Washington DC has a long and storied history of quality music. It deserves a lot of love, for it’s clubs and it’s children. But there is a small area, right outside the city—Northern Virginia (lovingly referred to as NoVa)—that doesn’t get enough credit. Nestled up right against DC, sometimes to the point where it would be hard to tell the two apart if there weren’t a bridge and a body of water between them, NoVa needs some attention it doesn’t often get. In addition to being an area that heavy hitters like Ian Mackaye would hang out in, it was home to some hardcore players such as the band Frodus, the record label Lovitt, and legendary shops like Record Convergence. Dave Grohl is from the area and even penned a seemingly poignant opus to the neighborhood of his youth in the Foo Fighters song “Arlandria.” If you ask anyone who the hometown heroes are/were you could get a dozen different answers, but mine has always been The Dismemberment Plan.
Purveyors of spastic/nostalgic/melodic indie-rock created at a time when DC was still focused on punk and hardcore, they were the cultivators of a fresher sound in an era when Fugazi ruled. Any time a show was booked in DC post-1997, they could sell out back-to-back nights at the best clubs in the city, so you can imagine my surprise when I walked in to Union Transfer Sunday night and saw the stage pushed forward as far as it would go. Maybe a few dozen people were on the floor as the opening band, Yellow Ostriches, started. “What is going on here?” I thought. “Where the f@#$ is everyone?” Not in Kansas anymore, as it were. In spite of my doubts, though, quality over quantity would win the day.
The crowd would thicken, but as soon as the band hit the stage, the number of people present didn’t matter, just that we were all present. As soon as Travis Morrison’s nasally, nerdy voice emanated throughout the floor and up to the balcony, we were all one in the madness. Classics such as “Time Bomb” and “Spider In The Snow” brought back the sadness and nostalgia of living and loving in NoVa, even if you’d never been there. They stood tall and brought screams and shouts that began in the chest and burst forth through the mouth on “You Are Invited” before sliding into their most recent single “Invisible.”
The evening was full of sharp wit from Morrison, sound issues on the guitar rig, and sing-a-longs from the audience. There was also shameless self-promotion with a live display of merchandise on two willing participants that culminated in the grand D-Plan tradition of pulling up as many people on to the stage as the venue will allow for a rousing performance of whatever they feel like—this time it was “The Ice Of Boston.” There was a genuine look of enjoyment on the entire bands faces for the entire performance. Travis even saw an old friend in the crowd at the end, came down to give her a kiss on the cheek, and apologized that he didn’t have more time to say hello because he had to perform. It doesn’t get much more real than that. That’s all we really want from our performers, right? For them to be people.
At the end of the night, personal feelings about the new album aside (it’s a little “blah”), it was just plain fun to see a group of old friends hit the stage again. Sure, it’s in a new(er) city, with a smaller crowd than I’m accustomed to for them, but they played like we were the only people in the world. Even as the night was winding down, and the eternally cliched words “all good things must come to an end” were uttered by the Morrison, a doubtful voice in the back countered “that’s what you said 10 years ago”—maybe, just maybe, proving that the party will never die.