I have a lot to thank local Jersey City radio station WFMU for since they were the real impetus to teaching me about indie label bands. It should thus come as no surprise that I was looking forward to a band that had part of their resurgence come thanks to the efforts of one of that station’s most popular DJs, comedy writer/director/music guru Tom Scharpling, who was a major impetus behind how most of us ‘late bloomers’ to the music scene even came to discover this gem from Boston, Big Dipper, that somehow fell into the rough. Now, after being spurred back into the limelight via Merge Records with their sold-out Supercluster discography, they have returned with more classics thanks to Almost Ready Records releasing their latest album, Big Dipper Crashes on The Platinum Planet.
The band’s long absence has had the members of their band explore avenues of life in many different directions, but while Big Dipper may be a constellation with its stars splayed out, a few of them still find themselves guided back to their love of song in some form or another. Lead singer Bill Goffrier performs storybook-styled duets with his partner Karlee Dean, while guitarist Gary Waleik has been working behind the scenes with drummer Robert Beerman of Pell Mell fame (another band that I would hope to see resurge) to evolve the post-rock genre with the instrumental project grimspex.
Despite their stray from those roots, this reunion has not shown a dullness to their edge; Big Dipper still blares that uncontrollable energy into music that beckons people into cathartic summer-splashed bliss with lyrics that reach into all sorts of ways, ranging from storybook parables (“Lord Scrumptious”), to playful digs at fellow contemporaries/band members (“Robert Pollard”), to stories of endurance (“Princess Warrior”), to pure adrenaline injection songs (“New Machine”).
Originally, this show was scheduled for February, but saw some unforeseen setbacks. For some bands it comes in the form of stolen equipment, bad travel arrangements, or misplaced scheduling. In Big Dipper’s case, it came in the form of winter storm The Weather Channel dubbed ‘Nemo’, which not only stranded two of the band members in New York, but also left the other two dealing with recovering from storm-battered houses locked-down at the mercy of several feet of snow and a closed highway.
Not one to give up, persistence brought the band back to Mercury Lounge (QRO venue review) on one of the better days of this unpredictably chilly spring. In the mild coolness of Saturday, April 6th, this time the trip to New York was a welcoming one, with a decent crowd willing to go at it (and one especially active dancing audience member). Although Big Dipper was not going to finish the night, they were ready to fire up the listeners in one lightning-clad stroke of postpunk brilliance.
Opening for them was Chris Collingwood, of Fountains of Wayne fame. Collingwood’s work still has that sound of his band days that would sound as fit in a loud, pop punk environment. Electing instead for stripping down those conventions, his sound came off with an acerbic feel to the irony-drenched lyrics of his music that would have more trouble sticking out in the traditional fast pace of a full band amped up. This choice was perhaps made more appropriate by self-depreciating jokes between songs. Despite how somber this may sound, the music itself still lingered with energy that dared to escape the moment Collingwood allowed the sound to snap into it, making for a welcome aperitif before the gang of four took stage.
The only catch of catching a Big Dipper show is figuring out what would make for the best set list. Some songs have automatic staying power in their shows, like the pieces inspired from Goffrier’s time with The Embarrassment, such as “Faith Healer” and “Ron Klaus Wrecked His House”, and a few that seem to play with band members such as “Loch Ness Monster”. But what fills in the rest of the set? One thing learned is that fans of Big Dipper have their own collection of favorites that they are more than willing to shout out, ranging from “Meet The Witch” to “Hey Mr. Lincoln”, “Wake Up the King” to “Bells”, and so on. Even their Boston show in The Middle East (QRO photos) saw three encores, but still could not satisfy all of the attendees who still shouted out for songs. This proves that Big Dipper is the sort of band that needs more than an hour to really satisfy an audience, not unlike the indulgence of eating Nerds one candied rind at a time.
Time, like their music, has not seemed to have not culled their edge. Goffrier jumped on the stage left and right as he swung chords through the brewing swelter of the Mercury Lounge, and was not afraid to wave his arm around to show off his shaker-taped wrist as he sang “Bells”. Steve Michener has likewise not shown less effort, his own arms flinging back and forth as he forced out the sounds of his guitar to Jeff Ollie’s persistent drum work.
As was said before, an hour cannot do enough justice to cover Big Dipper properly, but fans were still treated to some of their favorites such as the crowd-fueled “All Going Out Together”, “Hey Mr. Lincoln”, and “Humason” fired along with a few select pieces from Platinum Planet, including their first release song “Robert Pollard”, and the reflective “Happy New Year”. Topping their show with fan favorite, “Ron Klaus Wrecked His House”, Goffrier even offered an addendum to their most famous song with an epilogue letter from The Embarrassment’s drummer himself that brought laughs between the lyric shouting of the crowd.
With this the final act of their tour, I admit to being sad at this realization that all things must end. But as comets come and go through the sky, so will I await the return of their sound; new album or not, their music has as much lasting power as those celestial bodies themselves, and while their tour has wound down, I will still keep looking up Big Dipper – not so much at the sky but at Facebook – in the hopes for future shows (or at the very least, to keep my eyes peeled towards Waleik/Beerman’s collaboration into grimspex).