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March 31, 2010

Q&A: David Gray, who plays his first Baltimore show tonight

david graySinger/songwriter David Gray has released eight studio albums and toured for close to two decades.

For some reason, Gray's never played Baltimore. Tonight's show at the Lyric Opera House will be his first concert in Charm City (get tickets here).

The throaty Englishman paid for his latest album, "Draw the Line," out of pocket, and collaborated with Annie Lennox. 

Here, Gray talks about recording with an orchestra at Abby Road Studios, Louisville Sluggers and getting crap from haters at bars ...

What’s going on, David?

I’m in Louisville, Kentucky, in what you would describe as a boutique art hotel. It’s not something I would put together with Kentucky, but it’s very nice. There’s lots of ironic and challenging pieces of art everywhere.

Sounds fun. Are you going to get a baseball bat?

I’ve been given one of those on a previous visit – a Louisville Slugger.

Those things always seem like such great ideas at the time, but they always end up in a box underneath your bed.

Yeah. I have scant opportunity to use a Louisville Slugger. If someone were to break into my house, it’s the ideal implement to smash his head open.

Have you ever played Baltimore before?

No, this will be a first. I like firsts. I’ve been in D.C. most of the time.

Journalists like me love saying things like, ‘It’s the first time you’ve ever played here.’ But does that really matter to you?

Yeah, of course. I’m all for new experiences. It matters as much to me, wherever I am. There are no preferred venues. I’ll take the crowds as I find them.

david grayFolks can get pretty loud at your shows. Since some of your songs are more acoustic, do you ever secretly wish the audience would be quiet and just listen instead of screaming and going nuts?

I want both things, basically. ... I want the energy and I want the intensity of that quiet attention as well. The show takes in both aspects. There are big very melodic -- almost anthemic songs and quiet, introspective, thought-provoking pieces that strive on this intense silence. A perfect gig has both those things going on.

"Draw the Line" is a big sounding album on the whole, but there are songs where you really went all out. Tell me about how a song like “Full Steam,” which you did with Annie Lennox, came together.

That song stands alone because it’s got such a huge arrangement. Some songs are just aching for orchestration, and this one had that feel to it. It was like something from the Righteous Brothers catalog – at least that’s what’s going on in my head, anyway.

We did the strings at Abbey Road, and spent three or four days arranging them with the arranger beforehand. We were changing the arrangements right down to the very last second. It sounded different in the room with real thing. We made this massive track and then we had to find the other vocalist. We broke it down to a short list and sent the track out. Annie was the first got back to me.

We needed someone who could really, really belt it out and sing with a certain presence, to hold up against my voice, which is loud and abrasive and dense. We needed somebody who could handle that and she was just perfect. The combination was perfect. She was a joy to work with.

She gave us more than just the vocal parts I'd worked out for her. She came up with other little bits and pieces that really lifted the feel of the track, made it much more pop, which I think is a good thing. It's like adding a bit of egg white to the mix -- it lightened the whole thing. The lyrical aspects weren't as immediately obvious. You're carried along by the verve of the performance. You're caught up in the melodies and the movements rather than dwelling on the rather dark lyrics. The lyric comes like a Trojan Horse. That was a triumph, getting Annie involved.

What's it like to stand in a room while an orchestra plays your music?

It's a big deal. It's a big deal. I paid for this record myself. If you think about the financial commitment to get a full orchestra, brass, tympani, vibes, harps, everything in a room together, and you're spending however many thousands of pounds to get the main room at Abbey Road because it's got all those beautiful microphones and all those nerdy engineers who know what they're doing, it's a big deal.

We nailed the last part of the take with one minute left on the clock. We had a four-hour session with the strings, and if you go over that, you start paying everybody overtime. It was nerve-wracking. 

david grayPeople have said you're going for broke on this one.

It's a giant act of folly to spend any money making a record these days. If, in 2007, I'd realized how far f---ed things were going to get on the dial, I would have probably thought twice about it.... If you've got resources, then what else is there to do but stake everything on what you're doing? I don't believe in the safety option. I believe in risk. I like it. I like the taste of fear and total commitment. I don't like the safety blanket.

How do you approach songwriting now as opposed to when you were, say, 25?

When you're young, it's easy to get over excited. You get high faster, you get down faster. I'd be more patient now. I'm more scientific. The last wisps of the mist surrounding the creative process, the trailing vapors are banished from my creative world. I'm interested in the hard facts of doing it. Turning up, and opening yourself up, at least with a can opener, and seeing what comes out. That's my day. Some days you don't get anywhere. But generally, if you plug away long enough, something will happen.

I would assume that people on the street come up to you and mostly have nice things to say. But have you ever had people come up to you and say bad things about your music -- as though they felt like they owed it to you?

(laughs) I've been out when people have been drinking, and I've had people come up to me and give me s---. So, I have to say, yeah. 

What do you do? Do you give it back to them?

When it first happens, you're in a state of shock. I'm just public property and people can abuse me as they see fit. Now, I try and take everything with a pinch of salt. You need a thick skin. But I don't know if I've got one. I'll keep going and if I'm not going to get that critical pat on the back by some f----g know-it-all, I'll persevere. I think I know my onions. I know when my s--- is good.

(Top photo by Getty Images. Bottom photos by Phil Knott)

Posted by Sam Sessa at 1:24 PM | | Comments (6)

Corkboard: What bar has the best Preakness celebration?

this is a black eyed susan. looking at it makes me long for warmer weather.This morning, I got an e-mail from Paige, who is hosting a bachelorette party for one of her Preakness-loving friends.

She writes:

The bride-to-be is a huge Preakness fan and I don't want her to miss out too much over the weekend.

Do you have any ideas of bars/restaurants that have great Preakness celebrations? Or at least serve Black Eyed Susans?

That's a good question, Paige, and I'm afraid I don't have an answer myself. That's why I'm turning it over to the friendly crew of Midnight Sunners and bar owners.

Help, guys!

(Baltimore Sun archive photo)

Posted by Sam Sessa at 10:21 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Corkboard

Concert review: Norah Jones at Lyric Opera House

norah jones performs at the lyric opera house in baltimoreThe past few years have seen great changes for Norah Jones.

She broke up with her longtime boyfriend and bassist. She dropped her old band and hired a new one, recording and releasing an album, "The Fall," that is more indie rock and alt-country than jazz. She even cut her hair.

For many, including the millions of jazz lovers who helped fuel Jones' phenomenal rise, change can be hard to accept, but it has had a striking effect on Jones.

When she strode onto the stage last night at the Lyric Opera House, cute and sassy in a black dress with white polka dots and a red sash, she seemed confident in her abilities and eager to stretch out her new sound.

Many of the tracks on "The Fall" are wistful and solitary, with Jones longing for a love that is just out of reach, and last night, her seasoned five-piece band let the songs breathe. Silence was as much of an instrument as guitarist Smokey Hormel's melodic solos ...

The 90-minute show veered more toward country than jazz, and opened with a few slow burners from "The Fall," including "I Wouldn't Need You" and "Light As a Feather." Jones strapped on a guitar for the first three, and even picked out a handy little solo in "Tell Your Mama."

Here is a link to more photos from the show.

Over the course of the evening, Jones would switch from guitar to electric piano to acoustic piano and back again, quickening the pace with the retro-leaning "Chasing Pirates," then easing it back with a bare bones take on "Don't Know Why."

The show was heavy on new material and sprinkled with Jones' hits. "Come Away With Me" was as breezy and ethereal as ever, "Sinkin' Soon," from her 2007 album "Not Too Late," had a tipsy circus lilt, and an affecting cover of the Kinks tune "Strangers" ("just 'cause," Jones explained) closed out the set.

norah jones performs at the lyric opera house in baltimoreJones turned 31 yesterday, and her backup singer Sasha Dobson cheerfully led the crowd in a rendition of "Happy Birthday."

"I've never had an audience sing for me," Jones quipped. "Should I pay for it? Thanks. I'm blushing now."

And oh, what a voice Jones has. Her singing could soften the hardest of hearts. She could have sung us her Wikipedia entry and we would have swooned.

Last night, Jones showed the full house she was well aware of her roots, but unafraid to try a new tack. Change has been a good thing for Jones' music. Let's hope she keeps it up.

Opener: Before Jones' show, Dobson gave a 45-minute solo set, alone with a guitar on stage. Dobson is a gifted singer, and her songs took some interesting twists. I'd be interested to hear them with more instrumentation.

Jones' performance started at 9:10 p.m. and ended at 10:40 p.m.

Here is the set list:

1. I Wouldn't Need You
2. Tell Your Mama
3. Light as a Feather
4. Chasing Pirates
5. Even Though
6. It's Gonna Be
7. Broken
8. Waiting
9. Sunrise
10. You've Ruined Me
11. Back to Manhattan
12. Sinkin' Soon
13. Bull Rider (Rodney Crowell cover)
14. Man of the Hour
15. Don't Know Why
16. Young Blood
17. Stuck
18. Come Away With Me
19. Strangers


How Many Times Have You Broken My Heart

(Photos by Colby Ware/Special to the Baltimore Sun)

Posted by Sam Sessa at 8:20 AM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Concert reviews

March 30, 2010

Midnight Sun will be on cask tonight at Max's

midnight sun porter

Tonight only! Tonight only!

Bruce Williams, the owner and brewer of Heather Ales/Williams Bros., a Scottish brewery which makes Midnight Sun porter, will be at Max's Taphouse starting at 6 p.m.

Williams is bringing plenty of beer with him. Witness this list:

On cask

Midnight Sun
Session Ale
Scotttish Heavy

In bottles

heather Ale
Heather 20th Anniversary



If you recall, I downed a delicious Midnight Sun porter a few months ago when it was on cask at Max's.

Unfortunately, since I'm seeing Norah Jones at the Lyric Opera House tonight, I won't be able to make it. But I highly recommend you check out this important, exciting event.

Midnight Sun out!

(Photo courtesy of the brewery) 
Posted by Sam Sessa at 11:03 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Bars & Clubs

Owl Meat's Tipsy Tuesdays: What are the best breakup songs?

i can't tell whether this dude is happy or sad. or angry. what do you think?A personal confession: One time after a nasty breakup in college, I played "It Makes No Difference" by the Band on loops, hundreds of times. That song's a gut-wrencher. Today, Owl Meat tackles breakup songs in all their guilt, rage and glory:

Breakup songs come in different varieties. I think they can be categorized by the five stages of grief: Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.

Maybe you could speed things up by matching your music to the stages. I blame my lingering emotional dysfunction on improper musical programming after my last breakup. Yeah, that's it.

There is so much material that I wouldn't dare suggest the best. It's a very personal choice. Right now, I'm about as happy as I get, so I'm having a hard time coming up with examples.

Oh happy day. I don't need to access my own emotional history, because will do it for me. So paralyzed by grief that you can't connect any music to your mood? to the rescue with their "mood" function ...

Today I am feeling, let's say, playful. Allmusic lets me know that wry, whimsical, silly and freewheeling are similar moods. Good to know. Allmusic suggests Desi Arnaz, Uncle Kracker, Louis Armstrong, Nelly, and the Beach Boys. For songs it suggests "Balloon Man" by Robyn Hitchcock, "Atomic Dog" by George Clinton, "Birdhouse in Your Soul" by They Might Be Giants, etc. Interesting.

I scoured the emotions related to the stages of grief on and picked out these highlights:

Denial – Uh oh, this is just a river in Egypt for Allmusic.

Anger (Way too easy) – Metallica, Dead Kennedys, Elvis Costello, Public Enemy, Pixies, Guns N' Roses, the Stooges, Ministry

Bargaining – No luck

Depression (Sad) – Albums: Bob Dylan, Blood on the Tracks; Joni Mitchell, Blue; George Jones, Cup of Loneliness; any Smiths; any Leonard Cohen

Songs: Gram Parsons, "$1000 Wedding"; Mazzy Star, "Fade Into You"; George Jones, "He Stopped Loving Her Today";  The Carpenters, "Superstar"; Roy Orbison, "It's Over"

Acceptance (Calm/Peaceful) – Bread, Anthology; Young Marble Giants, Colossal Youth; The Doobie Brothers, Best; Van Morrison, Moondance;

Richard and Linda Thompson's album "Shoot Out the Lights" may be the best breakup record ever. First, it covers all five stages of grief. Second, it was written and recorded while they were breaking up. It's fearless and daunting. "Wall of Death" is one of my favorite songs from it.

I agree that Dylan's "Blood on the Tracks" is a powerful album. I also like shoe-gazer bands like Mazzy Star and Slowdive when I want to wallow in it. isn't completely compatible with the stages of grief model, despite having 200 different moods. Still, you might want to check it out the next time you are bittersweet, melancholy, fractured, plaintive, or yearning.

Can you imagine that your job is to assign moods to thousands of songs for

Now it's your turn. What kind of music have you turned to when the fat, naked baby smacked you around?

(Photo by Getty Images)

Posted by Sam Sessa at 8:34 AM | | Comments (63)
Categories: Owl Meat's Tipsy Tuesdays

March 29, 2010

Concert review: Julian Casablancas at Rams Head Live

Julian Casablancas looks pretty cool in this photo. Midnight Sun writer Patrick Gavin saw Julian Casablancas last night at Rams Head Live. Here is his review:

"Nice little crowd we got here, Baltimore, f--- yeah!"

Nothing masks disappointment like a casual expletive. The operative word in that quote from Julian Casablancas, the Strokes front man turned solo artist, was "little."

"Little" as in Rams Head Live last night opted to cordon off its second and third floors because the modest crowd could comfortably fit in the downstairs stage/bar area.

"Little" as in this crowd would be considered a tad scant for the cover act Mr. Greengenes, who played the same venue two nights prior, let alone the guy who did as much for the garage rock revival on both sides of the Atlantic in the 2000s as Jack White.

"Little" as in ... all right, all right. Suffice it to say that Mr. Casablancas could have helped that humble pie go down a bit smoother ...

By the end of his 12-song, one-hour set, Casablancas had performed seven cuts off of his November release, "Phrazes for the Young," one meandering new song, one B-side from the Strokes' "First Impressions of Earth", one classic from "Is This It," and two iTunes bonus tracks (a.k.a. d-sides) for "Phrazes."

We get it, Julian. You're 31 and you're not Billy Joel, so fans shouldn't expect you to kick out the old jams exclusively. By all means, don't rest solely on your laurels. Play the new album. It's heavy but stout (like Guinness!) at only eight tracks. Play the thing "Dark Side"-style beginning to end if you like. But give us a couple Strokes hits too.

