Also: this album is good
December 18, 2006
So I’m spending the next couple of weeks in Virginia and Baltimore because it’s Christmas and because I’ve got a wedding to plan. And I’m going through that weird sort of disconnect that happens when you leave your hometown and then realize that it hasn’t stopped changing while you’ve been away. Case in point: the Talking Head, a small concrete dive a couple of blocks away from Baltimore’s City Hall. The space used to house the Ottobar, which for years was the only half-decent live music venue in the city, the one reason touring bands started stopping between Philly and DC. The club had decent sound and great booking, and it was the only place in town with either of those things. The White Stripes played the old Ottobar, and so did At the Drive-In and any number of emo bands that blew up later. After a few years, the Ottobar moved to a bigger space further uptown, and the old space was empty for the better part of a year. The Talking Head started in a midtown rowhouse, and I’m not sure if it was a legal space or not. But after a few months, the guys who owned it moved it into the old Ottobar space. The Talking Head was never as professionally run as the Ottobar; they’d have shows most nights of the week, but most of them would be shitty local noise bands that didn’t draw anyone. It was more of a clubhouse than anything else. Something was always falling apart, and they remodeled the upstairs lounge area more times than I can count. Last night, there wasn’t any glass in one of the upstairs windows; someone had nailed a giant plywood board over it instead. The foosball table was busted. Beers were two for $3 before eleven. And last night was probably the last time I’ll ever see that space. I’ll miss it.
After its big New Years Eve blowout, the Talking Head is closing. Someone told me that the hospital nearby was expanding, that all the businesses on the block had been bought out and were set to be demolished. Last night was the last edition of the Taxidermy Lodge dance party, an indie-kid weekly that started at another bar and then moved to the Talking Head when the first bar moved down. The Taxidermy Lodge guys were the first people to bring Diplo to DJ in Baltimore; they’ve maintained a steady relationship with that guy ever since he was just a DJ at a fun Philly dance night and not a world-travelling pseudo-celebrity. They brought Diplo back last night, and it was a rare opportunity to hear Diplo DJ in a cramped hovel instead of the expensive superclubs he routinely fills in New York these days. I thought it would also be a rare opportunity to catch up with randon-ass Baltimore acquaintances, but I barely saw any of them. Further weird disconnect: I spent a lot of the night talking with people who were mad about some shit I wrote months ago. (Quick clarifications: I don’t hate Spank Rock. I like Spank Rock. That album is pretty good. I also don’t hate Low Budget. He puts out good mix CDs, and his involvement in the Bmore Gutter Music mess was, I’m told, minimal. And it’s stupid to get all huffy and ideological about music, which is sort of what I was doing. So.)
So the Talking Head was a deeply familiar place that had become unfamiliar in some weird and bittersweet ways since the last time I’d been there. And I still had a great time, which is largely because Diplo is an excellent party DJ; I basically can’t not have fun at his parties. The whole Hollertronix aesthetic doesn’t feel as revolutionary as it did a few years ago; these days, it’s totally commonplace to hear DJs fly headlong from Southern rap into 80s synthpop. Now that the novelty’s gone, though, it’s easier to hear all the little things that Diplo does totally right: building peaks and valleys, cramming lots of big songs together in clumps and then stretching out between them, finding interesting connections between tracks that don’t have much in common. Diplo was one of the first out-of-town DJs who made a big deal out of playing Baltimore club music, something that not everyone in Baltimore is happy about. Last night’s set might’ve leaned a little hard on club; when he cut from the original version of “What You Know” into the club remix, it felt like messing with perfection. But he also had a steady supply of local anthems: “Percolator,” “Doo Doo Brown,” “Gypsy Woman (She’s Homeless),” “Jiggle It”; I’ll never get tired of seeing sweaty mobs of people lose their shit to those songs. And I’ll also never be mad at a DJ set that finds room for “Around the World,” “Da Funk,” and “Music Sounds Better With You,” all at totally different times in totally different contexts. I had to drive back to Virginia, so I left at two, the time when bars close in Baltimore. As I was on my way out the door, Diplo yelled that he’d be keeping it going until three or maybe later. Nice to know some things never change.