It was a night that was, for me, around 8 years in the making. On seeing the announcement that Dance Gavin Dance were back in the UK for the first time in 5 years for a 10 year anniversary, bringing along past vocalists Jonny Craig and Kurt Travis for the ride, it was a chance I pounced on without a second’s hesitation. I was straight on the phone to the inimitable Cadgers Icily. This was it – a teenage dream. We would see DGD in all of their weird glory together.
And by God was it weird.
The tube had to have delays, didn’t it? Cadgers’ journey from a far-off city had to involve a signal failure, didn’t it? We bloody missed Kurt Travis’ solo set, but thank goodness we managed to catch the last song of Jonny Craig’s. I certainly didn’t expect to see him on stage warbling his way through a rendition of JT’s ‘Cry Me A River’, a ropey guitar slung over his shoulders, but it set the stage for DGD’s trademark obscurity.
“This was it – a teenage dream”
Good Tiger were pretty decent as a warm-up act, providing some hard-hitting and tasty licks for a baying crowd. Plus, the guitarist looked like Kip from Napoleon Dynamite and wore an Argentina football shirt. He also held his guitar like Simon from Biffy Clyro. Cadgers and I nodded in mutual approval. Just a reflection on the crowd actually – I swear some of them couldn’t have been born in the first Jonny Craig era. Surely. There were a few purists out there along with us, perhaps not quite so overripe as our 22 years, but there’s more on that later.
How they managed to fit six members on the Underworld’s tiny stage is beyond me, and that wasn’t even the maximum. But watching the band nonchalantly setting up their own equipment was a show enough in itself, before seeing the misfit on-stage personas that followed. Will Swan bobbing his head whilst simultaneously shredding, Matt Mingus an absolute powerhouse on drums, Tim Feerick swaying to-and-fro, the touring guitarist rocking out and providing some sensational back up vox, and Tilian was showcasing some sensual belly dancing as he crooned. And then there was Jon Mess. I mean, to see the man himself locked in position, front stage, screaming his arse off either eyes closed or staring intently into the middle distance, occasional jiving as if he were having a fit – what a sight. I’ll never forget it. Cadgers and I were in some sort of warped dream that wasn’t quite a nightmare, but it was getting there. We wouldn’t have had it any other way. Jon Mess: you are a bona fide hero.
We had an absolute ball skanking during that dancey bit in Stroke God, Millionaire, along with an extremely receptive crowd, and the sensational a capella outro with overlayed vocals in On The Run was early enough in the set to make me lose my voice almost immediately. Jon Mess led that bit too which was dreamy. I seriously struggled to sing along to Tilian’s awesome chorus in Strawberry Swisher, pt. III, as if I ever would have been able to. Those highs mate. Plus the circle pit was really going for it at that point. Cadgers waved his hands in the air a bit. As great as Tilian was, Kurt’s vocals were absolutely flawless when he came up to perform three tracks from his era. The singalongs for Carl Barker were admirable – “Just because you move yours hips, doesn’t mean that you exist” – and there were some serious snakehips on show, that’s for sure. I managed to catch Cadgers saying “Ah, there’s sweat dripping off the walls now” at this point, and he was right. A disgusting or beautiful sight? It’s hard to tell.
When Jon came back onstage to perform Alex English after a brief departure, I knew I was more than ready for my favourite song of the Kurt Travis era. I was psyched. A dog in heat. The dual guitar intro was like someone spreading honey on my ears, before Jon’s “STOP! THE FIRST ONE TO HIT THE COP WINS!” prompted me to be a reckless hardcore bro, and first to get the crowd moving. I was performing one of my life goals. It was my moment. I jumped in. I slipped on a puddle of sweat on the floor. I hobbled over to the safety of a column for the rest of the show. Cadgers and I looked at each in sad mutual agreement: we were definitely too old for this shit.
And then the OG tunes came out as Jonny did, boosting the nostalgia to catastrophic levels. I was instantly transported back in time to my first listen of Lemon Meringue Tie and it was complete bliss. You could hear one girl shouting “Fuck you Jonny Craig! You’re an arsehole!” Look, we know he got kicked out of the band twice (definitely justified too), but he’s still made it here, doing his thing (rather better than we both expected…) with his first band. Stop it. It was incredibly worth it, even if he did forget a few words in Spooks and creepily stuck his tongue out way too much, met with wild cackles from Cadgers. So what? He’s Jonny Craig, diva extraordinaire. I really enjoyed seeing Jon partly sigh, partly smirk at the forgotten lyric bit as well, and Will Swan’s verse had the whole pit acknowledging his God-like status, with “I’m a T-O-Y-F-O-R-YOU” definitely directed at him. Amazing scenes.
“Cadgers and I looked at each in sad mutual agreement: we were definitely too old for this shit”
The encore then consisted of every vocalist on stage at once – that’s 8 individuals on that tiny stage, chaos! – for a performance of Uneasy Hearts Weigh The Most, with each vocalist taking turns for a particular part. The initial harmonising bit wasn’t the most convincing, but that song really cemented what was so great about every era of this band, who have managed to still stick together and produce gold despite losing so much talent along the way. Jon Mess’s 10-second part here was probably my favourite moment of the night; so short, yet so sweet, especially after seeing him trapped like a caged lion between Tilian and Matt’s drum kit up until that part. Tilian then took to the stage again to lead the band for We Own the Night: here was the current lineup, just as incredible as it had been in past incarnations. Did they own the night? They certainly did. It really was a shame that the 10-year celebration had to end.
Cadgers had this to say about his evening:
What else? DGD are the best brand of strange, and this was a night I will certainly not forget. Let’s hope they make it back again for the 20th anniversary (or the 11th), and if you want an outer-body experience, that show would certainly be one way to have one. I’ll see you there.
Here’s my review of their latest album Mothership.
Image: Fay Cranham Photography