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Bigger In Baltimore: Big In Japan with Katrina Ford, the Water, Infinite Honey, and Avocado Happy Hour at The Ottobar, Jan. 7

January 11, 2011

Big In Japan, once a fairly quiet, low-key, live-only Lake Trout side project, has become an increasingly formidable entity unto itself over the last few years, reaching out to other bands in the Baltimore indie scene and mixing it up more than in the past, and will this year finally start releasing studio recordings. And it seems like the turning point was its August 2009 residency at the Windup Space, which featured guest appearances by members of Arbouretum and Celebration, among others. Since then, collaborations with Arbouretum on its upcoming album and last year’s self-titled debut by the supergroup the Coil Sea followed, and Katrina Ford of Celebration has continued working on songs with Big In Japan. And so they kicked off 2011 together, with Ford sitting in on Big In Japan’s set at the Ottobar on the first Friday of the year.

With guitarist Woody Ranere also playing with Big In Japan on Friday, bassist James Griffith, who’s been keeping busy as a member of UNKLE lately, was the only member of Lake Trout not onstage at the Ottobar show. Ed Harris, who plays guitar in Lake Trout, fills in well as a bassist, with a busy, nimble-fingered touch that contrasts nicely with Griffith’s more minimal approach. After a couple of instrumental jams, Katrina Ford and a second guitarist filled out the band to a sextet, and would be on and off the stage throughout the set performing new songs like “Mockingbird.” As impressive as Ford’s big, otherworldly warble can be on a record, it was kind of a shock to watch her talk and joke around for a moment before her first performance with the band, and then sing into the same microphone, and sound exactly as she does on Celebration albums, no effects or studio trickery necessary.

As good as Big In Japan was, though, the band was damn near upstaged by its increasingly great proteges the Water, whose instrumental jams are driven by a similar mix of drums, guitar and keyboards, but pack a bigger payoff in terms of melodic development and dynamic climaxes. And that the Water’s big epic sound is made by just two guys, who are constantly playing parts, looping them, and switching instruments, while a big DIY light display flashes behind them, makes the Water’s live show all the more impressive.

Earlier in the evening, the show started off with a couple of enjoyable but less overwhelming bands. Avocado Happy Hour is a duo with an often quiet, restrained sound that ended up filling the room with big synth bass tones. And Infinite Honey, which in the past has often performed as a duo, was fleshed out to a quartet on Friday, which gave the band’s indie-pop songs a welcome amount of muscle, particularly on the couple of standout songs that featured two guitars and no keyboards.

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