The Skeptics: In a World of their Own
The Skeptics were a band from Frederick through the mid-'80s. They never “made it” in the sense of touring the world or getting big radio play or signing to a big label. Mainly, they played around Baltimore and Washington at now long gone rock and punk clubs, backyards, and basements. “We said we were from D.C because. . . it was easier to say [than Maryland or Virginia],” a band member explains with a chuckle midway through Keith Chester's home-brew documentary The Skeptics: In A World of Their Own. They disbanded in 1989, playing one final show at a Frederick street festival.
Which is all a fine recipe for losing a band to history. Interviewed toward the end of the doc, Baltimore weird-scene figurehead Jason Willett remembers being tasked with recording the band: “They had some very complicated instrumental tracks that they wanted to lay down. Other than that I can't say I remember anything else about the record.” And the movie's interviews don't make a great case for why the band should be remembered when so many other great bands have been forgotten. Goofing around aplenty, sharing small anecdotes, talking about band members' respective styles, and the occasional trippy video effect doesn't add to a case or even much of a substantial introduction to Skeptics newbies.
What ultimately saves the movie is a liberal enough dose of live footage that the thing almost becomes a concert documentary. And if you're among those that maybe don't know who the Skeptics were beforehand, well, you find out pretty quickly that they were an amazing band, a sort of proto art-rock outfit: a little bit Feelies post-punk, a bit mathy, and, generally out there enough to make the Skeptics a little before their time. It's lamented early on in the documentary that they were alternative-sounding before there was alternative music in the mainstream.
And, yes, they were goofy. “They were fun,” a now all-grown-up fan remembers. “They were humble. They weren't a jaded band.” One of their shticks was to take a City Paper, roll in up, jam it in whichever band member's fly, and light it on fire. They weren't a band destined for fame, and Chester isn't trying to change that with this documentary. In A World of Their Own is for fans and folks that can appreciate a great band making music in, sure, a world of its own.
The Skeptics: In A World of Their Own screens tonight, Aug. 6, at the Creative Alliance at the Patterson, at 7 p.m.