Review: The Dismemberment Plan takes Union Transfer on a time machine to the 90s

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Dismemberment plan | Photo by Jennifer Brady | www.behance.net/JennBradyAll photos by Jennifer Brady | www.behance.net/JennBrady

When The Dismemberment Plan formed in 1993 (in Washington, D.C., as frontman Travis Morrison is fond of constantly reminding us), who knew that choosing a band name based on a throwaway line in Groundhog Day would prove so apt? Twenty years later, with almost a decade of downtime intervening, the foursome arrived at Union Transfer sounding like not a day had passed.

Other than the new songs from their latest, poppiest album, Uncanney Valley, the set was a time machine to the late ‘90s, down to the spastic, arms-crossed dance moves of the audience. A great deal of that is down to the fact that Morrison retains his quirky, boyish charm; after the first three songs on Saturday, he stepped to the microphone to announce that he’d just discovered his fly was down – and was slightly disappointed that no one had noticed.

While it touched on each of their five releases, the 19-song set was dominated by tunes – seven apiece – from the new album and from 1999’s Emergency & I, which remains the band’s defining moment. Live, the songs from Emergency – the tense, stuttering “Girl O’Clock,” the surreal anthem “You Are Invited,” or the stirring, swelling “What Do You Want Me To Say?” – spotlight the locked-in ferocity of the rhythm section, especially drummer Joe Easley’s taut, eccentric grooves.

With the intimacy of the half-full Union Transfer, the band quickly established a goofy rapport with their assembled fans, whether polling the crowd for jokes or reminiscing about their last local appearance during a brutal “snowpocalypse.” The communion came to a head during their three-song encore, when the stage was flooded with fans bouncing along to “The Ice of Boston,” leaving bassist Eric Axelson relieved that the stage didn’t collapse before the evening concluded with “OK, Joke’s Over.”

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