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Intimate Noise: Snacks and Microkingdom at the Golden West Café May 24

May 30, 2008

Microkingdom | Image by Raven Baker

While the likes of Rolling Stone and New York magazine have christened the Golden West Café as Baltimore’s premiere post-show hangout–a rather perplexing claim as it closes by midnight–the restaurant’s own events have been overlooked. This past Saturday, during the slothful frenzy of Memorial Day weekend, Golden West once again moonlighted as a club with a double bill featuring Snacks and Microkingdom, two local acts with very different takes on improvisation.

First up was Snacks, who generously lived up to their name by bringing along a glowing multitiered punch fountain bubbling with searing ginger gummies floating in homemade ginger beer. After urging the smallish, table-bound audience to partake in the refreshments, the duo of Tom Boram and Dan Breen took up their positions on either side of the makeshift stage–a slightly raised platform by the front window normally occupied by booth seating. Both of Snacks’ sets were short, though heavy on electro-live drum clatter and punctuated with improvised bursts from battling trombones. Breen, in a peaked cap hung with charms, handled most of the percussive duties while Boram, of the alchemist’s beard, twitched behind a stack of keyboards and gadgets.

During the first set, Boram–in full anything-goes mode–stepped into the foreground for a furious bit of tap-dancing. Later, to a backdrop of Breen’s sharp, shuddering cymbals, Boram rigged a contact mic to a balloon and evoked, through furious rubs, an oddly plaintive series of chirrups and bellows. The overall sound was that of joyful, willful weirdness, a thorny, skittering fog of arrhythmic clatter and electro-squelches. Imagine a room full of gangly, hippie-flipping robots toying with water-logged Game Boys and catapulting off each other. Despite the uncustomary second set, the performance felt no longer than a half-hour or so.

Next up, Microkingdom–so fond of appending its name–performed as the Respect Commanders. This evening’s incarnation consisted of core duo Will Redman (drums) and Marc Miller (guitar), along with habitual collaborator John Dierker on sax and visiting, Buffalo, N.Y., keyboardist/accordionist Otto Muller. While the rest of the ensemble were gussied up in the sort of jazzman finery that befits the group’s off-kilter noir–crisp button-down shirts, ties, fitted vests, and such–Dierker, in an unassuming dark T-shirt, stood out in casual relief. When things got a touch chaotic, Dierker remained something of a cyclonic center: all wildly puffed-out cheeks, concentrated shivers, and forceful sax squeals.

All in all, it was a more subdued set than shows past, with little of Microkingdom’s heavier rock leanings. Redman and Miller sounded especially mellow, eschewing any thunder drumming and epic guitar wails in favor of subtle tweaks and flourishes. Guest musician Muller’s contributions on keyboard and accordion were likewise understated, more mood enhancer than attention-grabber. You got the sense they were playing to the setting: With the audience clustered about tables and talking softly over drinks in the dim, gold-tinged light, it did feel a bit like stumbling back in time to a long-lost languorous speakeasy.

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