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The Happiest Place on Earth: Backstage With Desaparecidos

It had been 11 years since Desaparecidos last walked across a New York stage. And though that was an ill-received supporting slot (alongside the Promise Ring) in front of a steamrolling Jimmy Eat World in 2002, in a post-9/11 landscape where their highly critical, politically charged post-hardcore was mostly unwelcome, the Conor Oberst-led outfit doesn’t feel like much has changed at all. They haven’t grown soft or apathetic just yet. “I’m still pretty good at getting pissed off,” Oberst says with a smile, hours before his Omaha outfit’s first of a two-night set of sold out performances at Webster Hall. “It’s the same shit, the problems are the same. There are themes on [2002’s much beloved Read Music/Speak Spanish] that are still present today.”

But as evidenced by both of their hour-long sets, Desaparecidos are a much improved band. “We’re more complete musicians now,” says bassist-vocalist Landon Hedges. “Because we all kept playing.” After eight years apart, the fivesome came together in the summer of 2010 for a benefit in Omaha, with only two days to prepare. “It was strange, how it all came back together,” says Oberst of their rehearsals. “In the best possible way. Not just musically, but personally. It was like time stopped once we were together again in the basement. That show was the tightest we’d ever played.”

And after a pair of new singles and a pair of short tours together, they’ve grown tighter still. Older cuts like “Survival of the Fittest/It’s a Jungle Out There” and “Greater Omaha” are far more forceful and potent than they’d ever been onstage or record before. The same applies to their message, one amp always draped in a Free Bradley Manning banner. “It’s not just about being angry and it’s not just about blunt force, punk-rock trauma,” says drummer Matt Baum. “There’s something to be said for just yelling about something. Just yelling about something with a bunch of other people yelling with you. When we’re up there, we’re not sneering and spitting. And the kids are smiling at us when they’re singing back. It’s about making a loud, joyful noise. And if that noise has a message then that’s a good thing.”

Read on for more of the band’s thoughts on their reunion and future.