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Early Bird Special

May 4, 2007
By

With the first band often going on around 8 p.m, the Ottobar has been starting its weeknight shows a bit earlier these days–a schedule those with 9-to-5′s will heartily endorse, especially on a night like this past Wednesday when the bill featured five bands.

The show was the EP-release party for the new–really new, as in just formed in early 2007–local duo Velociraptor, which kicked off its national tour tonight. We only caught the tail end of its set, and have to confess that we spent those five minutes focusing less on the music than the fact that singer/keyboardist Jen Kruszewski is drop-dead gorgeous. But the music sounded like a faithful enough translation of the skittery beats and intertwining vocals on Velociraptor’s recently released EP.

We were predisposed to like Endless Mike and the Beagle Club based on its name alone, an apparent reference to our second-favorite antagonist–after Open Face, of course–from TV cult classic The Adventures of Pete and Pete. Luckily, the ragtag Pennsylvania ensemble, which started off its set as an eight-piece and later added a ninth member, turned out to be pretty damn good. Frontman Mike Miller’s verbose, rambling folk songs would probably have some charm by themselves, but they really got over on the sheer force of the group sing-alongs and dense wall of guitars (sometimes three at once), keyboards, and more tambourines than we could count.

We’re not sure what we expected from local outfit Avec, having previously only seen a subdued solo set by frontwoman Shawna Potter. But we definitely didn’t expect the menacing bass groove and blaring saxophone with which the band announced itself, and were captivated from there on out. Potter’s voice is a thing of wonder–at turns smoky, then growling, then yelping–occasionally reminding us of Ani DiFranco if she fronted a brooding rock band instead of doing that whole annoying Ani DiFranco thing. And the rhythm section was thunderous, particularly when drummer Scott Tiemann pounded the toms with two sticks in each hand. Apparently, Avec has a new record coming out soon; we promise not to sleep on it.

Avec was a hard act to follow, even for Karmella’s Game, one of Baltimore’s most deliriously fun live bands of the past few years. And while KG wasn’t exactly having an off night, its headlining set did feel a little anti-climactic compared to the triumphant release party at the Ottobar last June for its debut full-length, The
Art of Distraction
. Less than a year later, though, Karmella’s Game is already testing new songs, including the fast-paced opener “The Pit.”

Karmella’s Game has shed the private-school uniforms that were a signature of its earlier shows, but the band’s showmanship is otherwise undiminished, as singer KTO bopped behind her gigantic bank of keyboards, gesturing and air-drumming and whipping her head back and forth in unison with bassist Mandy K. Old favorites like “Skip the Funeral” and “Coming Going Leaving” still have the wheedling portamento synth riffs, gleeful harmonies, and dramatic bridges and breakdowns that would make Meat Loaf envious. While it wasn’t the most exciting Karmella’s Game set by some distance, it was still the best local rock show of recent weeks, thanks in no small part to the supporting acts. And as a bonus, we actually got home before midnight for once.