Review: Hampden Fest & Tobacco at Ottobar

From our good friend Ross:

This was my big saturday

pt. 1
The sun is out, there’s a cool breeze blowing, and you, along with legions of people from all over Maryland have descended on one Baltimore neighborhood.  You’re at Hampdenfest… Hon.

This was my first year at Hampdenfest and I have to say that I’m a little upset I didn’t get down there sooner.  This applies in two ways.  One – what was I doing for the past couple of years that kept me from attending this little neighborhood festival?  Two – Why didn’t I wake up earlier to get a full day out of Hampdenfest?  Regardless of regret over things I may have missed, my time at this year’s fest was enjoyable enough to ensure I probably won’t miss it again.

So, what actually went down?

I got down to Hampden and successfully parked by about 3:30.  The crowd was the mix I usually associate with Baltimore, cool kids and blue-collar adults.  There were, by the way, people everywhere which further reinforced my idea that I probably shouldn’t have been missing this thing every year.  The Avenue was of course blocked off from vehicular use, and the middle of the street was cart after stand after kiosk of clothing and jewelry, free massages (“no catch”), and of course chicken on a stick, to name a few.  All the neighborhoodshops and restaurants seemed to be doing really well too, even with competition from all those vendors out on the street.  I got the feeling that to really get the most out of Hampdenfest, one should probably be willing to blow some money on all the stuff available.  This was also one of the problems.  My girlfriend and I went down with no cash we could really part with, and this resulted in some boredom.  We probably walked the length of the blocked off section of 36th street more than 5 times out of want for something to do.  It’s not that there was nothing there, it’s just that the things we would have been most interested in (like buying records or clothes or food) cost money.  We could have spent much of the day in Atomic Books and its back-room Celebrated Summer Records if we had some real hopes of eventually purchasing something, but alas, we were cashless and bored.

This was remedied first by ‘The Charm City Beard and Mustache Championships’ – which is as awesome as it sounds – and then by the band Red Weasel, who both weren’t good enough to be playing the stage Sick Weapons and Double Dagger would later be on, and better than I originally expected (unheard of band of middle-aged men as they were).  After this we got some over-priced, dripping-with-grease spring rolls, it was back to the 36th & Falls stage to see some of Sick Weapons’ set.  I’d actually been interested in seeing this band since I first heard about them more than a year ago and they didn’t disappoint, unfortunately I wasn’t ready be be an ‘active’ crowd member until spring roll digestion was further along, in other words, when Double Dagger’s set started.  This is what I came for – missing both the Masks release show and Whartscape, I was greatly anticipating Double Dagger.  Unlike Daniel, who isn’t as big a Double Dagger enthusiast as myself, as indicated by this, I knew what was coming, and I was ready to be part of it.  Of course everything thereafter is kind of a blur, there was a lot of running into people, screaming along with Nolen, getting hit in the teeth, it was good.  In fact, this was one of the more intense Double Dagger crowds I had been a part of, despite the small number of people doing something other than standing and head bobbing, we were a rambunctious bunch, and I had to take a few breathers from all the pushing and shoving.  Double Dagger’s set had both Ragged Rubble favorites (“Luxury Condos” and “The Psychic”) as well as the majority of the tracks from both More and Masks.  It was a great way to close out the day, and afterwards I had time to get back to Towson University, get some more cash, and relax for a bit at a friend’s apartment before my evening began…

pt. 2
I left my friend’s place at around 9 (when music was supposed to start that night at the Ottobar) only to arrive to a crowd of people waiting for anything to start.  It was another show that had abandoned its schedule at the Ottobar… shocking.

Tobacco, Junk Culture, and Dreamend @ the Ottobar

Dreamend
To be honest, I needed the rest before more music but I really felt bad for people in the crowd who might have been sitting in there for more than an hour.  Fortunately, the crowd was really enthusiastic, in spite of the delay (or maybe as a direct result of an extra 30-45 of liquoring up, who knows?).  Dreamend (the guitarist/bassist for psych-gasm Black Moth Super Rainbow, and a drummer, who I believe also plays with BMSR, but couldn’t be sure) came out to a very positive crowd reaction, and started some really post-rocky stuff accompanied by a run-of-the-mill video show.  This really pleased me as it was both unexpected, and perfectly suited for my much-needed relaxation.  By the end of their set they had broadened the scope a little bit and I got a very Japandroids-esque vibe from them.  Fortunately/Unfortunately, the drummer was dealing with a bunch of little fuck-ups (he clearly partook in the aforementioned liquoring-up) and it marred the set a little bit.  However this may have been a positive for the guys overall, they ended up joking about how drunk he was, and there was one of those real connections between crowd and band where everyone’s in a good enough mood to forgive missing the snare every once in a while.

Junk Culture
This guy playing is what pushed me from ‘wants-to-go’ to ‘going’.  My friend is in Secret Mountains and Junk Culture had opened for them (in New Orleans I believe?) apparently blowing them all away with his set.  I heard the West Coast EP about a week before this show and was hit with a similar reaction.  The description he originally gave me, “like Girltalk, but if you didn’t know any of the samples” still holds up.  The music is a solid hook which sticks around for a little while, then gives way to another solid hook; add video loops which are switched on stage,live vocals, and a real drummer for live performances and you’ve got a recipe for success.  The crowd was pretty pleased by my estimation, but this was not enough for Junk Culture’s Deepak Mantena, who really wanted the crowd to pull in tighter around the stage and move more.  I felt bad being too tired to get involved, cause his stuff was really dancy.  At one point he laid down all the samples he needed for a track and got off stage jumping around to get people involved, it worked for a little while, but everyone soon resumed their prior subdued stance.  My girlfriend and I discussed that Junk Culture’s sound on record (samples, just samples) was really perfect for a recording, but the wise addition of a drummer and live vocals really made the music of Junk Culture more entertaining for a live set.  It was this that had me so impressed with the Junk Culture set – after hearing the EP a bunch of times on repeat, the music was still fresh and different when played live.  The same could not be said for the majority of Tobacco’s set…

Tobacco
While this guy didn’t impress me, his set was still really solid.  The crowd loved it, he just fell victim to something I personally don’t like when seeing electronic music live – his songs sounded the same live as they did on the album.  When I saw Neon Indian at least there was some extra guitar (even a solo or two if I remember correctly).  Nothing like that took place for much of Tobacco’s set.  However for the end of his set and the encore, the guys from Dreamend came out, and after the drummer had offered what I thought to be a very sincere apology for his playing during the Dreamend set, they were off and running.  They sounded more fleshed-out than Tobacco on record, but more harsh and dark than a BMSR set.  It was a pleasant turn.  And best of all for me, it reminded me of the string of Nine Inch Nails shows I saw over the past couple years (that’s by the way a very good thing).

My big saturday ended in good night’s sleep, awakening to find my ankle and neck totally wrecked by Double Dagger, and going to work, where I typed this little number up.

–Ross

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