It’s Wednesday night at the Bald Faced Stag, a relatively small bar and venue in Leichhardt on the tipping point between Sydney’s inner-west and its CBD. As is common, the clientele in the bandroom are almost entirely clad in black, all of them the kind of folk that favour music of the heavier persuasion – metalheads, hardcore kids, punks; that kind of thing.
They’re all gathered to mourn the loss of one of heavy music’s greatest modern purveyors, The Dillinger Escape Plan. But they’re also here to celebrate the band’s 20 long, stunning years together: to commemorate all of the mind-blowing shows that the Escape Plan has performed in Australia for well over a decade, and the unwavering support of the fans that has come with each album release. In essence, they’re here to ensure that, if The Dillinger Escape Plan are going down, then we’re all going down with them.
Before the show kicks off, a song blasts through the PA. The playlist has been a cheeky nostalgia ride prior to this moment, picking out hits from guilty pleasures like Disturbed and Limp Bizkit. But before tonight’s openers Totally Unicorn take to the stage, a certain song makes its bombastic entry over the speakers, sticking out like a sore, purple thumb: Prince’s ‘1999’. The pound of the gated snare, the chirpy guitar and the big, poppy chorus may seem a world away from the downtuned dissonance we’ve paid to see, leaving many arms folded and eyes rolled as it plays out.
We’ve also had a lot of people turn up on this tour that have never seen us before.
Contextually, however, the song draws parallels closer than one might have initially thought. “2000 zero zero, party over, oops, out of time/So tonight I’m gonna party like it’s 1999,” go the lyrics. And despite the song’s catchiness, and the latter line turning into a cheesy catchphrase, there’s a dark undertone of impending doom. It will all be over soon – so you might as well make the most of this moment right now.
“It’s funny that song was played,” says Ben Weinman, The Dillinger Escape Plan’s lead guitarist, backing vocalist and founding member, a matter of days later in the greenroom of the Metro Theatre. “Yknow, 1999 was the year our first record came out [Calculating Infinity], so it probably was a little prophetic.” It’s put to Weinman whether he and the rest of his Dillinger bandmates are indeed partying like it’s 1999 by heading out on one final world tour – playing each show like it is their last because, as far as the audiences in the places they’re playing are concerned, it is.
“The audience is definitely way more sentimental in their interactions,” he begins. “A lot of these people have seen us in the past, and they’ve grown up to go do other things – and they’ve been coming back to see us, because this is their chance. We’ve also had a lot of people on this tour that have never seen us before, and they’re coming to the shows for the same reason – because this is their chance. There’s all kinds of circumstances.
“I would say that it’s different for the audiences in that respect. For us, though… I mean, we always strive to give 1000 per cent at every show. In a way, we’ve kind of always treated each show like it was our last. The only thing that’s changed is that we’ve been coming to a lot of these cities – particularly in other countries – without the guarantee that we’ll ever be back there again.”
The Dillinger Escape Plan was formed in 1997 in Morris Plains, a county in central New Jersey. Emerging from a hardcore punk background, the band quickly established a sound that was simultaneously all-encompassing, quintessential and unclassifiable in its approach.
Lee Nielson, Totally Unicorn’s bass player, distinctly remembers hearing the band for the first time in the mid-2000s. “I was going away for a weekend, and decided to purchase some CDs of bands I hadn’t heard before,” he recalls. “They were Calculating Infinity and [Converge album] You Fail Me – needless to say, it wasn’t the relaxing weekend we had planned. I had never heard music like that before … I loved every minute of it. It was fast, aggressive, uncompromising … it didn’t give a fuck.”
That ferocious, high-energy nature translated into the band’s live show, which quickly won them fans globally. Peter Zaluzny, a Sydney-based photographer and writer who attended three shows on the farewell tour, had no prior experience with the band before witnessing their set at the 2009 Soundwave Festival. “My friends were talking about them all morning, so I decided to join them and see what the hype was all about,” he says.
“The show was so wild… Greg [Puciato, vocalist] threw a sundae into the crowd and hit a kid in the face 50 metres away. Ben threw himself off the speaker stacks and didn’t miss a beat. Some kid punched me in the stomach while we were moshing then ran off before I realised what had happened.”
Nielson has a similarly vivid recollection of seeing the band live for the first time. “I had never seen music of such a technical calibre performed that aggressively, chaotically or destructively, making sure every note was also played perfectly as well. It was unbelievable.” It did, however, come at a cost: “I was also left with a gash on my head from Greg throwing a guitar cab into the crowd,” he laughs.
Of the 20 years that Dillinger was together, the band came to Australia with pretty consistently for over half of them. “Kids have grown up with us here,” Weinman says. “I’ve had a bunch of guys in their mid to late 20s come up to me at the shows on this tour and tell me that I helped them sneak into a bar or a club when they were underage so they could see us play.
