At noon, event organizers were still grumbling about the fact that city workers had not yet dropped off the stages they had rented. But local band Number started playing its brand of poppy indie rock to a small crowd of beer-and-food vendors and early risers at 12:40 P.M.--just 10 minutes behind schedule. The office blocks on either side of Davis Street gave the small thoroughfare fabulous acoustics that helped the day's bands sound great. The Sidebar's outdoor stage, whose parking-lot setup offered less-than-fabulous acoustics, got a slower, quieter start as Mike Bell played his guitar and sang in a scratchy rockabilly style, using his motorcycle as a prop.
Three and a half hours after the city promised to deliver the stages, they finally arrived. Misery, a Descendents-style pop-punk band featuring two members of Torn Apart, had to play while city workers assembled the Ottobar's outdoor stage. The singer grumbled, but the band delivered a solid performance of aggressive, fun melodic punk. The interloping stage builders nodded their heads along with the music.
As the Maginot Line hit the Ottobar's stage at about 2:30, the crowd started to build. This new Washington-based threesome, featuring Charm City's own Dave Allen on bass, played strong, punchy punk with intelligent lyrics. "The Primate Dynamic," a song about man's inability to escape his primitive mentality, especially pleased the already bleary crowd, as Allen screamed, "We will never recover from the monkey hangover!"
Around the corner at the Sidebar, Sab Grey of Iron Cross was performing his one-man-and-a-guitar thing, his black pompadour shining in the sun as he cranked out a musical concoction that was half Elvis Presley, half Johnny Cash. In between the sets at the Sidebar's outdoor stage, DJs kept the music cranking. Unfortunately, besides the Sidebar's less-than-stellar sound system, the bar was also less organized, with only a scribbled schedule and no staggering of performance times with the Ottobar stage, making it difficult to catch all the bands.
At 4:30, the Ottobar started hosting music indoors as well as out, beginning with Midge, a two-guitar duo that played low-key country-style music with the occasional use of a drum machine. The quiet darkness of the bar, and the softer sounds of the indoor acoustic and jazz acts, provided a welcome, if jarring, contrast to the bright sunlight and loud rock of the outdoor stage.
By the time the High School Hellcats rocked the Sidebar, the bar finally had an outdoor stage and a small but persistent crowd. The all-female Hellcats played dirty old-school punk rock in the style of the Ramones or Bratmobile, helped along by their sincere delivery and fun stage presence. They probably would have drawn an even bigger crowd if they hadn't played at the same time as the Fuses. Jet-lagged guitarist Kevin Trowel forgot some lyrics, and Brendan Bartow's guitar went out of tune in the middle of a number, forcing him to tune during the song. But these little slip-ups just added to the fun as the Fuses brought their New Wave-flavored punk sound to Davis Street.
As the afternoon wore on, the crowds got bigger and the options got even more appealing. Inside the Ottobar, Ron Spencer, formerly of Buttsteak and the Lee Harvey Keitel Band, played smooth improvisation with Superthorn, providing a mellow balance to the Goons' manic rock sound on the bar's outdoor stage. Later, the indoor bill got more of a rock feel with the Great Depression, while Landspeed Record! drew a large crowd at the Sidebar.
After 7 P.M., the heat barely relented, but the crowd grew even larger and drunker, and the music got rowdier. The Twin Six's down-home, straight-up rock 'n' roll provided a soundtrack for several hundred Baltimoreans to pack Davis Street. Complementing Twin Six's raucous set was the Glenmont Popes, who ended up raisin' hell for over an hour of foot-stomping rawk. As the crowd gathered and stretched nearly to the corner of Davis and Saratoga, Popes frontman Rodney Henry (earlier seen hawking his homemade pies at the Anti-Fest's ad hoc food court) sang straight-faced, but grimaced mightily for his blazing, fret-pounding solos.
Slightly cooler air and a much more subdued audience inhabited the Ottobar, where the spacey guitars and airy keyboards of the American provided a relaxed alternative to the madness of the street. Musically similar to the American but with five times the vigor, the Deviled Eggs bounced to quirky electronic folk and shouted lyrics, topping the spastic sound with head Egg Tom Boram's plugged-in and distorted acoustic guitar.
A block away at the Sidebar's parking-lot stage, a tiny crowd swayed to the out-of control, Southern-influenced sounds of Mountain Oyster Cult, which featured a Ted Nugent-like, flag-draped vocalist, a skinheaded guitarist, a longhaired blonde drummer, and a young, hardcore-esque bassist. Completely out of place was hip-hop ensemble 80 Millagrams, the last band to appear on the Sidebar's outdoor stage. The white-boy tag team of three MCs and one turntablist raced through spitfire rhymes and bland music, wisely dropping the "crowd response" part of the show, since the crowd had thinned to fewer than 10 souls by this point.
As the sun finally dropped below the surrounding office buildings, all other acts finished up and all attention focused on the festival's headliners, the Supersuckers, one of the last of the Northwestern Sub Pop grunge-era bands still rockin'. The band's latest album is The Evil Powers of Rock 'n' Roll, and they're all about it; frontman Eddie Spaghetti joked to the crowd, "I like rock 'n' roll songs about rock 'n' roll. And if they have the words 'rock 'n' roll' in the title, so much the better." The band proceeded to prove their preference, playing a generous set of fast tunes with blazing solos and gravelly vocals devoted to the love of a certain genre of music.
Spaghetti took every opportunity to play to the massive Davis Street crowd, joking about babies, beer, and his cheap sunglasses. The set finished with dueling guitar solos and each Supersucker, even the drummer, taking his turn slamming on Spaghetti's bass.
Despite a few warnings from festival organizers to clear the area after the show, most weary revelers continued to revel in the streets rather than catch Garage Sale's grungy mod-surf set inside the Ottobar. A few patrons packed inside the Sidebar to catch the Smizokes' fun, bouncy songs and tight horn section. Later, Spikewrench's fast, throaty Minor Threat-meets-beer-and-nudity act got the exhausted crowd excited again and drinking more.
And as DJ Bump spun down the night in the Ottobar, the thought occurred that this was in fact Baltimore, not some collection of ships from a nearly forgotten port past or a trumped-up chain-store playground for a couple of thousand Midwestern square dancers. It was here, on a tiny street a block from City Hall, with several hundred tipsy revelers, that Baltimore really came out to party.
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