TVD Live: U+N Fest 2
at the Ottobar, 10/19

PHOTOS: MARK ZIMIN | Last weekend was all about U+N Fest 2, an explosive punk/garage music festival dominating three days in Baltimore, MD. In its second year, the festival was created by Unregistered Nurse Booking, aka music promoter Dana Murphy, who has been booking and promoting shows in Maryland for over five years. 

I had so much fun that the show literally shook the teeth out of my skull, and I was only there for Saturday, so imagine the dentures I might be needing if I’d hung out the whole time.  U+N Fest attracted some quality DC peeps to Baltimore, and some excellent Baltimore folks to The Ottobar and The Wind Up Space for much-anticipated sets, including headliners Pissed Jeans and The Gories.

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A diverse lineup sets U+N Festival apart from other punk/garage showcases, and Saturday’s show is a great example. Unregistered Nurse Booking’s deep understanding of the punk and garage genre was exemplified by the lineup: the classic bluesy garage of The Gories, the primal energy of The Ar-Kaics, and a darker and artier post-punk end of the spectrum with Weekend, Disappears, and Wild Honey.  Peach Kelli Pop flipped the spectrum to bubblegum pop punk.  Wetbrain and Tweens kept it grungy, and JP5 added that slight tint of of alt-country twang.

Quite possibly other geeks like me who rolled up on nerd time (right as doors opened)  had no problem waiting five hours and eight bands later to witness the blaze of The Gories.  Waiting for them to come on didn’t really feel that long because there were so many good bands enhanced by cheap PBR to fill in the gap between sets.

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The Gories’ Mick Collins (also of The Dirtbombs) and Dan Kroha haven’t aged a day. In fact, when they started, everyone in The Ottobar easily could have slipped through some wormhole back to mid-’80s Detroit.  The sound was so raw, Peggy O’Neil might as well have been drumming a slab of beef with a cow’s thigh bones.  Throaty screams and blues rhythms drove Baltimore into a feral state of total agitation.  Beer flew across the back of heads.

Collin’s microphone pointed to the crown for most of “Early in the Morning” as a churning cluster of jean- and leather-jacket-clad punks screamed the lyrics at him. I don’t really think there’s any place better than Baltimore to see Garage shows.

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If I have any complaints about this night, it’s that Slumberland Records‘ Weekend didn’t have enough time on stage due to the show starting late and ample time needed to be left for the awesomeness that was The Gories. The four songs that Weekend fit into the show were wall-of-sound mind-blowing shoegaze that left me trembling, it was such a full-bodied emotional experience. “Mirror” enveloped the room through three large amps and fog machine clouds.

With all of this in only four songs, if the sound was that epic at the Ottobar, I can not wait for them to come back and hopefully play 9:30 Club.

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Disappears, who are touring with Weekend, play dark ear bleeding post-punk-tinged garage, fronted by the dreamy Brian Chase on vocals and guitar.  The set was so loud I clenched what few teeth I have left, but don’t take that as complaining.  The noisy side of Sonic Youth is evident, as former member Steve Shelley has clearly left his mark.  I regrettably didn’t jot down the titles of songs played as I was too mesmerized by the music; this was definitely one of my favorite bands of the night.

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Peach Kelli Pop released their self-titled record on Burger Records in 2012.  This all-girl five piece were the night’s third of four bands with a female drummer (The Gories, PKP, JP5, and Wetbrain). They primarily played tracks off their self-titled record, including “Dreamphone” and Julie Ollie,” as well as an unreleased new track with less bubblegum and more underlying punk influence.

Then they played a little something for the ladies. the older ladies, and it was the most infectious Sailor Moon theme song cover you ever did hear.  Peach Kelli Pop are like the music equivalent of Kawaii: cute, colorful, fun, and addictive.

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At the beginning of the night, Tweens had started everything off with grungy female-fronted punk agitating the audience just enough to start throwing back a few beers in anticipation of the rest of the evening. Later on, Richmond’s Ar-kaics played the deliciously primal garage of their ’60s teen predecessors. The Ar-kaics feature members of DC’s The Shirks, and they write dangerously catchy three-chord songs replete with dirty shrieks and catchy primitive beats. I happened to be eating some sweet tarts while watching them, and my freaking crown snapped in half, probably because they rocked so hard.  Make sure you catch them on November 1 with King Khan and the Shrines at The Black Cat

I was super-stoked to see Rachel Hortman of DC’s now-defunct but always everlasting DC band Maybe Baby touring with JP5.  She informed me that JP5 were playing U+N Fest in support of a four-show mini-tour.  This show just kept getting better and better.  When JP5 took the stage, I was not prepared for the Bourbon-soaked, Thin-Lizzy-inspired rock and roll, and I couldn’t take my eyes from the stage.  Short for The Joey Plunket Five, this is a solo project of Mr. Plunket’s, who commands attention with his bad boy swagger.  His vocals are backed by lush guitars and the power pop vocal harmony of fellow bandmates Jem and Cy.  Hortman’s drums anchored the entire endeavor with natural cadence and charm.  Let’s all work on helping JP5 out on booking a tour with more than four stops because they deserve the exposure.

Grunge is far from dead, and Wetbrain are helping to keep it alive.  At times Bikini Kill/Riot Grrrl but creatively dipping into their ’60s jungle swamp rock influences, I admired a few things about this band.  One, I liked how they changed up the singer, even though I prefered the main gal’s, Madi’s, vocals.  The change up-kept things interesting.  The second, was when the mic fell away from her, Madi just screamed louder and bounced off the amps and rolled around on the stage.  Way to improvise like a champ, girl!

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Wild Honey were the least compelling act of the night, offering bland indie/shoegaze. I would definitely give the band another chance and don’t want to discourage anyone from seeing them, but I gotta call it like I see it. Could it have been a bad night for an otherwise decent band? I trust that’s the case, since I trust the integrity and taste of the people who put together this show.

Dana Murphy has already started planning next year’s U+N Fest, and I am pretty excited to see what comes together. What could top The Gories? We’ll have to wait and see until next year.  In the meantime, follow Unregistered Nurse Booking on Facebook to see what other shows are coming through to tide you over until next year’s U+N Fest.

The Gories

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