“We’ve always had a kinship with Australia. In some ways, it’s so exotic and far away – but at the same time, it’s also so familiar. I think we were really surprised with how comfortable we felt the first time that we came here. It’s not necessarily something we’ve gotten in Japan, or in France – there’s still a pretty big cultural difference that you feel. We have always felt so connected to the people here, and that’s very interesting to us.”
In 2016, the announcement of the band’s sixth studio album, Dissociation, came with the bittersweet news that it would also be their last. After nearly two decades of chaotic genre shifts, a stretch of line-up changes and one of the most notorious live shows around – not just within the metal scene, either – the decision was made within the camp to bring the band to a natural, logical conclusion. Zaluzny remembers the band’s announcement vividly. “It was 1am, and I was on the last train home after a night at the pub,” he says.
“I happened to be killing time on Facebook when I saw the article go up. Booze, fatigue and one of my favourite bands breaking up was not the best combination – I wound up moping for the entire ride home. That later changed to anticipation for the inevitable tour announcement.”
The tour made its way around North America and Europe before Australian dates were announced earlier in the year. Nearly every show sold out the day they went on sale, and eventually every single date had all of its tickets snapped up. When Totally Unicorn were announced as one of the support acts for the tour, Nielson couldn’t believe it. “To say I was honoured is a massive understatement,” he says. “They’ve been such a huge influence on my musical career, so this opportunity was a massive dream come true.”
Each show on their world tour leads Dillinger closer and closer to the end – Friday December 29 at New York’s Terminal 5, to be specific – which begs the question of what Weinman thinks he’ll miss the most about the band once it’s all said and done. “God… so many things,” he says after a pause.
“The people. The friends we’ve made. The beautiful things we’ve seen. Getting to visit all of these places again really puts things into perspective. When you’ve been a band that’s gone as hard as we’ve gone, there’s so many things we’ve gotten to experience that so many people don’t. That said, there’s also a lot of things that most people get that we’ve had to miss out on due to the lives that we live. I think it’s important now for us to really appreciate what we have, and to really express gratitude about the privilege of getting to do this for so many years.”
Weinman notes that one of the most frequently asked questions on this final run has pertained not to the shows themselves, but the day after the final show. The first day of the rest of The Dillinger Escape Plan’s life. Truthfully, he’s not even thinking forward to Saturday December 30 yet.
If I went through every number that I have in my phone right now, I would say that 90 per cent of them are people I’ve met through this band.
Weinman isn’t deterred or put off by the question, though. The reality is that it simply hasn’t set in that “Ben from Dillinger” will have that title extracted after holding it for essentially his entire adult life. “It’s such a big part of my identity,” he says. “If I went through every number that I have in my phone right now, I would say that 90 per cent of them are people I’ve met through this band.” He smirks, adding cynically: “I’m expecting the phone to start ringing a lot less.”
“The truth is that I honestly have no idea what it’s going to be like. I’m sure it will involve a lot of decompressing for a while. We’re probably going to feel all of the emotions, but probably not at the time you’d expect. It might get to day two, looking at the calendar, and you’ll be like, ‘Fuck, I’m not actually going out on tour this week. This month. Ever.’ I don’t know what that’s going to feel like.”
That’s all still to come. For now, we look at the carnage left in the wake of The Dillinger Escape Plan’s final Australian shows. Both the Bald Faced Stag and the Metro Theatre shows are indicative of the full-scale insanity that comes with the price of admission. The former is one of the smallest shows on the entire tour, with bodies surging and spilling left, right and centre. The latter, while on a much larger scale with twice the capacity, maintains that level of intensity and chaos.
Puciato leaps onto the crowd from the mezzanine during ‘Prancer’, while parts of the drum kit are handed out to the front row during ‘43% Burnt’. Over in Melbourne, Zaluzny was also a part of a memorable interaction with the band itself during the song ‘Black Bubblegum’.
“There’s a giant concrete pillar smack bang in the middle of the Corner floor, not far from the stage,” he says. “People were climbing it all night so I decided to have a go, leaped off during the bridge and surfed up to Greg. He grabed my arm, dragged me over the security guards and shoved the mic in my face as I fell to the floor. I was a bit disoriented, and the next thing I heard was Greg screaming, ‘Get the fuck up, motherfucker!’ While I was on the floor, I felt an arm across my chest. I thought it was security, and that I was about to get thrown out, but no. It was Ben. He’d jumped down, thrown his guitar around me and pinned me to the floor while he finished the song.”
For diehard fans like Zaluzny, it’s memories like these that will permanently leave their mark, always influencing how he remembers the band. “Each performance leaves its imprint on the studio recordings,” he says. “The songs take on a new life after you see them live, and even though they’re calling it a day those experiences are going to stick with me forever.”
Read our review of Dissociation here.