Conor Oberst's Desaparecidos play the Beacham

After a decade of dormancy, the sociopolitical band reunites

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Conor Oberst's Desaparecidos play the Beacham
Courtesy photo


with Joyce Manor
8 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 19
The Beacham
46 N. Orange Ave.

Omaha, Neb., is materialistic, self-involved and increasingly artificial. Classless franchised stores are occupying more and more land, local culture is in the midst of extinction, and the wealthy whimsically mutilate their surroundings. True or not, that version of the city is specially featured in Desaparecidos' "Greater Omaha," a track that appears on 2002's Read Music/Speak Spanish. The song is, in one relentless motion, an acerbic eulogy for the group's hometown and a desperate howl to prompt change.

"Omaha, at that point to me, [was] so many different things," Desaparecidos guitarist Denver Dalley says, when recalling the era around Read Music. Now a Manhattan resident, Dalley fondly remembers the camaraderie and closeness that then dominated the city's music scene. Saddle Creek Records, the linchpin Omaha indie rock label that released the band's first and only record, was near the peak of its cultural power.

Then, everyone began leaving Omaha for college, work and other pursuits, and the dissolving scene lost its luster for Dalley. Development was also in full effect at that time: Kum & Go convenience stores were replacing familiar spots, and Dalley's beloved Indian Hills Theater was leveled and left as a parking lot. "It was just a start of change, and it's continued radically since then," he says. "Omaha has expanded so much, and it's been rated as one of the fastest-growing communities in the nation."

"Greater Omaha" is archetypal Desaparecidos: It's a rough, uncompromising dose of punk-in-post-hardcore clothing overlaid with Conor Oberst's shaky voice and biting, self-righteous lyrics. Ever the liberal, Oberst used Read Music to rail against corporations, the influence of money on relationships, conspicuous consumption, Disney and whatever else pissed him off. In keeping with their frontman's frame of mind, Desaparecidos' music was full of despondency and bile, but Dalley regards the abundance of those elements as the songs' byproducts.

"I don't think there was ever a conscious effort [in which we said] 'We're going to go into it writing 'em this way.' In fact, a lot of times, we'll start with an idea that'll have a totally different tone, and then, by the time we all are playing our parts, the drums and guitars are so loud. If we tried to write a disco song, it would still come out just like an angry rock song."

After venting on the 2001 single The Happiest Place on Earth and then Read Music, Desaparecidos toured briefly (once with Jimmy Eat World) and then called off the project. They were around for a year, maybe two, total. Still, the band never formally broke up, nor announced a reason for their dissolution, leaving room for an eventual reunion. (Presumably, Oberst wanted to focus on Bright Eyes, his best-known project.) Then, in summer 2010, a one-off Desaparecidos performance took place in Omaha, and last year, the five-piece officially reactivated.

Since regrouping, the band has produced a handful of fresh songs. "MariKKKopa" sets its targets on Sheriff Joe Arpaio – the most polarizing figure in Maricopa County, Ariz. – and his policies on immigration. "The Left Is Right" makes impassioned references to protests on statehouse steps, Robin Hood ideologies and taking baseball bats to limos. "Anonymous" excitedly takes up the cause for the Internet collective of the same name. Guitars still boom and simmer, keyboards still squeal, and Oberst still spills his social anxieties. Absolutely nothing about the band's angle has changed.

Today, Dalley is 31. Even though a decade passed between the group's flurries of activity, he hasn't changed his mind about anything Oberst portrayed in Desaparecidos or any decisions the outfit has made.

"Desaparecidos has always kind of been an anomaly. It barely was a band. I think we had done maybe one-and-a-half tours, basically, so [Read Music] was a record that mainly was passed around. It's bizarre how 10 years later, the songs are still relevant, and we still have the same chemistry. There are so many odd things about it that shouldn't probably work, but it does for some reason. As far as my views go, I don't think anything's changed. I think there's more to comment on," he says. "Also, there's kind of a void [for this sort of band], but people need something like that. As impressive as bands with all kinds of backing tracks and synths [are] – which I personally love, also – there's something about just seeing the loud rock show that will never be irrelevant or go away."

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