This probably won’t be the most “professional” review ever — but in my shaky defense, I dare say that previous revisions were even more visceral and less sophisticated than this one… so there’s that.

Now onto the concert-going frustrations of a La Dispute fan over the age of 21…

I first heard La Dispute over three years ago, and it was instant love. Somewhere at the Bottom of the River Between Vega and Altair became a favorite of that year and has remained on regular rotation ever since. Even then, at 24, I was a loner in my fandom; few of my peers could appreciate why I adored La Dispute, and I learned not to care. I made peace with the fact that people think it’s alright to like emo/hardcore/whatever when they’re younger but shun it when they’re older. I learned to accept that if people were unwilling to look past genre tags, they would never discover vocalist Jordan Dreyer’s compelling lyrical narratives. But it’s fine. To each their own, I say! — or did say, anyway. That was before I went to La Dispute shows, though — before “their own” ever encroached on “my own” and affected my concert-going experiences. Now I just want them to see the light.

Wonder Ballroom – Portland, OR – 5 November 2011

In 2009, La Dispute were on tour with Thursday, and I caught them in Detroit, not far from their hometown of Grand Rapids, Michigan. It was then that I learned that La Dispute shows seem to be comprised of the following human components: real dismal jerk-offs, extremely stoked kids, and completely apathetic individuals. I’d somehow had the great fortune of surrounding myself with “real dismal jerk-offs” that evening. These misers were next-level, though; they not only hated on La Dispute, but spouted racist epithets, too. In their initial ramblings, they implied that all Arabs are terrorists. Later, when I pulled out my camera to take photos, one commented that I had a camera, and another smugly responded, “Of course.” Wait, of course why exactly? Because I’m Asian? Yes, he was alluding to that, indeed. I held my tongue and fumed, only to fume more as they abusively and loudly judged La Dispute, making fun of Dreyer for his “emo” voice and sarcastically calling for encores throughout their set.

Tonight, two years later, I’ve managed to catch La Dispute again. They’re on tour with Thrice, and I am hundreds of miles from Detroit, in Portland, Oregon — but the same misers are here. Just like before, they make fun of Dreyer’s “emo” voice and sarcastically call for encores. Just like before, they don’t realize that all across the country, there are clones of themselves, saying and thinking the exact same brainless negative things. Just like before, I’ve somehow managed to surround myself with these horribly, horribly unoriginal whiners…

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An unsavory crowd has put a damper on my experience both times I’ve seen La Dispute. I chalk this up to the fact that their nation-wide tours have been with large bands like Thursday and Thrice — both of whom have long-running, established fanbases that are comfortable and don’t necessarily seek change. Unlike Thursday, though, Thrice has come a long way stylistically in the past decade. (Editor’s Note: Okay, fine, you win; I am incorrect in this statement and Thursday have changed, too. Apologies.) Their recent outputs are more instrumentally-complex and textural than their early hardcore albums, and they’ve grown up for all to see. For those who are just absorbing Thrice’s music now, La Dispute may seem like a most ridiculous opener. You can bet that the dismal jerk-offs love this dichotomy.

In the same breath that they’re calling for songs from Thrice’s latest, Major/Minor, they’re making fun of Dreyer for playing a tambourine or looking emaciated from pushing his body to the limit — and one can hypothesize that what they’re really miserable about is how painfully ignorant they are. Telling your friends you dislike a band is one thing; heckling loudly at a band that is playing to a sold-out crowd just makes you look like an idiot. It might help you to stop for a moment and consider why bands like Thursday and Thrice are bringing La Dispute on tour to begin with. Bands with followings as devoted as Thrice’s or Thursday’s don’t need to bring a No Sleep Records band on tour with them. Consider, then, you curmudgeons, that perhaps these bands that you absolutely idolize might find worth in the band you’re shitting on. Maybe you could show just the least bit of respect, too!?

