When reviewing the latest – and final – The Dillinger Escape Plan album Dissociation last year, I said that they would give us one last chance to dance with a farewell UK tour. For me, one more just wasn’t enough, so I jumped on a train and headed up to Nottingham to catch a date, as well as the obligatory London show a few days later. I’m not really convinced that two is enough but practicality and money say they must be. I have a lot to say about Dillinger, but I’m going to save most of it for another time and an extended wander down memory lane. So here, lovingly smashed together, are my thoughts on the tenth and eleventh times I saw, for all intents and purposes, my favourite band.
As I walk up the stairs into the all but legendary Rock City live room for – surprisingly – the very first time, Primitive Weapons are already onstage. As it is Saturday night, the gig has a 10pm curfew, shunting everything forwards so the venue can be cleared and a fresh batch of punters brought in for a club night. A chance encounter with half of The Colour Line secures me a prime vantage point on the Rock City balcony, whereas in the Forum I take up my favoured position beside the bar.
It’s no surprise that Primitive Weapons have been given a slot on this tour, having recently released an album through Dillinger’s own label imprint Party Smasher Inc. They kick out a suitably raucous post-hardcore vibe, with some pleasing, grindy riffs. A fairly big and beastly bass tone helps them generate a pretty thick sound for a standard four-piece, and some of the quieter moments are surprisingly reminiscent of Smashing Pumpkins.
The crowd in Nottingham is relatively thin at the point I walk in, maybe five minutes into their set, but rapidly fills. In London, the later start time means that they start playing to significantly more people, but unfortunately the sound isn’t quite as forgiving for them as it is at Rock City, and vocalist David seems to have more difficulty hearing himself, with predictable results.
Ultimately, Primitive Weapons fall into the common trap of opening bands, in that there’s nothing desperately wrong with what they’re doing, but there’s nothing particularly remarkable either. They do a good job of setting the tone for the evening, and coax a bit of movement out of a committed few on both nights. For me, with the last song in the set being the most memorable, it’s more a case of making a mental note to see what their next release is like.
Next up are the typographical nightmare that is Ho99o9. To be clear, that’s pronounced ‘horror’, and not ‘Hoggog’ or ‘Ho-nine-nine-o-nine’. Clear? Clear. I had heard rumblings that these guys put on quite a show, but I’d purposefully kept myself ignorant of precisely what that meant in practice.
After Primitive Weapons have cleared their gear off the stage, it’s obvious that not much has been put back in its place. Just a drumkit and a table holding a couple of electronic gizmos. The drummer settles in behind the kit, and he is joined by a guy with omnidirectional dreads, some kind of blue balaclava and…a wedding dress. Curious. He coaxes some dark, ominous noises out of those boxes of tricks and spits some rhymes. It’s not really clear what is going on. Soon afterwards, he’s joined by a second guy, dressed all in white with his hair dyed a vivid red. Before going anywhere near a microphone, he jumps down to – and then over – the crowd barrier to encourage a moshpit into existence. The crowd are happy to oblige.
Attempting to describe Ho99o9′s sound has me scrabbling in long-forgotten corners of my comparison cupboard. With the soundclash of dirty grime beats, whacking great slabs of distorted noise and bursts of punk aggression, the best I can come up with is a cocktail of Chuck Moseley, Dalek, Techno Animal, Onyx and Bad Brains. I imagine that’s not going to be a tremendous help for most of you, although I am also reliably informed that fans of Death Grips will find much to enjoy.
As the set progresses, the two frontmen cover every inch of the stage and repeatedly venture into the crowd, spitting out rhymes that are largely unintelligible but nonetheless compelling. I’m still not completely sure what I’m watching, but I know that I like it. The erratic mixture of booming, predatory basslines and short, spiky blasts of punk energy mean you’re never quite sure what’s coming next, which is properly thrilling.