When played live, "Phrazes" gains a raucous post-punk edge sorely missing from the synthed-up studio version, on which tracks like "Ludlow St." can sound like one of those six-minute Rufus Wainwright songs that's a little too grandiose for its own good.

What Mr. Casablanca's show sorely missed were out-and-out crowd-pleasers. For those who wore their dancing shoes Sunday night, only "Hard to Explain" gave them opportunity to use 'em.

The famously confident singer even registered his anxiety, saying "I always focus on the people who are bored. I don't know why." This was after playing a song, "30 minute boyfriend," that can only be purchased as a throw-in for those who buy his entire album electronically. Those folks he was staring at might have been less bored on the heels of "Someday," "Take It or Leave It" or "Reptilia."

Lord knows Mr. Casablancas and his supporting band – complete with three axmen, two drummers, and a versatile sixth man – had the firepower to pull off any of the old burners. But after a short set capped with the "Saturday Night Live" skit-based "I Wish It Was Christmas Today," no doubt many fans were left wondering, "Is this it?"

Set list:

1. Ludlow St.
2. River of Brakelights
3. Out of the Blue
4. New Song
5. 11th Dimension
6. I'll Try Anything Once
7. 30 Minute Boyfriend
8. Hard to Explain
9. Left & Right in the Dark
10. Glass


4 Chords of the Apocalypse
I Wish it was Christmas Today (based on the "SNL" skit)

(Photo by Williams + Hirakawa)

Posted by Sam Sessa at 1:13 PM | | Comments (10)
Categories: Concert reviews

The skinny on the Grey Goose Bar & Grille

this grey goose vodka promo photo is from 1999. i'm not sure what  the puppy has to do with vodka, but he seems at least vaguely interested  in it. maybe it's an alcoholic puppy. a hooch pooch, if you will. The new Grey Goose Bar & Grille in Hampden will have a new name and a few new bells and whistles, but it's basically the same as Flip's, according to new co-owner Lynnann Allen.

The Grey Goose, which could open as early as next week, will have a new door and a couple new pool tables. Otherwise, Allen and her sister, Jeana Cooke, haven't changed much with the building.

"We just added a little extra to what was there," Allen said.

Allen isn't worried that Grey Goose Vodka will have a problem with the bar's name. 

"One has nothing to do with the other," she said. "There's a Blue Moon Cafe. You think (Blue Moon Beer) minds?"

Touche on the Blue Moon, Lynnann. But I beg to differ about one having nothing to do with the other ...

Blue Moon Cafe is a diner, which doesn't serve Blue Moon beer. They don't even have a liquor license. I'll bet Grey Goose vodka will be served at Grey Goose Bar & Grille.

Allen and Cooke used to work at the bar in the '90s, when it was called My Father's Place (her family owned it). She got into securities for a while, before deciding to buy back into the bar business. Her reasons?

"Sentimental reasons, business reasons, adding to our community," she said. "It was just sitting there empty."

If Allen has her say, it won't be empty much longer.

(Grey Goose handout photo)

Posted by Sam Sessa at 10:58 AM | | Comments (21)
Categories: Bars & Clubs

Has infused vodka jumped the shark?

skittle vodkaI was cool with fruit vodka. Bacon vodka too.

But snake blood vodka? Made with the blood of a real snake? To borrow a phrase from Dining@Large: Gack!

The super duper cool trend of soaking something in vodka has gone a little too far, gang. Midnight Sunner Alexander D. Mitchell IV sent me a link to this list of eight wacky infused vodkas, which starts with hot dog vodka (barf) and ends on Pickle Vodka.

As someone who mildly enjoys pickle backs, I see the logic behind pickle-infused vodka. And I'm gleefully amused by Skittles Vodka (pictured), because I'm sure this dude has a batch brewing at home.

But horseradish vodka? Come on. What am I supposed to do with that? Dunk shrimp in it? Prank my friends? ...

For me, the end-game is the snake blood vodka. It's apparently some kind of Vietnamese delicacy, that, in my book, ranks right up there with chilled monkey brains. But wait -- it gets better. According to the site:

And, rumor has it, special guests are provided with the snakes beating heart as a sweet follow-up to the beverage.

Sounds like a stretch to me. I mean, why would the heart still be beating? Unless it was ripped out of the snake by our buddy from Indiana Jones. KALI MAAAAAAA!

Typically, I love unnecessary things. This, however, is over the line. 

(Photo courtesy of

Posted by Sam Sessa at 8:46 AM | | Comments (18)
Categories: Bars & Clubs

March 27, 2010

Don't Know Tavern's new beers

A few weeks back, we gave our suggestions for the three new draft beers at Don't Know Tavern. Jason Z (a frequent commenter) listened to our ideas. Here are the three beers he went with, which are currently on tap ...

1. Heavy Seas Loose Cannon

2. Flying Dog Raging Bitch

3. Evolution "Lucky 7" 

All three are delicious brews. I love Loose Cannon, and I'm also a fan of Raging Bitch.

I had Lucky 7 for the first time a couple weeks ago at the Cat's Eye Pub. Evolution is a newish brewery based out of Delaware. Lucky 7 has an easygoing blend of coffee and chocolate notes. After a pint, it's clear the folks at Evolution are off to a good start.

Posted by Sam Sessa at 12:00 PM | | Comments (5)
Categories: Bars & Clubs

Andy McKee rocks "Everybody Wants to Rule the World"

Ever heard of Andy McKee? He's a guitarist and songwriter who got a bazillion views on YouTube for his rhythmic guitar slaps and expert finger-picking. He's a guitar master.

On his new album, "Joyland," McKee covers the classic Tears for Fears song "Everybody Wants to Rule the World." It's wicked. The craziest part comes at about the 2:10 mark, when he holds down the guitar, bass, keyboard and percussion parts all at once. Dig the clip ...

Posted by Sam Sessa at 8:00 AM | | Comments (3)

March 26, 2010

The Velvet Rope settles with police and liquor board

The Velvet Rope, the downtown club which had a big long rap sheet of offenses, including violence and what police have called a near riot, settled up with the liquor board and the police at a hearing yesterday.

The liquor board fined the club $3,500 but let the club keep its license. And the club owner struck a deal with police, which requires valet parking for certain events and a new security plan ...

What's this? An open dialogue between the police, liquor board and a troubled club? After the Suite Ultralounge saga, it almost sounds too good to be true.

I'm willing to give the Velvet Rope the benefit of the doubt, hoping they get their act together and nobody else gets hurt. So are the police and liquor board, it seems.

We'll see what happens in the coming months. I'm keeping my fingers crossed. 
Posted by Sam Sessa at 2:48 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Bars & Clubs

The Hard Yacht Cafe is prime for rainy day drinking

the back deck at the hard yacht cafeNestled in at the end of a curvy county road sits one of my favorite summertime spots: the Hard Yacht Cafe.

At least, it was one of my favorite warm weather standbys until jmgiordano told me about their new indoor/outdoor deck out back.

Now, it might be one of my all-weather hangouts.

About a year ago, owner Art Cox renovated the space, installing some curtains and making it a bit bigger.

"It turned out pretty cool," Cox said. "It looks really Key West-y and tropical." ...

The Hard Yacht's only been around for two and a half years, give or take. But you'd be hard pressed to find a more fun waterside spot in these parts. In about a month, the big yachts will be docking for the summer, and weekends will start to get a little crazy.

jmgiordano enjoys a stogie by the stove"The bikers love it but the people in the big yachts love it too," he said. "On a Saturday afternoon we've got the boaters going out on the bikes and the bikers going out on the boats."

Jmgiordano was there for lunch today, enjoying some chili and a cigar by the cast iron stove.

Apparently, it's cool to smoke there when the flaps are rolled up, because it's technically not an enclosed space.


(Photo by jmgiordano)
Posted by Sam Sessa at 1:30 PM | | Comments (9)
Categories: Bars & Clubs

Laser tag still exists. How awesome is that?

since we lived out in the boonies, we didn't have many laser tag  joints nearby. so mom and pops bought us a

Zap! Zap zap ziggity zap!

I'm talking about Laser Tag, of course. Remember Laser Tag? The game where you had guns and tried to hit other people with beams of light?

It's back. En masse.

Sun reporter Chris Kaltenbach has all the details in this story, which ran in today's paper. Check this part out:

Nationwide, there are some 760 facilities that offer laser tag, either exclusively or as part of a larger facility; that's up from about 560 in 2004, according to figures provided by the International Laser Tag Association.

The International Laser Tag Association? Baaaaahahahaha!!! ...

According to Chris' story, two new Laser Tag centers have recently opened in the Baltimore area. And Laser Tag is flush:

The group estimates they account for about $217 million in revenue a year in North America, based on an average of 2.75 million laser tag "experiences" every month.

Wow. Where do I sign up?

I was a kid back when Laser Tag took the world by storm.

Since we lived in the boonies, far away from any signs of civilization, let alone Laser Tag, Mom and Pops bought us this home Laser Tag setup. Everybody wore a laser-sensitive badge on their chest, and your opponents tried to zap it. Oh, the fun we had.

Just wait -- 30 years from now I'll have some terrible brain tumor from all the lasers beamed into my body.

Guess I better make the most of the time I've got left ... by playing Laser Tag!

(Baltimore Sun photo by Kenneth K. Lam)
Posted by Sam Sessa at 11:40 AM | | Comments (7)
Categories: Bars & Clubs

Review: The Cat's Eye Pub is same as it ever was

this is the cat's eye pub. please take a step back, sir.Today's nightlife column is about the Cat's Eye Pub, one of those institutions that helps define Fells Point.

It's been there for decades. But the bar's future was kind of up in the air when its longtime owner, Tony Cushing, died two years ago.

Cushing's son, also named Tony, took over as a co-owner. Since then, he's kept the Cat's Eye's old school charm while making a few much-needed updates.

He tripled the size of the keg room, hand-washed the big mural inside, and refinished and reinforced the old wood floors. He upped the number of taps from 32 to 41, too.

Young Tony's most ambitious project is up next: Opening the second floor. It will take a new stairwell and some changes to the floor up there, but he plans to have it ready in the next year.

Tony wants to cut out a section of the upstairs floor above the stage and replace it with plexiglass so folks up there can peer down at the band below ...

When finished, the upstairs will also have French doors, which open up onto a small patio. 

The crazy thing is, Tony is only 26. He's had to grow up fast. Can you imagine inheriting a pub and making all these restorations in your early 20s? I mean, I can, sure, but it's still impressive.

Two years later, the Cat's Eye still has the same feel and charm it always did. If anything, it's better now. Good work, Tony.

(Baltimore Sun photo by Kenneth K. Lam)

Posted by Sam Sessa at 8:22 AM | | Comments (6)
Categories: Bars & Clubs

March 25, 2010

Concert review: Ben Folds at Rams Head Live

ben folds

Midnight Sun guest poster Andy Rosen saw Ben Folds last night, Here is his review:

Last night's show at Rams Head Live was advertised as Ben Folds "and a Piano." Though Folds had the stage to himself, he spent part of the evening broadcasting randomly selected chat video dispatches from the freakish world of Chatroulette.

The foray into the Internet fad, which connects people and their web cams without prejudice, produced several rejected connections, a naked woman and a quick chat with a bejeweled man named "Blas."

But it was perhaps the people who Folds didn't bring to the stage who most defined his performance ...

Folds made his name with the piano rock trio Ben Folds Five, and continued his success with a series of albums filled with catchy, emotional and often satirical compositions. And though his keyboard has always been the focal point of his music, Folds' success has also been built on the big sound produced by his backing band.

Folds' Baltimore performance felt more like "An Evening with Ben Folds," than a rock concert. That's presumably how he wanted it. He played on the Internet. He told stories about writing his forthcoming album with novelist Nick Hornby.

He got up from his piano and conducted an enthusiastic crowd in a several minute, chant-ish vocal performance that evolved from his solo track "Not the Same." He also finished his encore and left the stage before 11 p.m.

For fans who were familiar with Folds' work, the North Carolina-grown singer's show was probably satisfying. He did the classics. Remember "Brick?" He played that, but he also busted out a new track, apparently pulled from the forthcoming album written with Hornby.

One of the songs was about Levi Johnson, who impregnated the daughter of former Alaska Gov. cum vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin. The key line?

"I'm a [expletive] redneck. I live to hang out with the boys, play some hockey and kill some moose."

But it's unclear how effective the show could have been in winning over new fans. This is an important consideration for a crowd that seemed largely composed of 20-something women and their reluctant boyfriends. One man on a piano can only do so much when he's playing songs that were written to be played with a rock band.

The bass fuzz and solid drums in Ben Folds Five and the high production values of his solo albums make the tracks what they are. Folds is good when he has company, be it on Chatroulette, in the crowd or on stage. He would do well to bring along a backup band if he wants to rock the house the next time he comes to town.

(Handout photo)

Posted by Sam Sessa at 11:42 AM | | Comments (17)
Categories: Concert reviews

Concert review: Alicia Keys at 1st Mariner Arena

alicia keysAlicia Keys came uncaged last night at 1st Mariner Arena.

With images of barbed wire fences flashing on the big digital screens around her, Keys was wheeled out in a rectangular cage for the opening number, "Love is Blind."

Keys sang most of the song inside her personal prison, before dramatically bending back the bars and stepping out to freedom.

In case concertgoers didn't get the point, Keys would spend the next hour dropping inspirational lines between songs while the screens displayed words like "Rise Up" and "Fight." The tour, which takes her to the Verizon Center in Washington tonight, is even called the Freedom Tour.

"I don't want anybody to hold you back," said Keys, her legs shimmering in tight silver sequined pants. "Everything you need is right here inside of you." ...

Might as well add "motivational speaker," to her resume, which already includes armfuls of Grammys and millions upon millions of albums sold. Still, all the uplifting messages got old quick. We get it, Alicia -- love ourselves and break free of the chains that bind us. You don't need to beat us over the head with it.

It was a relief when, in the last third of her 90-minute set, Keys put an end to all the positive messages and let the music speak for itself.

"You Don't Know My Name" was a synth-driven high-stepper, and the James Bond theme "Another Way to Die" was built on singeing guitar riffs. But the show's most poignant moments came when Keys sat down at her black Yamaha baby grand and tickled the ivories. She's got a diva's talents without the attitude, and last night, she had a few toys, too.

During "Fallin'," she played what looked like some kind of electronic auto harp, and for "Go Head," she strapped on a silver, key-shaped keytar (how awesome is that?) and traded solos with her guitarist (the guitarist won). Even the piano was tricked out with a wrap-around digital screen, which said "PLAY ME," and when she did, it read "THANK YOU." Heh.

