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BiMA.fest wrap-up; and review: Bosley, Honey Pig

Baltimore-based music photographer Kelly Neel snapped some pictures of the shows in Station North for us on August 26:

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[More photos can be viewed on Kelly Neel’s Flickr page.]

Except for the hurricane in the middle of it, the festival went smoothly. This is good news, because the festival’s predecessor, the Baltimore Music Conference, was plagued early on by organizational difficulties.

On Friday, August 26th, I made my way down to Station North to pop in on a few shows, starting my night off with Jacob Panic at Joe Squared, whose show was not actually part of BiMA.fest. He did a bunch of pop songs with loop pedal shenanigans and mixed in a few of his originals while I had some of the best pizza anywhere. After that, it was off to Cyclops Books, Andy Rubin’s successor to The Baltimore Chop, which was a well-regarded independent bookshop in South Baltimore. More an underground music venue than a retail location, Cyclops seems to be in a perpetual state of construction, its hours are often “when Andy Rubin is in town,” and purchasing anything will get you a somewhat surprised reaction. Rubin’s register is his wallet. The venue, despite being a former CVC, has a living room feel. Couches and discarded church pews make up the seating for the shows, with some chairs in the back when it gets too full. A paper lantern and a pair of tiny stage lights on the performers can make for creepy lighting. But the music at Cyclops has been generally impressive, sometimes being a last-minute venue for folks passing through Baltimore without other plans to play the city. So you’ll see locals (like A Cat Called Cricket, who headlined the BiMA.fest show) as well as Allison Weiss, Devon Sproule, and Gugenheim Grotto.

Headliners A Cat Called Cricket have taken a right turn from the two-song EP they released on the now-defunct Beechfields label last year, paring down and punching up their former chamber-pop sound to something more in the rock realm, a brew of clean guitar and cello with bits of 1980s and 1990s alternative rock floating to the top now and then.  It was more fun, and it’s a sign of good things to come from a band.

The other highlight of the Cyclops show was North Carolina’s Birds and Arrows. The band’s dynamic reminds me of Aloud (see my review here), with a husband-and-wife harmony duo making up the core of the band and some ambient textures (their cellist uses a delay pedal to great effect) floating underneath the intricate vocals. Their lyrics are spot-on and heartfelt, and they manage to turn such a small and simple setup into a lot of sound. I highly recommend their May release, We’re Gonna Run.

Hurricane Irene ended up causing a lot of cancellations on Saturday, with the notable exception of the Bosley CD release party at the Ottobar. Fortunately, one of these cancellations was my own band’s show, which meant I got to attend an exception night of music. Bright Young Things (yet another North Carolina band) started the night off. They sound a bit like Arctic Monkeys might if the Arctic Monkeys actually gave a damn. Steve Hefter (St. Even) broke out a new project with Chris Myers, a mix of nylon strings and iPads, with Mike Ward playing a laptop as well as the keys. The trio had worked out some excellent three-part harmony arrangements of songs by the two songwriters in preparation for a European tour, but there were some technological difficulties to iron out before this set-up lives up to their other work.

Soul singer Bosley borrowed the entirety of The Bellevederes — who played their own impressive set just before his — as his backing band, even adding another guitarist and an extra singer (in this case, Victoria Vox), swelling the band to an eleven-piece. Bosley has certainly put a lot of work into the material on his new CD (Honey Pig), marrying a voice that’s equal parts Prince and Otis Redding to a soul sound that draws from the obvious influences of 1960s soul and less obvious aspects of electronica and burlesque (the latter being something that strikes me as counter to the spirit of soul music), with a dash of Tom Waits’s penchant for the dramatic and beatnikism. Despite Bosley’s ability to shout with the best of them, it’s his smoother moments and his Prince-like falsetto (like “CocaCola,” “Just Like You,” and the single “Neon Magazine”) that show the most creativity. A hundred or more people came out in the middle of a tropical storm to see him, and he gave them a show that was worth it.

—Jon Patton (Baltimore, MD)

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