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This mean-spiritedness is particularly despicable when directed towards La Dispute because of the joy the band exudes as well as fosters in the all-ages community. As I stood in the 21-and-over section of Wonder Ballroom, I realized that I was, as usual, the lone fan in a sea of skeptics — though some warmed up as their set went on. All of La Dispute’s existing fans — the “extremely stoked kids” — were front-and-center in the all-ages section. Their enthusiasm kicked to the curb my previous assumption that kids only sang along with La Dispute at the Detroit show because of Detroit’s proximity to the band’s hometown. Not so. The extremely stoked kids in Portland love La Dispute just as much as the extremely stoked kids in Detroit; they know all the lyrics and all the breakdowns — and it’s not just a few of them. It’s dozens of them, roaring back like lions. The music speaks to them on a level that’s much, much deeper than just surface, and that should mean something to even the most jaded of hearts.

But as the kids were enjoying themselves this evening at Wonder Ballroom, the bitter individuals behind me threw up their hands in bemusement, “holier-than-thou”-ness radiating from their every scoff. I’ve learned that their confidence is a pretense for cowardice. When I confronted the racists in Detroit, I gave a general statement defending the Arab community and explained quite plainly that I had a camera because I run a music magazine. The main culprit backpedaled immediately. He claimed that none of what he said was what he meant, and his less ostentatious friend called him an asshole, attempting to diffuse the situation with a weak “good cop” act. His dishonesty was obviously not convincing.

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This evening, too, had one particularly outspoken master of heckles who was surrounded by less intense followers. After one follower played mock air guitar and vapidly complained about La Dispute being too “dramatic,” I turned to him and calmly asked, “I’m just curious; are you familiar with Thrice’s old material? Because it very much resides in the same world as this.”

“Oh no,” he responded immediately. “I have just never seen them before, that’s all.”

“But you’re hating on them so hard,” I replied — and he had nothing more to say. Suddenly, he too had no ill will and was just misunderstood.

Later, the outspoken master of heckles was running through his latest cycle of snide “One more song!”‘s and fake cheers when Dreyer began to reflect upon the positive aspects of the evening’s show. He gave a heartfelt monologue about how La Dispute felt at ease in Portland due to the crowd’s warm reception and concluded by saying of the venue, “This kind of place is important because it not only gives us a home, but gives everyone here a home… so, thank you.”

It was clear that the thanks came from a place of honesty. And with such an immediate juxtaposition between unwarranted bitterness and blinding gratitude, I’m sure the heckler felt ridiculous for being so negative. He remained silent for the remainder of the set.

I’d like to think that such tales are examples of disarmament through gentle logic and of enlightenment warming cold souls by proxy. Maybe it’s a stretch. Maybe it’s overly optimistic. I don’t care. I’m going to stick to that ideal, and to end this review — if you can even call this that — I’m going to incorporate the band’s spirit to back me up. Here’s “The Castle Builders” from Somewhere at the Bottom of the River Between Vega and Altair. Love it or leave it.

Now speak of anger,
Forget all the fears you’ve kept about love and sex and death and faith,
Erased, or swinging sweet from around her neck and between her breasts.
Let every lonely body finally break its fear of flesh and say,
“How strange it must’ve been back when we shook at the sight of sweat.”
Let our worries wander out of like water streaming from a spring,
And sing of all the things our heads have failed to ruin yet.
There’s so much they have failed to ruin yet.

Bright as lightning, loud as thunder,
We’ll move all the hurt aside to let love sustain our passions,
And move up and onward.
We are not our losses, we are only the extent to which we love.
So build a home for your family, and build a castle for your friends.
Now set their beds with sheets and blankets, keep them safe until the end.
I’ve felt the damage and burn from the fallout.
My love failed but theirs prevailed.
My friends, I’m only flesh and bone,
But I won’t let you die alone.
So leave our hearts at the foot of the mountain.
Let our burdens be locked in the stone.
If you will help me roll it upward,
I won’t let you die alone.

I see a beauty springing upward from the earth and from out our hearts.
For all the bad that seems to plague us, I swear to you there’s good.
They say that death is not a problem, it’s a promise,
I can only say for sure that when it makes your bed I’ll kiss your head “Goodnight.”
So speak of all the love we lost, and what it cost us,
Left us beg our breath to stop but we kept on and
We were strong. We stayed bright as lightning,
We sang loud as thunder, we moved ever forward.
We are not our failures. We are love.

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