Dispatch at Agannis Arena

Matthew Shelter on October 23, 2012

Agannis Arena
Boston, MA

Boston sure does love their Dispatch. Boston University’s Agganis Arena was stop number nine on Dispatch’s 13-city North American tour in support of Circles Around Sun, the group’s first full-length album in more than a decade. Band member Brad Corrigan acknowledged the enthusiastic welcome from the crowd early in the show, declaring that, “There’s no sound like your hometown.”

Although originally from Vermont, Dispatch has long treated Boston as its base. They climbed the rungs over the years from clubs like the Middle East, Harper’s Ferry and Avalon to headlining larger arenas, culminating in a memorable farewell concert at the city’s Hatch Shell in 2004, which drew more than 100,000 indie music fans. On their 2011 reunion tour, Dispatch played three consecutive nights at the 19,000-seat TD Garden.

The energy level of the crowd at the Agganis Arena might not have been quite as high as that of the Garden shows last year – it would be hard to match the raucous enthusiasm that greeted the band’s return after a seven-year hiatus – but the music itself was just as good.

The group featured six songs from their new album in a 21-song set list, and they were among the highlights of the two-hour show. Like a lot of jam bands, what Dispatch is able to do to a song in concert almost always surpasses the studio version, and that was certainly the case with their live versions of “Circles Around the Sun” and “Sign of the Times.”

The band brought one of their supporting acts for the evening, the four members of the Parkington Sisters, out on stage for multiple songs throughout the night, and the pairing of the two groups was so inspired they may be forced to merge on a permanent basis. The Sisters – and all four are, in fact, sisters – wield acoustic guitars, violins, violas and the kind of harmonies that come from being raised in the same household, and they raised the new Circles Around the Sun track “Feels So Good” into a kind of spiritual that brought to mind Curtis Mayfield’s classic “People Get Ready.” They stayed on stage for “Flag,” another new song that may have been my favorite of the evening, with its prototypical Dispatch lyric: “What flag are you/are you flying?” It featured one of those things you don’t see much these days – an electric guitar and ukulele jam. Corrigan was so caught up in his uke playing that I thought he might smash the tiny instrument into his amp Townshend-style at the end of the song, something he presumably could have done one-handed. The Parkington Sisters also helped out on “Flying Horses,” and the evening’s other opener, Good Old War, added their trio of voices to the Chad Stokes-penned song “Josaphine.”

After that, Stokes, Corrigan and Pete Francis returned to what they do best, closing the set with a string of guitar-laced jams, including thundering versions of “Melon Bend” and “Passerby.” On songs like these, Dispatch can take on the feel of a runaway freight train, but a train that always manages to stay on the track. Although free-spirited, their jams are also models of musicianship, never straying off into the realm of self-indulgence.

The encore featured an unexpected treat, as Stokes led the band through a cover of Paul Simon’s “Mother And Child Reunion,” before wrapping the night up with their usual closer of “Elias.”