Dead As History: Saying Goodbye To The Dillinger Escape Plan (Part Two)

Last week, I gave a rundown of the events leading up to the final Dillinger Escape Plan shows, discussed how influential they were in my musical awakening, and the first night of their farewell trilogy of shows, which included a special Irony Is A Dead Scene set with Mike Patton. A rundown of the next two nights of the final three Dillinger shoes continues below.

 

NIGHT TWO: Just One More Time, As If In A Dream

Prancer / Milk Lizard / Jim Fear / Setting Fire to Sleeping Giants / Room Full of Eyes / Sugar Coated Sour / Weekend Sex Change / The Running Board / Symptom of Terminal Illness / Black Bubblegum / One of Us Is the Killer / Crossburner / Good Neighbor / Calculating Infinity / The Mullet Burden / Sandbox Magician / Abe The Cop // Limerent Death / 43% Burnt 

Night two’s setlist proved pretty immediately that each night’s set would be significantly different, and night two had a significant difference in vibe and rhythm than the night previous, despite a similarly rousing opening. The band took the stage, and Greg made his way to the front of the crowd and into the pit and began the set surrounded by fans, who for the final time, would be shouting the anthemic “Prancer” opening lyric, “How could it all be?!” with Ben leaping in, guitar and all, right behind him.

Overall though, there was a poppier, slower character to the second night, with giant choruses coming from “Milk Lizard,” “Setting Fire To Sleeping Giants” (featuring guest vocals from Sheridan Durant, the teenage girl from a School of Rock program’s cover that the band posted earlier in the year), “Symptom of Terminal Illness”, “Black Bubblegum,” and “One of Us Is The Killer.” The slower-burning “Crossburner” also kept the pace relatively low compared to yesterday’s events, but was absolutely massive in its crushing deliver.

There were no shortage of chaotic ragers from the band’s past, however. Old live rarities “Jim Fear”, “The Running Board” and “Calculating Infinity” made their appearances to well-receptive moshers, and longtime staples “Sugar Coated Sour” and “Weekend Sex Change” were wholly welcome to contrast the prevalent hooks of the night.

This night’s biggest highlight came from a proper return of Dimitri, who fronted the band (complete with Brian Benoit!) through the entire Under The Running Board EP in a surprise mini-set. His presence was menacing, and despite his self-deprecating banter between tracks  — “hey, let an old fat guy catch his breath for a second” — he sounds exactly as he did on the studio recordings from two decades ago.

The camaraderie between Dimitri and Ben, as it appeared on stage, had not been lost through the years. It’s of little surprise; Dimitri has been a longtime DEP collaborator on the art front since he left and he recorded backing vocals on Ire Works‘ opening track “Fix Your Face” in 2007. Still, Dimitri seemed sentimental and affected by a band he started coming to an end despite having left so long ago.

Following “The Mullet Burden,” Dimitri dedicated the mini-set to Greg:

“If anybody’s gonna replace the words I wrote, the emotion I put into the songs […]. I couldn’t be any more proud for a human being to continue the expression and emotion that I put out into all of this. Thank you.”

“Abe The Cop” crashed to a close, and Greg returned to the stage for the encore set, which included another potent rendition of “Limerent Death,” one of the band’s most crowd-pleasing tracks. Then, after much anticipation, the act finally played the classic “43% Burnt” to close out the night with Dimitri and Greg sharing vocal duties. How the venue stayed standing after that, I’ll never know.

Witnessing Demitri and Brian perform with the band was almost mythical. Admittedly, I was never as much of a fan of the pre-Miss Machine work but I always understood the importance of Calculating Infinity and its place on the upper echelons of punk, hardcore, and metal at large. I think this gave me a new appreciation of the material. There’s some irony to that, I think.

 

NIGHT THREE: I’ll Hold On To This Forever

Proceed With Caution / Limerent Death / Panasonic Youth / Milk Lizard / Baby’s First Coffin / Dead as History / Surrogate / Happiness Is a Smile / One of Us Is the Killer / Nothing to Forget / Low Feels Blvd / Mouth of Ghosts / Unretrofied / Sandbox Magician / When I Lost My Bet / Sunshine The Werewolf // Farewell, Mona Lisa / 43% Burnt // Dissociation

Obviously, all three shows were sold out and highly sought after, but there was something about the crowd during the third night that made it impossible to remain on the floor in the pit for very long. The density was intense, and as Dillinger took the stage and worked through a firestorm back-to-back of “Limerent Death” and “Panasonic Youth”, bodies were pinned so tightly together, pushing and pulling like the tide, that it was almost impossible to trip and fall. For a time, it was nearly impossible to gain a strong enough footing to even move independently. At one point, Ben made another leap into the crowd without appearing to miss a single note. “Milk Lizard” provided a brief respite as it invited dancing from the crowd rather than a chaotic rush to the front, and those with a more fair sensibility waded to the side.

