter of which The So So Glos have toured with. I could tell I was going to have a fun time.
They opened with a song off their first album, “We Got The Days,” and during the instrumental breakdown Alex Livne addressed the crowd: “This song is about being the underdogs, Boston - you know what that’s like. Don’t worry, we’re from New York, but we’re no Yankee fans. We’re all American - we’re all on the losing team, blindly hailing freedom. Let’s give it for being American!!” The band exploded back into the song while the crowd exploded, too - one of the louder bursts of enthusiasm I’ve seen for an opening band.
Alex Livne’s showmanship can’t be overemphasized. Halfway through the show Alex handed off his bass to guitarist Matt Elkin so he could focus on the mic and the crowd. Wearing a Wu-Tang t-shirt and snarling like Iggy Pop and Joe Strummer, Alex had this modern-punk energy that absolutely made the show. Although kind of cliché, just shouting “Hey!” and pointing the mic at the crowd to shout it back over and over really works if you can pull it off. And the highlight of the night was when Livne introduced the song “Speakeasy.” “This is a goofy song we wrote about being in New York and being upset with the Internet. Just glazed over at a screen and having a million friends but being alone. It’s anti…” Livne paused for a moment, and someone shouted “social media!” “No, I wouldn’t say anti-social-media,” Livne responded. “And it’s not anti-information. We can debate about what it’s anti later, but it’s definitely anti. I mean just look at this guy.” Livne pointed to a kid looking at his phone (in the front row!) “His face is glowing from his phone, and he doesn’t even know we’re talking about him right now.” Throughout “Speakeasy” Livne danced around and literally blew a whistle when he saw people checking their phones. Sometimes he would point them out and make a frowny face as he drawled the lyrics. It was hilarious and sad at the same time.
I had listened to The So So Glos before and liked them, but they were infinitely better live - songs like “Black and Blue” took on a whole new, huge life on stage. The sound was way more raw and they really jammed out - I wish they did this more in studio. I gotta say, I’m a fully converted So So Glo now, and I’ll have to see them every time they come to Boston.
It was obvious that everyone was there for Desaparecidos, though (particularly for Oberst) and the crowd screamed from the bottom of their lungs as soon as they saw him. Unfortunately, he just didn’t have the stage presence to match those screams. He stood on the far right of the stage with his hair covering his face, expressionless as he growled angry lyrics about racist CEOs (“Golden Parachutes”) and the rebel-hacker organization Anonymous (well, “Anonymous”). I guess the point of a show with Oberst isn’t really to have fun, though, so what else should I have expected? He let his words carry the weight of the performance.
The band sounded great but also sounded exactly like their studio recordings, which can be a good thing and a bad thing. They even started off with the first three songs of Payola in order; I closed my eyes and wasn’t sure if I could have told the difference if they had just plugged in their iPod and turned on the album. This wasn’t as true for their old songs. “Manana” and “Greater Omaha” were particularly powerful, with Oberst and the guitars together sounding like a rapid-fire cannon. Maybe Desaparecidos need just a while longer to really work out how to play those Payola songs, but it’s totally worth going to their show just to hear those Read Music/Speak Spanish songs.
Regardless of which album they were playing, though, there was still a real catharsis in singing those angsty lyrics with Oberst and everyone else. Before “MariKKKopa” (a song with a memorable opening line, “There’s a lynching at Home Depot of the last day laborer”), Oberst addressed the crowd for one of the only times during the show, saying, “This song is about the state-sanctioned, institutional racism that goes on every day. You can get away with a lot if you have white skin in this country. And if you disagree, you’re a fucking fool.” Most of the crowd was white, but a few black hands went up in the air along with the white ones and clapped like crazy after that. It made me conscious of how relevant Oberst’s lyrics were to so many people; it made me wish he talked to the crowd more.
Near the end The So So Glos came back on stage to join Oberst in a couple more angry songs, but it was hard to stay pissed with their smiling faces crowding around the back of Oberst’s shoulders like one big, activist-punk family. By the end you couldn’t help but love The So So Glos and really respect Oberst for still singing the general public’s frustrated thoughts full-throttle after all these years. They still have a ton of shows - in Philly, D.C., Denver, Omaha (Oberst’s hometown), Chicago, Nashville, and plenty of others. You gotta go.
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