Keys' accomplished six-piece band and a well-paced set list helped the 19-song show fly by. The harmonies of her three backup singers were air tight; Monte Gill showed and proved on "Diary" and one of the female backup singers surprised the audience with an impressive rendition of "Feeling Good" while Keys slipped into a white evening gown backstage.

The show ended on a strong note, with "If I Ain't Got You," a modern classic, and the 2007 mega hit "No One." The encore was "Empire State of Mind (Part II)," a spine-tingling ode to the Big Apple.

In an age when radio is saturated with Auto-tuned anthems and outrageous outfits, it was such a treat to sit down with an undeniably talented singer and songwriter for an evening of liberating R&B, gospel and pop.


The show started at 9 p.m. and ended at 10:40 p.m. Here is the set list:

1. Love is Blind
2. You Don't Know My Name
3. Fallin'
4. Another Way to Die
5. Karma
6. Like the Sea
7. I Need You
8. Pray For Forgiveness
9. Diary
10. Like You'll Never See Me Again
11. Wait Til You See My Smile
12. Go Ahead
13. Put It in a Love Song
14. Unthinkable (I'm Ready)
15. Feeling Good
16. Try Sleeping With a Broken Heart
17. Superwoman
18. If I Ain't Got You
19. No One


Empire State of Mind (Part II)

(Photo by Getty Images)

Posted by Sam Sessa at 8:27 AM | | Comments (7)
Categories: Concert reviews

March 24, 2010

THE (midnight sun) SITUATION

Sam_before_vodka_style.jpgI have decided on a name for the next Midnight Sun get together:

THE (midnight sun) SITUATION

So it was written. So it shall be done.

You know what that means? It means we're about to have a situation on our hands. OH SNAPS!

I'm looking at Thursdays in April as potential dates for the social. What Thursday would work best for everybody?

I'm also going to put out another round of Best of the Best of the Best awards. Hold onto your knickers! I'm open to suggestions for silly categories ...

Also, I have visited and ruled out Elliott's as a potential spot for the party. It's a cool corner bar, but it's just too small for a get-together. Or maybe my ego is too large. You pick.

I'll nail down the location asap. In the meantime, I need Best of the Best of the Best Award suggestions.


Sam Sessa

P.S. -- Today, in honor of Owl Meat, I'm listening mostly to Phil Collins.

(Photo from the Midnight Sun Soiree at Idle Hour by Courtney Block)

Posted by Sam Sessa at 1:56 PM | | Comments (22)
Categories: Bars & Clubs

Robin Thicke's five tips to a surefire seduction

robin thicke knows how to seduce a lady friend. not that he would  -- he's married now -- but still, he knows.That wispy falsetto. Those laser-blue eyes. All those steamy singles.

It's no secret: R&B singer Robin Thicke knows his way around a bedpost.

Thicke, 33, doesn't hide his motives - his latest album isn't called "Sex Therapy" for nothing. His lyrics set the mood and leave little to the imagination.

"I'll lick you down / I'll make you feel like you're out of body / The doctor's here for you," he coos on the album's title track.

Tonight, Thicke will be at 1st Mariner Arena, opening for R&B sensation Alicia Keys. ...

The crowd will scream and swoon. Undergarments might be thrown.

Thicke is married now, but over the years, he's picked up a few tips for seduction. Here's his list:

1) Don't mention your exes - any of them.

2) Lingerie is for women only, and they love it.

3) Alcohol, preferably champagne. Tequila will get you both too drunk.

4) Put on D'Angelo.

5) Don't move too fast. Take it nice and slow.

(Photo of Robin Thicke by Getty Images)

Posted by Sam Sessa at 11:43 AM | | Comments (3)

Flip's to become Grey Goose Bar & Grille?

Midnight Sunner Neil walked past the space formerly known as Flip's in Hampden, and saw new art and signage on the door. Apparently, it's becoming the Grey Goose Bar & Grille. Anybody know more about this?
Posted by Sam Sessa at 8:28 AM | | Comments (11)
Categories: Bars & Clubs

March 23, 2010

Owl Meat's Tipsy Tuesdays: Cursed!

this is a voodoo doll. does it work? you be the judge.

Wow. Just ... wow. I'm going to let Owl Meat tell this story. It almost needs no introduction. Here's Owl Meat:

Phil Collins caused my gruesome death. Indirectly, but still. (As if "Sussudio" wasn't sufficient torture already.)

Let me explain. I was at the bar of a restaurant having a very mellow time. The bar was nearly empty with just two women next to me. They were trying to get the bartender to change the radio until they found something they liked.

I was surprised that this bartender would do it. They were yelling through me across the bar as the bartender changed from Big Hits, Hit Tracks, Classic Rock, or whatever those banal XM "stations" are called.

They switched back and forth between English, Romani (I think) and a mix of both. The topic seemed to be Phil Collins. They were repeating over and over that he was Australian. With the best of friendly intentions, I glanced up from my netbook and said, "I think Phil Collins is English." That was all. The manager was standing next to me and we started talking.

About two minutes later they paid their check, stood up and starting screaming at me ...

They yelled that I was spying on them and that I had no right to interfere in their private conversation. Then the most florid string of swearing filled the bar. Stuff that you reserve for someone who murders your children or worse. Just extreme.

I looked at my friend the manager, she looked at me, we looked at the bartender. We were awestruck. No one could compute what had just happened.

I didn't have time to object and then she put a curse on me. Seriously, a spit-on-the-ground Gypsy curse. I can't repeat it, but basically she wished that I would die alone while being treated in a most undignified violent manner by another man.

The two women left and the three of us looked at each other, paused, and almost busted a gut laughing. It was surreal.

Here's my problem: The inferior quality of Gypsy curses these days. Come on, if someone is going to murder me and stick around to defile my corpse, that's hardly dying alone.

While this is an insane example, it begs the question: How much privacy should you expect at a bar?

In reality you should have no expectation of privacy in a bar. On the other hand, you should be respectful of butting into others' conversations. It's tricky. A bar can be a great place to meet and talk to new people, but some people don't want to talk to you. Any thoughts or stories?

I know I will not die alone. I will die with people asking me to google the O's score, the lottery numbers and the movie schedules. That is the curse of the netbook and Wi-Fi.

(Baltimore Sun archive photo)

Posted by Sam Sessa at 3:15 PM | | Comments (21)
Categories: Owl Meat's Tipsy Tuesdays

What happened at the Megadeth Rams Head Live show

old photos of megadeth like this one, from 1994, rawk. Last week, something happened at Megadeth's show at Rams Head Live, forcing the band to postpone the concert until the following night.

Fingers were pointed at the band and at the venue.

Today, I spoke with promoter Mark Mangold, who got to the bottom of the issue. According to Mark, someone threw a water bottle, which doused the main house mixing board, causing it to short out. The show couldn't go on.

The sold-out crowd was understandably angry. A few people punched holes in the walls of the club, which have since been repaired, Mangold said.

"People were frustrated," he said.

(Photo of Megadeth in 1992 by Gene Kirkland)

Posted by Sam Sessa at 2:39 PM | | Comments (8)
Categories: Local music

What was your high school graduation song?

after four years of intensive schooling, it's time to graduate and  move on to new things. many of the people i graduated with went away to  school and wound up right back where they started, on the eastern  shore.Close your eyes and think back to your last year in high school.

Well, don't really close your eyes. Then you wouldn't be able to keep reading. Are your eyes back open? OK.

What was your class song? Did you even have a class song?

I had one, but I can't remember it that well (my memory of high school as a whole is a little hazy) ...

I think one of my classmates wrote an original song and performed it at graduation. I'm not sure if we also had a pre-recorded Official Class Song or not. Maybe that was it. If any of my classmates are reading this, please fill me in here.

Also, this may make you feel old or young (it makes me feel old), but I graduated high school in 2001. Wow.

That was back before 9/11 and Iraq. A whole bunch of my 180-some classmates joined the armed services because we hadn't had a real war since Vietnam. If you think 180 classmates is nothing, consider this: My high school was the only public school in the entire county.

Back then, you could still download music (illegally) through Napster. "Lady Marmalade" by Christina Aguilera, Lil' Kim, Mya and Pink had a stranglehold on radio.

OK, enough of my reminiscing. What was your class song, and what year did you graduate?

(Baltimore Sun photo by Amy Davis)

Posted by Sam Sessa at 10:34 AM | | Comments (36)
Categories: Random stuff

Corkboard: Who has the best spring drink specials?

if you have a martini, and I have a martini, and I have a straw that reaches acroooooooooos the room. i start to drink your martini. I drink your MARTINI! I drink it up! BAAAAAAAAAAHAHAHAHAHHAFrom this Saturday through April 11, Morton's The Steakhouse (300 Charles St.) is whipping up Cherry Blossom Martinis (pictured), in honor of Washington's Cherry Blossom Festival.

The martinis, which cost $13, are made with Bacardi, pineapple Juice, cherry syrup and maraschino liqueur (the full recipe is below).

Which brings us to the subject of this post: Are any other Baltimore bars slinging sweet spring specialty cocktails?

Since this is the Corkboard, any and all bar owners are encouraged to weigh in. Same goes for regular old commenters, who happen to know of some delicious spring drinks going on.

OK, now, here's that recipe for the Cherry Blossom Martini ...


1 oz Bacardi
1 oz Pineapple Juice
1/2 oz Monin Cherry Syrup
1/2 oz Luxardo Maraschino Liqueur

Shake and strain into a martini glass. Garnish with a cherry.

(Photo courtesy of Morton's)
Posted by Sam Sessa at 6:49 AM | | Comments (16)
Categories: Corkboard

March 22, 2010

Porter's to reopen tomorrow

porters is reopening. there really isn't much more to say here.According to this sign posted on the front door, the Federal Hill neighborhood bar/restaurant Porter's will be back in business tomorrow.

If you recall, Porter's closed suddenly last fall, and sat idle for a few months.

Then, in December, we heard that a guy named Kevin Cooper had taken it over and planned to reopen it under the same name, hopefully around February.

Now, it looks like Cooper's come through.

That's a great location, with a lot of foot traffic. I live in the neighborhood, and went to the old Porter's a few times, but was turned off by the sloppy service.

If the new Porter's can solve the service problems, it's sure to be a hit.

(Photo by me) 

Posted by Sam Sessa at 1:50 PM | | Comments (24)
Categories: Bars & Clubs

Don't Know Tavern manager takes over Boomer's on the Hill

boomer's on the hill has been (hostilly) taken over by a rebel bar  manager known to some as "Pipes." Hide your women, South  Baltimore!The South Baltimore neighborhood bar Boomer's on the Hill is getting a face lift, courtesy of Don't Know Tavern manager Stephen "Pipes" Gronowski.

Gronowski, who is leasing the building, wants to make it a "cozy little brick oven-type deal," with exposed bricks, eight beers on tap and pizza, soups and sandwiches. He hopes to have it up and running sometime in the fall.

"Baby steps," he said. "We're opening it up some more. It's actually a pretty big place."

Gronowski doesn't have a name in mind, and is open to suggestions. Anybody got a good one? I hear "NADDs" is available ...

During renovations, Gronowski ripped up the flooring behind the bar, and discovered about seven different layers of sub floors, he said.

"It was like when you cut down a tree," he said.

Oh, and as for that nickname, it's actually not bar-related, Gronowski said. He played baseball in college (back when he weighed 155 pounds), and when he showed up for tryouts, someone said, 'Hey, check at the pipes on this guy.'

"It just kind of stuck," he said.

As someone who grew up being called "Sam I Am," I know just what you mean, Pipes. Thanks, Dr. Seuss.

(Baltimore Sun photo by Sam "I Am" Sessa)

Posted by Sam Sessa at 10:54 AM | | Comments (11)
Categories: Bars & Clubs

The Atlas Bar: A hidden gem in Charles Village

the atlas barWith all the Preakness action going on last week, I didn't have time to mention the nightlife column in Friday's Live! section.

It was about the Atlas Bar, a cool but comically hidden watering hole in lower Charles Village. Run by Angela Devoti, it's one of my favorite new artsy dive bars. (Here's a link to the column.)

Devoti's got her own term for the spot: A "high dive." Heh.

I've been to the Atlas Bar twice, and it hasn't let me down. Great vibe, great drinks, great hideout. How do you get there? Lemme tell ya ...

The bar itself is in a side room of the Charles Street Carryout, which isn't on Charles Street. It's near the corner of 25th and St. Paul streets. When you walk in, veer off to the left, and you'll walk through a doorway to the Atlas Bar.

Angela was telling me that during the blizzard, thieves broke into the carryout, ate some cake, discovered the bar, drank some tequila and nabbed the big flat screen at the end of the bar. She used to keep it on the Turner Classic Movie channel with the volume all the way down.

Losing the TV made the place cooler, I tried to tell her, but she seemed fixed on getting a replacement.

Angela scored this sweet mini-claw game, which she's going to fill up with scraps of paper with bar specials on them so patrons can play. Awesome.

I wanted to be selfish and keep the Atlas Bar to myself. But a place this cool needs to be shared.

(Baltimore Sun photo by Kenneth K. Lam)

Posted by Sam Sessa at 8:34 AM | | Comments (12)
Categories: Bars & Clubs

March 20, 2010

Daughtry and "Batman"

This morning, I realized I'd forgotten to mention something random that happened at Daughtry's show at 1st Mariner Arena Thursday (read the review here).

Before Daughtry's set started, a white sheet was hung around the stage, and squiggles and other shapes were projected onto it (Windows screen saver style). Meanwhile, the speakers played the theme to the original "Batman" movie -- for a few minutes.

It was totally random, and in hindsight, I kinda got a kick out of it. I wonder if other people in the crowd picked up on it.

Posted by Sam Sessa at 10:28 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Concert reviews

March 19, 2010

Did you go to Preakness last year? E-mail me.

With today's announcement about Preakness, I'm looking for a few folks who went to Preakness last year -- especially people who also went to Preakness in years past. E-mail me as soon as possible at

Posted by Sam Sessa at 12:13 PM | | Comments (4)

Concert review: Daughtry at 1st Mariner Arena

daughtryDaughtry's tour opener at 1st Mariner Arena last night had all the right pieces of a gnarly rock show: The angst-filled anthems, the charismatic front man, the laser lights, the shirtless drummer.

But when all the parts came together, the result was a standard, 90-minute color-by-numbers rock concert, somewhat marred by technical difficulties.

