Dispatch, Sound Academy, Toronto, ON – 10/8
Photo by Matthew Shelter
I thought I was ready…
I remember well the summer of 2002 – there was a girl.
Her name was Julie. She and I were counselors at the sleepaway camp I had gone to for many summers. She had curly brown hair and dark blue eyes, and freckles that came out in the sun. As our romance kindled, we would sit at the end of the dock with a blanket wrapped around us, watching the sunset as I sang to her. One day, Julie told me there was a song she wanted to play for me – it was called “The General.”
It was a revelation.
More than 10 years have gone by since I discovered a little indie band called Dispatch—“indie,” at the time, meaning something different than it does today. Admittedly, I was introduced to the band at a time when they were announcing a hiatus and the passionate fan base—Julie included—was lamenting the fact.
As I went back into the band’s discography and discovered more of Dispatch, they quickly grew into one of my favorite bands. It was a mixed blessing, because I thought I’d never have the chance to see them live, like a Gen-X’er who discovered Sublime a year after Bradley died.
Then they got back together. They announced a European tour, their first one across the pond. And then word came of the North American tour, with not one, but two stops in Canada. Like I said, I thought I was ready.
At Toronto’s Sound Academy on October 8, 2012, I finally got my chance to see Dispatch live—I couldn’t have asked for anything more.
“We’re so happy to be here with you guys on Thanksgiving,” exclaimed Chad Stokes to the crowd midway through the set. “We’d much rather be here than in the U.S. for Columbus Day—and they didn’t even wake us up at the border. You guys are so friendly!” (Note to American readers: Canadian Thanksgiving is the second weekend of October. There are no pilgrims, but there’s plenty of turkey.)
When I spoke to Brad Corrigan a few weeks ago, he described his excitement at being able to play new material after so many years. While the guys did break out several selections from the new album, Circles Around the Sun, this show was nothing less than a journey into the musical history of Dispatch, featuring their rocking-est numbers alongside their folkiest tunes, jams and sing-alongs, crowd participation and no shortage of witty banter.
For just their third show north of the border, as Chad and Brad at one point discussed on stage – “We played once at the Horseshoe Tavern…That’s right, a while ago” – the guys really left it all on stage. They played with a harder edge than I’ve usually associated with Dispatch, channeling the spirit of some of the one-off gigs they played during their hiatus. Some of their live sound this night reminded me a little of the Foo Fighters, equated in my mind with the garage-rock origins both bands share.
I was especially impressed with their ability to take some of their slower ballads, like “Two Coins,” “Carry You” and “Out Loud” and really rock. Some of the more haunting, somber material from CATS got the same treatment, with “Sign of the Times,” “Flag” and “Josephine” all sped up and electrified. It was a particularly epic version of “Flag,” with an extended moe.–like jam that really had me moving.
Beginning the show with a blistering version of “Passerby” that set the tone for the evening, “Time Served” and “Circles Around the Sun” announced the band’s arrival in Toronto. Then, just as the crowd started to go nuts with those dark, crunchy opening chords of “Open Up,” Stokes put a halt to the whole thing.
“Wait – stop,” he said mid-strum, setting his guitar down on the stage in front of him. “I promise we’re gonna play this song, I just want to be able to hear it when we do.” After fiddling with his amp at stage right, he returned to his axe, picked it off the stage and resumed the crowd favourite. It was a candid bit of stage theatre that heralded an intimate and very accessible show.
I admit, I was really hoping for their awesome “Open Up/Land Down Under” medley, but you can’t win ‘em all. The barn-burnin’ bluegrass version of “Flying Horses” made up for it.
Ironically, for a place called the Sound Academy there were some sound issues. Trouble setting up the mics delayed the start time by about 15 minutes, and Chad had to make several in-song adjustments to his levels. The guys got around it by using the crowd to the best of our abilities, calling for repeats and audience participation at least five or six times during the show. There was even a little tribute to Harry Belafonte and his classic “Day-O” back-and-forth, which we all got a kick out of.
The crowd was really great. Incredibly knowledgeable, they knew every word to every song. It was obvious everyone was having a really good – jumping up and down with arms around each other and big smiles, swaying and dancing, people were mostly just happy to get the chance to see Dispatch, and the guys were feeding off that energy.
I must say, Dispatch’s live dynamic was not what I expected. It was interesting to watch the guys rotate around the stage and trade instruments between songs, double checking for each song whether Pete Francis was playing a guitar or a base, if Brad or Pete was on the drums and which side of the stage they were on. Pete, for his part, is the least vocal on stage – he spent most of the show with a contented smile on his face, just enjoying himself and taking it all in.
Francis is their anchor, holding down the base lines and inserting a perfectly timed Caribbean-sounding solo flourish here and there. Brad brings a more rowdy, east-coast pub-show dynamic that never gets out of hand but almost seems to give Pete and Chad the OK to have fun. Chad is the “frontman,” keeping everything moving and directing traffic, so to speak. These roles, that seem so natural, have evolved over the decade the guys spent apart and are an extension of the confidence the three have gained in themselves individually and in coming back together as a cohesive unit.
All in all, with the highlights of “Open Up,” “Bang Bang,” and set closer “Bats in the Belfry” into “Mission,” my decade of anticipation came to a very satisfying close. When those classic chords of “The General” began, I couldn’t help but feel a happy tear in my eye and a smile for things past.