All photos by Joe Perez
Baltimore Round Robin
(le) poisson rouge
Friday, October 17
Equal parts ambitious and ridiculous, the Baltimore Round Robin Tour landed in New York, cramming about 30 Charm City charmers into two 3.5-hour sets. 11 or 12 bands played in a circle, one tune at a time, with a couple of oddball one-offs thrown in randomly for giggles—truly a chance to experience Baltimore’s Technicolor arts-and-crafts scene in once big, salty gulp. The second night, Feet Night, featured more dance-oriented and rock-oriented bands; the first night, “Eyes Night,” reveled in mellow folk, think music, laptop syrup, micro-pop, and random acts of performance art. Turns out, B’more’s art-punk crop (a cross between of Providence neon pop-detournment and Olympia cuddlebuggery) is just as hit or miss as any scene. So the event was not so much about picking highlights (the lively drum-and-drone workout of Teeth Mountain) or lowlights (the inexorable a capella goof troupe Lexie Mountain Boys), and more about rethinking the way you experience a show—basically, a genre-fucking triumph.
Feat #1: Rethinking the rock show. The lights (or in many cases a light) would turn on in whatever corner of the room the band was playing, leaving your particular sight line up to the show demons—one second you were at the front of the stage, the next second you were wayyy in back. And sometimes you actually were in the front since there was really no way the infernal Flickr brigade would want to camp in one spot. Stuck constantly in a new position, you got in touch with actually listening to music for a change. Shop-class noise legends Nautical Almanac took it one step further and did their set behind a sheet, adding even more of a mystique to their homemade toys.
Feat #2: Curated and somehow organized by Dan Deacon, tickets were miraculously only $8 a night, excellent sampler CDs were only $1, the whole crew (56 people by one estimate) traveled in just 3 vans, one trailer, and a vegetable-oil-powered bus. Bands ran sound for each other, shared gear, covered each other songs. Teamwork. Y’know, the stuff a scene is actually supposed to be about.
Feat #3: The whole thing was an exercise in democracy. The hot-as-fuck Beach House, who could be headlining Bowery Ballroom right now, played in between Lexie Mountain Boys and math wonkos Thank You. The 18-year-olds still got a little starstruck seeing Deacon ambling about, but it never felt like there was a headliner, even when Beach House played one extra song. Elsewhere, people took Baltimore’s “everyone’s a band!” theory and ran with it: Blue Leader did Rollins-style slam poetry about video games, Creepers did a living Sifl and Olly routine, Santa Dads beatboxed and played “Oh Susanna” on a harmonica, Cornelius and Pitfur put on a histrionic Medieval Fair play in the center of the room, Mark Brown showed a movie, Show Beast did Simpsons-related breathing exercises. It was less about seeing Baltimore’s bands and more about seeing Baltimore’s good attitude.
Beach House’s Victoria Legrand
Feat #4: Oh yeah, some of the bands were really good. Lesser Gabriel Alvarez walked a line between Jonathan Richman and Mazzy Star, casting a down-to-earth vibe that cut like a knife in between all the weirdness. Ed Schrader just sang a capella songs into a reverbed microphone, but it was haunting and catchy and surreal and intimate no matter where you stood. Teeth Mountain pummeled with noise and drums but always felt inviting and joyous. And hey, even the bands who weren’t good were kind of great since they only got to play three songs. Who couldn’t love that? Go team! —Christopher R. Weingarten