With their homecoming show, a more synthy Wye Oak joins the continuum of Baltimore's experimental scene

The guitar is dead and Jenn Wasner and Andy Stack of Wye Oak know it. On Saturday, in the Charles Street Parking Lot show next to the Metro Gallery, the beloved duo who recently released their fourth album, "Shriek," a synthy seachange that makes an end-run around the loud-quiet-loud shtick of their past three records, appeared much more interested in opening minds than playing national local rock star. 'Civilian,' best known for appearing in an episode of "The Walking Dead" and raising their profile significantly, was couched in the final cluster of songs like it was no big deal, and they half-apologized before playing their excellent, Internet-celebrated cover of Kate Bush's 'Running Up That Hill.' And then there were the opening acts, both pulled from Baltimore's avant-garde: Wume, a drums and drone-synth duo named after a piece of nerdy Krautrock trivia, and legendary electronic duo Matmos. There is also something or other to parse about all three acts being duos here — what exactly I am not sure, other than hey that's pretty cool and another tell that perhaps, the proper rock group template is on its way out.

The show appeared to be a savvy move by Wye Oak to position themselves within the continuum of the city's experimental scene. And indeed, the moments of calm before a Wye Oak song usually breaks out, in which now, synthesizers and bass climb around each other, swirled up out of the parking lot, echoed off of Tapas Teatro across the street and dropped back down, creating something that at least for a few seconds there (before it was answered with the group's pop sensibility), wasn't all that different from Wume. That Wye Oak's set started with the "Weird Science" score synths of 'Before' had the effect of creating some sonic cohesion between the opening acts and slightly more digestible closer as well.

But this turned out to be a jarring lineup for the sold-out crowd. Because it was still daylight out when Wume took the stage, their menacing ambient tracks functioned mostly as background music to a small crowd that seemed uninitiated or just plain disinterested. Matmos though, were another thing. You can't exactly blame those who were there for Wye Oak for being bored by Matmos, the high-concept duo of M.C. Schmidt and Drew Daniel, but the amount of blabbing going on during their patient performance was maddening. Lots of way too loud inconsequential talking, like the murmurs under Weezer's 'Undone (The Sweater Song)' in surround sound; a boozy moron who spotted a silly brightly colored baseball cap near Daniel's laptop and spent 10 minutes yelling "put on your hat." The kinds of people that think "opening band" is synonymous with "crappy," not realizing that hey, at some point, all headliners were openers.

Yeah, Matmos make "difficult" music, but Schmidt and Daniel are funny guys with a slob and snob schtick on stage (Daniel wore a tie-dye T-shirt, Schmidt a suit) and they move around as much as they can seeing as how they're tied to a keyboard and a laptop, so this isn't exactly dicking off on a computer stuff that only jerks like yours truly enjoy. And hell, they were responsible for the most crowd-pleasing part of the whole night: Schmidt pulling out a roll of packing tape, placing it close to the mic and unspooling it, unleashing that familiar sound when tape is pulled (kind of like a robot farting). Daniel wove blips and bloops around it, incorporating it into the song; just another musical smear in the composition. In short, Schmidt was "playing" packing tape. Then, he began feeding the tape into the crowd, who pulled it to the back of the parking lot, responding to Schmidt loosening or tightening his grip, creating out-there gorgeous noise out of a household item. It was a killer gimmick in the Matmos mold and a throwback to when experimental music was as much Zappa-esque fun as it was professorial seriousness. But nah. PUT. ON. YOUR. HAT. PUT. ON. YOUR. HAT.

The whole event — an outdoor, noisy, electronic, improvised show for the first two acts, with a half-indie rock, half arty synth-pop final act — sharply contrasts with tonight's seated audience Wye Oak show, organized by indie adult contemporary station WTMD. And that's the story of success or perhaps, "success," in 2014: One for yourself and one for everybody else back and forth until you don't wanna do it anymore. We will patiently wait for Wye Oak's next low-key provocation.

Copyright © 2019, Baltimore City Paper, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Privacy Policy