Well, the day has finally come– Dead Bars have released their debut album. The Seattle punks have released splits with the Tim Version and Sunshine State, recorded a perfect self-titled EP, played Fest, and are a piece of the incredibly rich and diverse No Idea Records legacy, but, until now, they have avoided putting a full-length to wax. Dream Gig is a culmination of talent and tendencies, met with vision and ambition and all the stuff that makes good rock ‘n roll into something to swear by.
Dream Gig isn’t so much a concept record as a thematic one. Whatever you want to call it, it is undoubtedly cohesive. The album opens with “Overture,” a lone piano playing a melody that alludes to the hook of the title track. From there, we get “Earplug Girl,” the first traditional song on the album. It’s a classic Dead Bars song, and probably one of my favorites of their catalog. It shows off a handful of their best qualities– a knack for singalong melodies, as well as John Maiello’s slice-of-life songwriting. “Earplug Girl” transcends through mundanity. It tells a small story with simple matter-of-facts that becomes bigger than either the event that inspired it or the music itself. It reminds me a lot of the dirty realism of Bukowski or Carver, whose stripped down prose and banal subject matter captured common folk and desperation better than anything flowery and elegant ever could.
“D Line to the Streamline” is another highlight– catchy, with a memorable guitar hook, a chorus to die for, and a bridge to scream. “And now I’m closing out my tab/ I have to walk home, I am sad, blah blah the sorrow. I have work tomorrow,” might be the defining lyrics for a generation of punks too old to mosh. In the wrong hands, the idea of aging rockers living out their rock ‘n roll dreams on a small scale could be uncomfortable and even a bit depressing. But, through “Face the Music” and “Tear Shaped Bruise” the music is given an identity of its own: savior. At the heart of Dead Bars’ self-aware bummers is the truth that rock ‘n roll is something worth sacrificing for, something pure and loud and powerful.
Dream Gig is Dead Bars at their most ambitious and defined. Guitar, bass, and drums have combined to fill out their melodic punk singalongs with an almost classic rock optimism– a fist-pumping specter that gives lines like, “I got insoles in my shoes,” a shade of honest-to-god victory. And it’s this defiant sense of accomplishment that makes Dream Gig tick. The title track is the band at it’s most ambitious, a seven-minute mission statement of everything Dead Bars. There’s a hunger within those shouted lines, a manifesto of purpose that throws a finger to the face of anyone who has forsaken art for getting a real job, for those who say dreams are meant to be waken from. From the refrain of “Dream big,” the instruments lead their way through melodies and feedback, before blasting into industrial sounding static, an innovation to their sound that brings to mind acts like Titus Andronicus or Fucked Up.
Dead Bars courses with nervous energy and insight, they’re both wistful and cutting and they do so while playing immediately likeable music. Dirtbag couplets, woah-oh’s, and guitar leads; the smell of pale lagers and the lingering guilt of a path not taken; chance encounters broken down and mined for meaning– coalesce into something vibrant, victorious, and uniquely defiant. Dead Bars play punk rock like it means something to them, like it should mean something. Dream Gig is an ode to the dreamers and the music that keeps their head in the clouds.