Dispatch Rocks Bryce Jordan Center
For one night, Penn State students got to party like it was 2007.
That year, just about all of us were in high school. Dispatch hadn’t put out a record or toured regularly in seven years then, but that didn’t stop us from listening — to them, to Phish, to Dave Matthews. It’s likely rare to find someone here who didn’t go through a jam band-phase in those days, or who didn’t find their way there once they got to college.
And so, while the Eastern seaboard tried to recover from the ravages of Hurricane Irene — as I write this, millions (including the entirety of my hometown) are still left without power and the damage total will extend well into the billions — a few thousand of us in Happy Valley celebrated the end of syllabus week in style.
In contrast to most of the other venues on this comeback tour, the Bryce Jordan Center was nowhere near filled to capacity. Dispatch was able to sell out Los Angeles, Boston, and New York, but the crowd Sunday night more closely resembled that for a men’s basketball game, and not one against the Michigan States of the world, either. But that was no matter to the crowd, who more than made up for the lack of numbers in their enthusiasm, or for the band, who never gave off even a hint of their decade-long hiatus.
It could’ve just as easily been 1998, too. There was Chad Stokes, with his trademark orange mop and high intensity, the laid-back Pete Francis, who looked as though he’d just rolled out of bed, and the versatile Brad Corrigan — Braddigan — who looked just as comfortable behind the drumset as he did strumming a guitar. There was the playful between-songs banter of men who grew up together, and who still seemed to be living the dream.
One casualty of the hurricane was the loss of an opener. Josh Ritter had his travel arrangements sidetracked, and wasn’t able to make it to State College. So in his stead, Dispatch played for the better part of two and a half hours, with no break but for the minute long wait before their encore set. It was as much a rendition of their greatest hits as it was an introduction to the newest songs from their EP, EP, which was played in full. And from the opening strains of the appropriately titled “Here We Go” until the capper, “Elias,” they preached their music to the choir, playing before a crowd that sang the words along with them, that clapped and danced and swayed and jumped as the songs dictated. During the performance of perhaps their most celebrated song, “The General,” Stokes and Francis sat back, and let the frenzied audience fill in the chorus.
And, just as when any true jam band takes the stage, there were the left turns and detours, the new wrinkles that made each song as memorable as the first time we’d heard them. During a performance of “Cut It/Match It” which segued into “Just Like Larry,” Chad and Braddigan left Pete on stage to mingle with the audience, singing from the wings while high-fiving those who seemed privileged just to touch greatness. And along the way, they mixed in a bit of Joe Cocker’s “Feelin’ Alright.” Before the aforementioned finale, Braddigan beatboxed while Francis sampled Rage Against the Machine’s “Bulls on Parade.” But anyone who didn’t expect that celebrated trademark eccentricity simply doesn’t know Dispatch.
Also on display was the band’s long-renown commitment to social responsibility. The concourse featured a book drop for their latest initiative, Amplifying Education, as well as a station where attendees could shout out a favorite teacher or donate money to the cause. And during a set, the band made sure to give credit to “8 or 9” college students who had joined them on tour, not just as roadies but performing community service along the way.
When the lights came on at the end, not a soul walked out unimpressed, or unfulfilled. For most of us, this was the culmination of a journey of many years. And so while some may quibble over mediocre sound quality, or that some favorite song went unplayed, I wouldn’t have had it any other way. It was a night that I never expected to come — why worry about the details?