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Desaparecidos – The Arches, Glasgow 09/02/13

11 February 2013, 10:55 | Written by Andrew Hannah

It’s the moment that Conor Oberst sings “I got a letter from the army / so I think that I’ll enlist” where any worries about whether Desaparecidos are still relevant disappear.

‘The Happiest Place On Earth’ from the band’s only album Read Music/Speak Spanish was written in 2002 towards the beginning of the Bush administration’s first term in office and with the events of September 11 2001 still fresh in the memory. Whether it’s looking back to Public Enemy’s ‘Black Steel In the Hour of Chaos’ or to the present day and Parquet Courts’ ‘Careers in Combat’, there’s still a huge swathe of unemployed, disillusioned US youth who are being taken advantage of by the military and being railroaded into believing their only job opportunity is a career in the army. The song still burns with a righteous anger, played and sung with passion by a bunch of guys who, eleven years down the line from their first and only album, are at heart still those twenty-somethings who think their government doesn’t give a shit about them.

This is the first time Oberst’s Omaha punk band Desaparecidos have toured the UK, and although the tunnels of The Arches aren’t exactly packed out, it’s clear that everyone who’s here thinks it’s been worth the wait. I have to admit I had my worries about how this was going to end up, thanks to what I call the “Glassjaw Incident”, where I had the misfortune to see the reunited hardcore “legends” destroy what was left of their reputation in one of the worst gigs I’ve ever seen. I needn’t have worried, though. This was excellent stuff.

Oberst, looking like a young Robert Smith in a skull-patterned cardigan, led his band through most of the songs on Read Music/Speak Spanish like they were freshly written gems; from the moment they launched into ‘Greater Omaha’ to the point at which they end with the recently-revealed new track, the blisteringly good ‘MariKKKopa’, it’s clear this isn’t some reunion to pay the bills. The latter track was evidence, along with another new song ‘The Left Is Right’ that Desaparecidos are back because they care.

As the show moves on with relentless pace Oberst – filled with fire and ire – sings “the sixties proved that change is hit or miss / every bloody pacifist concedes the truth / if one must die to save the ninety-nine / maybe it’s justified” and links ‘The Left Is Right’ to ‘The Happiest Place On Earth’; change has come in the intervening years, governments switch from left to right and back again, but the 1% still rule the roost.

It really is thrilling to hear the likes of ‘Man and Wife, the Latter (Damaged Goods)’, ‘Man and Wife, the Former (Financial Planning’ and ‘$$$$’ being played with real heart and soul, and not just to revisit the good old days in the band, and when they’re joined by the third new track of the night ‘Anonymous’ (another track dedicated to the Occupy Movement) it’s confirmation that Oberst and co still have something to give.

Desaparecidos stay true to the sound of Read Music/Speak Spanish as much as they can throughout; there’s no beefing up of sound to make it more “rock”, no needless reinterpreting of the tracks from the album and, after ten-plus years of waiting they forgo an encore, leaving us wanting more. It had better not be the twentieth anniversary of the band’s one and only brilliant album before we’re treated to more of this.

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