The first and last time I saw The Dillinger Escape Plan

Words: Sam Lawson | Image: James Sharrock

Well, after much tribulation, I managed to see Dillinger perform live in concert. I did originally have plans to see them at their last ever UK show in Brighton however arranging travel there was proving too difficult, so I looked at some other options and thanks to some help from a friend, I acquired a press pass for the 23/1/16 show at the TramShed in Cardiff, a venue I am visiting a couple more times this year which I am glad about, as it’s a pretty cool place indeed.

I watched from the balcony the whole evening. At a Dillinger concert, watching from the balcony is perhaps a form of blasphemy, especially given that I wouldn’t get the chance again but I did so for a couple of reasons, one being I wanted to ensure I had a good vantage point and secondly, i’m a total pussy when it comes to mosh pits and crowd surfing these days.

Jumping straight in, I was curious to see what opening band Primitive Weapons brought to the table, with no local bands playing any of the shows across this tour it was evident that whoever calls the shots is really backing the bands that went out on this run, given that they were presented with such a unique opportunity. The band had a great energy, they looked comfortable with each other on stage, the drummer was totally brilliant in his performance and his technique. This said, there was one sort of major issue. You couldn’t hear a singular thing except for drums and the occasional bit of bass from where I was stood. For the sake of giving it a fair test, I should have gone down to the floor level and tried to gauge whether the sound was any better from a different point of view, however I heard my friend who I went with, that his friend who WAS down on the floor said it sounded clearer upstairs, I trust the guy’s judgement as he’s a sound engineer but I do admit that hearsay isn’t the most valid form of evidence. The band had a lot of vitality and evident passion in their performance, it’s just a shame it was so unclear what I was hearing.

In the 30 or 40 minutes between the main support act and Dillinger, there wasn’t the usual filler rock/metal DJ tracks to keep everyone in high spirits. Instead, a dull thudding drone/ambience track that looped on and on for what felt like forever. I am convinced that it’s some kind of ancient hymnal designed to evoke emotions of rage and excitement in an audience, then again, Dillinger’s music does that all by itself.

The band entered onto the stage and began the set with ‘Limerent Death’, the opening track from their 2016 album, Dissociation. It was clear to me, that the general live mix still hadn’t improved yet, I had stepped outside for the entire time during that ho99o9 were on stage and the sound quality still hadn’t improved since the opening act. As i’m familiar with the song, like the majority of the audience would have been, it’s easier to navigate and break down what’s going on even if it isn’t totally clear. For someone hearing that song for the first time, it must have been a total flurry of nonsense. About 3 or 4 songs in and the sound finally cleared up and I could make sense of what I was hearing. It wasn’t perfect, no gig ever is or will be sadly but it was a vast improvement.

The intensity of the show was hard to gauge. I have been watching footage of this infamously dangerous and destructive band for the last few years, their reputation for being ballistic and frantic when on stage is one of striking importance and their legacy can’t be spoken of without mentioning that fact. Ben Weinman (guitar) was displaying this level of aggression towards the first half of the set especially however what I did notice is that the band quite evidently prefer the heavier/more chaotic songs. During the song ‘Black Bubblegum’, Ben could be seen quite lazily singing the backing vocals throughout and rolling his eyes, as if the singing was actually the product of a sigh being held in for far too long.

The audience seemed relatively tame in comparison to what I had been seeing at other shows, I was actually somewhat fearful about attending purely because I was worried i’d get hurt however the crowd weren’t as explosive as I was expecting. Maybe they knew I was watching? Hmm. 4 crowd surfers total, not that many crowd surfers for a Dillinger gig.

The show carried an air of sorrow alongside it, everyone in the room knew what was happening so the fans there that had seen the band one hundred times or more sang like it was their chance to sing, because it was. The band’s on stage energy was at times, strange, there again it’s never exactly been orthodox. It seemed like there was some definite tension, if i’m being totally honest.

A performer who deserves a lot of credit is the lighting engineer, I watched him trigger different effects and lights around the room perfectly in sync with the rhythms of these complicated songs, the guy must be a musician himself or just an absolute mega fan. Before the first encore, the lighting and sound guy had some fun, I watched as they deafened and blinded the entire crowd with roaring, distorted feedback and intensely bright lighting, this last for about 10 straight minutes.

The real highlight was after the band did their encore, the house lights went up, they threw picks and sticks into the crowd, they shook hands, said goodbye and left through the stage doors. The amps and mics were muted and generic dance music came on over the speaker system, this is usually an indication that the show was over, as any regular gig-goer will know i’m sure. As the stewards swung open the doors and people started to walk out of the venue, the band rushed on stage, picked up and plugged in and hundreds of people turned around to the sound of Mullet Burden, a song not yet played on this tour. The band truly let loose, the whole 9 yards. Ben played guitar whilst being held at the legs by the crowd, Greg did some up close and personal singing and then the moment lots of people had been eagerly awaiting, they played the track 43% Burnt. All hell broke loose.

The seemingly docile and calm audience that were being far more respectful and conscious of the other people around them than usually seen at Dillinger shows went totally feral. I watched from the balcony as the room erupted into havoc, friendly havoc all the same but still, it was totally nuts. I wanted to get my phone out and record a clip for the sake of posterity but I couldn’t take my eyes off of the sight,  I was transfixed.

Ultimately, this was a gig I had been waiting to see for some time by this point. The performance didn’t seem contrived or lacking in enthusiasm generally, though on occasion it had it’s moments. Musically the band were, as ever, top of the game. Greg’s vocals are second to none, his stamina and consistency is so impressive to me. What he does isn’t easy by any stretch of the imagination, people say “well he’s a professional” and “It’s his job, after all” but that doesn’t mean that the man’s job is easy the begin with. There was a moment during another new song, aptly titled ‘Nothing to Forget’ where Greg’s in ear monitoring system clearly stopped working the way it was intended to do so, he gestured time and time again to the engineer to fix the issue but he wasn’t paying any attention. Greg sort of shrugged his shoulders as if to say “fuck it then” and carried on singing, for a lot of singers in-ear monitoring isn’t just a tool, it’s a lifeline. Without it, pitching notes is impossible because it’s all they are used to after so long. Greg definitely uses a screamed vocal technique in the band’s music more often than he does a more melodic clean singing approach, this we know, however it was refreshing and frankly stunning to see a vocalist who is so naturally talented and comfortable with his ability completely disregard the technology he has likely used night after night for the better part of the last 2 decades and just go for broke and TOTALLY nail it.

The Dillinger Escape Plan are and will continue to be one of the most technically proficient, well organised and coordinated sonic wrecking balls to ever grace a stage and the remainder of the music industry. Amidst the carnage and the visceral, violent onslaught of jarring dissonance and complexity there is a backbone reinforced with steel. Whether it’s your first time, or last time seeing The Dillinger Escape Plan, I don’t believe it will ever be a disappointing time.