Live at Shea Stadium
A mistake that a lot of people—OK, a lot of liberals—make is blaming Donald Trump for the terrible state that America is currently in. Anybody with half a brain can see that his presidency, as terrible as it was, was just the product of the system that created it. He was the symptom, not the cause, the latest in a succession of corporate, imperialist, late-capitalist oligarchs disguised as presidents that have been lining the pockets of the 1 percent while gleefully kicking everybody else in the teeth repeatedly. And that’s both Democrats and Republicans—just look up Biden’s defense budget compared to Trump’s if you want proof.
That’s something Bright Eyes’ Conor Oberst has been trying to tell the world for a long time now via his politically charged punk side-project Desaparecidos. That band’s first album, 2002’s Read Music/Speak Spanish, was a seething indictment of American Capitalism™. They returned 13 years later with Payola, a similarly caustic reflection of life in the U.S. that captured a burgeoning zeitgeist of discontent. A more explicit denunciation of the System—remember, this came out when Obama was still in office—songs like “The Left Is Right,” “MariKKKopa,” and “The City on the Hill” confronted, among other issues, the increasing division in American politics, the widening gulf between rich and poor, and systemic racism on these shores. “All the founding fathers sowed their seeds into servant girls,” decries Oberst on the latter, before later doubling down and suggesting it was “so we could sing together in America / The price of an anthem paid in blood.”
They’re lines he chews up and spits out with extra disaffected venom on this, the band’s first live album, recorded at the now-shuttered Shea Stadium, a Brooklyn DIY venue that was run by the So So Glos. Recorded on June 23, 2015—two days after the album came out and almost 18 months before Hillary Clinton and the Democrats’ self-serving neoliberalism caused them to lose an “unlosable” election against a dumb, ignorant, and barely literate failed businessman—it could be seen as foreshadowing. Channeled through a wonderfully raw and ragged performance that pays less attention to being in tune than it does to turning the rage of the songs into tangible energy, it’s a performance that contains the anger everybody seemingly felt during the Trump administration, but which they should have been feeling long before—and should still be feeling now.
It means that those aforementioned songs, as well as “The Underground Man,” “Man and Wife, the Latter (Damaged Goods),” and “Radicalized”—which looks at the (obviously negative) effects of war on families on both sides of an international conflict—are all conveyed with devastating, breathless vitriol. The result is a record that bristles with inspiring discontent that sounds like the swelling of a very necessary (but equally unlikely) revolution. The only downside is that, as someone who was actually in the audience for this show, this album only contains 11 of the 15 songs that were played that night. Presumably because otherwise it wouldn’t fit on a single vinyl record. Capitalism strikes again, then.