Desaparecidos: Something for Conor Oberst to scream about

Conor Oberst’s Bright Eyes is an indie pop band that bares the soul. Personal songs. It’s not that Oberst doesn’t have a political backbone; in 2004 he hit the road with Bruce Springsteen and R.E.M. on the “Vote For Change” tour. Which didn’t change anything, we got a second year of Bush.

But if you really want to know what’s on Oberst’s agenda, that’s Desaparecidos. His howling, no limits punk band plays Friday at Water Street Music Hall.

“I grew up with these jerks, I’ve known Conor since he was a little kid,” Desaparecidos drummer Matt Baum says. As a restless young man growing up in Omaha, Nebraska, Baum depicts a bleak landscape of do-it-yourself rock clubs run by “metalworkers who cut up motorcycles to decorate the place. As fun, safe an environment that you could think of for the family. No ventilation, gnarly bathrooms, nothing but punk and industrial bands.

“Conor would come around and ask if he could play. It was folk music, I told him we don’t do that, get the hell outta here.

“But, we knew he was pretty good.”

Oberst had been writing songs and playing since he was 14. Playing with different bands, one of which in the late ’90s became Bright Eyes. “He asked me if I would play in Bright Eyes,” recalls Baum (The After Dark anti-obscenity filter has been applied to Baum’s quotes, and at one point overheated). “I said, ‘You know what I do for a living, right? I’m a punk-rock drummer, I’m a hammer.’ But I did end up playing with Bright Eyes a little while. And I enjoyed it.”

And when Oberst needed a home for a handful of politically charged songs in 2001, that became Desaparecidos. The name comes from Augusto Pinochet, the Chilean dictator – “a guy we put in power,” Baum is quick to remind — who deal with dissidents by ordering them flown out over the ocean in airplanes and pushed out the door. Los Desaparecidos, The Disappeared. “It became illegal to mention their names,” Baum says.

Desaparecidos’ songs raged against consumerism. Then 9/11 happened, a few months before the band released its first album, Read Music/Speak Spanish, “We were saying some relatively unpopular things at the time,” Baum says. “There was some pushback, there was for everybody. People wanted to rally the troops, us against the world. I get that, it’s a very knee-jerk reaction.”

As George W. Bush famously said then, citizens should support the war effort by shopping. That was it for Desaparecidos. It was not exactly illegal to mention the band’s name, but, “Life happens,” Baum says. “Conor was very busy playing with real musicians and putting together a real career. Bright Eyes took off for him.”

And life happened for Baum as well. “My father infected me with a rare gourmet disease, cheese obsession,” he says. A serious affliction, “It almost broke up his marriage.” Baum pursued this obsession as well, and more. He’s a man of the food arts. When I called him a couple of weeks ago he was at work, real work. Cutting up meat, delicately sliced hams, sausages and confit for aging. Served with wine. It’s called charcuterie, the high end of line cooking. “I jump in the line with other alcoholics and drug addicts,” Baum says.

OK, if you’ve read your Anthony Bourdain, you know professional kitchens are all about alcoholics and drug addicts. You’ve probably heard the same about rock bands. The truth is probably somewhere in the middle. Baum’s been doing this for years now. Then Oberst called.

“He lives right down the street from me,” Baum says. “Omaha is a black hole that no one escapes from.”

It was 2010, and Nebraska conservatives were trying to pass an anti-immigrant bill, similar to Arizona’s infamous “show me your papers” law. “Conor said, ‘We should raise some money to fight this,’ ” Baum says. ” ‘Maybe folk music isn’t the right way to do this. Let’s do some angry stuff.’ “

And Desaparecidos was reunited. With songs about immigrants, health care, the Occupy movement and gun control.

“For that first record, we looked around Omaha and saw some things we didn’t agree with,” Baum says. “Gentrification, and we yelled about that. Now we’re citizens of the world. There are things we need to scream and yell about. Punk rock used to be that.”

Screaming. Back in Nebraska, Tornado Alley, Baum learned its value as a teenager.

“Some idiot friends and I heard you could get 100 bucks for every six seconds of video of a tornado,” he recalls. “So when we heard there were some tornadoes being reported, we’re like, ‘Let’s go make some cash!’ We pull up to where the storm was coming in and the local TV station’s Storm Team is there, and the weather people with their van and their helmets, and we ran right past them. They’re yelling at us to come back, but we’re taking film, looking straight up in the air. Then you take the camera away from your eye and suddenly it becomes very real. So now I’m standing under where this tornado is forming and I’m thinking: Maybe I’m not a storm chaser. Maybe I’m just a moron.”

But they got some video. “It started hailing, really big hail,” Baum says, “and my friends and I were laying on the ground screaming and covering our heads. The camera’s on the ground, focused on one guy’s face for about five seconds. And he’s just screaming.”

If you go

What: Desaparecidos, The So So Glos and The Banddroidz.

When: 8 p.m. Friday.

Where: Water Street Music Hall, 204 N. Water St.

Tickets: $20 advance; $25 the day of show, available at waterstreetmusic.com, Aaron’s Alley, the Record Archive, the House of Guitars and (888) 512-7469.

http://www.democratandchronicle.com/story/lifestyle/columnist/spevak/2015/07/28/esaparecidos-conor-oberst-bright-eyes-rochester-water-street-music-hall/30793745/

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *