Texts, tweets, e-mails and phone calls went out around 10 p.m.
It was on. A secret show.
Desaparecidos, whose reunion was announced about 24 hours prior, would be taking the stage at Slowdown at 11 p.m. Monday.
Before band’s reunion had been announced, they were supposed to play a secret show last week, but it didn’t work out. Late Sunday night, the band was announced as the headliner of Maha Music Festival. Excitement was high with Rolling Stone, Pitchfork, Paste and others picking up The World-Herald’s story about the reunion.
At Slowdown on Monday, a sign on the door said “rock show.” Earlier in the evening, the bar hosted a pub quiz and attendees were informed of the show but asked to stay quiet until later.
The crowd grew until 11:17 p.m. when the band — led by Conor Oberst of Bright Eyes and also including Landon Hedges, Matt Baum, Denver Dalley and Ian McElroy — unceremoniously walked onto the tiny front room stage at the venue. (Check out photos and video.)
“Hi guys,” Oberst said. “Thanks for coming to our band practice.”
Right away, they went into a new song. “Left is Right” was loud, brash, crashing — the same kind of punk noise that fans of the band would expect. And with lyrics about war, including lines about how “a bloody pacifist could see the truth,” it sounds like the new material has the political undertones of the band’s lone album, which came out a decade ago.
The other new song, “Backsell,” came in the middle of the short set. It dropped lines about the music industry. It seemed to be Oberst’s stab at fame, with a line about him scratching out his face in a music magazine and another about if he had AutoTune, “I could hit the notes.”
I’ve heard the group has been practicing lately, and I assume with the new material, the band is almost surely working on a new album.
The rest of the set included all the old favorites. Oberst dedicated “Man and Wife, the Former (Financial Planning)” to the winners of the night’s pub quiz. He also dedicated “Mall of America” to the operators of Slowdown, the venue and the complex of buildings around it, that was built by Oberst’s pals (and Saddle Creek Records execs) Robb Nansel and Jason Kulbel.
“When our friends formed bands in the mid to late ’90s, I didn’ think that one of us would end up building a mall,” he said, tongue firmly in cheek. “But here we are. They built a mall and here we are. This one goes out to this beautiful mall we love so much.”
The diehard fans were up front headbanging, though many in the back of the room followed suit. It was a free show, but I don’t think even a $10 (or higher) cover would have deterred anyone.
Up on stage, Desparecidos were a blur of fury and motion. Considering how the band is fronted by Oberst, Mr. Folk Rock, it’s amazing that the band is more punk rock than many actual punk rock bands.
Almost every song was the most energetic version you could dream up. They blazed through “The Happiest Place on Earth” with power chords and whirling band members. As he was known for in the past, Baum shouted at the crowd between songs. “Mañana” was a wild inferno of guitars and shouted lyrics and the melody was almost totally lost, but it was what we wanted.
“Man and Wife, the Latter (Damaged Goods),” the most mellow song of the set, retained its melody and quiet tone, but the band shot back with “Survival of the Fittest/It’s a Jungle Out There” right after.
Oberst treated it like it was a rehearsal.
“Thank you guys so much. Normally, we’d have to do this in front of a bunch of stuffed animals lined up on our bed,” he said. “This is much more realistic.”
No rehearsal needed. They haven’t lost a step.
They were finished and off the stage by 11:58 p.m. In 41 minutes and 10 songs, the band declared, “We’re back!”
And the crowd responded: “We’re here. We’re listening…”
Left is Right*
Man and Wife, the Former (Financial Planning)
The Happiest Place on Earth
Mall of America
Man and Wife, the Latter (Damaged Goods)
Survival of the Fittest/It’s a Jungle Out There
Hole in One