This postpunk band from Washington, D.C., has snatched a creative victory from the jaws of commercial defeat. After two full-length CDs on DeSoto Records, the independent label run by ex-Jawbox bassist Kim Coletta, the Dismemberment Plan signed with Interscope, the home of No Doubt, Primus, Smash Mouth, Limp Bizkit, and Nine Inch Nails. It managed to release an EP (The Ice of Boston, 1998) and record a third album (Emergency & I) before getting canned: Interscope's parent company, Seagram, had recently spent $10.6 billion acquiring Polygram, and in the subsequent reorganization the Dismemberment Plan was handed the masters to the album and told to run on home. Now the band is back on DeSoto, headlining the local punk-rock bowling alley and probably sleeping on somebody's floor, but Emergency & I is a big-time album nonetheless--one of the most daring and satisfying guitar-pop records of the past year. In true D.C. fashion the band's earlier albums channeled punk aggression into jagged melody, discordant harmony, startling rhythmic shifts, and hair-raising time-signature changes. But on the new record, with producers J. Robbins (also formerly of Jawbox) and Chad Clark, the band has mined the formula for its utmost expressiveness, crafting an art-rock valentine that recalls the Talking Heads, early XTC, and Jawbox's Atlantic debut, For Your Own Special Sweetheart. In keeping with the record's sense of adventure, many of the songs celebrate the idea of possibility: in "You Are Invited" an anonymous letter informs the singer, "You are invited / By anyone to do anything / You are invited for all time." But at the end of "A Life of Possibilities" the singer warns, "If it's a life of possibilities that you've got to live / Well, don't be surprised when they don't remember you." In other words, freedom can be sweet, but it seldom comes with a tour bus. Saturday, 9 PM, Fireside Bowl, 2646 W. Fullerton; 773-486-2700.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/George Chase.