Doors: 5:00 pm
Show: 6:00 pm
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“We’ve been called the biggest band nobody’s ever heard of,” says Brad Corrigan, one of Dispatch’s three singers and multi-instrumentalists. “People either know everything about us or they know nothing. There never seems to be any middle ground.”
How Corrigan, Chad Stokes, and Pete Francis met in college, formed a band, and — with no radio airplay, major-label support, or significant press coverage — became one of the biggest draws on the live music scene, and arguably the biggest independent rock band in history, is a remarkable story. Though Dispatch hadn’t released a full-length album since 2000, and even officially called it quits in 2004, its music continued to capture the hearts and minds of new generations of rock fans through pure word-of-mouth. A 2004 farewell show at the Hatch Shell in Bostondrew 110,000 people, including fans from Europe, South America, and Australia. Not one, but three 2007 shows atNew York City’sMadisonSquareGarden sold-out immediately. A 2009 all-acoustic show, held at theKennedyCenter inWashington,D.C., at the request ofZimbabwe’s prime minister Morgan Tsvangirai, sold out in less than two minutes.
Having repaired their friendships and reconciled the issues that led to their break-up, Dispatch regrouped for a sold-out U.S. tour last June that included three shows at Boston’s fabled TD Garden Arena, three shows at Red Rocks in Colorado, and the first-ever concert at New Jersey’s 25,000-seat Red Bull Arena. They also released a six-song EP and recommitted to touring and recording, honoring not only the alchemy that occurs whenever these three gather to make music together, but also the powerful bond they have forged with their fans over the last decade.
In March 2012, Dispatch embarks on its first-ever European tour, performing at theatres in London, Paris, Berlin, and Zurich, before appearing at the Bonnaroo Festival in June, followed by the August release of the band’s first full-length studio album in 12 years, Circles Around the Sun. Featuring cinematic, expansive production by Peter Katis (Interpol, Jonsi, The National), the album is an eclectic all-American rock and roll record that delivers the gutsy storytelling, radiant harmonies, and good-time grooves that Dispatch are loved for. Kicking things off is Stokes’ rootsy “Circles Around the Sun,” followed by the swaggering “Not Messin’” (composed by all three members), the jangly “Get Ready Boy,” and the bluesy “Josaphine” before the album closes out with two down-tempo tracks, Corrigan’s “We Hold A Gun” and Francis’ “Feels So Good.”
“We all bring different influences to the table, whether it be Led Zeppelin, Traffic, Radiohead, or Cat Stevens, and just kind of throw it all together,” Stokes says. “The harmonies are definitely a focal point. I personally like to tell stories within my songs. All three of us appreciate meaningful lyrics, whether they’re more direct, like in Brad’s songs, or more poetic, like in Pete’s songs.”
Stokes, Corrigan, and Francis, who each sing lead vocals and trade instruments on stage, met at MiddleburyCollegein Vermontin the early ’90s. “We were all athletes, but we really bonded over our voices,” Francis says. “There was this real lock that happened when we sang together that was undeniable.” After playing together in various duos, the three joined forces as Dispatch, performing shows at Middlebury and neighboring colleges in New England. In 1996 they released their debut album, an acoustic-driven folk-pop affair called Silent Steeples, on their own Bomber Records label, followed by 1998’s reggae-flavored Bang Bang. “From Bang Bang on we started hearing that the music was being handed off to people’s friends and siblings,” Corrigan says. “We thought it was so cool that there was a family of fans developing.”
The 1999 release of Dispatch’s third album, Four-Day Trials coincided with the launch of then-illegal file-sharing service Napster, which enabled the band’s young, tech-savvy audience to freely share MP3’s of Dispatch songs like “The General” and “Bang Bang” and grow the audience in the process. “We played a show at a college inPomona,California — a state we’d never visited, and a thousand kids turned up and sang along to every word,” Francis says.
Naturally, once Dispatch had established itself as a profitable touring entity, the major labels began sniffing around. “Not one time in any label meeting did anyone say, ‘We love your music and we just want to give wings to what you’re doing,’” Corrigan says. “It was always ‘We’ll make you into the next Dave Matthews Band.’ It was the exact opposite of what we wanted to hear. We knew it would kill our creativity. We don’t have a desire to be anything other than the first Dispatch.”
And yet at the height of their popularity, the members of Dispatch walked away. “We were just incredibly burned out,” Corrigan says. “We had no real friendships outside of each other and we wanted to have lives outside of the band and be part of our communities again.” “It actually felt dishonest to play for our audience when the relationships within the band were breaking down,” Stokes says. “It just didn’t feel right.”
The band members each pursued their own projects, with the Denver-based Corrigan forming the band Braddigan, Francis performing as an acoustic singer-songwriter, and the Boston-based Stokes, recording and touring with his band State Radio. In 2004, the three decided they owed it to the fans to give Dispatch a proper send-off and organized a free show in Bostonon the Esplanade, anticipating perhaps 20,000 people would turn up. The concert became the largest independent music event in history (documented in a feature film The Last Dispatch). A contest that awarded backstage passes to the fan who travelled the furthest distance attracted responses from Portugal, Peru, and the United Arab Emirates.
