Things are not going exactly as planned for Dispatch, but that’s OK.
On its summer tour this year, which continued a comeback that began in 2011 with the group’s first studio album in a decade, founding members Chad Urmston and Brad Corrigan started calling out old Dispatch tunes at soundcheck. Recently minted touring members Matt Embree, Mike Sawitzke, and John J.R. Reilly kept getting new homework assignments.
After a couple tours in its current formulation, is the group pretty tight?
“It’s really tight on half the show,” Urmston says with a laugh.
“The other half we’re joyfully off the rails,” Corrigan adds. “But maybe that’s life.”
When Dispatch plays a triumphant, homecoming trio of sold-out acoustic shows at Paradise Rock Club on Saturday, Monday, and Tuesday, the group will likely spend some time both on and off the rails. The first sets will include full performances of its album “America, Location 12,” which was released in June. The second sets will be more free-wheeling.
What is certain, though, is that the third leg of the original Dispatch stool, Pete Heimbold, will be absent. After skipping a European tour in 2016, Heimbold explained in a March Facebook post that he was on an indefinite break from the band while battling depression.
He’d originally broken the news to his bandmates after they’d excitedly decided to write songs for a new album, with Urmston explicitly placed in the creative captain’s chair in an effort to bypass the sorts of turf battles that had torn at the band in the past. The idea was to finally put aside the on-again/off-again reunion projects of the past several years in favor of a full-time rededication to the band. Heimbold gave his blessing for Urmston and Corrigan to continue, with the idea that he’d return to the fold when ready.
The remaining duo have greatly enjoyed the album roll-out process, including setting off on a summer tour with a sold-out show at Red Rocks Amphitheatre and scoring the band’s biggest radio hit to date, with “Only the Wild Ones.” But it makes for some intensely mixed feelings to have the renewal of Dispatch’s creative and commercial mojo coincide with Heimbold’s personal struggles and absence from the band.
“Traveling and touring without Pete has been complicated and hard for us, and remains so. It’s a strange season for the band,” Urmston says, paired with Corrigan on a phone call from the road.
“He didn’t write a [Facebook] letter for any reason other than that he is doing his absolutely best to try to survive a couple of the hardest years of his life. That is our primary focus,” Urmston adds, “but there’s a secondary benefit to him admitting that — and that’s this ripple effect that goes out to a much larger community, saying that alone [depression] can be really scary but together we can defeat this.”
This season may be a strange one for Dispatch, but it looks like a successful one. The band plans to announce dates for a summer tour next year that’ll be twice as long as its 2017 foray.
The group formed at Vermont’s Middlebury College in the mid-1990s, but really launched from Boston’s nascent scene of jam bands and their offshoots. Dispatch doesn’t put a heavy focus on live improvisation, but its fan base and cultural context sort of placed it in that bin initially, back in the days when Blues Traveler and Spin Doctors were similarly lumped in by the music press with bands who shared little aesthetic overlap.
A shape-shifting and groove-friendly style, paired with a dedication to the road, helped Dispatch get pretty big, very quickly. A glowing front-page story in the Globe in 2001 announced the group as a hot ticket. Simultaneously, behind the scenes, the intra-band ties were getting frayed by disputes of the sort not unusual for groups dealing with the pressures of fame.
A year later, Dispatch announced an indefinite hiatus.
Key moments in the band’s mythology include a 2004 “farewell” show at the Hatch Memorial Shell (later released as a live album) that drew over 100,000 fans, and a run of reunion shows in 2011 that included dates at TD Garden and Madison Square Garden — bigger venues than they’d been playing before the breakup.
Only Urmston still lives locally, at a family property in Sherborn, but these Paradise shows should prove something of a reunion.
“We have such great memories in Boston,” says Corrigan, who is relocating from the Denver area to Nashville in January. “From the tiniest place, Emily’s, in the financial district — this bar that didn’t even have a stage, but they let us set up and play in the corner — to playing the Garden. Every step. It’s so fun to be in and around Boston and just have so many great memories of building a lot of different stories.”
Coming at an emotionally complicated time for the band, Urmston says the Paradise shows will be a reminder of the importance of family and friends.
“It just feels great to be home, to be part of that musician community and activist community in Boston. So much of life is about the community you’re in, so it feels good to just be together.”
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