To be a remarkable show, it needed a spark, which never came.

Lead singer Chris Daughtry, with his dexterous voice and new crop of black hair(!) carried the night.

It's easy to see why the former American Idol's debut album, "Daughtry," has sold five million copies: Daughtry makes the simmering low notes count just as much as the wails. He's one heck of a singer ...

A little more volume and a better mix would have gone a long way last night. It wasn't going to happen, though -- the speakers were maxed, and cracked whenever drummer Joey Barnes did a roll.

Spot-on renditions of hits like "It's Not Over" and "Feels Like Tonight" were among the show's highlights, with guitarist Josh Steely cutting loose a few crunchy guitar solos. Daughtry's cover of Phil Collins' menacing "In The Air Tonight" was a welcome surprise, as was his version of Billy Idol's "Rebel Yell."

The skeletal staging, with it series of metal stairs and platforms, was bare bones, but the light show was well done. The arena's top tier was closed, and a couple of the lower sections were cordoned off, which made it puzzling when one of the band members thanked everyone for making it a sold-out show.

All told, it was a decent performance -- good but not great, notable but not memorable.

FYI: Daughtry's set started at 9:30 p.m. and ended at 11 p.m.

(Photo by Max Vadukul)

Posted by Sam Sessa at 11:18 AM | | Comments (11)
Categories: Concert reviews

O.A.R., Zac Brown to play Preakness InfieldFEST

fans at last year's infieldFESTRockers O.A.R. and the Grammy award-winning Zac Brown Band will perform at this year's Preakness InfieldFEST, organizers announced today.

This year's InfieldFEST also features a second stage, with sets by Mr. Greengenes, Jason Michael Carroll and Collective Soul, a cornhole tournament, bikini contest and women's volleyball match.

Infield tickets are $40 in advance and $50 the day of (May 15). With the Mug Club package, thirsty revelers can pay an extra $20 and receive a bottomless mug of beer.

This is the second year for the InfieldFEST, a more organized alternative to the bring-your-own-beer, Porta-John racing infield mayhem of years past ...

Last year, Buckcherry and ZZ Top performed, but attendance was down noticeably from previous years.

"I think we worked through some of last year's issues," Maryland Jockey Club president Tom Chuckas wrote in an e-mail.

"We did a little homework on our own and listened to the feedback from customers on what they’d like to see. The entire day promises to be fun-filled, highlighted by the running of the Preakness Stakes."

Coolers and backpacks with food will be allowed, but outside beverages of any kind are prohibited on the infield. Sixteen-ounce beers will cost $3, and bottles of water will be $1.

(Baltimore Sun photo by Lloyd Fox)

Posted by Sam Sessa at 8:57 AM | | Comments (22)

March 18, 2010

Should they regulate bar crawls?

this fellow was drinking inside no idea tavern at 7 a.m. st.  patrick's day. DON'T JUDGE!A couple weeks after 25-year-old Michael Kooser was stabbed in the back by a stranger during a South Baltimore bar crawl, the community is astir, and rightfully so.

Dude got stabbed in his back, and lost half his blood. Thank God he lived.

The incident sparked a heated debate about who should be held responsible, and what could be done to prevent it from happening again.

Something needs to be done. Everyone -- from business owners to neighborhood association leaders -- seems to agree on that. But what should they do? ...

Should they require permits for large-scale bar crawls? Should pubs hosting bar crawls notify the proper authorities weeks ahead of time? Should they be banned outright?

Crime reporter and blogger Peter Hermann examined the issue with this piece in today's paper. He spoke with folks on all sides of the issue, and cited a Rhode Island case where a student was killed by a bus in 2004 during a pub crawl. What did lawmakers do up there? They banned pub crawls.

this is a poster advertising a st. pattys day pub crawl that  happened in south baltimore.The measure that finally passed - and took effect in July 2009, without the governor's signature - prohibits licensed liquor establishments from knowingly participating in a pub crawl, according to a spokesman for the state Senate.

Before the bill's passage, The Providence Journal reported, debate focused on how bartenders could distinguish between an organized event and a group roaming from bar to bar. 

Yeah. Good luck with that, Rhode Island.

I haven't been out drinking with a large group of people in New England since this ban was passed, but I'm willing to bet pub crawls still happen up there. Just a guess.

Outlawing something is almost always a bad idea, unless you're banning some kind of medicine that was supposed to help people but actually ends up killing them.

Requiring permits for pub crawls is also a little silly, unless they're blowouts like the one Lindy Promo threw last weekend.

But Lindy hired off-duty police officers, porta-johns and paid to have the mess cleaned up afterward. Sounds like Lindy's got it covered.

It's the medium-sized pub crawls, like the one where Kooser was stabbed, that have the potential to be powder kegs.

If there is a large group of rowdy, drunken pub crawlers stumbling across Fort Avenue, there are three responsible parties:

1) The pub crawlers, who shouldn't drink so much they act immature and dangerously and put others (and themselves) at risk.

2) The bars, who shouldn't sell the pub crawlers drinks after they were already too drunk.

3) The neighborhood residents, who should call the police and tell them about the rowdy pub crawlers who, often, are carrying open containers. If four or five people call the police at once complaining about this, the police are going to break up the party.

I know the way our government works, and trust me, we're not going to legislate our way out of this problem.

All of the above mentioned parties need to take responsibility. The only way this is going to get better is if change comes from the ground up -- not the top down.

(Baltimore Sun photos by Kim Hairston. Top, Paul Rodriguez, 25, Baltimore, gives thumbs up as he enjoys an early start to his St. Patrick's Day celebrations at No  Idea  Tavern in Federal Hill. Bottom, a poster advertising a South Baltimore pub crawl)

Posted by Sam Sessa at 2:39 PM | | Comments (16)
Categories: Bars & Clubs

Q&A: Jason Wade of Lifehouse, coming to 1st Mariner tonight

can you believe lifehouse has been around for 10 years? jason wade  is the blond one, btw.

Back in 2001, a little-known band named Lifehouse released a single called "Hanging By A Moment."

The song burned up the charts, and thrust the group, led by singer Jason Wade, into the limelight.

Nearly 10 years later, Lifehouse has released five albums, sold nearly 15 million singles and albums -- despite going through several lineup changes and watching its old record label go bankrupt.

Their latest album, "Smoke and Mirrors," debuted at No. 6 on the Billboard 200 chart on March 2. Tonight, they'll be opening for Daughtry at the 1st Mariner Arena (get tickets here).

Traditionally, Wade wrote songs based on personal experiences, and wasn't open to collaborating. That changed with "Smoke and Mirrors," when he teamed up with fellow rock singer Chris Daughtry and songwriter Richard Marx. I spoke with Wade about the album and his new approach to writing music ...

Put "Smoke and Mirrors" in context for me. Where does it fit, compared to the other four albums?

I think this record is a hybrid of what we’ve managed to do for the last 10 years. Half of this record is stripped down and organic, songs like the title track, songs like "Nerve Damage," so there's a real raw rock element to this, but there's also more of a pop polished record making side to this record.

I really think this album showcases two sides to this band. It's a little different from our previous records.

Are you still writing music about your life and your life experiences? I know you did some collaborating on this album.

You know what? This was different for me. I’d predominately done most of the songwriting on my own for the most part on previous records, always used my relationships and experiences as a canvas. I got to a point where, eight years into this, I felt like I didn’t have a lot going on in my life. There wasn’t a lot of turbulence.

I felt like it was necessary to take a different vantage point on this album and reach out to some other songwriters and see if I could get inspired. It's more of a storytelling type of thing than pulling from actual experiences that were happening in my life.

What was it like opening up the songwriting process like that?

It was difficult at first. I tried to do some co-writing about three or four years ago and had some really negative experiences where it felt really forced -- it didn't feel natural at all. On this record, it was all positive.

I got together with Chris Daughtry to write  a song and Richard Marx. Everyone I wrote with I felt like I had chemistry with. The lyrics came naturally, and it felt like we were creating these scenarios and characters and songs. I changed my whole tune with collaborations on this record. I thought it was a really healthy, natural progression for me. I don't think I'm always going to do that, but that's what I think I needed.

lifehouse!Tell me about working with Chris.

I met Chris a couple years ago in Texas. We played a show together. We really had a strong connection instantly. We started to hang out a bit when he was making his album in Los Angeles. We just started writing songs together. He had the idea to bring Richard Marx in.

A couple weeks before I met Richard, he wrote with him and Chad Kroeger, and had nothing but wonderful things to say about Richard Marx. So he flew in from Chicago, we got together for a couple days and just wrote and had an amazing time. It happened really effortlessly.

What qualities do you think makes a good singer? What do you see in some of your favorite singers?

I gravitate toward singers that have that breathy, raspy voice. Bryan Adams was one of my favorite singers when I was a kid. That whole texture I prefer more than the nasally, whiny voice.

You've released five albums in 10 years. That's kind of a lot for a mainstream rock band.

We've never really forced any records. Our bass player quit the band, our record label went bankrupt, we had some turbulent years around 2004-2005. Our main thing was, let’s just keep moving forward, let’s keep touring and when it made sense to get back in a studio and make an album, we would do that.

But we would mainly just stay out on the road, and try to maintain a career that way. I think that's why we're still relevant today, and still have a fan base. We never disappeared from the road. Even when we may have disappeared from the limelight a little bit, we stayed out on the road and kept touring.

What do you think when you look back on the way the pop rock landscape and the record industry have changed in the past 10 years?

It's kind of like it was in the '50s, where singles are very prevalent. It's so weird that you can go online and cherry pick whatever song you want on an album. That's the thing that's changed the most.

It's made a huge impact on the whole record industry and bands in general. I don't think that's a reflection of how much talent is out there. I still think there's great musicians. Music is in a great state. I just think the labels are scrambling to try and figure out how to sell it.

Does that affect the way you come at your albums, knowing that that's the way the market is right now?

Not really, to be honest. I feel we’re very fortunate to not be a new band right now. It's extremely difficult to break a new act to the public. What we've seen with MySpace and Facebook and all that is that even if we’re not selling a whole lot of records, it doesn’t represent how popular you are.

We played one of our biggest shows in the Philippines in front of 9,000 people. We'd barely sold any records, but I think a lot of those fans knew our music from our MySpace page. You can take your music to your fans a lot more easily.

(Photos courtesy of Lifehouse's Web site)

Posted by Sam Sessa at 10:49 AM | | Comments (1)

How'd you spend St. Patrick's Day?

mick o'shea'sHope everyone had a wild and crazy but safe St. Patrick's Day. Where did you go and what did you do?

At 5 p.m., Mick O'Shea's was pretty slammed. All the tables were taken, and it was hard to move near the front of the bar.

The cool part was, half the crowd was composed of people you don't normally see out drinking, such as folks of a certain age (senior citizens, ahem).

I'm not a big Guinness drinker, but I had a couple yesterday (three only cost $8.50 at the front bar). 

What about you?

(Baltimore Sun archive photo)

Posted by Sam Sessa at 8:21 AM | | Comments (14)
Categories: Bars & Clubs

March 17, 2010

Megadeth show rescheduled for tonight due to technical difficulties

look! it's megadeth, circa 1997! RAWK!Details are still murky at this point, but some kind of serious technical difficulty forced thrash metal gods Megadeth to scrap last night's sold-out show at Rams Head Live.

The band had to stop playing after a few songs, leaving more than a thousand concertgoers more than a little unhappy.

All is not lost, though -- Megadeth has booked a makeup gig tonight for all the folks who had tickets to last night's ill-fated show ...

"They're going to do a show tonight for the people who bought tickets last night, and do it for free, which is cool," said Mark Mangold, who handles booking for the Power Plant Live club.

Mark promised to update us tomorrow when he finds out exactly what went wrong at yesterday's show. Meanwhile, if you had tickets to last night's show, you can still see the band tonight.

(Press photo of Megadeth from 1997 courtesy of Capitol Records)

Posted by Sam Sessa at 3:16 PM | | Comments (14)
Categories: Local music

The Wine Market hosts a "Green" wine tasting tonight

the wine marketTonight, the Wine Market, 921 E. Fort Ave., holds a wine tasting featuring Vinho Verde, a Portuguese wine whose name translates to "green wine."

The wine isn't green in color - the name is a reference to the grape's age and crispness - but lately, it's been garnering a reputation as more than just a table wine.

Food samples and a flight of six wines cost $29, which also gets you a $10 gift certificate to the restaurant's in-house wine store.

The tasting is 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.

(Baltimore Sun photo by Christopher T. Assaf)

Posted by Sam Sessa at 12:35 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Bars & Clubs

Eating Lucky Charms at No Idea at 7 a.m.

sam sessa enjoys a bowl of lucky charms at no idea tavern's cereal  bar. he felt fantastic for an hour, before the sugar high wore off and  he crashed.


No Idea Tavern opened at 6 a.m. today, with a complimentary cereal bar and one-cent Guinness drafts (as long as you bought the $5 plastic cup).

While Editor Tim frowns on pre-work drinking, he couldn't keep me from my free breakfast. 


By my informal tally, there were about 15 folks drinking cheapcheapcheap Guinness drafts -- most from the suburbs, I hear.

Silly suburbanites, always after me Lucky Charms ...

I spotted No Idea owner Jason O'Zink behind the bar (surprise, surprise), pouring beers. He looked cheery, given the hour. Come this afternoon, we'll see if he's still so upbeat.

Since I couldn't drink anything, I decided to buy one of the other folks a beer. I set a shiny penny on the bar -- and a nickel tip. 

"Wow, that's like, a 500 percent tip," O'Zink dead-panned.

What can I say? I was feeling flush.

(Baltimore Sun photo by Kim Hairston. What was Kim Hairston doing at No Idea at 7 a.m.? Taking photos of me, of course.)

Posted by Sam Sessa at 10:48 AM | | Comments (10)
Categories: Bars & Clubs

Vivica Fox spotted at Milan

vivica fox, whose last name suits her just fine.After helping save Earth from the apocalyptic alien invasion several years ago, Vivica Fox has plenty of free time to dine at fancy restaurants like Milan, where she was spotted Monday.

Fox is in Washington acting in the play "Cheaper to Keep Her," which is playing at the Warner Theatre.

According to Midnight Sun spies, Fox and a guest feasted on small plates, as part of the upscale restaurant/lounge's Milan Mondays special.

Fox and friend consumed Aragpsta Frittelle (fried lobster fritters), Spinaci Intingolo (creamy spinach dip), Polenta di Pisa (crispy polenta cakes, roma sausage, red pepper ricotta pesto, basil oil) and also Aragosta Pasta e Caci (lobster mac 'n' cheese).


