By Evan Turner
Indie folk-rockers Dispatch are currently on tour in support of their sixth studio album, America, Location 12, which was released in June. In case you aren’t familiar with Dispatch, this three-piece band from Boston is somewhat of a best-kept secret in the jam band scene. They released their first album, Silent Steeples, in 1996 and released three more albums before going on hiatus in 2002. Their 2004 “Last Dispatch” reunion shows attracted over 150,000 fans from around the world. Dispatch became the first-ever independent band to sell out Madison Square Garden and performed three back-to-back record-breaking benefit concerts at the classic venue in 2007.
The hiatus officially ended in 2011 with the band’s release of Circles Around the Sun in 2012, and then came another long hiatus which ended this year with the announcement of America, Location 12. After a few months of touring the US and Europe this summer, the band announced their first-ever and much anticipated intimate Acoustic Tour. I just happened to fly into Northern California days before their two-night acoustic run at San Francisco’s iconic Fillmore (November 30 and December 1). Both nights at the 1,150 person venue sold out almost instantly. I managed to score a few last-minute tickets to each night and made my way to The City by the Bay.
Dispatch performed without an opening band and took the stage minutes after their scheduled time each night. The band opened both nights by playing America, Location 12 in its entirety. The show was mostly acoustic, with the band performing as a five-piece rather than than trio. Guitarist/vocalist Chad Urmstom and percussionist/vocalist Brad Corrigan led the band through the dynamic album, which effectively melds several genres of music in typical Dispatch fashion. Original member Pete Francis was not present due to a leave of absence and was temporarily replaced for the tour.
I first heard Dispatch in 2004 and was guilty of mostly only knowing their older material prior to these shows. The single “Only The Wild Ones” was one of the only new songs that I was familiar with, but I instantly fell in love with the entire album that first night and was singing along by night two. Much of the new album has a sort of irresistible classic rock/folk sound recognizable in songs such as “Rice Water” and “Be Gone.” It is overall an amazing album, and seeing it live was unforgettable. The band took a short break following the first set.
Dispatch utilized the second set to make each night distinct from the another. Each night, the second set was comprised mostly of different songs from Silent Steeples and 1997’s Bang Bang. It was one big happy sing-along of fan favorites. At times, I could barely hear the band over the crowd singing every word to classics like “The General” and “Elias.” Dispatch treated us to a beautiful cover of Jimmy Hendrix’s “The Wind Cries Mary” on Thursday and an even better cover of The Grateful Dead’s “Uncle John’s Band” on Friday. The latter was performed live for the first time ever for San Francisco, the home of The Grateful Dead.
Dispatch has a history of human rights activism and spoke out against gun violence in the wake of so many related tragedies. They performed a new song, “Thoughts and Prayers,” each night to protest the epidemic. The band spoke to the crowd throughout each set and appeared to be having a great time playing together. Corrigan showed off his musical talent as he switched between vocals, percussion, harmonica, and even guitar throughout the evening. Urmstom commanded lead vocals for most of the evening, shredded guitar solos, and even switched over to the bass for a few songs. The other three members of the band played bass, drums, banjo, guitar, and backing vocals where needed while appearing equally enthused. Each night’s performance lasted around two and a half hours. Dispatch continues to write meaningful lyrics and successfully combine genres such as folk, rock, reggae, and funk. Overall, Dispatch killed it in San Francisco.
Now go out there and buy America, Location 12! Because the last nine shows of the tour are SOLD OUT!