THEY WERE FOR years (and four albums) Washington's great power-pop hope -- Grin, featuring guitarist Nils Lofgren (later supported by his brother Tom Lofgren on rhythm guitar), drummer Bob Berberich and bassist Bob Gordon.
After Grin disbanded in the mid-'70s, Gordon (and Berberich) played with the Reekers (forerunners of the Rosslyn Mountain Boys) and Crazy Horse's semi-house band Gravity, among other groups. However, an occasional numbness in his hands that had been attributed to strain or perhaps arthritis was diagnosed in 1986 as multiple sclerosis (MS); and Gordon is now completely disabled and confined to a Rockville nursing home.
His medical bills were assumed by the state of Maryland only after his personal assets were completely exhausted, so several of Gordon's friends and former band mates are joining forces for a special benefit concert Sunday at the Bayou. Berberich will be playing some old Grin material with Tom Lofgren's Newkeys, the Nighthawks have enlisted the extra guns of Tom Principato and Big Joe Maher, and the Underwood-Cotter Band and maybe a sign-in mystery guest or two (Nils has been invited, of course) kick off the action at 8. Damian emcees. Tickets are $12.50 at the Bayou box office or TicketCenters, or by phone charge at 202/432-0200. Proceeds from the concert will be used to establish a trust fund for Gordon's 11-year-old son, with part being donated to the area MS society. For more information call 301/230-3485.
On a rather eerie note, Grin was the opening bill on a 1971 Armory concert by Faces, whose bassist Ronnie Lane is now also disabled by MS and who has been the beneficiary of a number of all-star benefits.
HARBOR LIGHTS: For all its kitsch (and in some sections it's overwhelming), Baltimore's Inner Harbor is a prime downtown magnet for early nightlife -- that gray area of time after work and before dinner when an upward mood swing is indicated. The various views of the water, particularly at sunset, and the boggling variety of carryout foods, makes it a true moveable feast for the quiet and solitary.
However, some of the full-service bars have an almost frenetic desire to impose jollity on its patrons, a style that ranges from camp (Phillips, with its Dixieland muzak) to tootsie-cutesy (hula-hooping Hooters waitresses in hot pants). The neo-classic American Cafe has a happy-hour pianist Wednesday through Saturday, but even the AC succumbs to a slight case of meet-market syndrome every once in a while.
So for a quick sit-down, unwind, transitory drink with the music on cassette (bartender's choice, but perhaps open to discussion) and at talk-over volume, we like the Bun Penny, a small bar with a handful of twofer tables at the back of the gourmet/wine market in the Light Street Pavilion.
The Bun Penny carries nearly 200 beers from all around the world (at least, that's how many it displays) and a handful on draft: Guinness and Double Diamond, the spectacular Hacker Pschorr and the local Towson brew, Oxford Class. There are three serving sizes for the curious drinker -- 10 ounces for $1.95, 20 ounces for $3.25 and 23 ounces for $3.50 -- plus a shot-size mug for tasting. And if you want to find out whether you have a taste for beer, you should investigate the tastes of beer -- bitter, pale, hoppy, malty, smoky, caramel, cherry or rooty -- and the types: porters, lagers, pilseners, ales, stouts, seasonals. Gradually, of course.
Interestingly, although several nonalcoholic brands are on display (Kaliber on the bar, Moussy in the market's cooler), a group of biz suits seeking no buzz were told that the zero proofs were "out of stock." That is probably not a step forward.
Bun Penny also carries a baker's dozen wines (none regional), complex but not excruciatingly unusual sandwiches (beef bourguignon?) and nibblies of the cheese and fruit variety. However, as the menu points out, the kitchen offers only one dessert, what it considers a killer cheesecake. Well, we've had Ms. Desserts chocolate raspberry cheesecake from around the corner, and that is to die for. We nearly did.
Meanwhile, somebody ought to do something about the parking at Harbor Place, which is so difficult it discourages frequent commuting. The local hotel or multi-level lots are no bargain, even if you can figure out how to get to them through unfamiliar territory and traffic; but the parking meters alongside the Light Street Pavilion cost $1 an hour (in quarters only, of course). And if you're late getting more change -- well, the price of an expired meter in the City of Baltimore is a whopping $17. Don't ask us how we know.
FERMENTING REVOLT: Been wondering how the area's microbreweries would fare in the great budget crunch? Well, think warm thoughts, at least briefly, about the congressional conference committee; it struck a blow for the micros.
Under the old laws, big-name beer companies paid a federal tax of $9 a barrel; smaller brewers paid $7 for the first 30,000 barrels. But while the new budget agreement doubles the rate for the mass producers to $18 a barrel, breweries producing under 60,000 barrels a year -- which not only includes all the regional companies, but also the "major micros" such as Sam Adams and Anchor -- still pay only $7. The reasoning was that increasing the tax on small brewers might have crippled them without adding much real revenue to the federal pot.
The barrel tax exemption may help offset the traditionally higher production costs for small and custom breweries, but all beer companies will suffer from the added six-pack sin taxes. Brewers have already begun to see a new sort of trickle-down economics, a "buy down" pattern. As the chairman of one regional brew put it, "The folks that used to buy us buy Michelob, and the ones who used to buy Mick are buying Stroh's."