Author: Debbie Biewer
The Baltimore local scene is alive and well, with a strong following of all ages. Venues like Baltimore Soundstage are working hard to promote local music, including both quality cover bands and original artists. While Baltimore may not compare to the 90’s Seattle music scene (in that it hasn’t created its own movement of music just yet), it steadily and consistently supports local artists and provides opportunities to connect to audiences, promotors and more.
A great example is the October 10th event, organized by 24-7 Entertainment, at Baltimore Soundstage. Described as “Baltimore Music Day”, the line-up included This September, The Goons, Bridge to Divide, Fatally Yours, Inhaler, Push, and Black Angel Down. Billed as an all-ages show, it rang true—the audience included fans from high school into retirement. Happy Hour and Drink Specials were advertised but was clearly not the draw for the crowd—attention was focused on the music rather than the bar. Baltimore Soundstage gave up precious Saturday night primetime to host this event, demonstrating the venue’s commitment to local artists and their fans.
Throughout the night, the bands brought a variety of musical influence and stage presence to the crowd. The event gave them an opportunity to present completely original music to a crowd that may not be familiar with their work. Some fans came and went, clearly there to support their favorite bands, but a core group stayed for the 7+ hour event. From the comments overheard throughout the crowd, every band acquired new fans that night.
This event was definitely not one-size-fits-all. Each band brought a different focus, different level of energy, and unique lyrics with a rocking sound. Baltimore band Push played in-your-face rock to a mellow crowd. Head nods and tapping feet kept rhythm as Push opened with the four-count “Do What You Want”, flaunting a slow Metallica or Alice Cooper influence. Geo DeCampo’s vocals offered an interesting sound, but there were not a lot of surprises in the set—the music was steady and consistent. The band is working on a new album, which is intended for release in 2016.
Bridge to Divide, a band originally from Westminster, threw a metal sound into the mix. Shifting, unpredictable Tool-like rhythms supported a rock sound that had an interesting complexity. Vocals and melody brought to mind Metallica meets Pink Floyd with a Dream Theatre twist. “What Side Are You On” excited the audience as Elliott Levy generated a rolling drum pedal and Dave Costello belted out a growl. Their website, https://www.reverbnation.com/bridgetodivide, lists additional dates around Baltimore and Washington. Find them if you like an old-school metal sound!
Inhaler took the stage with a clear message: Heavy Rock, period. With a contrasting nice-guy smile, Shawn Singer crouched at the edge of the stage and snarled at the audience, belting out songs with a bad-ass voice and an occasional scream that filled the intimate venue. The fan favorite, “Apocalypse and Acid Trips” started slowly, and then built to a driving rhythm like a train rolling through Baltimore. Inhaler ended their set with a classic rock-and-roll song that sent the audience into a head-banging frenzy as they tried to keep up with the shifting speeds of the song. For more information, find them at http://www.inhalermusic.com/.
Baltimore band Black Angel Down rounded out the night perfectly—even their sound check was fun. Funky beats and bouncing steps propelled their music into the audience and even out the front door. The band’s energy was palpable, and although the fans were mellow, they were completely attentive and connected to the music. Black Angel Down brought a professional sound and an air of experience that elevated the playing field—their comfort level on stage glowed brightly. As they sang the lyrics “You’ll See the Better Part of Me”, it was clear they brought the better part of the night with them. Throughout the metal explosion was a woven thread of R&B that distinguished them from the others. One song opened with a hint of Guns & Roses but then turned a path and became a journey of their own. Nokio’s Orioles cap and glasses gave the misleading impression of a calm and quiet nerd, but as he belted out lyrics shouting “Do you know who the FUCK I AM?” he owned the audience and established a rock presence that had every person in the venue watching him intently. The synchronized four-part harmony matched perfectly with the lyrics and rhythms, and the audience kept time head banging, with devil horns in the air. Energy accelerated towards the end of their set. Ripping guitar solos and clashing cymbals electrified the air, while Nokio moved so smoothly, he proved he would be a worthy contestant on Dancing With The Stars. Black Angel Down have had success touring beyond the Baltimore-Washington area and can be found opening large shows such as Shindig Festival 2015. For more dates, find them at http://www.blackangeldown.com/.
Closing the night, This September switched gears and brought forth a Bob Marley/Lenny Kravitz influenced sound. Clean, silent rhythm breaks punctuated their reggae sound, and band members sporting dreadlocks and a knit panda-bear beanie played to the crowd with ease. The music seemed to come from within and be a way of life for these guys rather than something that required effort to produce. On lead guitar, Mike McCulloch never cracked a smile, picked out notes as though it was simple, then eased into a fantastic guitar riff that was worth attending the event for. Bassist Sam Philipp moved with the music, slowing as it slowed, ending the evening with clean beats matched perfectly with Jeremy Fleming’s drum rhythms. It was a good way to come down from the heightened frenzy of the metal—to smooth easily into a Jamaican sound and into a satisfied, fulfilled trance. Though the band identifies themselves as alternative rock, they have a wonderful reggae influence and deserve attention. Find them at http://thisseptember.bandcamp.com/.