From the safety of the side, I witnessed another set with its own nuance, tone, and rhythm. “Baby’s First Coffin” was a welcomed Miss Machine throwback. Newer tracks “Surrogate,” “Nothing To Forget,” and the jazz-influenced “Low Feels Blvd” were stunning live, and while I expected a more holistically representative setlist for the final show, the Dissociation-heavy set felt appropriate.

Both Ire Works ballads (if you could use that term) “Dead As History” and “Mouth of Ghosts” made appearances, adding to the emotional weight of the evening. A keyboard was brought on stage for Ben, whose piano skills are understated. The second-biggest surprise of the entire week was a live performance of “Unretrofied,” which was on my wishlist and is one of my all-time favorite songs. Greg noted the rarity, saying “we never play this live!” but after all, it was a special occasion. And it was glorious.

The end of the proper set ramped up the chaos. “Sandbox Magician” made its return, and Greg appeared to coax Dimitri back onstage for an unplanned guest performance. Another rousing strobe-busting performance of “When I Lost My Bet and a final performance of “Sunshine the Werewolf” tested the security staff’s fortitude. By this point, I had made my way to the second floor, and the view of the crowd was frightening.

A brief pause as the band prepares for encore and the roars for the band to return were deafening. The band returned to the opening chords of “Farewell Mona Lisa” and Greg poised himself on the barricade and made a leap into the crowd, passing a mic around to various fans. Greg stayed in the crowd for much of “43% Burnt” continuing to give the swelling crowd a chance at the mic while Ben writhed atop a large set of speakers.

About midway through the band’s most iconic live track, Greg climbed out of the crowd and up to the second floor and made his way to the back of the crowd and sat on top of the balcony. He shouted to the crowd for their attention through “Burnt”‘s instrumental section, shouting, “don’t let me die!” and made the giant leap at the song’s climax, which was as crushing as it ever was.

A tearful goodbye from the full band was a false stop to the show as they waved and greeted the fans. They embraced each other and took a photo in front of the crowd to roaring guitar feedback. As the lights dimmed and the feedback cut out, some figures took to the stage with string instruments, and a few gasps could be heard from those who realized what was about to happen.

Sevensuns, a string quartet that collaborated with Dillinger on a number of songs across Dissociation, began to play the mournful chords from the final album’s title track. After some cheers following the widespread recognition, people grew dead silent and for the first time in days, the crowd stopped moving and stood there. And again, for the first time in three days, the band stood still on stage, performing a somber goodbye in the most fitting way possible.

I was there, and I still can’t believe that the band went out performing a tearful ballad instead of burning the whole building down.

Understanding Decay

It may be confirmation bias, but coming to terms with the end of The Dillinger Escape Plan and binging their discography for the better half of 2017 has allowed me to notice the recurring themes of finality, the dissolution of relationships, and the inevitability of endings in the band’s collective work. So many anthemic tracks and one-liners relate to saying goodbye, be it spiteful, triumphant, bittersweet, or regretful. It became so clear on these repeat listens and during throat-tearing singalongs during the final live performances that the band could not have better prepared their fanbase for their departure when their entire discography stands on itself as a de-facto Dear John letter.

Granted, if you ran an analysis on the genres of punk, hardcore, and metal, you’d find that the ending of relationships is a pretty common thread. However, Dillinger seemed to pack the themes in tightly, particularly in their final two albums One of Us is the Killer and Dissociation, where it became increasingly obvious that their way of burning bright and fast could not be sustained, be it due to diverging interests or age and the growing lists of injuries between them. It’s obvious that this could never last in hindsight, but we were primed for it, which helps.

The music video for One of Us is the Killer‘s lead single “Prancer” opens with the definition of a swan song, which would eventually come in the very next album Dissociation. Happy accident, or a hint of what the band already knew would be coming sooner than later?

Singing along to lyrics such as “I’ll hold onto this forever” from “Dead as History” or “What did you expect? That we would never leave home, that we would never leave?” from “Farewell Mona Lisa”, for instance, were incredibly cathartic, and truly, I’ll hold onto them forever as a final farewell for a band that influenced my growth and passion as a music fan. It was hard to say goodbye, but they gave us an opportunity for closure, which almost never happens.

Perhaps a controlled demolition was the best option, after all.

Rest In Peace, DEP.

1997 – 2017

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