In 2007, Dispatch came together once again to raise money for humanitarian organizations working in Zimbabwe, a country suffering from issues that resonated deeply with Francis, Corrigan, and especially Stokes, who lived there for six months after high school. After tickets to the first Garden show disappeared within minutes during the fan pre-sale, Dispatch added two more shows and became the first independent band to sell out the storied venue. The three-night-stand grossed more than two million dollars and raised hundreds-of-thousands of dollars for charities in Zimbabwe.
Social responsibility has always been a major component of the Dispatch culture. During its June 2011 tour, the band rolled out its Amplifying Education campaign, which focused on educational issues in theU.S.Not only did one dollar from each ticket sold go to benefit education in each local market, but audience members were encouraged to sign up to volunteer, which they did eagerly. “I’m always amazed when people show up for these volunteer events, because everyone’s busy and has a lot going on in their lives,” Stokes says. “But our fans are so passionate about the band, and that seems to lend itself to their wanting to do more than just come to the show.”
Not wanting to let down those fervent souls, Dispatch decided to record new music, which led to last year’s Dispatch EP and now Circles Around The Sun. “We all write so we knew there was material out there,” Stokes says. “If we were going to do a tour, we wanted to play new songs.”
Another motivator was knowing that they were giving back to the fans who had given so much to them. “It’s a dream to know that your music is actually a part of people’s experiences and becomes tied to special moments in their life,” Corrigan says. “That makes it all worth it. Also, it all just feels fun again. We’re so fired up to be great friends and to travel the world and see places we’ve never been before. I mean, come on. It doesn’t get much better than that.”
“I told Swift that our last two records took a year each to make,” laughs Guster’s Ryan Miller. “He told me he’d never spent more than nine days on an album.” The band and producer got together anyway and the result is Evermotion, an album of raw acid-soaked chamber pop, and a stylistic departure that no one saw coming.
Guster sought out Shins keyboardist/Black Keys bassist Richard Swift based on his work with Damien Jurado and Foxygen, giving themselves over to the full experience of recording at Swift’s Cottage Grove, Oregon studio for three weeks in January 2014.
“It wasn’t hard to figure out where we overlapped with Swift,” adds percussionist/drummer Brian Rosenworcel. “It was just a matter of trusting ourselves to go big and commit. Richard is the type of artist that’s always standing back and taking in the whole canvas.”
With a new looseness and swagger, Guster pushes the acoustic guitars into the background, instead exploring deeper drum grooves, keyboard textures and atmospheric noise — a language they shared easily with Swift. The band that emerged from this session sounds like one that is no longer evolving, but has evolved into something else entirely.
“Richard helped us figure out what was important about recording,” says guitarist Adam Gardner. “We had just one microphone over the drum kit, used whole takes, didn’t obsess over vocals or really edit things at all — it’s a raw version of our band, mistakes and all, that feels more relevant. He helped us tremendously with the big picture.”
Evermotion’s first single, the infectious “Simple Machine,” has been hailed by TIME magazine for its “frantic beats and crawling synthesizers.” The chiming lullaby of “Long Night” with its aching Ryan Miller falsetto, the shimmering “Endlessly,” the distorted steel drums and Bacharach melody of “Doin’ It by Myself,” the a cappella Beach Boys harmonies in the gently breezy “Lazy Love,” the dream-pop of “Expectation,” the British Invasion beat of “Gangway,” the woozy trombones and whistling of “Never Coming Down” and the Beatle-esque psychedelia of “It Is Just What It Is” shows Guster is still learning new tricks.
Since forming at Tufts University in 1992, Guster has become one of the leading indie/alternative bands, releasing seven critically acclaimed albums in 20 years, starting with Parachute in 1995. Evermotion (to be released on their own Ocho Mule label through Nettwerk Records) is the follow-up to 2010’s Easy Wonderful, which earned the band its highest-ever chart debut on the Billboard 200 at #22, while reaching #2 on both the SoundScan Alternative and iTunes charts.
On Evermotion, Guster’s acoustic roots are buried deep beneath the surface, almost impossible to detect, even though every song has, at its heart, an indelible melody and more than its share of tight, lethal hooks that catch and hold.
The 2010 addition of multi-instrumentalist Luke Reynolds to the core group of founding members Miller, Gardner and Rosenworcel, added immeasurably to Guster’s expanding musical palette. Evermotion marks the first time that Reynolds joined for the preproduction and writing process, which took place in Rosenworcel’s Brooklyn basement over 2012 and 2013. Reynolds’ stamp is clear and his passion is all over the record, from his guitar melodies on “Lazy Love” to his fuzz bass on “Doin’ It By Myself.”
Guster’s songs remain packed with hummable choruses and dense lyrical detail amid the muscular guitar riffs, clanging percussion and deceptively dark lyrics. The new album features adventurous turns on slide guitars, brassy trumpets and even a glockenspiel, with sax and trombone accompaniment by Jon Natchez, whose stints with the War on Drugs, Beirut, Passion Pit and others have led NPR to call him “indie rock’s most valuable sideman.”
From the start of the album, it’s clear that this is a renewed band with a bolstered purpose, a band on their own vector. Evermotion introduces you to a Guster that is free, not calculated, seasoned but loose, confident in re-shaping their legacy.