Desaparecidos mix politics with high-octane rock

At Union Transfer , Desaparecidos performed all of their 2002 album, "Read Music/Speak Spanish," along with four new songs and a cover of the Clash's "Spanish Bombs" in an evening of politically oriented rock and roll. ZACH HOLLOWELL / For The Inquirer
At Union Transfer , Desaparecidos performed all of their 2002 album, "Read Music/Speak Spanish," along with four new songs and a cover of the Clash's "Spanish Bombs" in an evening of politically oriented rock and roll. ZACH HOLLOWELL / For The Inquirer
Posted: February 26, 2013

Saturday's sold-out Desaparecidos show at Union Transfer began with a recording of Ted Nugent enthusiastically advocating unrestricted gun laws and working up to a comparison of President Obama to King George. As Nugent's message became increasingly extreme, the band, led by Bright Eyes' Conor Oberst, launched into "The Left is Right," a brief blast of pro-Occupy Wall Street punk rock that announced an evening of impassioned politics and rabble-rousing rock and roll.

Oberst formed Desaparecidos in the early 2000s as a noisy voice for political and social change, and as a contrast to his intensely self-absorbed work in the much-loved Bright Eyes. When Read Music/Speak Spanish, the sole Desaparecidos album, came out in 2002, Oberst was 22; it was the Bush era, and he used thoughtful, visceral songs like "Greater Omaha" and "Mall of America" to rail against unchecked authority, soulless consumerism, and economic inequality.

The world has changed since 2002: Musically, Bright Eyes went on hiatus as Oberst released country-flavored albums with his Mystic Valley Band; politically, the election of Obama, for whom Oberst campaigned in 2008, brought brief optimism. And Read Music/Speak Spanish became a template for younger punk bands such as Titus Andronicus.

Now, Oberst is angry again. "Obama has turned his back on us," he said, and old songs about bankruptcy or hope for a new future are as timely as new ones attacking right-wing reactionaries. He appeared passionate and enraged, swinging his long bangs while playing crashing guitar chords, singing in a full-throated shout, and delivering brief, profanity-laced audience-baiting speeches.

"Do you like to make money, Philadelphia?" he asked, although his astute self-awareness also had him sing: "I'm just the same, you can buy my records at the corporate chain."

Saturday's set included all of Read Music/Speak Spanish, four new songs, and a cover of the Clash's "Spanish Bombs." The 14 songs in an hour seemed epic compared to Joyce Manor's opening set: the California pop-punk band managed 13 in a swift, fun 24 minutes.

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