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I Got Five on It

January 18, 2008

The 8X10′s weekly Five Bands for Five Bucks night occupies a weird space between a regular gig and an open mic. It’s a booked show, but the bill isn’t announced very far in advance and tickets are only available at the door, as if to concede the primary appeal of the night is that you can just stroll in on a Tuesday and hear a lot of live music for very little money. Never mind what the music is. We can accept the premise that the collective efforts of all these bands might be worth no more than a Lincoln, but they can’t all possibly be worth exactly 20 percent of the cover charge. So with that in mind, we went to Five Bands for Five Bucks on a recent night to figure out who earned the biggest cut of our fiver.

First up was Icarus Rising, an incredibly goofy Washington band whose product-placement lyrics shouted out Facebook, McDonald’s, and Sublime’s 40 Oz. to Freedom, the band it clearly learned its vaguely reggae-ish sense of groove from. Icarus Rising proved to have, by far, the shakiest musical chops of any group onstage that night–when the lead guitarist took a solo, it felt like he was going out on a long tree limb and had no idea how he was going to get back. But it was also possibly the most unique and charming band on the bill. Geek chic has long been a hallmark of hipness in indie circles, especially in Baltimore. But Icarus Rising’s frontman, who wore a Batman T-shirt and earnestly did the shtick where he introduced all the band members by name over an instrumental break in the last song, was so tremendously dorky that no amount of winking could make the band feel cool, which was in and of itself was kind of likable. Let’s say this set was worth $1.22.

Next up was Watershed, an Ohio band that’s been kicking around for two decades and briefly recorded for Epic Records in the ’90s, but is still obscure enough to play fourth down on a five-band bill in a little club in Baltimore as a tour stop. But it was clearly a sturdy, professional unit, with two distinctive vocalists, one low and gravelly and one higher and a little whiny. Watershed probably could’ve had the Goo Goo Dolls’ career if it knew or cared how to write ballads. It was good for $1.05.

The low point of the night was Dog Day Afternoon, a local blues-rock power trio that looked and sounded like a few weekend warriors unwinding by playing a few of their favorite covers after work. They occasionally showed flashes of talent and arranging prowess, but every time they attempted a song that demanded intricate dynamics or a real sense of groove, such as ZZ Top’s “Cheap Sunglasses” or Jimi Hendrix’s “Red House,” it unflatteringly highlighted the band’s musical shortcomings and the singer’s flat Bob Dylan-influenced vocals. It is to Dog Day Afternoon’s credit that its members are big Prince fans, covering “Sign ‘O’ the Times” and playing 1999 on the PA before and after the set. It gets 77 cents.

Also bluesy and local, but considerably younger, were the Flying Eyes, a quartet of kids who formed in high school and look like they either haven’t graduated yet or did so not very long ago. They opened with three rootsy acoustic numbers before plugging in and playing some heavy psychedelia, complete with a fresh-faced singer/guitarist who opened his mouth and let out a surprisingly deep bellow reminiscent of Jim Morrison. The band has upcoming shows booked at hipper spots, such as the Talking Head and Load of Fun, and it’d be interesting to see if those crowds embrace the band as much as the 8X10′s audience–which had no hang-ups about the youngsters’ overt classic rock vibe–and if the band will grow into something more idiosyncratic like, say, Human Host, which appears in the Flying Eyes’ MySpace Top 8. They definitely earned the biggest cut of the night: $1.63.

The last band, Paloma, was by far the least memorable. But it’s hard to hold that against it, since it followed so many other bands and came on directly after the best of the night. But yet another nondescript band regurgitating classic rock influences was the last thing we wanted to hear at that point, and we could only bear to stay for about half the set, so Paloma gets 50 cents. The hard part of a bargain like Five Bands for Five Bucks isn’t the cost; it’s those five hours it takes to hear them all.