Baltimore's Sun Club had two official showcases at this year's South by Southwest Music Conference, but the audience for the second showcase was limited by circumstances beyond the band's control. The quintet was playing at the IFC Fairgrounds, a collection of white tents, games, and exhibits set up in Austin's Palmer Park to resemble an old-fashioned carnival. The few brave listeners before the stage were required to huddle within their hoodies in a light rain as they stood on a thin layer of straw spread over a sea of mud.
The situation failed to dampen the enthusiasm of either the audience or the band, whose members bounded about the stage like kangaroos and yelped like dogs in heat. A big white S and a big white C were lit up in Christmas lights atop their amps. They played songs from last year's EP, "Dad Claps at the Mom Prom," and from their forthcoming album, already recorded at Pigtown's Wrightway Studios but still awaiting a title before it's released this summer or fall.
Lead singer Mikey Powers defied the weather by wearing shorts and a thin white T-shirt, but he compensated by never standing still. He would lunge at the microphone, step back, and lunge again. He boasted a strong tenor, though he tended to get stuck in one gear: climactic fervor, which is ultimately no climax at all. The lyrics were indecipherable through the PA, so there's no telling if they helped or not.
Some of the songs were generic indie-thrash: a blur of nonstop eighth and 16th notes that relied solely on the band's undeniable energy. Powers and Shane McCord paired rhythm guitars, their mops of brown hair whipping in unison; Adam Shane added bass, while Devin McCord played a full drum kit, and Kory Johnson played a pair of floor toms.
But several of the newer songs from the coming album, most notably 'Puppy Gum Gum' and 'Dress like Mothers,' displayed a welcome shapeliness. There would be a burst of notes, then a lull for reflection, then another burst of notes. This kind of punctuation made the songs far more dramatic. And when Shane McCord switched from guitar to glockenspiel or Johnson switched from toms to keys, the bright splashes of melody shone through the storming guitars and drums like illuminated windows in the night. I never thought I'd write these words, but this is a band that needs more glockenspiel, not less.
"We're called the Sun Club from Bawlamer, Murrlann," Shane McCord told the cheering crowd. "This is our last set and then we're driving home."