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A Grand Buffet Show Review Without an “All You Can Eat” Headline

March 14, 2007

Indie hip-hop duo Grand Buffet is from Pittsburgh, but it’d be easy to mistake it as a member of Baltimore’s thriving clan of beat-obsessed noisemakers and eccentric white rappers. As friends and collaborators of homegrown oddballs such as Cex, Dan Deacon, and Bow ‘n’ Arrow, the duo is welcomed with open arms every time it rolls into town.

And after five years of playing the Ottobar every few months, Grand Buffet has won over enough local fans to headline the place, as it did March 4 with a bill full of B-more pals. The show opened with a strange young man named New Age Hillbilly taking his shirt off, making earsplitting noise with a synthesizer, and running around the venue, his belly glistening with sweat as he screamed into a walkie-talkie.

Local MC Height then played a set commemorating the release of his new album, the awesomely titled Winterize the Game. Height isn’t a particularly great rapper, and sounds better when his goonish stammer has another voice to bounce off of, such as his numerous scene-stealing guest appearances on Cex’s Tall, Dark, and Handcuffed, but his self-deprecating persona manages to get by on his understated charisma.

City Paper has been heaping praise on Human Host pretty much since the band’s inception, much of it deserved. But not all of us are entirely sold, even those who count HH frontman Mike Apichella’s previous band, the Charm City Suicides, as one of the greatest punk rock shows we’ve ever seen. Sure, there’s an anything-can-happen electricity to a Human Host show, but once you’ve been to a couple, it becomes clear that most of the time it’s just a new configuration of something you’ve seen happen before.

Those things tend to include: instrumental keyboard-and-drums duets, a bunch of dudes shouting what sound like Iron Maiden lyrics over prerecorded beats, and a girl shyly singing over prerecorded beats with her back to the audience. We’re glad that the band seems to be eager to switch its style up from song to song, but we’re also starting to get impatient waiting for all this restless experimentation to break through to some real next-level shit.

It might be too much to expect Grand Buffet to top some of its ridiculously chaotic past Ottobar shows, some of which were immortalized as live tracks on the 2004 rarities compilation Dicer: The Unheard Funk Tracks. But the duo did at least conquer the modest goal of topping its last Baltimore show, which found GB in sour spirits.

The unfortunate flip side of overtly comedic acts like Grand Buffet is that they tend to attract the kind of desperate extroverts who think they’re as funny as the people onstage, and seek to prove it with constant inane shouting between songs. Grand Buffet doesn’t suffer fools gladly, but last year the two almost displayed contempt for their own fans, or at least the more obnoxious ones. This time, when some morons in the front row thought it was hilarious to shout “Sexual Chocolate” between every song, Grand Buffet parroted the Coming to America reference until it became nonsense, both to placate these morons and to politely ask them to shut up.

In addition to regaining a mastery of the art of heckler control, Grand Buffet got its performance mojo back as it ran through a set of old favorites such as “Pink Deadly” and “Benjamin Franklin Music,” peppered amid material from the upcoming album King Visions. After releasing an album or EP every year from 2000 to ’03, Grand Buffet has been relatively quiet in the past three years, releasing a few compilations and scant new music, so it was nice to hear some fresh jams, even if we’re still more psyched to hear the old stuff.

Jarrod Brandon Weeks (aka Lord Grunge) mostly plays the hypeman and cues up his beats: big, bright synth riffs and pounding drums. Meanwhile, Jackson O’Connell-Barlow (aka Grape-A-Don) rattles off polysyllabic rhymes about topics so earnest and mundane that you can’t possibly take his lyrics at face value: “I wanna be a camp counselor with full benefits/ Your son or daughter has a dog bite, I got a tourniquet.” It’s incredibly goofy stuff, but in a subgenre as dour and humorless as undie rap often is, a little bit of absurdist fun is only a good thing.