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Sports and Classic Rock (Unfortunately Not the Huey Lewis Kind)

July 3, 2007

During the summer, 98 Rock supplements its Monday night local music series at Fletchers with a second weekly concert, this one downtown and outdoors, at the pier in front of ESPN Zone at the Inner Harbor. And it was something of a relief to attend last Wednesday’s show and find the exact kind of trad rock we expect from the station, with none of the unexpectedly high emo quotient we encountered at the last Noise in the Basement showcase we attended at Fletchers.

The atmosphere wasn’t exactly ideal for a rock show, however. The Pratt Street traffic whizzed by, just across a small stretch of dirty harbor water, and the wind and humidity played havoc on the bands’ instruments. And the audience, though at least 100 strong, was so evenly spread out across the pier that the quiet, disorganized applause prompted one band’s drummer to note, “It feels like we’re on a golf course.”

Still, that band, Evolve–a long-running local quartet who’ve already announced plans to call it quits later this year–put on a spirited set despite the conditions. In its 10-song set, Evolve alternated between originals and covers with five of each. Unfortunately, the formula–frequently used by bar bands to prop up their humble attempts at songwriting–did a disservice to Evolve’s own jangly, piano-driven alt-rock compositions by surrounding them with unimaginative classic rock covers like Pink Floyd’s “Money” and a particularly grating rendition of Ray Charles’ “I Got a Woman.” That said, the band’s “Taxman” was a crisp, refreshing take on one of the only Beatles songs that isn’t completely played out.

After a brief break–the best part of an open-air concert downtown: grabbing a burrito between bands–the Deep End began its set. Another quartet with several years under its belt, the Deep End refers to itself as “The best unsigned band in America” on its MySpace page. And while hype on a web site is rarely critic-proof, the Deep End invited the obvious jokes when it wasn’t even the best band on a two-band bill.

Though the Deep End’s well-produced 2006 album The Soul Has Left My Building, on local singer-songwriter label Formstone Music, has its moments, the band’s live show doesn’t offer much other than flat, regurgitated classic rock clichés. Of course, this is coming from a critic whose favorite album of the past six months, Sloan‘s Never Hear the End of It, is 100 percent recycled classic rock–so maybe it’s all in how you use those clichés. After one decent band and one dull one, we just left ESPN Zone glad it was a free show.