The spontaneous nature of their performance also means that there is the greatest degree of variation between the Nottingham and London sets. Nottingham sees them spend more time in the crowd, as well as apparently showering the moshpit with popcorn (no, I don’t understand either) but the bass heavy mix in The Forum suits their sound better. An upside down American flag serves as a backdrop in London, and I suspect we’ll be seeing that a lot over the next four years.
It would be fair to say that subsequent investigation has shown the vitality and urgency of the performance hasn’t quite survived the transition to their current recorded output, but the bones of it are there. But the same could equally have been said about Dillinger themselves around the time of Calculating Infinity, when they were playing support slots and blindsiding unsuspecting audiences. Its clearly not for everyone, as one could see from the percentage of nodding heads across each venue, but Ho99o9 definitely walked away from this tour with new fans. Mission accomplished.
Dillinger’s stage set-up for this tour is also spartan. After an intro tape comprising an ominous pulse and hair-shaking sub hits, the band emerge onto an entirely unadorned stage and launch into “Limerent Death” with nothing more than plain white lights flashing not quite fast enough to be considered strobes. After the lighting extravaganza of Meshuggah only the night before it’s quite the change in vibe.
Of course, Dillinger themselves make the spectacle, rarely standing still for longer than a particularly tricky guitar lick. It’s not for nothing that the techs set up Ben and Liam’s amps behind their cabs, giving them extra flat surfaces to play with. Early in the Nottingham set, Ben takes a flying leap over the heads of the security staff and onto the pit which was been swirling and writhing from the very first beat. From that point onwards, the flow of crowdsurfers is pretty much continuous. The London pit looks every bit as furious from my safe vantage point, albeit with noticeably fewer surfers – but nevertheless, tales of lost shoes and glasses reach me from people emerging from the maelstrom. Clearly, the fans are taking this last chance to dance seriously.
So, the shows feel like business as usual. The main set list for the two shows is largely identical and fully half the songs are drawn from Dillinger’s last two albums, with a couple of old favourites – like “Sugar-Coated Sour” – thrown in for good measure. This does give the impression that this is more of a standard tour in support of a new album than a last hurrah. What’s more, the band don’t seem to be going quite as hard as they have in the past. Of course, that’s not to say that there is not constant movement on stage – bassist Liam is still doing his evil pixie dance and Kevin, the latest in a very long line of second guitarists is hardly slouching either – but it still doesn’t quite hit the frenetic levels we’ve seen in the past. Last time the band played Koko, Greg jumped from the balcony and Ben smashed a guitar against a pillar. Nothing like that happened at either of these dates – which may well be one reason why they’re calling it quits.
Even so, Dillinger on 80% is still a more intense experience than the overwhelming majority of bands. And, of course, the performance would be nothing without the killer songs, be they newies like “Symptom of a Terminal Illness” or oldies like “Black Bubblegum” reminding us that there’s so much more to Dillinger than mathcore terrorism.
Every album is represented to some degree, but weirdly only “Farewell Mona Lisa” makes the cut from Option Paralysis. Probably the biggest curveball comes when Ben wanders over to the keyboard parked at the side of the stage to play “Mouth of Ghosts“, a chilled out moment from Ire Works, before the standard closing double-hit of “Sunshine the Werewolf” straight into “43% Burnt“.
Watching the band play “43% Burnt” in London, I allow myself a moment of sentimentality. From where I stand, I can see Ben, in silhouette, playing his most instantly recognisable riff while throwing his guitar around in his signature move. As final visions of your favourite band go, I think to myself, this is about as good as it gets.
But, of course, nothing is that straightforward with Dillinger. Rather than leaving the stage at the end of the song, leaving me with my near perfect memory, they instead launch into a surprise airing of their cover of Nine Inch Nails‘ “Wish“. I don’t think anyone was expecting that.
This was then compounded further by the announcement shortly after the tour that the band would be playing at Download in the summer. Whether this means we’ll also get one last Dillinger club show in London before the towel they’ve thrown in finally hits the floor remains to be seen, but its fucking typical that they’d leave us guessing like this, those magnificent bastards.