Notes From the Underground
The Convocation Of . . . Gathers Its Thoughts
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Think about the number of bands that have formed and dissolved in this city before you ever got the opportunity to hear them. Some of the anonymity in which most bands are born and die is unavoidable, but the scene surrounding punk and hardcore music often embraces obscurity, disregarding the pursuit of publicity and rejecting the mainstream music business and media. The tenants of "the underground" remain relevant, but it is still refreshing to come across a band whose members question the idea that to succeed is to sell out. One of those bands, the up-and-coming the Convocation Of . . . , is exploring new ground in the politics and sound of underground music right here in Baltimore.
Formed in August 1998, the three-piece has quickly made a name for itself here and beyond, despite the fact that the band has played relatively few shows. But then the members are no strangers to the scene. Guitarist Tonie Joy was a member of Universal Order of Armageddon and the Great Unraveling, two respected bands that toured extensively and recorded for the seminal Kill Rock Stars label. Joy has also been an active and recognizable member of the all-ages punk scene and a proponent of places that have supported underground bands, such as the Laff 'n' Spit and the #1 Club. In this ad hoc community, Joy met Convocation bassist Guy Blakeslee, formerly of Behind Closed Doors (and of Day of Man as Man, which also featured this writer), and drummer George France. The music they now make together draws from their roots in hardcore and punk, but incorporates more diverse influences, becoming more accessible without losing hardcore's raw edge.
"The name 'the Convocation Of . . .' is about a gathering of all the various ideas and beliefs and influences we each bring to the band," Joy says, and the combustion of the trio's musical chemistry is evident onstage. The Convocation Of . . . excel in creating dark but catchy rhythms that can entrance listeners' ears and boggle their minds at the same time. Joy's skillful guitar playing combines dissonant postpunk leads with a warped take on classic-rock soloing. Unlike most of the wunderkind guitarists of the moustache-rock era, he shares the musical foreground with his band's rhythm section.
The fact that France's drumbeats seem more appropriate for go-go or hip-hop than rock or punk has been a major factor in setting the Convocation Of . . . apart from the generic postpunk pack. The band cites go-go music as a big inspiration. "Go-go is a very popular music of the people that isn't really recognized by the mainstream," Blakeslee says. "It works because it taps into this vein of energy and human feeling. Early classic rock was like thatthese white guys who were ripping off blues guitarists because they saw [that music] was much more human than the constipated, uptight white popular music."
Personal politics are as important as sound to the Convocation Of . . . . Joy says the band wants to give people outside of the hardcore scene the opportunity to hear its music, but he insists that doesn't have to mean making the music more palatable or mainstream. In fact, he hopes that the band will eventually shake up mainstream and hardcore audiences alike. "I think we're a hardcore band, but only really in the operational or logistical sense," Joy says. "Many hardcore kids are so opposed to the mainstream music industry that they disregard it and anyone who listens to it, which makes them sort of sheltered, which is the opposite of what we want to do. We want to give more people options."
With a five-song 12-inch EP due out this month on California's Gold Standard Laboratories (the label is also home to San Diego band the Locust), the Convocation Of . . . will take its first steps toward reaching that wider audience and achieving its goals. Whatever attention the band attracts, Joy says he plans to act locally, continuing his long-time dedication to local musicians, artists, and businesses that share his grassroots DIY ethic.
"We want to use any money or influence we can get with our music to benefit this community," he says. "I have a lot of Baltimore pride and I want to bring something back here, like establishing a good, stable, all-ages place to play or doing regular benefit shows for local causes." With goals like that, let's hope the band doesn't stay obscure for long.
The Convocation Of . . . plays the Ottobar on Feb. 18 with Love Life and Dame Fate. For more information call (410) 752-6886.