Fox washed all that down with a dirty martini with blue cheese-stuffed olives.

Who said Milan couldn't bring D.C. to Baltimore? Heck, it brought Hollywood to Baltimore.

(Photo by Getty Images)

Posted by Sam Sessa at 8:47 AM | | Comments (17)
Categories: Celebrity sightings

Today, I'll be known as Sam O'Sessa

oh, st. patrick, look what thou hath wrought.Happy St. Paddy's Day, everybody!

Today is a day to celebrate the Irish in all of us, by drinking a Guinness, or a shot of Bailey's and Jameson.

Or, if you like, by dropping a shot of Baileys and Jameson into a glass of Guinness and chugging it -- a delicious concoction named after a despicable act of domestic terrorism.

Wherever people are drinking green beer, I'll be there ... to slap them on the backs of their heads for being such ninnies.

In case you missed it, here's a bloggy I did about St. Patrick's Day specials. Oh, and here's Owl Meat's column about the real St. Patrick ...

I'm half Italian and half European mutt, which means there's probably some Irish in me blood somewhere.

Growing up, my Italian grandmother kept an old wooden shillelagh in a big jar by the door. That way, if someone she didn't like tried to come in, she could grab the shillelagh and give 'em a good Irish thumpin'. I love my grandmom.

And now, a side-slapper from the Emerald Isles, courtesy of

A woman and a man driver are involved in a horrific collision, but amazingly both escape completely unhurt - though their cars are written off.
As they crawl out of the wreckage, the man sees the woman is blonde and strikingly beautiful. Then the woman turns to the man and gushes breathily: 'That's incredible - both our cars are demolished but we're fine. It must be a sign from God that we are meant to be together!'
Sensing a promise, the man stammers back, 'Oh yes, I agree with you completely!'

The woman goes on, 'And look, though my car was destroyed, this bottle of wine survived intact, too! It must be another sign. Let's drink to our love!'

'Well, OK!' says the man, going with the moment. She offers him the bottle, so he downs half of it and hands it back.

'Your turn,' says the man.

'No, thanks,' says the woman, 'I think I'll just wait for the police.'

(AP photo)

Posted by Sam Sessa at 7:00 AM | | Comments (23)
Categories: Bars & Clubs

March 16, 2010

Phish summer 2010 tour announced

After the earlier confusion about Phish's Merriweather gig, the official tour dates have been announced. It's confirmed: Two nights at Merriweather Post Pavilion in June, with tickets going on sale April 2.

This tour sees the band digging in for two- and three-night stands at venues across the country.

Here is the complete list of shows:

Date     City/State     Venue

6/11     Chicago, IL     Toyota Park
6/12     Cuyahoga Falls, OH     Blossom Music Center
6/13     Hershey, PA     Hersheypark Stadium
6/15     Portsmouth, VA     nTelos Pavilion at Harbor Center
6/17     Hartford, CT      Comcast Theatre
6/18     Hartford, CT      Comcast Theatre
6/19     Saratoga Springs, NY      Saratoga Performing Arts Center
6/20     Saratoga Springs, NY     Saratoga Performing Arts Center
6/22     Mansfield, MA      Comcast Center
6/24     Camden, NJ      Susquehanna Bank Center
6/25     Camden, NJ      Susquehanna Bank Center
6/26     Columbia, MD     Merriweather Post Pavilion
6/27     Columbia, MD     Merriweather Post Pavilion
6/29     Canandaigua, NY     CMAC
7/1     Raleigh, NC       Time Warner Cable Music Pavilion
7/2     Charlotte, NC      Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre
7/3     Alpharetta, GA      Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre @ Encore Park
7/4      Alpharetta, GA      Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre @ Encore Park
8/5      Berkeley, CA      Greek Theatre
8/6      Berkeley, CA      Greek Theatre
8/7      Berkeley, CA      Greek Theatre
8/9      Telluride, CO      Telluride Town Park
8/10      Telluride, CO     Telluride Town Park
8/12     Noblesville, IN     Verizon Wireless Music Center
8/13     Noblesville, IN     Verizon Wireless Music Center
8/14     East Troy, WI     Alpine Valley Music Theatre
8/15     East Troy, WI     Alpine Valley Music Theatre
8/17     Wantagh, NY     Nikon Theater at Jones Beach
8/18     Wantagh, NY     Nikon Theater at Jones Beach

Posted by Sam Sessa at 8:10 PM | | Comments (1)

Phish could play Merriweather June 26-27

trey anastasio of phish performing at merriweather post pavilion  in 2009

Is Phish playing Merriweather June 26-27? Depends on who you ask.

The 9:30 Club tweeted about the show this morning, and it was briefly announced on Merriweather's site.

The tweet's still there, but the dates have since been yanked from Merriweather's main site. Merriweather publicist Audrey Schaefer said she hadn't heard about the show, and Phish's camp didn't respond to a request for comment.

Sounds like someone jumped the gun. Not that it matters, though. The dates have already been leaked to Phish fan sites, I hear.

As a colleague of mine at the Washington Post once said, secrets are hard to keep in the age of the Internet.

If the rumors are true, tickets to see the jam band to end all jam bands go on sale April 2. ...

Phish's show at Merriweather last August was the quickest sellout in the history of the Columbia amphitheater. All 17,500-odd tickets went in a matter of minutes.

There might be two shows as opposed to one this summer, but you can still count on the tickets being snapped up pronto.

Last year's show was, for the most part, flat. Some fans called it the worst stop of the tour. In my review, I said it was "a surprisingly mellow show overall -- almost underwhelming at times."

Let's hope Phish puts on a better performance this time around. 

(Baltimore Sun photo by Kenneth K. Lam)
Posted by Sam Sessa at 1:58 PM | | Comments (17)

Virgin Mobile FreeFest 2010: What bands would you like to see?

thirsty? virgin mobile commander in chief richard branson serves  beer at last year's Virgin Mobile FreeFestWhip out your wish lists, gang -- I want to know what bands you think will headline this year's Virgin Mobile FreeFest.

In case you missed the announcement last night, yes, the festival is returning for another year at Merriweather Post Pavilion. And yes, it's going to be free again.

Since none of the bands/dates are set yet, that leaves plenty of room for speculation.

So what's your dream lineup? ...

Keep in mind, the festival is free, which means we're probably not going to see a quadruple bill of Paul McCartney, Bruce Springsteen, Billy Joel and U2. Those caliber of acts generally don't play free festivals, unless it's for a super duper save-the-earth kinda event like Live 8. But you can bank on mid- to top-tier acts along the lines of Weezer and Blink-182.

When it comes to producing free shows like this one, the first year is usually the toughest. It can be hard to convince a band to play for free or a fraction of their usual cost.

If the first year's a hit, the musicians start talking amongst themselves about how cool it was, and it gets easier to book bands.

I've heard through the grapevine that a number of bands have already approached the promoters about performing at this year's festival.

You might laugh at me, but I'd like to see Lady Gaga. I've never seen her, but I've heard it's a freaky, fun show. Problem is, she's already performing at the Verizon Center September 7. I'm also morbidly fascinated by fellow pop sensation Ke$ha. I switch back and forth between annoyed and absorbed with her music. Hee hee.

In all seriousness, I would really like to see Pearl Jam headline. They're socially conscious enough where they just might get behind the festival, given its devotion to youth homeless charities. If memory serves, it's been a while since they've played in the area, too.

Who do you want to see headline?

(Baltimore Sun photo of Richard Branson serving beer at last year's festival by Christopher T. Assaf)

Posted by Sam Sessa at 11:10 AM | | Comments (163)
Categories: Local music

Owl Meat's Tipsy Tuesdays: The real St. Patrick

st. patrick as a wee baby. a wee laddy. After last week's look at Johnny Appleseed, I was ready and rearin' to read about the real St. Patrick. And Owl Meat's column didn't let me down. I think a career as a history prof. wouldn't be too far-fetched for old Owly at this point:

Did you know that Saint Patrick was Italian? It's a fact.

Well, it's a Little Italy fact. 'Tis a tall tale told by neighborhood doyens. This week in Tipsy History we explore this and other blarney surrounding the patron saint of amateur binge drinking, I mean Ireland.

The legend fed to youngsters is that St. Patrick was an Irish priest who brought Christianity to the godless Emerald Isle. As an encore he drove out all the snakes. That's nice, almost magically delicious, but quite wrong.

Hop in Mr. McGravy's Wayback Machine as we travel to the Fifth Century A.D., when Caesar was the Roman emperor, not a salad ...

Strictly speaking, Patrick could not have been Italian, since the country Italy didn't exist until 1861, but that's splitting capellini.

Patrick's parents were indeed wealthy Romans. A ha! Hold onto your scungilli, paisanos, that might not mean what you think.

Romans invaded Britain in 43 A.D. The province of Britannia was formed, which included (the future) England, Wales, and wee bits of Scotland. The Romans occupied Britannia for another four centuries until St. Patrick's time.

Patrick was born in Britannia of Briton parents. Britons were Celtic inhabitants of what is now England.

Patrick's parents were Roman by virtue of having Roman citizenship, not ethnicity. After 212 A.D., all free men in Roman provinces were Roman citizens. So, St. Patrick was not Italian, just a Brit with a good passport.

When Patrick was 14 years old, he was kidnapped and taken to Ireland as a slave, where he tended sheep for six years amidst the yellow moon, orange stars, and green clovers.

A magical spirit encouraged him to escape and he did. Years later another spirit urged him to return and convert the pagans to Christianity. (Or twas it the Leprechaun?)

And now for the snakes. Scientists don't believe that post-glacial Ireland had any snakes, so that myth is busted.

Snakes are prevalent in Celtic art and Druid images. (Druids were Celtic priests said to be wizards.) But if there were no snakes in Ireland, why were they so prominent in their imagery?

Perhaps Patrick's snakes represent the worship of animal spirits in Druidism (and Beelzebub, the O.G. snakemeister of Eden). So snake eradication is a metaphor for a British conquest that crushed local culture and religion, like a British Empire beta test.

The three-leaf shamrock was supposedly used by St. Patrick to illustrate the Trinity to a pagan Irish king. Uh, sure. So why is the four-leaf clover considered lucky?

Hagiographies of St. Patrick are filled with divine visitations and compassionate intentions for Patrick's lost Irish lambs. (Was he really a shepherd? That seems symbolically convenient and now I'm hungry for lamb.) Did Christianity come to Ireland like the gentle blooming of hyacinths? Unlikely.

The Irish were stubborn in retaining Celtic religion and resisting Roman domination. St. Patrick's "missionary" work was a Roman-supported campaign, an act of political domination by Romano-Britons, probably with all the attendant brutality that comes with conversion at the point of a sword.

I envision St. Patrick's efforts as something out of Quentin Tarrantino's oeuvre. Imagine a tale of violent revenge and political terror: Harvey Keitel starring in Green Vengeance, with Uma Thurman as Sister Broadsword.

St. Patrick's Day is a beautiful tangle of contradictions and irony. People get drunk to honor a pious Catholic Saint who was not Irish, probably meted out badass Roman-style conversion, was guided by voices, and defeated imaginary snakes. Sounds perfect. Sláinte, everyone!

Posted by Sam Sessa at 8:09 AM | | Comments (24)
Categories: Owl Meat's Tipsy Tuesdays

March 15, 2010

Virgin Mobile FreeFest to return to Merriweather

weezer at virgin mobile freefestThe Virgin Mobile FreeFest will be back for another year at Merriweather Post Pavilion, organizers confirmed today.

And yes, as the name implies, it will be free again.

Though no headliners or dates have been picked yet, the festival is sure to be one of the region's biggest live music events.

Last year, a capacity crowd flooded the Columbia amphitheater to see bands such as Weezer, Blink-182 and Franz Ferdinand ...

"People were pinching themselves that they were there for free," said festival publicist Audrey Schaefer. "The people at Virgin Mobile wanted to find a way to recreate that magic but take it a step further."

This year, the festival will once again partner with charities to raise money and awareness for youth homelessness. Last year, volunteers donated 30,000 hours and $80,000 in exchange for tickets to the festival.

"That added a whole new dimension and a sense of pride," Schaefer said.

(Baltimore Sun photo by Christopher T. Assaf)
Posted by Sam Sessa at 7:28 PM | | Comments (24)
Categories: Local music

The Black Eyed Peas are coming to Baltimore

the black eyed peas The Black Eyed Peas have added a Baltimore date to their acclaimed national tour, officials announced today.

The four-piece pop phenomenon will play 1st Mariner Arena Aug. 10. Tickets will go on sale at noon March 20.

"We are so excited to be a part of the second leg of this world tour," said Jamie Curtis, the arena's marketing director. "To have them come to Baltimore, we're honored. It's going to be a great show." ...

I caught their concert at the Verizon Center in Washington last month, which was pretty wild.

In my review, I called it "a dizzying digital love fest, where singer Fergie and rappers Will.i.a.m, and Taboo strutted around the stage in sparkle-tastic outfits and toured through their hits."

Thinking back on it, there were moments where I felt like my picture was being taken because of all the lasers, glitter and glare on stage. You know how you get those post-photo white spots on your eyes? I had a few of those that night.

The Peas' latest album, "The E.N.D." continues to tear up the charts. It's gone triple platinum, and three singles, "Boom Boom Pow," "I Gotta Feeling" and "Imma Be" have all hit No. 1.

(AP photo)

Posted by Sam Sessa at 2:59 PM | | Comments (4)

I've already decided on a Halloween costume for this year

Halloween may be months away, but I've got my costume on lock down.

I'm going as Ruby Rod, Chris Tucker's character from "The Fifth Element." Bzzzzzt!!! Most people probably won't get the reference, but this movie's been on TV a lot lately and Ruby Rod brings me to tears. Tears of joy. Witness: 

Posted by Sam Sessa at 10:44 AM | | Comments (15)
Categories: Random stuff

Pratt Street Ale House eyeing Riordan's in Annapolis

the pratt street ale house is located on pratt street.

In early March, we learned the Pratt Street Ale House is looking to expand into Annapolis and maybe South Baltimore.

I heard from several people that co-owner Justin Dvorkin was in talks with Brian McComas about taking over Taverna Corvino. Untrue, McComas told me. It's just a rumor. A popular rumor, but a rumor nonetheless.

I did, however, find out what space Dvorkin and Co. are eyeing in Annapolis: The old Riordan's ...

"It's a location I looked at for a while," he said. "We're fighting pretty hard. Right now we're having some productive meetings on it."

