Here comes the Whambulance

Mass Art hosts the Baltimore Round Robin Tour
By SHAULA CLARK  |  October 1, 2008

BAND OF OUTSIDERS: In every city, Deacon’s traveling sideshow will set up camp for two nights of performances, each featuring no fewer than 10 bands.

The Baltimore loft once known as Wham City is long dead, its inhabitants evicted in 2007, but the twisted DIY art movement it housed has flourished nonetheless. The uprooted Whammonites are spreading the gospel of “Future Shock” (a technology-driven ethos that duals as a sound style and a business model) as fervently as ever, and the world (a/k/a the Internet) is lapping it up. As the co-founder and self-appointed caretaker of Wham City, absurdist electronic composer Dan Deacon is a man who thrives on circumventing convention. So it’s no surprise that the Baltimore Round Robin Tour, Deacon’s newest bid to bring Baltimore’s teeming music scene to the masses, is so brilliantly bat-shit insane.

Starting this week, Deacon is packing a whopping 29 bands (that’s roughly 60 humans . . . and we hope a bottle of Febreze) into one vegetable-oil-fueled bus, plus two vans for overflow, for an eight-city tour. First stop: Boston. In every city, Deacon’s traveling sideshow will set up camp for two nights of performances, each featuring no fewer than 10 bands.

The first round, “Eyes Night” (October 2), will kick off with a showcase of dreamy indie pop, ambient droning, and improvisational works from the likes of Beach House, Lesser Gonzalez Alvarez, Jana Hunter, and Santa Dads. The follow-up, “Feet Night” (October 3), will dish out thrashier, more digitally tweaked fare courtesy of Adventure, TheDeathSet, Future Islands, Video Hippos, DJ Dog Dick, and Deacon himself, among others. Then there’s the “Weird Round” — a collection of wild cards like video artist Mark Brown and puppeteers Showbeast — sprinkled throughout both sets.

Here’s where the “Round Robin” earns its title (and more crazy credits): each night, the bands will form a circle surrounding the audience. Then each act will perform a single song, one after the other, going around and around till . . . well, till it’s over. No openers, no headliners, no hierarchies — it’s a playful set-up that mirrors Wham City’s famed chumminess.

Early on a Tuesday evening at Tufts’s Oxfam Café, I sit down with MIDI-rocker Benny Boeldt, a/k/a Adventure, and Future Islands singer Sam Herring (whose gravelly croon gives a Jack Black-meets-Joe Cocker vibe to FI’s synthpop sound) to pry the gory details out of them. In a mere two hours, I’ll witness these guys whip one very tiny crowd into an ass-waggling frenzy, but for now, they’re maintaining a near-reptilian level of chill.

Herring explains that though this tour has been in the works since February, the bands will have only one practice together in the round before the fleet hits the road. “If we mess up anywhere, it’s going to be in Boston,” he says, grinning.

Practice or no, pulling off a smooth set will be no easy feat. The bands are sharing gear, and though the Whammonites have a penchant for doing things fast, cheap, and (seemingly) out of control, the “Round Robin” eschews bare-bones PowerBook sessions in favor of actual instruments. But, Herring tells me, that’s where den mother Deacon comes in; he’s worked out a strategy and a setlist to keep things rolling smoothly.

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Related: Final countdown, No small feet, Photos: Dan Deacon at the ICA, More more >
  Topics: Music Features , Culture and Lifestyle, Oxfam International, Tufts University,  More more >
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