This began as a sort of rebuttal. A website called nyctaper claimed to have the earliest live tapes of the Dismemberment Plan floating around the internets, from a show in 1999. "Allow me to scoff!" I said to myself, being in possession of two tapes of the Plan from 1997 and 1998. But therein lies a tale, of my first experiences with a band I really loved, and how one of them managed to break my heart a bit...
I saw the Dismemberment Plan for the first time on March 29th, 1998. They were playing with Calvin Krime at our long-lost beloved home base, the Concert Cafe, in Green Bay, WI. I'd brought a Marantz tape recorder up from Oshkosh to record the show, but something went wrong with the deck, and nothing was recorded. I had a wonderful time, though, and met the Dismemberment Plan for the first time. Good guys. The next night, they played in Madison. I couldn't go (I think I had to host a show on WRST), but DJ went, along with the Marantz. The basement of the house (in which resided various members of illustrious Madison band Paris, Texas) was flooded, and the Plan (and the Krime) had no choice but to play in the living room. In order to not anger the neighbors, both bands played semi-unplugged sets. Calvin Krime could only re-configure three songs in such a manner, but the Dismemberment Plan played seven tunes, including some new ones. Later, in exchange for a copy of the tape, someone from Paris, Texas gave DJ a copy of Emergency & I, which was still under major label clutches at the time.
The Dismemberment Plan in Madison, WI. 3/30/98.
As I said, I wasn't there. But I listened to the tape all the time, and soon had acquired both of their albums to date. What a fucking band! Combining various bits and pieces of Brainiac, Shudder to Think, and things I didn't even know about, those records itched with creativity and fun. And the new songs, from the tape? Well, there were some prettier melodies (like "The City," and "A Life of Possibilities," songs that ached, but somehow fit with raucous jams like "Academy Award") but overall things seemed to be heading down the same path. Over the years, we saw the Plan here and there in Wisconsin, and got to know them a bit. Eric was always a sweetheart, as was Jason. I never did chat with Joe much, but he seemed like a nice enough fellow. Travis, well...
Back in the early days, Travis was as nice as the rest of the band. Glad to hang out with us nerds, although a little standoffish, perhaps? It's hard to think back that far, but it seemed like he was cool. Somewhere in there, though, things began to change a bit.
Before we get to all that, let's go a little bit backwards: at some point, I got a tape of the Dismemberment Plan at the Concert Cafe from 11/18/97. I wasn't there, but this is a good overview of the Plan we knew at the time. There's a particularly unhinged version of "OK Joke's Over" here that absolutely brings the ruckus, along with such oddities as an early, slow version of "I Love A Magician" and a trombone-inclusive "One Too Many Blows To The Head" (which, unfortunately, is missing a piece towards the end due to a tape flip).
The Dismemberment Plan at the Concert Cafe, in Green Bay, WI. 11/18/97.
Now, this was back in the day when I had long, long hair, and a large chin-beard. I was shy back then, and I hid behind lots of hair and baggy clothes. I can recall saying hello to Travis at a show, and his reply: "Man, you just have more hair every time I see you." It didn't seem to be meant affectionately, either.
They stopped coming through Green Bay, but they did hit Milwaukee fairly often, and we drove down to see them. We delighted in surprising them here and there, whether it was showing up at a Fugazi show in DC ("What the hell are you guys doing here?") to having our internet friend Guti give us a shout-out when they were opening for Pearl Jam in Germany (Guti:"Hey Travis! The Pop Machine says hello!" Travis:"Oh! Well...I say hello back!")
The Dismemberment Plan at the Globe, in Milwaukee, WI. Possibly sometime in 2000.
I searched far and wide for an interview I remember reading back when "Change" was about to come out. I thought it was on Pitchfork, but evidence of it seems to mostly have disappeared. Anyway, it was an interview with Travis, and he said something along the lines of "Nobody liked us until we became tortured." I recall being furious. Oh, really? Nobody? That one hurt. As if everyone who'd supported his band until then was so much dogshit on his heel. Hey, man, we weren't doing the standing still. We were dancing our asses off. Even if "Change" was a pretty terrible record. Hey, at least it had "Superpowers" and "Time Bomb" on it.
All of this eventually culminated in the Dismemberment Plan's final tour. We heard they were playing requests! We'd seen pictures of Travis, trombone (brought by an audience member) in hand, playing "One Too Many Blows!" Nice! DJ tried to convince me that it wasn't going to be that kind of request show, they wouldn't just play anything. I wouldn't believe it. What kind of band would ask for requests from the audience, then not play them? I knew what I wanted to hear: a song called "Manipulate Me," from their second album. It was a fucking jam, and they never played it. Perfect opportunity, right?
I was writing for a local, long-gone webzine at the time, and I got tickets and an interview hookup for the Milwaukee show through them. Somehow (I'm still not sure where the confusion started) I ended up at the wrong theater, and barely got to the show in time. Outside, after haggling with the ticket booth operator for my will-call, I spotted Travis.
"Hey, man! How are you? I was, uh, supposed to do an interview with you guys, but I went to the wrong theater."
"Oh," said Travis. "You didn't want to do it now, did you?"
The shyness (which I still haven't really shaken) kicked in. "Uh...no, I guess not." Travis went inside. I got in line.
Soon enough, the Plan were onstage, and they were stellar. They played some songs, and then it was request time. Hands went up all over the place, and though I was right in front, I didn't know if I'd be called on. Lots of folks wanted to hear their favorite song (I even recall seeing a sign someone was holding, way back in the crowd, that read "Can We Be Mature?") There was a crazy dance party onstage during "the Ice of Boston," as there often was, and wires were unplugged. There was a lull, as things were being sorted out, and Travis scanned the crowd for another request.
He pointed at me. I thought about what DJ had said, how they had claimed not to remember various songs earlier in the requests...but I still looked at Travis and said "Manipulate Me!"
He paused, looked me in the eye, and said "I knew I shouldn't have called on you."
Fuck. Did I deserve that? Did I deserve to get dissed in front of this whole audience? Travis went over to the other side of the stage, called on someone who picked "Ellen and Ben" or some other bullshit song, and that was that. I really felt like an ass.
A few songs later, the show was done, and everyone began to file out. We tracked down Eric, and had a lovely conversation about future plans. But Travis' words sat there, in my head:
"I knew I shouldn't have called on you."
That hurt, too. So I didn't feel bad when indie-arbiters-for-some-goddamned-reason Pitchfork threw Travis' first solo record under the train. And there was a decent amount of schadenfreude when he announced his retirement. I don't know. I don't mean this to be a character assassination or anything like that. Maybe he thought he was joking, the whole time. All I can tell you is what I remember.
God dammit. I shoulda said "If I Don't Write."