“Back and Forth” – The Dismemberment Plan
(Words/music: The Dismemberment Plan, available on Emergency & I, DeSoto 1999 / Barsuk 2011)
PART 1 OF 2: “You’ll always be my hero / even if I never see you again.”
I saw the Dismemberment Plan for the first time in 2002. I ended up with their final LP Change somewhat serendipitously when it came out and obsessed over it for a good stretch of time (so much that when I listened to it earlier this year in its entirety for the first time in ages, my hands instinctively drummed along to every little nuance out of muscle memory). I never forgot that show – from the opening local band playing the Replacements’ “Left of the Dial,” to John Vanderslice’s tight supporting set and theatrical drummer – and the kind of spastic glee the Plan induced both on stage and in the crowd in the tiny Providence rock club. It broke my heart when the band called it quits, and not being able to catch the band’s farewell tour only bummed me out further.
So when the band came back together for a series of shows supporting the vinyl reissue of Emergency & I, I seized the second chance. I bought tickets months in advance and dug out my Dismemberment Plan records well in advance. The first step, of course, was falling back in love with these songs. I expected the superhuman rhythm section and hairpin shifts to still catch my ear, but rather than just rely on my old favorites, I felt pulled toward songs that never grasped me the first time around. In particular, “Back and Forth” bridged the things I knew I loved about this band with the things that I appreciated even more now. I probably fixated on the drumming when I first got the record, but a few months ago I found my attention centered on Travis Morrison’s vocals. He runs through the lyrics of this song quickly, so rather than decode the entire song at one, I kept grasping onto specific parts. Each time I listened, a new phrase caught my ear, and I marveled at the way Morrison could play with the sound of words and internal rhymes without sacrificing his storytelling and imagery. Both the sound of the words and the words themselves worked together to paint this scene if joy and nervous excitement tempered by the reminder that the night would eventually end. This duality of sound and signifiers fits the song’s duality as well – one of the awareness of memory while it’s being created while still enjoying the moment.
It was appropriate for seeing the band this past January as well. Like the song’s narrator, I went into the night knowing that no matter how much fun I had (and I had a blast), I didn’t know if I’d ever have another chance to see the band again. Appropriately, they closed their nearly two hour set with this song, and a few days later it sunk in – it didn’t matter if this was the last time (and from the handful of gigs and festival appearances this summer, I’m holding out hope for periodic mini-tours every so often) because I had a hell of a time. Rather than fixate on the band’s absence like last time, I’m treasuring the memory (even months later) of an exceptional gig.
Tomorrow (or the next day or so): Hearing the right thing at the right times.