Waves of shock and sadness reverberated around the scene at the beginning of August, when groundbreaking mentalists The Dillinger Escape Plan announced that they would be going on an ‘extended hiatus’ after touring to support sixth album Dissociation, due to be released in October. All good things must come to an end, I guess – and things don’t come much gooder (ouch) than a Dillinger Escape Plan live show. Many people, myself included, resolved to take every opportunity they could to see them before the hiatus comes into effect.
With that in mind, when news seeped out on Monday morning that Dillinger would be playing a warm-up show on the Wednesday at the intimate (read: ‘freaking tiny’) Old Blue Last on Great Eastern Street, prior to their Reading and Leeds appearances this weekend, I set alarms, cleared my schedule and was sitting compulsively pressing the refresh key on the ticket link as 3:00pm approached, when the scant few tickets to this 150-ish capacity show would go on sale, hoping I would be one of the lucky ones.
I was not one of the lucky ones. With the number of people doing exactly the same thing as me clearly dwarfing the number of available tickets, they sold out practically instantly. In a word: fuck.
As I valiantly tried to keep my emotions in check, I constantly reminded myself that you really can’t win them all, and generally speaking I get to win a lot more than I lose. Hell, the main reason my diary was so clear was because I was recovering from the inaugural The Monolith Curates show – and how many people are lucky enough to get to pick their dream line-up for a gig? Not many.
But, nevertheless, the gods were still smiling on me. A message appeared in my inbox on Tuesday. No promises, but keep Wednesday night free, just in case. I tried to carry on as normal, but that’s bloody difficult when you have fingers, arms, legs and eyes crossed. After a day of slightly less than patient waiting, I finally get the nod around 6:30pm – my name is on the guest list. Saints be praised. With doors opening in just ninety minutes, I clambered into my dancing trousers and headed for Shoreditch at top speed before anyone had a chance to change their minds.
I’m not going to lie, I actually punched the air after my name was crossed off that list, my wrist was stamped and I had made it up the steep and narrow staircase to The Old Blue Last’s live room. I couldn’t quite believe I was there – and neither could the two of my countless friends that had tried and actually succeeded in securing tickets for themselves in the bunfight on Monday afternoon.
With no support act, there was nothing to do once inside except wait, and enjoy the air conditioning. A tight knot of fans formed in front of the stage, and gradually expanded as stage time approached. In retrospect, I really should have used this time to do some form of stretching exercise.
It’s not a big room
Just after 9:30, the band squeezes their way through the crowd, the venue is too small for direct access, and onto the stage. With the barest minimum of fiddling with their gear, they launch into “Prancer”, complete with a lovely lengthened pregnant pause after the opening jagged shards of an intro, before Greg screams “How could it all be?” and the venue simply erupts.
This is my ninth Dillinger show, and the smallest by a considerable distance, having missed out on the now legendary shows at The Barfly in 2010. Squeezing a show which is intense in a venue like Koko into a room less than a fifth of the size, packed to the rafters with rabid fans increases that intensity by several orders of magnitude. New album Dissociation‘s first single “Limerent Death” gets an early airing, and the audience greet it like it’s already an old friend. Within just a couple of songs, I’m sweating so profusely that my entry stamp has already vanished from my wrist. The air conditioning in the room, which made the wait relatively bearable after a sticky day in the capital, simply can’t keep up.
Somewhat ironically, despite the absolute maelstrom kicking off in front of the stage, the band themselves are so confined that they move far less than I’ve ever seen before – but that doesn’t stop them completely. Greg and Ben are visibly scanning the venue from the stage for things to jump off, stand on or hang from, and Ben does his trademark standing-on-the-crowd trick during “Room Full of Eyes”. Spotting a lone lightbulb hanging in the centre of the ceiling, he swipes at is with his headstock, and it bursts with an audible pop, showing everyone in tiny shards of glass. Somewhere, a health and safety official weeps.
The show is the very definition of ‘no frills’, without even between-song banter from Greg, even when some sort of issue with Liam’s bass rig causes a bit of a pause in proceedings. Instead, the band simply pile though fourteen of their very best songs, including “Panasonic Youth”, stand-alone single “Happiness Is A Smile” and the (relative) slow menace of “Crossburner”. I don’t dare take my eyes off the stage or the crowd for any longer than it takes to note down the setlist as the songs and limbs fly past. A steady stream of crowdsurfers and stage divers fill the air, and the pit surges in every direction. Madness. The crowd may be small, but it is feverishly energetic, and in full voice – especially during the triumphant outro of “Farewell, Mona Lisa”.
Surprisingly, the set list only reaches back to the days before Miss Machine once, with “The Mullet Burden” getting an airing toward the end of the set. “Sunshine The Werewolf” provides the grand finale, slightly wrong-footing me as I was fully expecting it to be followed immediately by “43% Burnt”, but with Billy standing up and throwing his sticks into the crowd, it’s clear that the show is over. There will be no encore.
Pausing for a moment to grab a very much-needed glass of water from the bar, the crowd spills out onto the street looking like we’ve all just been rescued from a sinking ship. Everyone is utterly drenched in sweat and wearing slightly deranged smiles. I always say that if I was absolutely forced to pick one band as my absolute favourite, then it would be The Dillinger Escape Plan. That point has been quite dramatically underlined by tonight’s show. Good god, I’m going to miss them when they go. I’ve already promised myself that I’m going to go to as many of their UK dates as possible when they return after the release of Dissociation. That might be all of them. Who’s with me?