Iron City was the ideal venue for Dispatch – large enough to accommodate their fan base but intimate enough to connect. I felt fortunate to see Dispatch, a band who seldom tours. They are a folk-rock, roots, funky band with heavy reggae influences and a moe.-like history. Originally a jam band from Vermont, they built a following based on college gigs and online downloads. Their watershed moment was Gut The Van (2001) which almost mythically defined Dispatch. Then they split up. Their “final” concert in Boston drew over 100,000. Not bad for an indie band.
I had heard a rumor about new Dispatch material and confirmed it by placing a pre-release order on Amazon. America Location 12 (2017) was in my hands in early June, two weeks before the show at Iron City. That CD played in my car the entire time preceding the show, so I probably listened to it at least 20 times. With each listen, I liked it more, and I wanted to be familiar with every aspect of it (I still don’t know the significance of the title). Of course the set list was heavy on the new material, with a nice sprinkling of the old standards and crowd favorites. Iron City was packed and appeared to be sold out, but I never got any official confirmation. The crowd size was even more impressive if you understand the whole story – the Birmingham area was in a tornado warning only hours before this show. There were power outages and roads were blocked by fallen trees.
The opening act was Jake Shimabukuro and he hit the stage on time at 8:00. Jake was announced as “the world’s greatest ukulele player”. When I heard that, I turned around and headed toward the bar, expecting a set which would include “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”. Snap! was I wrong. Once I heard the electric ukulele opening notes to the Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby” I returned to the pit. Jake played for 30 minutes with a bass accompanist (no vocals) and ran through classics like “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” and “Bohemian Rhapsody”. The crowd actually sang along with Bohemian, which in itself was a surreal experience (Queen-Ukulele-Singalong goes together even less than Puppy-Monkey-Baby). We would see Jake again when he joined Dispatch for a few songs. Brad also joined Jake for his last song “Hallelujah”. In case you are curious, the word ukulele is translated as “jumping flea”.
Dispatch started at 9:00 and played for over two hours. Tonight they were a five-piece, sometimes six. The members of Dispatch are multi-instrumental on a wide variety of instruments, including horns. The band we know and love has been Chad, Brad and Pete forever, but no Pete tonight. Pete is taking a year off to try to beat his clinical depression, as we learned from Brad when he announced the band members. Best wishes to Pete and his recovery.
This is what we heard tonight. By the way, Dispatch likes to mix it up from city to city. I checked the set lists from previous shows last week in Austin, Salt Lake City and Denver, and they are all different.
- Cover This
- Time Served
- Windy Like
- Be Gone – first time performed live in concert
- Bang Bang
- Flying Horses – with Jake
- Flag – with Jake
- Rice Water – with Jake
- Only the Wild Ones
- Open Up
- Skin the Rabbit
- Here We Go – joined by a guest harp player
- Midnight Lorry
- The General
- encore – Out Loud – with snippet of Pink Floyd’s “Time”
As expected, the lion’s share was from America Location 12 and they were #3, 5, 10, 12, 14, and 16.
Dispatch is one of the most successful indie bands in history and proof that you can still make music and tour without selling out to the man. They have retained their souls, and the crowd reflects the vibe of the band. As I walked into Iron City someone was handing out copies of America Location 12 “for free or whatever you can pay”. Seriously. The band talks the talk but it also walks the walk, notably their benefit work for Zimbabwe and their Amplifying Education program. Not bad for a band that gets virtually no air play or label promotion.
My experience here at Iron City is hard to put into words because Dispatch is so unique in this world of TV-ready artists and instant Idols or Voices. A Dispatch crowd is equally unique. I have a habit of striking up conversations with other concertgoers while in line or between acts. Sometimes I get that look of disapproval, as if I don’t belong “at their concert” because I do not fit the demographic. Not tonight. I felt a sense of community.
Remember the early days of Napster and LimeWire? When you stayed up all night to be certain your songs cued up right and the downloads proceeded at a rate slower than a 1995 Crown Victoria in the left lane with a forgotten turn signal on? When you were worried that the Feds would break down your door any minute for downloading music? Those were the glory days of P2P file sharing and part of the reason for the success of Dispatch. I had a momentary flashback to that era when Dispatch played “Open Up” and “The General”. Good memories.
A special thank you to Iron City for having the foresight to place a relatively clean beer can holder above and far removed from the urinals in the mens room.
Until the next concert, it’s time for my boot heels to be wanderin’.