When was the last time you saw crowd-surfing at a Bright Eyes show? Or watched a mosh pit break out at a Conor Oberst solo performance? Ever? But one late June night, in the cramped and sweaty confines of the Bushwick D.I.Y. space Shea Stadium, Oberst and his recently re-formed punk band Desaparecidos put on an exhilarating set that worked the fun and rowdy crowd to a fever pitch. It's probably fair to say that for a majority of Oberst's fans, Desaparecidos' first record, 2002's Read Music / Speak Spanish, has looked like a strange outlier among the songwriter's vast discography of folk and indie rock. But for those at Shea who were fist-pumping to every riff and shouting along with every word — even to brand-new songs — it was clear that they weren't there out of curiosity.
Written and released in the wake of Sept. 11, 2001, Read Music / Speak Spanish tackled the war on terror, political disenfranchisement and the dark side of capitalism at a time when few musicians felt comfortable doing so. Alongside the album's thrashing guitars, abrasive feedback and fragments of TV audio, Oberst's emotional, incisive lyrics take on a sharper edge and transform his trembling voice into a frayed scream.
While Desaparecidos has gotten back together sporadically (the band played a Concert For Equality in Omaha in 2010, and released a few singles in 2012), it has mostly remained dormant for the last decade. But in its absence, Desaparecidos' explosive political music has proven influential and lasting, which left the door open for Oberst and the band — including Denver Dalley, Ian McElroy, Landon Hedges and Matt Baum — to return in 2015.
Payola, Desaparecidos' second album and first in 13 years, arrives at another heady time. Throughout the record, Oberst challenges blind patriotism, laments the cost of health care and reflects on police brutality and race inequality. "City On The Hill" and "Golden Parachutes" reference the Occupy movement and corrupt economic systems left unchecked ("When you're betting on both red and black / It's dealer's choice, the deck is always stacked"). Elsewhere, in "Searching The Searches," Desaparecidos takes issue with NSA overreach and questions why privacy and data are so readily traded for security. "We're always there when no one is watching / We'll be looking out / We'll protect you, swear we're protecting you," Oberst bellows over thick layers of noise and soaring guitars.
At Shea Stadium, Oberst spoke briefly between songs, admitting, "It's so f****** easy to get disheartened in the world we live in, and feel like there's no forward motion." But progress is slow, and by calling out complicated and painful issues, Oberst channels his anxiety and anger into awareness-raising anthems for the unheard and unseen. Oberst sums it up in the album's final track, "Anonymous": "Cause freedom is not free / Neither is apathy... You can't stop us / We are anonymous." In the small but packed crowd in Brooklyn, that chant became a rallying cry, suggesting that we're all in this together. In moments like that, Oberst's music has rarely felt this jarringly raw and immediate — or more meant to be heard right now.
- "The Left Is Right"
- "The Underground Man"
- "City On The Hill"
- "Ralphy's Cut"
- "Man And Wife, The Latter (Damaged Goods)"
- "Golden Parachutes"
- "Survival Of The Fittest/It's A Jungle Out There"
- "Greater Omaha"
- "Hole In One"
Producer/Director: Mito Habe-Evans; Videographers: Mito Habe-Evans, Mike Katzif, Adam Wolffbrandt; Audio Engineer: Josh Rogosin; Editors: Mito Habe-Evans, Adam Wolffbrandt; Special Thanks: Shea Stadium; Executive Producer: Anya Grundmann