Few bands playing this year’s Pitchfork Music Festival seem to inspire the same level of personal prose as The Dismemberment Plan. Saturday marks what appears to be the final show by the D.C. post-punk band, which recently reunited and played a handful of shows behind the reissue of their classic 1999 album, Emergency & I.
Barsuk released the vinyl version of Emergency & I in January, and with it came a number of reviews, features, and thought pieces that focused on distinctly personal experiences with that album and the band behind it. The Washington City Paper’s feature on the reunion began with the story of a Florida convict so moved by that album that he got a tattoo of the cover art (full disclosure: I freelance for the City Paper). Pitchfork gave the album reissue a rare 10.0 rating, and reviewer Paul Thompson discussed the very personal experience many listeners have had with the album:
“Though its influence on music at large has been difficult to chart, if we’re to gauge a work’s import by what it’s meant to the people that come across it, Emergency & I is one of indie’s key LPs. Its songs– nervy, cacophonous, uncomfortably real– actually mean something to people…”
The history of pop music is marked by very intimate connections listeners have with certain artists, songs, and albums, but The Dismemberment Plan appears to be a rare band that somehow captured the late-‘90s zeitgeist and produced a set of records that’s best experienced on a deeply personal level. As Thompson notes the difficulty of gauging Emergency & I’s influence on music, it’s equally difficult to collect and measure the group’s affect on its fans: What is clear that these vital, personal connections to The Dismemberment Plan aren’t unique. In fact, I also have my own “fell in love with The D-Plan” story.
No, I don’t have a tattooed ode to the Plan, and I wouldn’t say I’m the most avid of the group’s fans. Though I grew up in the D.C. area, I never made it to any of the band’s shows. But that didn’t seem to matter much when I cracked open The Ice of Boston EP as a college freshman at Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts: I’d been DJing the graveyard shift—2 to 6 a.m.—with a couple friends at the school’s radio station when I inexplicably decided to play the titular track on the air.
I can’t say I remember the date, the specific early morning hour, or even how I immediately felt while listening to the tune the first time, but something stuck. Something about Travis Morrison’s weary speak-singing really spoke to my average-dude difficulties. It felt autobiographical in a way, despite the fact that at the time it wasn’t New Year’, I wasn’t “buck naked, drenched in champagne, looking at a bunch of strangers,” and chatting with my mom about things back home. Perhaps it the narrative’s locales drove me to the song—a D.C. band singing about being in Boston, something I immediately related to—but the group pinned down an ambiguous sense of alienation, displacement and heartbreak with a toe-tapping ditty bursting with catharsis every time the chorus comes round. And there’s something about a chorus describing slipping on a dirty patch of ice in Boston that revels in every slip up in life and uses it as motivation to get up and go. I got that.
There’s a tradition that goes down at Dismemberment Plan shows: Once they launch into “The Ice of Boston,” fans swarm the stage to dance and belt out Morrison’s lyrics. When I caught the Plan on their reunion trek, I sped off towards the stage when I heard the first notes of the song come through the PA system. I had the unfortunate displeasure of being the first person security halted from jumping onstage after the area reached maximum capacity. But, it didn’t matter: As I stood in front of the stage and shouted that brilliant chorus, it still felt like the band played the song just for me. Chances are it’ll feel that way come Saturday, too.