Riordan's closed in 2007 (I actually dug up an interesting Sun article about its final days. Might post that at some point this week).

Dvorkin is in talks with the landlord as well as Annapolis city officials, trying to figure out building updates, permits and such.

"We're hoping," he said. "We've got our fingers crossed."

(Baltimore Sun archive photo)
Posted by Sam Sessa at 8:56 AM | | Comments (13)
Categories: Bars & Clubs

March 13, 2010

Reaction! is still going strong at the Sidebar Tavern

reaction posterYears ago, one of my very first nightlife columns was on a new mod-themed monthly dance party called Reaction!, held at the Sidebar Tavern every second Friday.

DJ Amanda Otto spun '60s and '70s grooves plucked from her big boxes of vintage 45s, and a retro-sounding band played a 30- or 45-minute set. Some folks came dressed in short skirts, leather boots and other mod attire. It was a cool idea for a dance party.

But given the shelf life of most Baltimore dance parties (save for a few like TaxLo), I didn't expect Reaction! to make it more than a year or two. 

Silly me.

Last night, a few Midnight Sunners and I hit up the Sidebar for Reaction!, and the scene was outta sight, baby.

Side note: I love the throwback posters Amanda uses to advertise the party ...

The cover was $7, not too bad, considering some drinks were two-for-one until 11 p.m.

Last night's band was Baltimore's Bad Liquor Pond, whose acid-tinged garage rock fit the night's theme just fine. They've begun to hit their stride in the past year, finding the right mix of fuzzed-out riffs and hazy grooves. It's common for psychedelic bands to stretch out their jams for minutes on end, but Bad Liquor Pond kept the solos tight and tasteful.

Singer/guitarist Dave Gibson, with his slightly shaggy hair, Ray Bans and necklace, kinda looked like something from the '60s. The rest of the guys, not so much. Looks don't matter much, of course, but it made me chuckle.

After Bad Liquor Pond's set (which lasted about 30-45 minutes), we cut a rug for another couple hours until the party was over at around 1 a.m. The crowd started thinning after the band stopped, but it was great to see Reaction! thriving a few years after it began.

Posted by Sam Sessa at 11:29 AM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Bars & Clubs, Local music

March 12, 2010

Corkboard: Who has the best St. Patrick's Day specials?

look at these silly people with their silly green hair! that's  silly!In today's Live section, I tossed out five solid St. Patrick's Day options, from food to family to falling-down-drunk.

I also wrote about the parade. Dig it.

Now, I'd like some Baltimore bar and club owners to weigh in:

What are your specials? What time do they start? What should people know ahead of time?

Please dish!

And happy almost-St. Patrick's Day, everybody!

(Baltimore Sun photo by Kenneth K. Lam)

Posted by Sam Sessa at 12:55 PM | | Comments (17)
Categories: Corkboard

And the winner is ...

this is joe squared, from a few years agoLK, who correctly identified yesterday's mystery bar -- Joe Squared.

As noted by commenter Evan, you can only see this particular spot if you're in Joe Squared and you look straight up.

Photographer Alexander D. Mitchell IV thought he was being sneaky with this one. Turns out, stumping Midnight Sunners is no easy feat.

Thanks for playing, everyone. 

LK -- email me at with your vitals and we'll arrange a prize pickup.

(Baltimore Sun archive photo)

Posted by Sam Sessa at 11:10 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Name That Bar

Nadds comes to senses, becomes Singer's

nadds baltimore

After all those hilarious comments about Canton Arts and Entertainment, it's good to see a Baltimore bar owner coming to his senses.

Ron Singer, owner of NADDS (New Age Dine and Dance) has caved to criticism and decided to rename his Mount Vernon watering hole Singer's. 

Guess he didn't have the cojones to stick with NADDS. 

Zink! ...

One of my spies attended the liquor board hearing yesterday, where Singer said all the negative publicity made him think twice about the name NADDS.

I'm going to call Ron today at some point for comment. As I'm writing this, it's still waaay to early to phone a bar owner. Most of them don't get up until at least 10 a.m.

With NADDS and Canton Arts and Entertainment no more, that means our list of awfully named Baltimore bars just got a bit shorter. A bit.

(Blue-tinted photo by me.. I paid extra for the blue tint.)
Posted by Sam Sessa at 7:00 AM | | Comments (5)
Categories: Bars & Clubs

March 11, 2010

Conan O'Brien is coming to D.C.

conan o'brienIf you haven't already heard, Conan O'Brien is taking his show on the road.

O'Brien and other former "Tonight Show" staffers are heading out to dozens of cities, including Washington on June 8, where they'll appear at DAR Constitution Hall.

As you might imagine, tickets are going like hot cakes for this show.

Editor Sarah said it's probably best to try and get one ticket, because pairs of tickets are hard to come by at this point. 

Good luck, and go CoCo!

(AP photo)

Posted by Sam Sessa at 1:12 PM | | Comments (7)

So I got that City Paper award

midnight sun's various awardsBehold, the physical proof of Midnight Sun's award-winning-ness.

This makes up for all those blue ribbons I never got at the county fair as a child.

Damn you, tractor pull!

With all these awards, I'm going to have to get a bigger desk. And a bigger ego.

All this recognition was too much for my old ego, which split at the seams.

No, wait, that was my waistline, from all those $1.25 Clipper City Golds at Down the Hatch ...

Damn you, Hugh Sisson!

Anyway, I'd like to thank my parents, for having me, and my grandparents, for having them. And all the little people I robbed to bribe the City Paper.

Now, I've got to run out to Wal-Mart and pick up some Windex to polish the plastic cover. Man, I wish there was one near here, like, in Remington or something. Hee hee.

(Photo by me)
Posted by Sam Sessa at 12:20 PM | | Comments (12)
Categories: Random stuff

Let's give a warm welcome to Party On It

j-roddy walston and the business knows how to rawk.Big things are happening for local rockers J-Roddy Walston and the Business.

They signed a record deal. They're working on a new album.

And now, drummer Steve Colmus has a blog, called Party On It. Dig it here.

Steve's first entry posted yesterday.

It's about their record deal, gearing up for the music festival South by Southwest and being picked as one of Spin's 50 Must Hear Bands of SXSW ...

He writes:

For the four last four years, I’ve played drums in a band called J Roddy Walston & the Business.  Don’t wrack your brain – unless you’ve come to one of our shows or work at the Weis my mother shops at, you probably haven’t heard of us.  But there’s a king-hell load of someone else’s money that says it won’t be that way for long.  (Just kidding, Vagrant.  Keep it coming.)

Pretty cool reading, all around. 

Party On It is one of a number of new blogs on Charm City Current, one more weapon in the Baltimore Sun's ever-expanding digital armada. Load cannons!

So let's give a warm round of applause (and mouse clicks) to Steve and Party On It.
Posted by Sam Sessa at 10:37 AM | | Comments (5)
Categories: Local music

Name That Bar, vol. 18

Unlike previous Name That Bars, this time around, I've changed things up a bit.

I still want you to post the name of this bar in the comments section (if you think you know it). And I'm still going to award a prize to the first person who guesses correctly.

But I'm not going to publish any of the comments until this time tomorrow. That way, more people get the chance to guess. Everybody ready? OK, here's the picture ...

name this bar
Posted by Sam Sessa at 8:44 AM | | Comments (12)
Categories: Name That Bar

March 10, 2010

A sad look back at Mark Linkous of Sparklehorse

mark linkous of sparklehorseIn 2007, then-Baltimore Sun music critic Rashod Ollison wrote this profile of Sparklehorse's Mark Linkous (pictured).

The piece is pretty sad, given Linkous' recent suicide.

In hindsight, even the headline is chilling: Return from the dark side

This passage, which comes at the end of the story, is particularly depressing ...

But for every delicate number, there's a searing rocker such as "Ghost in the Sky." The album - whose title was concocted from an old beat poet trick of writing words on paper and rearranging them - buzzes with serene atmospherics. But beyond the pretty noises are well-crafted songs that in subtle ways convey Linkous' growing optimism about life.

He says, "You always have to keep an element of light in there somewhere."


Rest in peace, Mark.

(Photo of Mark Linkous from 2007 by Timothy Saccenti)
Posted by Sam Sessa at 5:42 PM | | Comments (1)

What bars did you used to love that you now hate?

howling at the moon

What are some bars and clubs that you used to love but can't stand now?

It could be spots that have gone downhill over the years, like Reefers in Fells Point.

Or it could just be spots that you went to every weekend but just can't imagine yourself patronizing anymore.

When I had just moved to Baltimore, I used to like going to Howl at the Moon (pictured) in Power Plant Live.

The house piano players were pretty talented, and after a few Miller Lites, I'd sing a long with their renditions of classics like "Bennie and the Jets" and "Don't Stop Believin'." ...

Every once in a while, I'd dig around in my wallet for a $5, fill out a little request sheet, walk up to the podium and set it on one of their pianos, crossing my fingers that they'd play my song.

These days, I wouldn't dream of going to Howl at the Moon. L-A-M-E, if you ask me. But the truth is, I've just outgrown it. 

I'll bet those piano players made a killing, though.

(Baltimore Sun archive photo)

Posted by Sam Sessa at 1:36 PM | | Comments (41)
Categories: Bars & Clubs

Canton Arts and Entertainment is closed

canton arts and entertainment signIn a move which should surprise no one, the much-maligned Canton Arts and Entertainment is closed, bringing to an end one of the stranger Baltimore restaurant/bar sagas in recent memory.

There is a sign on the front door, which promises changes, such as a new menu and chef. 

According to the sign, Canton Arts and Entertainment will only be closed for a few weeks. Anybody want to take a bet on that one?

Lets recap: A ginormous building which used to be a hookah sports bar called Hucka's closed.

The new owners spent oodles of time and money dividing the space into smaller sections: A bar, called My Generation, a horribly named restaurant, Gutman's, and an oyster bar, The Black Pearl.

The whole place was dubbed Canton Arts and Entertainment, an incredibly clunky name by all accounts.

Canton Arts and Entertainment didn't have a Web site, or an official grand opening -- none that we know about, at least ...

Instead, it had a woman named Dawn call former Sun restaurant critic Elizabeth Large to inform her about the place. Unfortunately, at the time, Dawn wasn't all that organized herself -- she didn't even have Canton Arts and Entertainment's phone number handy.

Dawn later called me and shared a bit more info about Canton Arts and Entertainment. Intrigued, I reviewed its bar, My Generation. In the review, I said:

I wonder how long such a big restaurant and bar can sustain itself when it's that empty on a Saturday night. I don't like to make projections, but at this rate, I will be shocked if Canton Arts and Entertainment is still open a year from now.

Looks like Canton Arts and Entertainment didn't even make it six months.

Oh, and let's not forget the City Paper's scathing review of Gutman's, which spawned one of the more hilarious comment threads on the alternative weekly's Web site.

Now, I think I'll take a cue from Owl Meat, who likes to end his posts with a song. Here's Ringo, with a farewell.

(Photo by jmgiordano)

Posted by Sam Sessa at 10:57 AM | | Comments (22)
Categories: Bars & Clubs

Corkboard: Who has the cheapest Resurrection in Baltimore?

resurrection ale

Dear friends,

I'm giggling with glee as I type this:

Every day from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m., Hon Bar pours draft Resurrection for $3.

My goodness, my Guinness Resurrection!

The folks at Cafe Hon are proudly boasting that this is the best Resurrection deal in town. So far, I can't refute it. 

I went straight to the source of the stuff -- Brewer's Art, which makes the delicious ale -- and asked co-owner Volker Stewart how much they charge ...

During Brewer's Art's happy hour, Resurrection is $3.25. A quarter more than Cafe Hon.

Is that even legal?

Then, I phoned Idle Hour co-owner Brendan, who told me their best Resurrection deal is $4, also during happy hour.

Does any Baltimore bar serve the stuff for cheaper? 

Since this is only the second edition of the Corkboard, I'd like to remind everyone that this is the one place on Midnight Sun where it's OK for you to be a shill. It's a pro-shill zone, not a no-shill zone.

So shill, folks. Shill away!

(Baltimore Sun archive photo)
Posted by Sam Sessa at 8:00 AM | | Comments (40)
Categories: Corkboard

March 9, 2010

Gavin DeGraw is a good tipper, apparently

gavin degraw HIMSELF

At around 10:30 or 11 p.m. after the final day of last year's state fair, the Ernie Fowler Trio was performing at Hightopps Backstage Grille in Timonium, right near the fairgrounds. I'll let band member Mike Prout tell the rest of the story, in his own words:

It was pretty packed night. In the middle of our second set, people were coming up to us, asking for songs. Some were even coming up in the middle of songs to try and talk to us.

I'd be like, 'I'm in the middle of playing and I can't talk to you.' So I stopped making eye contact when I saw anybody approaching. I remember we were playing "Drive" by Incubus and took it right into "Keep On Rocking in the Free World."

We were in the middle of that, and I was wailing some guitar lead when I see out of the corner of my eye somebody approaching. I was like, 'Oh no, he's going to want to talk to me.' ...

He drops a crumpled up bill in front of our floor monitor. We had a bucket off to the side of the stage for tips. We said, 'Hey man, there's a bucket right there for tips.' He said 'OK,' and he grabbed it, walked over and put it in there.

Rob looked at me and was like, 'He looks familiar, is he one of those piano guys?' I was like, 'I don't know. He doesn't look like it.'

Another thing I noticed was, when he picked the bill up, it looked like a big bill. I was like, 'That could have been a $20 or something.' Maybe that's why he wanted to throw it down here and not mix it into the tip bucket. 

After the set's over, we look in the tip bucket and sure enough, there's $100 bill in the bucket. We were going, 'Who the hell is that guy? He's got to be somebody, dropping a $100 bill on a cover trio in Hightopps.'

I got stuck talking to somebody on stage and Ernie and Rob went outside on the deck to smoke a cigarette and saw the guy. They walked up to him and Ernie, who still didn't know who he was, said, 'Hey, thanks a lot man, we really appreciate the tip. That was really nice of you.' 

He said, 'Oh, no problem. You guys sound great. You guys obviously love what you do, and it's great to see musicians having fun.' 

Ernie said, 'Cool, my name's Ernie' and shook hands.

The guy said, 'My name's Gavin.'

Ernie goes, 'Gavin DeGraw?'


"Oh my God! It's great to meet you! What are you doing here?"

He had his whole crew there, apparently, five or six people. Ernie comes running back and says, 'That was Gavin DeGraw.' 

I said, 'Oh, where is he?'

