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In Da (Rock) Club

March 29, 2007

(All photos by Frank Hamilton)

It’s probably a measure of how much we love the Death Set that we were willing to pay $10 for what we knew would be a 10-minute set–15 on the outside. That’s a dollar a minute; even Netflix and iTunes offer more value for money. But this was the duo’s triumphant return-to-Baltimore show after Johnny Sierra’s brief exile back to his Australian homeland, and, well, we didn’t name Death Set the Best Live Band in last year’s Best of Baltimore issue for nothing.

Following an incredibly protracted wait–they were supposed to go on at 10, finally rolled on closer to midnight–when we were forced to find alternate ways to entertain ourselves (i.e., drink more), Death Set took the Ottobar stage. That was the first odd part of the evening, considering the band usually crowds the floor with the audience. Second odd part was that second guitarist/singer Beau Velasco was nowhere to be found, replaced with Ecstatic Sunshine’s Matt Papich. No one seemed to want to talk about what the deal was, but this–new? temporary?–Death Set lineup still played a pretty killer set, the metal edge of Ecstatic Sunshine coming out in the cartoon snarl of Papich’s more aggressive, furrowed-brow playing.

While we’re not yet sick of Death Set’s shtick–punk rock drum machine rat-a-tat shot out of an iPod and buttressed by samples of Three 6 Mafia and B-more club; shouting along with the joyous punk Chihuahua shriek of the pint-sized and childishly charismatic Sierra, climbing the walls and spastically rapping along with his samples and looking like he should be cast in a art-school squat version of Oliver Twist–we do think they need to write some new songs soonish, if only to prevent burnout among their Baltimore faithful. But the set did go on for about 17 minutes. They’ll always surprise you.

Baltimore club legend Scottie B then spun an Ottobar-friendly set, light on “tear the fuckin’ club up” rowdiness and heavier on the cutesier, kitschier, cuddlier side of club music’s staple diet of immediately recognizable pop-music samples, starting off with, of all things, a rework of Paul Simon’s “You Can Call Me Al.” (Scottie dropped Dire Straits’ “Money For Nothing” later just in case you needed another fix of ’80s butt rock set to the “Sing Sing” break.) There were the expected, crowd-pleasing ’60s pop remixes–the Beatles, the Supremes, the deathless “Mr. Postman”–and a string of nonclub house and techno tunes, including Thomas Bangalter’s “So Much Love to Give” and that inescapable Switch record with the spaghetti western horns. (If we have to hear that one more time after nearly two years, we’re going to hang up our dancing shoes.) Implacable behind his laptop like an obvious pro as the rather small audience got down, Scottie’s set was the most purely enjoyable part of the evening.

But what’s this?

Baltimore club beef? Even after talking to him we’re not quite sure what Scottie’s problem is with former friend/business partner Aaron Lacrate, but one thing he did want us to know is that while he’s not responsible for the shirt itself, someone who cares about him is.

We weren’t quite sure what we were expecting from Brazilian threesome Bonde Do Role–OK, we were expecting absolutely nothing–but you could have easily guessed “rock band,” considering these kids are grouped with fellow Brazilian indie sensations CSS and still wear Manic Panic in their press photos. We certainly weren’t expecting three “rappers”–two Brazilian Dave Matthews fans just back from a totally bad-ass extreme Frisbee game and one diminutive female cutie with regulation indie-shag bowl cut and squeezed into a pair of none-too-flattering leopard-print stretch pants–with passable Portuguese flows rhyming over a canned version of the Brazilian booty bass beats known as baile funk.

You couldn’t really call Bonde Do Role’s indie-rocker version of baile funk “crude” or “lo-fi” since the real thing sounds like a Brazilian tourist found an ancient Tone Loc cassingle in an Ohio Salvation Army and dreamed himself up a genre on the flight back. And you couldn’t really call BDR’s Alice in Chains samples hipster kitsch since baile funk is just as likely to sample Collective Soul or the Toadies. To go by the baile funk evidence, Brazil is even more obsessed with quoting the recent pop-cultural past than the programmers at VH1. After Scottie B’s own battery of quotations, Bonde Do Role probably felt right at home.

The crowd loved it instantly, the band telling us how they met John Waters earlier in the day and gingerly humping the air like a Pretty Ricky made up of MICA students–it felt like it was trying too hard to be loved. When the inevitable broken-English command to throw our hands in the air finally came, one of our companions obliged, only to quickly roll her eyes: “I’m such a cynical bitch.” And yet we’re not quite sure when Bonde Do Role finally won us over during the brief set–was it during the song that sampled Europe’s “Final Countdown” or when singer Marina Ribatski stuffed the microphone down the front of those stretch pants?–but win us over they did. We’re not sure if there’s an exact term for that unsettling Damascus moment when your hard-won old-folks cynicism slips in the face of corny youthful exuberance, but someone needs to coin one, stat.