Watching the electronic duo Matmos on the stage in the lot beside Metro Gallery, I was still thinking about the differences between live and recorded music that Amanda Petrusich’s book (see facing page) brought up in my mind. It is particularly apparent with Matmos, because M.C. Schmidt (pictured) and Drew Daniel sit across from each other with laptops and keyboards on the table between them. It is the kind of thing that could be horribly boring. But, goddamn, when Schmidt began playing a roll of packing tape—pulling the tape out, passing it to an audience member and instructing people to keep passing it back as he used his hands and fingers, which he occasionally licked, to manipulate the tension and the sound—it was utterly fucking transcendent.
Since our Best of Baltimore issue is approaching (vote in the Readers’ Poll at citypaper.com/bob/poll), I want to throw in my own vote for Schmidt as the coolest guy in town. “Smoking on stage,” he said, beaming over his cigarette at the beginning of their set, his white hair offset by a brownish gray jacket with a small rip in the back. And he was astounding at last year’s High Zero—even when he was only emceeing, he was funny and charming. He’s definitely the ham of Matmos, but he manages to invest every action with the distinct charisma of his personality (Daniel is also cool as shit: For an old-head academic like me, anyone who writes a book on melancholy has got to be pretty fucking awesome).
Jenn Wasner, of Wye Oak, also showed us how to do it on her homecoming. After Matmos’ set—much of which she watched, rapt, right beside the stage—she was up there with the roadies, plugging in cables, helping Daniel and Schmidt with their gear (Schmidt had a cigarette in his mouth as he carried their laptop table away), and occassionally pumping her fists or tapping out a rhythm on her leg as she scanned the stage looking for her next task. It was only 10 minutes later that drummer/multi-instrumentalist Andy Stack dashed up to the stage. Wasner might be one of our brightest stars, but she’s still a fucking workhorse. And she was heart-on-her sleeve emotional about playing back in Baltimore. Toward the end of her set, she said she’d been thinking a lot about how to express her love and gratitude for this town and all its musicians and artists. When she said “I love you Baltimore,” you could tell she really meant it.
And that’s one of the things about live music—it is always attached to a person, a personality, and a crowd. At the show, ex-CP food-writer Richard Gorelick (whom we’d love to steal back from the Sun) introduced me to the Sun’s Julie Scharper, who is one of my favorite writers. In his introduction to “The New Journalism,” Tom Wolfe wrote about the “features game” in which the writers of feature stories are always in a secret competition with one another as they try to turn small city-life stories into great literature. Scharper, I feel, is my competition, in the best and most honorable way, like when you play a show with a really good energetic band,and you love them but you also want to outplay them and they push you to go further ( I think of Jerry Lee Lewis setting the piano on fire when he had to open for Chuck Berry, but that story has been ruined for me by Lewis’ likely racist intentions).
And I’ve noticed how much that experience of the individuals involved colors my enjoyment of music. As recorded music becomes more ubiquitous, I listen to it less. I never wear headphones when I walk around (I might miss a story that Scharper could end up getting) and I don’t go to the music blogs and stuff like I used to. The CDs that come in the mail pile up. But I listen to a lot more live music and also play a lot more. There is nothing like standing around with a group of friends and making a beautiful sound. Or even an ugly sound. Recorded music is kind of like porn: Sure, they’re pros and they’re probably better at it than I am, but I’d still kind of prefer to do it myself.
After thinking a lot about all these things, I am undertaking the insane project of only listening to Baltimore music for the next year (see the results in next year’s Big Music Issue). I mean, I won’t be a total nut about it—I won’t leave a bar with a jukebox playing or make my wife divorce me by not letting her put on Swamp Dogg or Tammy Terrell—but the only songs my fingers will hit play on will be local or have some local members, so that I could, conceivably, bump into the artists as I walk around town. I know, it’s kind of dumb, and I hate those “My Year of Doing Something Stupid” books. But,every year when we have to do the top-10 lists, I realize I haven’t been listening to much “national music” anyway. I’m sure I’ll miss out on some great things—but I’m also sure I’ll discover other things I never would have heard if I could just play “Blood on the Tracks” for the 10 millionth time. So, if you have any music you want me to hear, send it to firstname.lastname@example.org. You’ll be doing me a favor.