He said, 'He just left.'

I was like, 'Awwww come on!' It was pretty surreal.

(Photo of Gavin DeGraw by Getty Images)

Posted by Sam Sessa at 1:09 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Local music

What are your favorite misinterpreted song lyrics?

it's mariah time, baby!How many times have you listened to a song, thought you knew the words and later found out you had it all wrong?

I can't count how many times that's happened to me. 

Heck, it's happened to everybody -- most notably on Jimi Hendrix's "Purple Haze," when many people thought he said "excuse me while I kiss this guy" (he actually said "excuse me while I kiss the sky").

In middle school, I thought in Mariah Carey's song "Hero,"she sang "synchronize the music" instead of "that a hero lies in you." Waaaaay off ...

A few months ago, when I first heard the song "Replay" by Iyaz on the radio, I thought he said "My eyeball's stuck on replay." I remember thinking, 'That doesn't make any sense. Kids these days, with their digital eyeballs.' He's actually singing "My iPod's stuck on replay."

Amie, I think has the funniest one. Growing up, she thought Steve Winwood was singing "Bake me a pie of love" instead of "Bring me a higher love."

I'm sure you've had this happen before. Which songs? And what lines?

(Photo by Getty Images)

Posted by Sam Sessa at 10:59 AM | | Comments (47)

Owl Meat's Tipsy Tuesdays: Johnny Appleseed

look mommy, it's johnny appleseed!

If you asked my friends, they'd tell you I'm something of a history buff. But I've never fully researched the tale of Johny Appleseed. Owl Meat Gravy to the rescue!

In what I think is one of his better guest posts, Owl Meat delves deep into the core of the man, the myth, the legend:

If you wander around Baltimore wearing a pot as a hat and spreading your seeds, you're a promiscuous crackhead. In the Nineteenth Century you would be Johnny Appleseed.

I am pleased to present the first Tipsy Tuesday Unsung Hero – Johnny Appleseed.

The myth that we teach children is that Johnny Appleseed (John Chapman) travelled across the land planting apple trees from seeds. Mmm... apples: wholesome, delicious, and nutritious. The apple is a symbol of the Righteous American Way: Apple-cheeked (chaste yet fertile), apple pie (true American), and Satan's sin-candy. Strike that last one ...

John Chapman did exist. He planted apple trees in nurseries in western Pennsylvania, Ohio and Indiana. The apples were cider apples for making hard cider. His agents sold the trees to settlers.

Because you can't grow good apple trees from seeds, the manic seed tosser image is false.

There is a perception that hard cider is an unusual use for apples, but in the 1800s it was the primary use. Fermenting cider to make an alcoholic beverage has been around for millennia.

Because water was unsafe to drink, fermentation of cider was a way to preserve it for the whole year, not just to get ye olde swerve on. Even if you kept fermentation to a minimum, it is amusing to think of people drinking hard cider from breakfast on.

He didn't wear a pot on his head, but he was a bona fide eccentric. My favorite biographical detail is that he avoided relations with women, because he thought that abstinence would allow him to have two female spirits in Heaven. You dawg!

I guess the true story of Johnny Appleseed would blow kids' minds, so a more wholesome fiction was created. The pot on the head part does make you question his sobriety.

Let's end with a live performance of "Johnny Appleseed" by Joe Strummer and the Mescaleros. It breaks my heart every time. Cheers to you Joe and John Chapman.

(Photo courtesy of

Posted by Sam Sessa at 8:00 AM | | Comments (15)
Categories: Owl Meat's Tipsy Tuesdays

March 8, 2010

Tonight: Low Strung at Joe Squared

cello styleHow could this be anything but awesome?

Low Strung, a group of cellists who cover classic rock songs, is coming to Joe Squared tonight. The show is free and starts at 10 p.m.

I went to their MySpace site and listened to their version of Journey's "Don't Stop Believing."

Bach would approve, methinks.

Posted by Sam Sessa at 4:27 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Local music

Patrick's of Pratt Street to reopen full time

patricks of pratt streetWest Baltimore residents rejoice -- Patrick's of Pratt Street is back.

The Irish pub, which has been only open sporadically for the past year, has new management and could reopen as early as March 14th.

The new manager/chef is Zu Tudhope, a former sous chef who plans to bring in a better beer selection and make the menu a little less upscale. The interior will remain the same, she said.

"We're not trying to change it too much," she said. "We want to make it more accessible to the community." ...

Patrick's will be open Tuesdays-Sundays, with brunch on Saturdays and Sundays.

The bar has been in the Rowley family for several generations, but has sat idle for the past year while current owners Patrick and Anne Rowley focused on their newer location in Frederick.

"They'll be able to fully focus on Frederick while I run the Baltimore location," Tudhope said. "Everyone that I talk to always misses the place. It has such a great feel."

(Baltimore Sun photo by Barbara Haddock Taylor)

Posted by Sam Sessa at 11:48 AM | | Comments (14)
Categories: Bars & Clubs

Tapas Adela's drink menu puzzles me

martiniIn the past, we've talked about whether it's kosher or not for a bar to list cocktail prices.

My stance has always been, put the drink prices on the drink menu.

Saturday night, Amie, some friends and I went to Tapas Adela, the semi-new small plates spot in Fells Point run by the Mezze/Meli/Kali's Court conglomerate.

The meal was just fine, and the wine list had some enticing options. But the cocktail menu made me scratch my head.

It listed drink prices for glasses of wine, as well as tequilas and a few other drinks.

But it didn't list prices for certain cocktails or martinis.

About half the drinks had prices, and half did not ...

Was this on purpose? Was it a fluke?

If you're going to list prices, list all the prices or don't list any. Defecate or abdicate, if you will. None of this halfway stuff -- it's just annoying. Then you have to ask the server how much it costs, and sometimes the server has to ask the bar manager and check back with you, yadda yadda yadda.

I can't think of any other Baltimore restaurants or bars where I've seen this. Can you?

(LA Times photo by Con Keyes) 
Posted by Sam Sessa at 8:52 AM | | Comments (8)
Categories: Bars & Clubs

March 6, 2010

Check out Letters From the War at the Creative Alliance tonight

Local musician Michael Beresh had two great uncles who fought and died in World War II. Recently, Beresh came upon a bunch of long lost letters sent by his uncles to his family, and set their words to music. Tonight, he'll perform them at the Creative Alliance. For more info on the show, go here. Also, the City Paper had an interesting piece on the project. Check it out.
Posted by Sam Sessa at 2:07 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Local music

What I sing in the shower ...

Posted by Sam Sessa at 10:41 AM | | Comments (7)
Categories: Random stuff

March 5, 2010

A fistful of Bacon Pop, or, 'What's that smell?'

mark plants a kiss on his new love, bacon popA couple months ago, someone (maybe pets blogger Jill?) gave me a bag of Bacon Pop.

That's right -- bacon-flavored popcorn. 

Individually, I love popcorn and bacon with almost religious fervor. But how would they taste together? 

Too afraid to find out, I let the bag be. Then Editor Amanda spotted it, and said, 'Mark might like that.'

You may remember Mark from such posts as this one, from last year's Virgin Mobile FreeFest. Mark's an adventurous guy. He lives on the edge. Or in Brewer's Hill. One of the two.

About an hour ago, Mark fired up the microwave. The smell hasn't gone away yet. I think the newsroom may be on the verge of mutiny ...

"Did someone put a tire in the microwave?," one coworker asked.

"Ugh, what is that?" another wondered.

Meanwhile, Mark munched. I tried some, too. Bacon Pop doesn't really taste like bacon. Well, maybe there's a vague hint of it, like when you cook bacon in a skillet but don't properly wash it, and the next thing you cook in the skillet kind of tastes like bacon. KnowwhatI'msaying?

In short, Bacon Pop is all scent. To which I say, 'Boo, bacon pop. Booooo.'

Mark seems to like it, though. 

(Photo of Mark giving Bacon Pop butterfly kisses by me)

Posted by Sam Sessa at 1:59 PM | | Comments (6)
Categories: Random stuff

Why there shouldn't be permits for pub crawls

Midnight Sunner Evan has an insightful post over on his own bloggy about why banning or issuing permits for bar crawls is a silly idea. I highly suggest you read it. He makes some great points all around -- especially about neighborhood residents and bar owners taking responsibility.
Posted by Sam Sessa at 12:28 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Bars & Clubs

My thoughts on Pazo's Cupcakes & Cocktails menu

cupcakes and cocktailsMy nightlife column in today's paper was about how some restaurants are offering new specials to cater to the lounge set.

I lumped together Pazo's new Cupcakes & Cocktails menu with Lebanese Taverna's late night happy hour and Phillips Harborplace's new lounge.

Here's a link to the piece.

Originally, I had called one of the cupcakes "divine," but Editor Tim saved me from myself. He did, however, allow me to call another cupcake "studly." Granted, I said it was more like a muffin than a cupcake. Get it? Stud muffin?

Yeah, I know, I'm a dork ...

To do the review, I went to Pazo by myself, nabbed a bar seat and proceeded to order two (2) cupcakes and two (2) cocktails at once. The bartender was a bit taken aback, but obliged me. She brought the cocktails first, and then the cupcakes.

It felt a little weird sitting at the bar, stuffing my face with fancy cupcakes, but hey, ya gotta do whatcha gotta do. I ate half of each cupcake, drank half of each cocktail and scurried off to see Cage the Elephant at the 9:30 Club.

The whole ordeal reminded me of the time Amie and I reviewed Fleming's for the Baltimore Sun's (now defunct) Dining Guide. Each of us had to order an appetizer, entree, drink and dessert. The portions were huge, and we came nowhere close to eating it all (I think we took it home).

I felt like such a stereotypical American when I insisted on ordering two desserts, though I'd only eaten half my steak. The bottom line is, when duty calls, Sam Sessa picks up the phone. Burp.

(Pictured is the Sweet Corn Cupcake paired with White Chocolate & Macadamia Nut Martini. Sun photo by Kenneth K. Lam)

Posted by Sam Sessa at 9:16 AM | | Comments (5)
Categories: Bars & Clubs

March 4, 2010

The Captain's Corner: Drinking tequila in the buff

capt. larry outside his bar, circa 2000

Who's been waiting all week for the next edition of the Captain's Corner? I know I have. 

If you're still new to the Captain's Corner (shame on you), here's what you need to know: It's a series of columns by Capt. Larry Gross, the former owner of Captain Larry's in South Baltimore. Read his past columns here.

OK, we're locked, loaded and ready for some action. Captain! Come on, buddy!

After the third wife, I had this girlfriend, Donna. We went to Mexico -- we took a week and went to Cancun or someplace.

I come back with three or four bottles of Mexican tequila -- two bottles of the expensive (bleep) and two bottles of the nasty (bleep) and two of these bandaleros like Pancho Villa would wear.

One night, I'm tending bar, and I've got about 20 people in the bar, and it's getting like I've got to do something to liven the place up ...

I go back in the kitchen, take all my (bleeping) clothes off, put those two bandaleros on and one of those Mexican hats. I come out and Christ, they almost fell on the floor.

They said, 'What are you doing?'

I said, 'We're going to drink tequila. We're going to drink the good (bleep) and the bad (bleep).'

They said, 'Let's start with the bad (bleep).'

Those customers got four free bottles of tequila. (The neighborhood cop), Wally, comes in, and every (bleeping) customer sitting at that bar is naked. I'm behind the bar naked, and I'm all juiced up.

He said, 'What the (bleep) are you people doing?'

I said, 'We're drinking (bleeping) tequila, and we're naked, Wally.'

He said, 'Well, I want to, too!'

Wally takes his clothes off, puts his gun belt back on -- and his hat -- and said, 'I'm going to be the doorman.'

I said, 'Wally, put your (bleeping) clothes on. Again, they will only shut me down for three days, but you will be fired.'

It's a wonder I lasted that long without getting shut down. I didn't do anything criminal or bad. Just the wackiest (bleep), and everybody got into it.

(Photo of Capt. Larry circa 2001 from Sun archives)

Posted by Sam Sessa at 12:06 PM | | Comments (8)
Categories: Bar stories

Concert review: Muse at 1st Mariner Arena

matthew bellamy of museFrom the first notes of the fist-pumping protest anthem "Uprising," Muse set the dial at 10, where it stayed for the rest of the 100-minute show.

The British power trio has a sound tailor made for arenas such as 1st Mariner, where they played last night. It was a night of colossal riffage and manic special effects, from frantic laser lights to disturbing videos.

"Rise up and take the power back it's time the / fat cats had a heart attack we have to / unify and watch our flag ascend, so come on," lead singer/guitarist Matt Bellamy (pictured) sang.

Did he mean it? With his turquoise pants, sparkly silver shoes and Kanye West glasses, it was hard to tell.

After the show, more people probably watched the Maryland-Duke game or grabbed a snack from McDonald's than rose up to overthrow the fat cats. I'll bet most folks came to rawk, and rawk they did ...

Bellamy filled the arena with feedback and aching falsetto, and occasionally conjured flurries of distorted notes. Bassist Christopher Wolstenholme and drummer Dominic Howard held down the driving rhythms, reminiscent of '90s alt-rock (before all those pesky emo bands went mainstream).

The show, which started at 8:50 p.m. and ended at about 10:30 p.m., had several tunes from their latest album, "The Resistance" but also spanned Muse's past few albums, with songs like "Starlight," "Super Massive Black Hole," and "Hysteria"

The staging was quite the sight: The band members stood on three tall pillars, which rose and retracted, depending on the song. They'd stand on the stage for a couple songs, and then the columns would come up from the floor and lift them 20 feet above the audience. I've never seen anything quite like it; someone clearly put a ton of time and effort into its design.

The columns also displayed video on their sides, and some of that video was freakish -- hundreds of giant black and white eyeballs, blinking at us, and, at one point, faceless naked bodies (parts and all) spinning around. Yeah.

While a few of Muse's songs were bookended with short instrumental jams, Muse kept the set tight, taking only short pauses between songs. If they had played much longer, the show might have grown monotonous. As it was, they hit Baltimore with a heavy dose of melodic, metallic rock 'n' roll.

(Photos of Muse performing in January at the Big Day Out 2010 Music Festival by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

Posted by Sam Sessa at 9:28 AM | | Comments (25)
Categories: Concert reviews

March 3, 2010

'We're just taking notes for work'

the killersI make a living talking to people. If I don't talk to people, I don't get tips or quotes for stories.

When I review concerts, however, I don't have to talk to anybody. I just need to take notes.

