WTMD’s Baltimore Band Block Party Stirs Up Recher’s Ghost
Serving as a fundraiser and an opportunity for Baltimore bands to compete for a $3,000 Guitar Center gift card and a slot at a future show, 89.7 WTMD’s sold out Thursday night Baltimore Band Block Party featured an appropriately diverse lineup. With each of the billed performers given their own webpage for ticket purchases, the act driving the most donations would walk away with the evening’s spoils. Meanwhile, the show alternately served as a site for Baltimore music fans collectively engaging in anticipatory mourning of the coming loss of the Recher Theatre. Recher management announced last week that the venue will change formats, re-branding the rock hall as a night club named The Torrent Lounge.
Upon entering the Recher Thursday night for the first time in years, (having unfortunately missed The Carousel Rogues’ opening set) I was immediately struck by the memorable smell in the venue; a potent mixture of stale incense and spilled beer which must have lingered somewhere in the deep recesses of my mind. The acridity of cigarette smoke long dissipated since 2007’s statewide smoking band, I nevertheless found myself reliving countless shows from yesteryear—Burning Spear, Andrew W.K., Interpol—for a wide eyed 15 year old in 2003, The Recher was a hub of exciting, nationally touring acts.
Tickets for Thursday night’s show sold out Wednesday, and it showed early on in the evening. Attendance seemingly peaked sometime around the end of Cara Kelly and the Tell Tale’s set and the beginning of Cris Jacobs Band. Cris Jacobs’ current namesake project features an inventive combo that works well in support of his heartfelt songwriting style and penchant for stealing the show with occasionally ferocious lead guitar. The one time front man for The Bridge now performs with Jake Leckie on standup bass, Ed Hough on auxilliary percussion and vocals, former The Bridge bandmate Mike Gambone on drums and most notably, Dave Hadley on pedal steel. While a member of The Bridge, Jacobs’ talents were spread over several genres; his folk sensible songwriting often took a backseat for the band’s upbeat funk tendencies. On Thursday, amongst his own backing band, Jacobs’ songwriting and strong, colorful vocals were allowed to shine.
Following Cris Jacobs Band and immediately announcing themselves as “the best band in the world”, Bobby E. Lee and The Sympathizers were a welcome outlier amongst acts of a more deliberate tone. Unleashing a hyper, satire laced set of blues, speed punk and tongue-in-cheek Americana, the band spuriously bantered in thick, fake Southern accents between tunes about the dangers of Communism and implored the audience of what they hoped to be “good, God-fearin’ Americans” to shout “Amen!” and take off their shirts. With all members eventually shirtless and namesake deviant Bobby E. Lee appearing from behind the drum set to take over vocals and onstage (occasionally off, as well) thrash dancing, the band’s caustic banjo-laced punk momentarily overshadow the spectacle they worked to create.
“We’re kind of polarizing,” one of the band’s drunken members told me after their set, in what might have been the understatement of the evening.
Letitia VanSant’s coincidental misfortune of following an act with as much raw energy as Bobby E. Lee and his gang of loveable make-believe miscreants was quickly reversed when she was awarded the evening’s prize of $3,000 to Guitar Center and a set at one of WTMD’s well attended First Thursday in the Park shows. Regardless, VanSant suffered from her set placement. Though her songs seemed apt enough and her talent obvious, the natural letdown after the previous set made her performance difficult to dial into. Her awarded First Thursday performance, I told myself, would probably make for a more appropriate setting to appreciate her songwriting.
With the crowd noticeably thinning out as the night went on, the energy in the building started to vanish– an almost living representation of the Recher’s no longer sustainable format. Following VanSant, The Herd of Main Street were able to rally the remaining attendees somewhat, as their pop-concious country rock found its well-layered hooks ringing well in the old theater. Particularly, guitarist Gena McKibbens dazzled with spectacular slide riffs and a short-lived jaunt on the pedal steel. As the crowd diminished further, The Bellevederes used the evening’s penultimate set to explore obscure funk covers. With a robust horn section and an uncanny knack for selecting lesser known, groovy funk B-sides, The Bellevederes strengthened the already solid and otherwise seemingly impossible distinction they have as a creative all-covers band.
For the remaining stragglers that caught Sick Sick Birds as the evening wound down, the eerily empty venue appeared vast in its bareness. Still, earlier in the evening, Sick Sick Birds vocalist and songwriter Mike Hall had gushed about the opportunity to play in an event supportive of WTMD. “It’s the only station you can listen to and not know every song,” he said. “We couldn’t be happier that they asked us to play. They’ve supported us so much over the years.”
While Hall and the rest of the evening’s performers seemed focused on WTMD’s supportive role and the opportunity presented by the evening’s competitive aspect, it was impossible as an attendee not to reminisce on the venue’s past in light of its doomed future. As the last attendees funneled out of its doors onto a freezing, silent York Road, the still-lingering smell in the hall remained, encapsulating a foregone era of live music.