Round Robin: Revisited

Post Author: , Nate Dorr

Baltimore‘s two-night Round Robbin tour came in prior to CMJ. We already wrote about Feet Night. Then CMJ happened. Our own Armin Rosen offers a fresh perspective on the happenings in his hometown.

I’d like to think that Elephant 6’s tourbus passed the Baltimore Round Robin pack somewhere on I-95 this past week. Between the former’s Holiday Surprise tourstop at the Knitting Factory a couple Saturdays ago and the latter’s two-night stopover at Le Poisson Rouge, New York music fans were treated to performances by pretty much every band from the arguably most important DIY scene of the 90s and performances from pretty much every band from the arguably most important DIY scene of the 00s–all within a whirlwind six-day span. The comparisons are kinda tough to avoid, even if the shows‘ proximity was totally coincidental–after all, if you want to lift up a creative backwater’s music scene by the proverbial seat of its pants, these are the prototypes to follow. The lesson from Elephant 6 is to get eight-ten of your weirdest friends, grab some random brass instruments and tell them to go as tear-jerkingly epic as is humanly possible. The lesson from this past weekend is to get eight-ten of your weirdest friends, move them to a warehouse in an otherwise undistinguished East Coast city, furnish it with a couple laptops, and unleash their demented minds on all the normals. Maybe you, dear reader, will then front a two-night extravaganza as devastating as this one.

The Round Robin was an awesome look at what happens when free-range maniacs are let out of the enclosure, and the weirder, more ethereal, less dancy first night of the tour (which featured the aggravatingly overrated Beach House) proved that Baltimore operates on a refreshingly different wavelength. New York is a town where an extra thirty seconds of tuning between songs has the potential to start a Brooklyn Vegan cyber-riot; in Baltimore, some dude named Blue Leader can scream through a veritable philosophical tract about Star Fox (with a bloodthirsty pack of pixilated sharks projected on a bed sheet in the background) without anyone looking the least bit bored or concerned. Potentially irksome excursions like these were of a piece with the campy exuberance-and DIY minimalism that’s made the Baltimore scene so significant: Even on a musically weak opening night, I was glad to be constantly reminded that these were the same people who’d put on “Jurassic Park: the Play” at Market Hotel just a few months earlier.

As for the music: Santa Dads consisted of two guys beat-boxing over an electric uke, which might have worn thin in a non-Round Robin setting. Not so with at least five other even stranger acts on the bill, and twenty minutes in which to forget just how awkward their last screamy uke-thing was–with the format working in their favor, the Dads established themselves as one of the better, totally non-ironic novelty acts around. But the best band of the night was definitely Thank You, an infectious synth and drum three-piece that came closest to getting a pretty much sedated crowd of weirded-out, hyper-judgmental New York music fans to start shoving each other.

If the first night was a glimpse into some freakish, acid-driven Wham City skull session (just as cool as it sounds, by the way), the second night was like one long, Dan Deacon-arranged orchestral piece. He of the also non-ironic turquoise Flintstones shirt was everywhere on Saturday night–in the pit, behind a laptop at one of the space‘s five temporary stages, looking down from a set of photo risers, literally from on high. Watch my friends make you suckers slam-dance for three straight hours, he seemed to say. And slam-dance they did: to Double Dagger, whose “Condos for the Poor” should make anyone’s financial crisis punk-rock play list; to Nuclear Power Pants, a synth-punk group that performed in Styrofoam monster costumes–even to Limp Bizkit impersonators Height. This was the West Village, so the moshing was closely regulated by a sizable detachment of club fascists, and by the somewhat self-regulating knowledge that you’re in the goddamn West Village. But the ubiquitous videogame video-art, Double Dagger foam fingers and ever-delightful presence of Dan Deacon kept the party as strange and as raucous as your average Baltimore parking lot, and the nonstop round robin format made for precious little downtime.

Tragedy struck about 2 ½ hours in when Dan Deacon’s iPod went missing, assumedly because some fuckwad thought it would make a great Baltimore Round Robin souvenir. Seeing that the only possible second act for stealing Dean Deacon’s iPod is jacking Kevin Shield’s truckload of custom pedals (I exaggerate, but still…), this was a supreme and even historic dick move, although Deacon’s response should go down in the rock annals as well: After telling Blood Baby to play “I Think I’m A Ghost” like, four more times while retrieving his laptop, Deacon presaged New York’s eventual downfall: “You are in deeeecliiiiiiiiiine,” he prophesied, before going into disconcertingly vivid detail: “One day, when the city of seven million is in ruins, you will all come to the city of four-hundred-thousand.” Two songs and six extremely sweaty minutes later, there were probably a few concertgoers for whom the disaster couldn’t come fast enough.