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There Goes the Neighborhood

By Raven Baker | Posted 3/5/2008

This past Tuesday, word was that Rolling Stone was in town. During the day, its envoy had been spotted at Hampden's Golden West Café and Normals Books and Records. Later that night, the mag's representatives headed over to the Floristree warehouse space for a lineup of hometown acts Ecstatic Sunshine and Double Dagger, along with Brooklynites Parts and Labor. Even without the tip-off, it wouldn't have taken long to suss out the paparazzi among the chatty weeknight crowd. Wielding impressive cameras, a couple of middle-aged photographers conspicuously clustered along the stage throughout most of the evening. With their all-business air, one wondered what they made of Floristree's boho casualness, complete with two of the space's boldest cats winding through the audience.

Ecstatic Sunshine was up first, with its recently minted lineup. For a fan whose become invested in a group's sound, there's a sense of end-of-an-era bell tolling when musicians veer off into something quite different. In this case, the group grew from two dudes battling it via guitar with hyper-ferocious glee to a decidedly more introspective three-piece. Nostalgia aside, with Ecstatic Sunshine playing out frequently since the reshuffling, it's been interesting to see the group figure itself out a little more each show.

Since guitarist Dustin Wong's departure, Ecstatic Sunshine has moved heavily toward great washes of reverb. It's pleasant enough but bogs things down a bit. When guitarist Matt Papich launches into some of that nimble noodling it feels a bit like running into an old friend you've missed more than you realized. Still, as Tuesday's performance showed, there's a lot of promise in playing this newfound love for echoing psych-outs against Papich's expressive guitar styling, as evident in the moments when one element receded so the other could stand in relief.

Parts and Labor were up next, with a brand-new guitarist, Sarah Lipstate of solo noise project Noveller. Though "emo" is a dirty word in the underground lately, Parts and Labor definitely hark back to that genre's heyday in the best way possible. Make no mistake, though--it's not as if they sound like, say, Lifetime. The comparison holds up in terms of energy, thanks in large part to their drummer's machinelike thrashing and the flat singsong of their boy-on-boy vocals. Perhaps the best way to describe their set is noise-pop: feedback squall anchored by space-age keyboard tinkle and the two singers' almost-harmonies. Whatever you want to call it, Parts and Labor had the crowd pogoing like NoDoz-gobbling 14-year-olds at their first VFW hall pop-punk show.

Double Dagger closed out the night with mostly new material, though its somewhat subdued set was peppered with older songs like "The Psychic." Singer Nolen Strals mounted the stage with a megaphone, better to be heard during his customary midsong charges through the pit. From the first chord on, a circle fomented in front of the stage, sending those out-of-town photographers scurrying for less turbulent vantages. While energy was high both on and off the stage, it was a mellower, less confrontational set for the group than shows past. Still, at night's end, the crowd ambled out, sweaty and spent. It wasn't the wildest, weirdest night of Baltimore music, but Rolling Stone got a glimpse of community--from the bands giving each other props onstage to Double Dagger pausing between songs to help return one woman's lost shoe--the oft-unheralded charms of a small city's underground.

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