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 Desaparecidos in The Button Factory on February 7th 2013

It’s hard not to be charmed by Conor Oberst. One minute he’s scattering the occasional light political angle over songs that largely portray the most beautiful sentiments imaginable, desolation akin to squashing your heart through a tea strainer and then trying to recover it with pair of tweezers. Then he swings to a polar opposite, reforming a band that’s been largely on a shelf for a decade, and spitting nails on themes from lost South American revolutionaries (Los Desaparecidos – those who dared to resist the military dictatorships of the 70s and 80s) to the bigging up of ‘Anonymous’ and bashing of ‘the man’.

This isn’t the sound Oberst’s associated with, and it probably never will be. Equally, Desaparecidos are a fiercely competent band in their own right, and while tonight – their first ever show outside of the US – almost certainly wouldn’t have materialised without Oberst’s other successes, the five-piece are very much a band rather than Conor’s play thing.

They’re better for it, too. Desaparecidos look a little like a very angry version of The Vaccines, but they play with a Rival Schools aping bitter-emo bent, picking global themes and positively slamming the way the world works. Opener and newbie The Left Is Right sets the theme, raging against consumerism from the set’s launch with barbed first line “It begins when we chain ourselves to the ATMs/ Make a mess when we pitch our tents on the statehouse steps/ Now we’re taking it back.”

And so it continues. Greater Omaha slips from math-rock like opening to screeching refrains on profit margins. Survival Of The Fittest is a little more melodic, but still finds the time for strained vocals and furious headbanging. If we can fault them, it’s only in the slight rustiness evident in the jarring chords (some intended, some perhaps not), but even Desaparecidos themselves will own up to having grabbed the venue the previous night for their first rehearsal in months.

When Anonymous comes around, it’s aptly dedicated to Bradley Manning, together with the bizarre suggestion that the whistleblower’s been locked up for a year: it’ll actually be a thousand days in less than two weeks, but hey, the sentiment is there. Even when sheer happy enthusiasm at the band’s reunification slightly edges out a pure punk aesthetic, Desaparecidos are angry, adept and capable of damaging a few ear drums along the way.

There’s no encore: the stage-front setlist suggests there should be one, but Desaparecidos aren’t the type of band to conform to the aging tradition of wandering purposelessly on and off stage. Instead they dive straight into a gorgeously intense version of The Clash’s Spanish Bombs, coupled with a promise to come back. Desaparecidos are a far cry from the band that was to take over Conor Oberst’s life, but that’s to the Bright Eye’s man’s credit. Closer Hole In One might well be the rawest song he’s ever slung together, throat batteringly brutal, a messy fusion that peaks with a full on metal vocal tinge. Don’t expect a full on return, but – as if it was needed – Oberst has proved once and for all that he hasn’t ‘grown out’ of his punk phase. If anything, the time off has bred a wonderfully functional brutality.

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Photos: Yan Bourke