Sunday, October 6, 2013

Back to Baltimore

Man, I did not realize how badly I needed a night like last night.

It's been a slow process, rebuilding my world over the past year or so both emotionally and financially, and I still have more hills to climb before I'm truly at ease again in either aspect of my life. Hey, it took a nearly five-year tumble to create the rubble I'm climbing out of, it's going to take some time to rebuild as well.

One of the things that has been sorely missing in my world is live music. Hadn't gone to stand in front of a band since seeing Freezepop and Lifestyle in Philly over a year ago, and I missed the live band experience. It's as if a part of my soul wasn't being properly nourished. I had the chance to go see one of my favorites, One-Eyed Doll, in Allentown a couple weeks back, but those plans fell through at the last minute. When I saw that Peelander-Z was going to be at The Ottobar in Baltimore, I knew I had to be there! Still, I almost backed out at the last minute, not sure if I could (or should) afford the evening. Only $15 to get in, sure, but figure grabbing dinner somewhere and having a few beers at the show, possibly a purchase from the merch table, and it starts to add up when you're on a tight budget. Bless my brother, he basically said "don't worry about it, we're going!"

Four bands played last night; two of them I was very psyched to see again: Peelander-Z, of course, I had been blown away by when I saw them in Washington DC in early 2012 with One-Eyed Doll - a show which ranks among the flat-out best top-to-bottom live shows I've ever seen (neither are bands you just stand in front of - both are big on audience interaction and participation). Also, a local Baltimore band, Plurals, was on the lineup. I have raved about them since seeing them open for Shonen Knife the last time I was in Baltimore. So, I went in figuring even if the other two bands weren't any good, the night would still be fun.

I've mentioned before that there is a really cool scene happening in Baltimore lately. That was underscored again last night when the first band, Natural Velvet, took the stage. Fronted by bassist/vocalist Corynne Ostermann, they are a moody four-piece post-punk outfit relying heavily on reverb and echoey, distant vocals. They are also fan-frickin'-tastic. Ostermann gives off a coy Hope Sandoval vibe while guitarists Spike Arreaga and Kim Te scratch and slash, creating an ethereal yet agitated wall of sound. They've got an EP up on Bandcamp - check it out. As first bands go, they are one of the better I've seen.

Plurals were simply outstanding. I am a big fan of their modern take on an old-school new-wave sound, from Rachel Warren and Elena Fox providing the faux B-52's harmonies to Michael Bowen's Mark Mothersbaugh-meets-Frank Black lead vocals, combined with angular guitars and plinka-plinka keyboards, they've got the sound circa 1980 down without making it feel dated. Played some favorites including "Manic Depressor," "Mental Illness/Sooner Or Later," and "Clap Clap" (all of which can be found on their excellent Laced With Boniva EP, another Bandcamp offering which you must hear!), along with some I hadn't heard before: about mid-set, Warren took over lead vocals for "Look At The Nerds," seeming to channel both Nina Hagen and Klaus Nomi simultaneously. Simply put, Plurals are one of my current favorites - just wish there was more recorded stuff out there! (Hint, hint...)

I'm not exactly how best to word my reaction to Christopher Nobody & The Nothing. Don't get me wrong, they were quite good, but there was something just a bit off to my ears. My brother drew a comparison immediately to bands like Saccharine Trust which, while not exactly hitting the target, is pretty good jumping off point to describe them. Christopher Nobody shout/sings neurotic, hiccuppy songs while lurching about the stage, occasionally throwing himself bodily to the floor and occasionally stalking out into the crowd. The band was solid, loud and noisy - just the right accompaniment for songs like "I Love My Executioner" and "Sick Sick Sick." But I think somehow I liked the concept behind what they were doing better than the execution. Again, I liked their set and would gladly see them play again - maybe in a different context I'd be more in sync with their performance.

Speaking of not knowing how to describe a band - I've now seen the mighty Peelander-Z twice and am still not able to describe exactly what I've seen...or experienced. You do not simply stand and watch Peelander-Z. You can't. They refuse to let you. You become part of the show, whether you're one of those chosen to come up on stage to take over instruments for the band or don a foam rhino head and pound out a beat on a tom-tom or you're simply part of a crowd-wide limbo contest or circular conga line. Before the night was out, we had been part of a drum circle, watched a human bowling match, and pounded with sticks on pie tins. This old man tends to stay out of the mosh pits these days, content to stay on the edge and help rebound folks back into the fray, but when a Peelander-Z mosh pit breaks out, you can't not be a part of it - it engulfs everyone, and everyone is having a great time. They opened at breakneck speed with "So Many Mike," and tore through crowd faves like "Mad Tiger," "Taco Taco Taco," and "Ninja High School" before ending with the standard show-closing cover of "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun." If you've never experienced Peelander-Z before, do yourself a favor and go see them. They are much fun.

As I said, I really needed that night. It may be awhile again until the next live show I see, but if I only get to one this year, I do believe I chose the right one.

More pics from the show will be up on the That's What I Was Going To Say Facebook page later on tonight - please stop by and, if you haven't already, "like" the page so you don't miss out on any of the fun stuff coming up on the blog!

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