But the surprise of the evening came from the third band, hailing from Annapolis: The Goons. This was the band that startled the crowd; this was the band to watch closely. Comprised of five young men, it was hard not to call them “kids”, because in fact that’s what they are. On vocals, Nick bopped along to “A Flat Box” with a funky, strong bass-line that was reminiscent of Brian Setzer, sliding across the stage with impeccable rhythm and powerful presence. The band’s second song, “Test the Waters”, began with a slow swinging rhythm and then moved into a pounding, Doors-like sound, then back again. “Gas Love Child” had a completely different feel. Nick insisted the crowd came closer and put their hands in the air, waking up the venue and starting a spark of energy. Playing good old rock-and-roll, all five band members seemed to just want to have a good time, and it showed. A sense of humor came through in the rock-rap lyrics and the crowd responded. On occasion, the singer was so into the music that he flailed around the stage, needing far more space to express himself than the stage had to offer. Vocals were not always perfect, and needed polish to become more precise, but it didn’t matter. What the band lacked in discipline, they made up in spirit. During “Revival”, the music bounced from rock to rockabilly to classic and back again, and the five guys gave it all they had, despite the fact that there was not yet a full crowd. On guitar, Jacob and Paul complement each other well, and on drums, Nick kept the band moving with driving, clear rhythms. Closing their set with “Who Ate My Cookies”, Nick displayed an Eddie-Vedder-like passion as he sang, and the band’s performance would have fit right in with a Woodstock crowd—earnest, fun, good-spirited, and unwilling to be boxed into only one genre. They didn’t seem to take themselves very seriously—but, perhaps, they should.
After their set, we were able to talk with The Goons. We found them fun, frisky, and fully unaware of their impact and how good their original music is. They appeared to be doing it because they loved it, without trying too hard to build it into something more. If this is the case, it will be a shame, because this band, especially as writers, have a lot of potential.
Interestingly, the band writes the music first and then fits in the lyrics. Each song is so different, and each sound brings to mind a different genre, so we asked them what they consider to be influential. Their responses were as vast as the different sounds they offer. Favorite bands include Led Zeppelin, James Brown, Radiohead and Hendrix. On bass, Mike infuses John Bonham rhythms into his writing, and the team describes their songs as a “metamorphosis of all our styles and personalities.” The James Brown R&B is evident, but the swing music sound is even more pronounced even though the band doesn’t list that as an influence. Though they have only played a total of 15 shows, they were a crowd favorite at Baltimore Soundstage—but they don’t seem to know it yet. Founded in 2013, the group of friends decided to try out for their high school Battle of the Bands. With only one month to practice together, they won second place and decided they were hooked. They began writing original music and expanded their set list quickly. One goal was to play a different kind of rock. Though they love metal, they found that it is often negative, or frustrated. They decided to create a kind of metal that was “more energetic than angry”—and they appear to be on the right track. With positive energy and positive vibes, they band rocks the audience but leaves them with a good taste in their mouths. So we thought maybe they need to be better understood, and asked, “If you could tell the world anything about your band, what would you say?” In response, they said “that we’re just a couple of goons”, “we’re working toward the next level”, and “we want world peace”. Ranging from a desire for humor to a desire to change things for good, these guys simply don’t take themselves too seriously. But take note: this is the band to watch. Here’s hoping they keep going toward the next level, and bring that post-high-school energy along with them!
A common theme among several of the bands was a lack of utilization of social media opportunities. Face book pages were sparse, lacked frequent posts, and failed to display the value of original music created by the band. A suggestion to all: use what you have! At the event, as crowd members found a band interesting, they immediately went to their Facebook pages to find out more. If information was not there, the fans began to lose interest. If information was robust, the fans “liked” the page and signed up to learn more. This is a great opportunity to build a stronger following—don’t miss out!
For the fans: visit Baltimore Soundstage, attend a local music show, and open your mind. You will find hidden gems and surprises that are well worth it. Mingle with the bands before and after the show, post a review on their social media pages, and support them. They will be the globally successful bands of tomorrow!
*Unfortunately, rush-hour traffic jams prevented a review of Fatally Yours, but we look forward to seeing them soon at another local music event.
Many thanks to contributing writer Debbie Biewer