Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Baltimore Round Robin

On October 7th I went to go check out the Baltimore Round Robin at the Tralf. Basically, this is a traveling variety show consisting of about 12 bands. The idea is that each band plays one song at a time, rotating around the room with the audience in the center. I arrived early, which gave me plenty of time to wander around and look at each of the different setups lining the perimeter of the venue. I was surprised to see only three drumsets, the rest of the bands seemed to be using combinations of old school analog electronics and laptops, as well as a healthy supply of effects pedals. I hadn't done much research into the groups that would be playing that night, so I had no idea what genre or style they would each be performing. All I knew is that it was themed towards dancing and moving around, as this was the "Feet Night" The previous day consisted of mostly acoustic and ambient artists that were meant to be watched calmly, so it was labelled "Eyes Night." This night was advertised as a mix of "Dance/Punk/Hardcore" and sounded like it was right down my alley.

It was pretty packed, filled with many of the usuals I see at dance parties and the various indie shows around town. When things started we all gathered close in a big huddle around the first guy to play, Dan Deacon, who was also the organizer of the event. He was this big friendly guy who just had a ton of energy and an odd sense of humor. Before he started playing he insisted that everyone "Find a stranger! Now I want you to get as close as you possibly can to their face and just stare at them! Now jog in place! But keep staring! Okay, everybody on the floor, get on your backs, but keep jogging! Now look at the people who aren't doing this with us!" Awesomely, almost everyone in the crowd went along with these activities, and only a few people sat out. It was a crazy enthusiastic group, and we were all more than happy to participate. He then instructed us to all get up, and the second we were back on our feet he busted into a super high energy dance song as the lights all went out and a green glowing plastic skull started strobing and the crowd went into a maniacal dance frenzy. It. Was. Nuts. And the show had only just begun.

I don't remember the exact order of the bands, but they coordinated so that while we were all facing one guy, the next band was getting into place and getting ready to play. So, the second a song ended, we'd hear music coming from behind us, and we all would turn around to watch the next band. The audience stayed wildly animated throughout the entire night, huddling close to each band and dancing like crazy. Some of the stand out artists were a guy who called himself Adventure, he played an upbeat chiptune style of dance music that sounds like the soundtrack to your favorite Nintendo games that don't exist. Nuclear Power Pants (I like that name...) played some punk flavored noise rock, but they all wore purple jumpsuits and giant foam green shark heads...except for the lead singers, who wore a conjoined twin business suit that fused them together at the sides. Everything was black lit around them as well, so it was like an eerie glowing mascot supergroup headed by a two headed punk rocker. Pretty fucking awesome. Future Islands were a favorite of mine, they played some really catchy new wave flavored dance rock, and the lead singer was this big chubby dude that kind of had a streak of that Jack Black "rock!" attitude, making grand gestures and singing his heart out.

It was a really surreal, schizophrenic, almost dreamlike experience at the time. You'd be enjoying a frantic old school techno track being played off of a laptop with projected visuals, then suddenly you turn around and there's a three piece hardcore band thrashing out a quick 2 minute anthem, you then turn to your right as you hear a bass line and now you're watching a girl with a microphone seductively crooning to a heavy slow distorted dance beat, and the second that ends there's an indie band rocking out and jumping around to your left. Each band played 3 songs, which was just the right amount. Every time it got back to Dan Deacon, he had another crazy activity for people to participate in. For the second song he made us get in a circle and have an aggressive dance off, you had to be as big and in your face as possible, then choose someone from the audience to take your place and bust some moves. After ten or so people showed their stuff, he beckoned us all in, and the music swelled to a fevered pitch as the strobe skull once again lit up the room and the crowd went wild. For his third song, he had people form pairs and hold hands while facing each other, then stand in a row to make a sort of tunnel. Does that make any sense? It's hard to describe....basically if you face someone, hold both of their hands, then hold your arms up together so that someone can crawl under the little bridge you've made. Each person would then crawl through, and when they get to the end, they formed another piece of the tunnel with the person who came out behind them, and so on. We were instructed to do this until the tunnel snaked out the exit doors, and all the way back in through the entrance. Dan Deacon exclaimed, "At some point, I should be completely alone in here!" We did it, it worked, he was, and it was awesome.

It was a really amazing show, and I've never been to anything quite like it.

I didn't have my camera, and I haven't found any photos of the Buffalo show, but here are a few awesome shots from the Baltimore performance.

_MG_1452, originally uploaded by pixelateit.

Future Islands, originally uploaded by pixelateit.