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La Dispute Plays the Rock and Roll Hotel

by Molly Guillermo

The heady days of Warped Tour have gone and past, and if you shopped at Hot Topic and had Taking Back Sunday on your iPod in middle school, you probably miss the emo musical festival and its sweaty mosh pits. But 2006 scene kids rejoice—La Dispute is on tour, and now you’re old enough to go see them without your parents.

The Rock and Roll Hotel in Washington’s Northeast used to be a funeral parlor, which is an apt locale for a band screaming the lyrics “Can I still get into heaven if I kill myself?” The gritty venue is a step up from a DIY basement show, and has three floors, one of which is a rooftop patio. And yet, the vending machines sell tarot card readings and psychic readings, not Snickers. As La Dispute would say, “There are ghosts in the wall and they crawl in your head through your ears.”
Now, let’s settle the genre dispute—La Dispute is a hardcore band, not an emo band or a punk band. Lead singer Jordan Dreyer yells with a strained voice, but doesn’t scream. Not quite metal and not quite screamo, some of their songs on their new album Panorama are shouted spoken word.
In fact, many of La Dispute’s songs pay tribute to poetry, such as “Such Small Hands” and “Nobody, Not Even The Rain,” which are references to the ee cummings poem “somewhere i have never traveled, gladly beyond”.

There was a small mosh pit, but mostly every person in the crowd pushed toward the stage, reaching with their hands to touch the lead singer’s hand, and I had PSTD flashbacks to the sweaty mosh pits of Warped Tour again. Most of the songs were old, in spite of their new release. Spoken word doesn’t make for the kind of craze fans wanted.

Everybody in the audience knew the words, proving La Dispute’s undisputed significance in the lives of angsty teenagers everywhere. The music itself is pure, unadulterated angst. If you love La Dispute you know the lyrics “Tell me what your worst fears are, I bet they look a lot like mine. Tell me that you’re struggling, tell me that you’re scared…Tell me that it’s difficult to not think about death sometimes” and you will raise your arms and shout them in an ex-funeral parlor like a true fan.

Vocalist Jordan Dreyer took a minute to slow down and make a short speech about the inclusivity of the punk and hardcore scene. “What this scene is really about, who it’s really for, is for those with nowhere else to go. And this scene supports you, your gender, your sex, your skin color, your history, your safety. We all have stuff we deal with, things we go through. We all have a place here, except for racists, homophobes, or sexists.”

Dreyer’s shirt read, “No More Dysphoria: n.- a state of discomfort or distress due to one’s gender or physical sex.”

He then picked up a crate of water bottles and passed them to the audience, and even paused the show again later because somebody lost their glasses in the mosh pit. “We have to look out for each other,” he said.

The production was significantly more professional than other punk and hardcore shows, due to La Dispute’s fame and success. Yet they share the same values as other punk and hardcore bands, and maintain an indie status that shields them from being labeled sell-outs.

The inclusivity of the show made me think about punk and hardcore in a different way—we’re all equal in the most pit, but some people are getting their teeth knocked out at gritty DIY shows. At the La Dispute show we were also all equal in the most pit, but we were also looking around for someone’s glasses. Hardcore as a genre is not the same definition of word hardcore. The guy found his glasses.

Panorama’s “FOOTSTEPS AT THE POND” was a crowd favorite, a song about reckoning with your flaws and a failing a relationship with someone you let down. “We bleed because we need,” he shouted. And La Dispute is all about letting people know they’re in pain and bleeding—figuratively, anyway.

Perhaps there was another common denominator among the fans in the audience other than loving La Dispute. The angst, the inclusivity, the vulnerability, the song actually titled “All Our Bruised Bodies and the Whole Heart Shrinks,” all demonstrated how music can be an outlet for pain of any degree. The entire concert was a motley crew of people shouting, and La Dispute was the conductor.

Teased hair and Warped Tour might have fallen out of fashion, but the music that made them trends in the MySpace era lives on. La Dispute’s cult following is proof, so unearth those fishnet arm warmers. There might be an ex-funeral parlor show near you.

Molly Guillermo

Based in DC by way of San Francisco, Molly originally hails from southern California and has a background in English. She aims to explore music’s inextricable tie to pop culture and its evolving relationship with politics.

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