In Baltimore, Music & Moshing on the Fringe

Monday, July 23, 2007

BALTIMORE -- While tens of thousands of folks were munching on funnel cake and enjoying the likes of the Old 97's and Keyshia Cole at the annual Artscape extravaganza on Saturday, there was a whole different kind of bash going down just a few miles away. In a loft on the sixth floor of Charm City's H&H Building, in a setting that would have made Andy Warhol proud, many stars of the city's vibrant underground rock scene played five-plus hours of consistently fun, riveting and out-there music at the second annual Whartscape gathering. It was sweaty, it was loud, it was a bit too crowded -- and it was definitely the best party of the summer.

The ringleader of the evening was Dan Deacon, an oddball man-child who has become one of the most blogged-about acts of 2007, thanks to his fabulous album of hyperactive electronic madness, "Spiderman of the Rings." Just before 1:30 a.m. he set up his collection of samplers and keyboards and trademark "trippy green skull" on a table on the floor as most of the few hundred in attendance packed in around him -- some perched on the stage he neglected to perform on, some standing on rafters or whatever railings were around.

There was less dancing than expected to his revved-up electro-jams; everyone was too busy paying rapt attention to the unlikely local hero who is helping to break the scene. (Note his upcoming appearance at the Virgin Festival.) When nearly everyone in attendance sang along with his set-closing "Wham City," many with arms upraised, it gave off the feel of an art school revival.

Deacon may have been the main attraction, but he was far from the only highlight. Within the realm of art-damaged, non-commercial rock, there was plenty of variety to be found. The best performance of the night came from post-hardcore trio Double Dagger, which played on a makeshift side stage and worked the crowd into a moshing frenzy with its invigorating bass drums and screaming assault. Ponytail's spastic, guitar-shredding rock was also a crowd pleaser, as was the sample-heavy punk party music of the Death Set.

In fact, all nine acts received glowing receptions. People weren't simply waiting around for the headliners; they watched and danced to every band at the BYOB fete. The support was equal to the creativity flourishing on the stages. Baltimore's city slogan may as well be attached to this burgeoning community of bands: Get In on It.

-- David Malitz

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