Show Review: The Dillinger Escape Plan in Yerba Buena Gardens at GDC, 3/2/2011

by Christopher Rogers on March 7, 2011

Oh, yes! 

Original Dillinger member Ben Weinman exhorts the crowd onward. Guitar above head in the middle of a song? Yes.

“Sometimes words just can’t express exactly how we feel. The deep complexity of our emotions is something I’ve always felt was better conveyed in song. Sometimes we are put into a situation that we don’t always know how to deal with quite right. Here’s my attempt at letting you know how I feel. All I can offer is my deepest thanks to everyone who sent a card, everyone who wrote about the situation in a zine, did a show, donated money at a show, or offered their sympathy to what amounts to be a stranger. You always put a smile on this cynical asshole’s face and helped me get through the hardest year of my life. I hope I’ll be seeing all of you soon.”

– From the liner notes of the Dillinger Escape Plan’s album Calculating Infinity by former bassist Adam Doll.

As Doll said, some emotions can’t be summed up neat and tidy through words. Sometimes what we feel can only be expressed through sound.

This is where the Dillinger Escape Plan excels.

Onstage, the Dillinger Escape Plan impel an overdriven head-rush of catharsis. Their songs move at the speed of a bad thought, or more recently — with mid-range excursions like “Black Bubblegum” or “Widower” — swagger at the pace of a reluctant realization. Serrated tempos slide at will, shifting freely and cleaving violently with the terrible inertia of an half-mile-wide landslide hurtling downhill. This is music that goes hard into places that words can’t get to.

And this week, someone at a video game company (whose company’s name need not be mentioned) thought it would be a good idea to hire these New Jersey artisans of viscera to help promote their product during the Game Developers Conference. Thusly, Dillinger Escape Plan came to San Francisco to play for free in the middle of downtown, in the middle of the day, in the middle of a gentle drizzle.

They could not have predicted what happened next.

Concentration face. 

Singer Greg Puciato mid-rock. Note Dillinger guitar tech Asian Steve behind him.

Yerba Buena Gardens is a sprawling series of lawns and playgrounds carved out of the middle of San Francisco’s South Of Market business zone. Between convention center edifices and the museums, it’s a breath of open space amid the clamor of downtown. It was built for public use, but you can feel in the architecture that the area isn’t meant for you to linger in. There’s an impersonal uncomfortableness to the layout and the premises. It’s difficult to build something welcoming with everything bolted to the ground.

Into this strange area a small portable stage was put up. Temp workers and PR interns plied the crowd of Dillinger fans and bemused GDC convention goers with promotional give-away paperback books and mini-flags from the game (that need not be mentioned) that the show was promoting. The margins of the area were scattered with discarded promo shwag and red balloons freighted with postcards.

Dillinger took the stage to the hoots of their fans connected enough to have heard about the show, and fired into the suck-the-oxygen-from-your-lungs airblast of “Room Full Of Eyes.”

'Uuuup here [on] the cabinets.' 

Like cats, the Dillingers tend to climb on things. That’s bassist/vegan Liam Wilson on the left and guitarist (Evil) Jeff Tuttle up there.

Chaos. Immediately, the mosh pit’s churn separated the spectators from the participants. The crowd surged forward in a gleeful wash, crowdsurfers dotting the top of the pit like seagulls atop waves.

Founding Dillinger guitarist Ben Weinman slung his guitar about his head, across the stage, around his body — demonstrating the very joy of heavy music as he roiled through the songs.

YES! 

Weinman exults while the song is still rolling.

Frontman Greg Puciato prowled the margin of the stage with his microphone with his guileless charm and prodigious biceps.

He flitted across the stage from one side of the crowd to the next, gliding-atop and propelled-by the music like a hawk riding air currents.

'So, uh, hey...' 

Up close with Puciato.

The singing of a Dillinger Escape Plan song is a literally communal experience: Puciato is the focal point, and the crowd sings the song along with the band while Puciato wades in, holding the mic to fans for them to add their part.

The Dillinger Escape Plan does not play their music at their fans — they play their music with their fans.

Note the San Francisco Giants' 'World Series Champions' wristband in the crowd. 

Puciato in the crowd. It’s participatory.

Guitarist and horror movie enthusiast Jeff Tuttle threw himself into his duty with abandon, scaling equipment while rockin’ and leaping off with the abandon of secret bedroom air guitarists everywhere.

RAAARR! 

“RARR!” Tuttle, rocking.

Immense energy. There was a gleeful sense that this wasn’t quite supposed to be happening — that the game promoters hadn’t quite known what they were unleashing.

Crowdsurfers were pulled onstage by Puciato, given a brotherly pat on the back and perhaps a word or two to sing into his mic before they leaped back atop the pit.

'Breath and stop.' 

A moment in the middle of the swirl with Wilson, Puciato, and Tuttle.

The crowd and the band teetered and swooned together in rapturous release. From the sneering shout-back refutation of “Farewell, Mona Lisa” to the hip-shaking strut of “Black Bubblegum,” the unbridled power of the band’s music washed across the antiseptic playgrounds and the delighted fans, sweating and cavorting together under the light sprinkling of rain.

Puciato scaled the stage’s rigging, pointing to the audience to indicate where he wanted to go, and then stagediving from the top of a 20-foot monitor onto the pit before crawling back onstage to lead the band into a bruising cover of Public Enemy‘s “Fight The Power.”

As he tried to start one last song, Puciato’s wireless microphone was cut off by the soundboard.

Even without a mic, he kept talking to the crowd: “I would play for you guys all fuckin’ day if I could. You guys are fuckin’ rad! Seriously.”

The rest of the band came to front of the stage, high-fiving, hand-shaking, and signing autographs. Asked to sign a dollar bill by a fan, Puciato said “I think I’m devaluing it.”

Showoff! 

Behind-the-head move by Weinman as Puciato has just knocked over his amp. Wickedly-talented drummer Billy Rymer keeps time.

Indeed, as Adam Doll wrote; some things can’t quite be brought across with words. Some things must come across in other ways to be articulated. That day in the concrete garden, it wasn’t so much what was sung, what was important was how we felt as we sang it. The sheer aural horsepower of the songs mattered less than how those assembled felt together as they raised fists, voices, and bodies in song. What mattered was how we were all elevated together. The band’s music was the colossal carrier wave for what we all felt that day: release, community, joy.

“These are the kind of shows that really matter,” said Puciato behind the stage after the show. “Coming off of 80 club shows, then this?” He shook his head with a grin. “Pheww” he exhaled.

These are tools of excellence. 

The green pick is from Weinman and the black pick is from Tuttle. (Tuttle especially likes Evil Dead II: Dead By Dawn.)

The Dillinger Escape Plan will be seeing San Francisco again in June supporting the Deftones at The Warfield.

How can so much awesomeness be planned out in so few words? 

The day’s setlist posted on the side of Tuttle’s amp.

The Dillinger Escape Plan’s setlist for 2011/03/02:

Room Full Of Eyes
Milk Lizard
Panasonic Youth
Gold Teeth On A Bum
Black Bubblegum
Farewell Mona Lisa (with 43% Burnt ending)
Fight The Power (Public Enemy cover)


Adam Doll quote furnished by Ben Cunningham, who I once bought a cassette of Pearl Jam‘s Ten for his birthday.

Christopher Rogers

Christopher Rogers is a journalist / developer / enthusiast from and about the San Francisco Bay Area. His favorite secret about the SF Bay Area is that -- --- --- ---- ---- ---- - -- ------ ----, --- - ---'- ------ ------, -- ------ --- -------.

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