But when I'm at a concert and people see me whip out my notepad and start jotting things down, they want to know what I'm up to. It's inevitable. Someone -- or multiple someones -- at each show point to my notepad and ask me what I'm doing.

I used to tell them the truth. "I'm reviewing the show," I'd say. They'd ask who I work for, and I'd tell them.

A funny thing happens when you tell someone that. They suddenly get the urge to tell you what they thing of the show. It all depends on how much they've been drinking (I don't drink alcohol when I'm reviewing concerts) ...

When I saw the Killers at Merriweather Post Pavilion last year, this middle-aged drunk dude next to me kept yelling crap in my ear, trying to sound witty.

"Brendan Flowers (pictured, top) is the Bono of your generation," he said. "You can write that down."


britney spearsThis doesn't just happen to me. It happens to all music critics, at some point or another. I was standing next to J. Freedom DuLac, the Washington Post's former music critic, at Britney Spears' Washington show a couple years ago, when a pack of teenage girls asked him why he was typing so furiously on his BlackBerry. He told them the truth.

They proceeded to pester him about how totally awesome Spears (pictured, bottom) was, and how every song was better than the last, etc. Hee hee.

Now, I have started fudging it a bit.

When I saw the Black Eyed Peas at Verizon Center last week, I sat near Chris Richards, the Post's new music critic (they like to put us geeks in a row). A row of feisty moms sat in front of us. They took a limo to the show, and had been drinking.

"Don't puke in the limo," one of them said to another one. Good advice.

Then they spotted us, taking notes.

"What are you doing?," one of them asked. "Are you taking notes for school?"

We stared blankly at them for a couple seconds -- just enough to make it awkward. I wasn't about to give us away. Richards had the best response.

"We're just taking notes for work," he said.

The moms quickly lost interest, and we went back to our notes. From now on, that's what I'm telling people. I'm just taking notes for work. Nice.

See you at tonight's Muse show. Guess what I'll be doing?

Also, you really ought to check out the Post's music blog, Click Track. Lots of cool stuff there.

(AP photos)

Posted by Sam Sessa at 2:08 PM | | Comments (8)
Categories: Random stuff

St. Patty's Day is coming late to Blarney Stone

blarney stone's digital countdown to st. patrick's day sign is WHACKSt. Patrick's Day may be March 17 for the rest of the world, but at Blarney Stone, it's still months away.

According to this digital Countdown to St. Patrick's Day sign (and my fuzzy math), the Irish holiday will happen some six-months from now. Och, ay, lassie, 'tis a shame indeed.

From left to right, the numbers stand for days, hours, minutes and seconds. Doh!

The bartender said when he turned the sign on the other day, it mysteriously moved St. Patrick's Day to sometime in September. He wasn't complaining, though, because that means he won't have to deal with the sloppy drunks for quite some time.

Some friends and I stopped by Blarney Stone for a beer Monday night. It was the first time I'd been in the Fells Point Irish joint for years ...

The ginormous flat screen behind the bar was so big I could count the pores on Oprah's face, if I wanted to. I don't, though. Sorry, Oprah.

I quaffed a Flying Dog Raging Bitch IPA (mmm), which was like setting off a small hops bomb in my mouth. If Clipper City Loose Cannon is hops to the third power, as it advertises, Raging Bitch is hops to the fifth.

When I asked for my bill, I was a bit surprised -- my one (1) beer cost $6. Talk about a wallet-drainer.

(Photo by me)
Posted by Sam Sessa at 10:15 AM | | Comments (9)
Categories: Bars & Clubs

Corkboard: Where's the best place to watch tonight's Maryland-Duke game?

vasquez himself, holstering his gunsI have decided to start a new semi-regular feature on Midnight Sun called the Corkboard.

It's a place where bar owners, bartenders and enthusiastic bar customers can post their specials for certain events. An all-shill zone, if you will. But that's not a bad thing in this case.

Right now, I'd like to know what kind of specials Baltimore bars are offering for tonight's Maryland-Duke basketball game. Tickets are in high demand, so I'm sure a ton of people will be watching it on TV.

Well, bar owners, whatcha got for us?

(AP photo)

Posted by Sam Sessa at 7:18 AM | | Comments (26)
Categories: Corkboard

March 2, 2010

Some bad bar news you should be aware of

velvet ropeBad things have been happening in and around Baltimore bars and clubs this past week.

First, there was a near-riot outside The Velvet Rope (pictured), the downtown mega club which replaced Palma on the corner of Calvert and Redwood streets. Last Wednesday, a promoter booked rapper Yo Gotti to play there, and allegedly oversold the show.

Some 300 people waiting outside the club stormed the doors, and security guards sprayed mace on them.

It took 50 police officers and a helicopter to get things under control. Read the whole story here.

Police wanted to shut the Velvet Rope down immediately, but that's not possible, according to liquor board chairman Stephan Fogleman ...

He said he'd schedule a hearing at the earliest possible date, which is no less than 10 days from the incident. I'll keep you posted on the hearing's outcome.

On Saturday, 25-year-old Michael Kooser was stabbed during a Fort Avenue bar crawl. I'm going to sum it up, but it's best to read Justin Fenton's account of the fight, and the storm of comments that ensued. The crawl was raising money for the Hitmen, a flag football team, of which Kooser was a member.

Basically, there was a fight around 6:40 p.m. outside Taps. Police arrested one of the Hitmen and left. Kooser said he tried to break up the fight, and when it was over, walked away. He got about as far as Hogan's Alley, where he was jumped by two women who were friends of the dude who got arrested (they thought Kooser should have backed up their buddy).

While the women were attacking Kooser, a 35-year-old man stabbed him in the back. Kooser lost about half of his blood, but is in stable condition. Both the women have been arrested and charged with attempted murder, conspiracy to commit murder, assault, among other charges.

Kooser had an interesting take on the incident, considering what just happened to him. According to Fenton's piece:

[Kooser] was disappointed that the stabbing was giving the bar crawl and the football team a bad name. "It was a really big success - we had a ton of people there, we made lots of money and everyone had a good time," Kooser said. "Now, afterwards, people will take it out on us, but it had nothing to do with the bar crawl."

Right or wrong, this incident is going to ignite a ton of debate from neighborhood residents over bar crawls and binge drinking.

Several of my friends (and Midnight Sunners) were on a Snuggie bar crawl around the same time as the Hitmen, and said many of the Hitmen crowd were absolutely wasted in the middle of the afternoon, and a few were looking for a fight. Looks like they got one.

chubbiesBut wait, we're not done yet. 

The Fells Point strip club Chubbie's (pictured, bottom) had its license suspended for a year at a city panel hearing last week. Read the full story here.

Chubbie's list of offenses seems tame, compared to spots like Suite Ultralounge. But neighborhood residents young and old cried NIMBY, and got Chubbie's shut down for a year.

I've never been in Chubbie's (though I heard from a friend they can't be accused of false advertising), but that neighborhood has drastically changed in the past several years, and I can see where the new residents might not be willing to put up with strippers, barkers and late night carousing.

Getting a bar's license suspended for year in this city is no easy task. Did Chubbie's deserve it? Depends on who you ask. I'd like to know if Chubbie's ever tried to be a good neighbor in the first place. Getting in good with your neighbors is key for any bar or club in a residential neighborhood.

(Photos from Sun archives)

Posted by Sam Sessa at 3:30 PM | | Comments (34)
Categories: Bars & Clubs

Owl Meat's Tipsy Tuesdays: Post-bar nosh

max's empanadasWe don't cover food that much on Midnight Sun (it's usually Dining@Large territory), but today, I'd like to make an exception.

Too often, I've ended up gorging myself on greasy Maria D's pizza post-bar. Or, I'll come home and make a bag of Pop Secret Homestyle and stuff my face until I look like a chipmunk.

Owl Meat, it seems, prefers hot bread pockets filled with rich, steamy meats. Now you got me all excited. Here's Owl Meat:

Your hollow leg is overflowing and it's time to skedaddle homeward. But now your belly has gone all Tasmanian devil, flailing about for grub. What to do?

Post-drinking food decisions are the worst. Anything will do.

Owl Meat Rule #82: The later a place is open, the worse the food is. I won't drop any names, but you know what I mean. This seems particularly true for Chinese food and pizza.

I live in Little Italy, which has a dearth of places to get food quickly and none that are open late. That changed a few weeks ago when Max's Empanadas opened on High Street near Sabatino's. (Reviewed here by Richard Gorelick.)  ...

They have all sorts of tasty Argentine pastries, salads, and panini. There's coffee and Wi-Fi. They have beer and wine, but the reason this place has captured my attention and wallet is that it is open until 1:30 a.m. on Friday and Saturday nights.

After having my fill of bourbon or beer on a weekend night, I can now feed my hungry belly beast. In this frigid season, the beast wants hot empanadas. Mmm... I pick up a couple and head home to scarf them down in my SpongeBob pajamas. There is something almost supernatural about how these meat grenades hold heat.

Going to a diner or ordering takeout or delivery is fine, but sometimes you just want to go home. Max's is convenient for me, but not that many other people. I suppose it would be a good quick stop on your way home or on your way to any of the harborhoods. I'm just in love with the idea of something nearby that's quick, delicious, and not Italian.

Enough about me. Where are your favorite late night nosheries? The kind of places where you don't regret the morning after. Okay, throw in the ones that you do regret too. The flesh is weak and when John Barleycorn is driving the bus, you may feast at the greasiest of spoons more than once.

My friend Kilo says, "Always end with a song". So here's, "Whiskey, You're the Devil" by the Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem. Sláinte! And ¡Olé!

(Baltimore Sun photo by Algerina Perna)

Posted by Sam Sessa at 10:19 AM | | Comments (14)
Categories: Owl Meat's Tipsy Tuesdays

The recession tightens its grip ...

chicken wing style... on chicken wings.


Take my onion rings. Take my jalepeno poppers.

But not my chicken wings!

Hee hee.

This sign, spotted at Rafters, is further proof that tough times aren't over yet, folks. Apparently, even Perdue is feeling the pinch.

(Photo by Ryan)

Posted by Sam Sessa at 8:50 AM | | Comments (8)
Categories: Bars & Clubs

March 1, 2010

Come to Max's tonight for Quiz-A-Ma-Jig

I don't know what you're doing tonight, but I'm sure as heck going to Max's for Quiz-A-Ma-Jig.

This isn't just any old Quiz-A-Ma-Jig, either. It's the one yearly Match Game edition. You know -- Match Game, like the show from the '70s. Guess what? I'm going to be one of the celebrity panelists!

All the fun starts at 8 p.m., upstairs at Max's. See ya there.

Posted by Sam Sessa at 5:33 PM | | Comments (2)

Recap: Snooki and the Pickle Palooza at Power Plant Live

can you spot the guidette? snooki, center, has her photo taken  with a few upstanding young ladies in Baltimore last week.Pint-sized powerhouse Snooki brought her guidette glamor to Baltimore last Thursday for Pickle Palooza at Power Plant Live.

The "Jersey Shore" star jump-started her night with dinner at RA Sushi (an odd choice, considering RA Sushi doesn't serve Snooki's favorite food: pickles).

Sources say the Snookster slurped on some sake bombs and tried to fist pump with chopsticks in her hand. Now that's hard core "Jersey Shore" style.

At 10:30 p.m., Snickas hit up Power Plant Live, and spent the rest of the night bouncing back and forth between Luckie's Tavern and Mex.

According to Power Plant marketing director Chris Furst, it was quite the night ...

"I was the most skeptical person going into it, and it turned out to be one of the best appearances we've ever had," he said. "She was an absolute hit with everybody."

Snooki snapped photos, had drinks and munched on some pickles the Power Plant Live crew gave her (she threw a few pickles into the audience, too). She also climbed on stage at Luckie's and requested songs from the DJ. 

"It was a blast," Furst said.

I'd like to take a moment and officially announce my campaign to have Baltimore renamed Jersey Shore South. Half the cast of the hit MTV reality show made appearances in Baltimore last month. The Situation guest bartended at Mad River J-WOWW was reportedly at Mist.

Snooki seems to have been the biggest hit of all so far.

Before we go, I'd like to share a quick joke I heard from Editor Tim:

Q. What do Snooki and Garfield have in common?

A. They're both orange and love lasagna.

Snicker snicker.

(Photo courtesy of Chris Furst)

Posted by Sam Sessa at 1:29 PM | | Comments (7)
Categories: Bars & Clubs, Celebrity sightings

Pratt Street Ale House could expand into other neighborhoods

pratt street ale houseThings are going well at the Pratt Street Ale House (206 W. Pratt St.) -- so well that owner Justin Dvorkin wants to open more locations around town.

Dvorkin is currently eying a spot in Federal Hill (he's mum on the exact location), as well as Pennsylvania. Both bars would offer Oliver Ales, which the Pratt Street Ale House brews.

"We're looking to expand and maybe take on another couple places in the coming years," Dvorkin said.

"We're trying to grow it as much as we can, while keeping the quality everybody knows." ...

Lately, the brewpub's cask ales have been in high demand in Washington, Dvorkin said. Brewer Steve Jones recently put out a chocolate stout that's 8.5 percent APV,

"We're starting to play around with some things," Dvorkin said.

(Baltimore Sun photo by Lloyd Fox)

Posted by Sam Sessa at 11:26 AM | | Comments (16)
Categories: Bars & Clubs

Wanna do the Harford Road bar crawl? Here's your chance

racers cafe

If you read last week's nightlife column about the Harford Road bar crawl and want to check out some of those colorful watering holes yourself, here's your chance.

For the past 10-odd years, Kelly McKenna has been organizing Harford Road pub crawls.

The next one is March 13. Here's a site with all the details. 

The crawl kicks off 3 p.m. at the Emerald Tavern, 8300 Harford Road.

(Baltimore Sun photo of Racers Cafe by Lloyd Fox)

Posted by Sam Sessa at 10:22 AM | | Comments (7)
Categories: Bars & Clubs

Recapping Muggsy's Week of 100,000 mugs

mugsA few weeks ago, Muggsy's started what they hope is a new tradition: The Week of 100,000 Mugs.

Everybody who bought mug of beer at the South Baltimore bar also got a raffle ticket, and was entered into a contest to win two tickets to Atlantic City. Co-owner Danny Young hoped they would sell 100,000 mugs over the course of the weekend.

So how'd it go?

Well, it was more like 700 mugs, Young reports -- possibly due to Snowpocalypse. But Young was pleased with the contest winner ...

"One of our good regulars won which I was happy about," he wrote in an e-mail. "I've heard stories of similar promotions where someone will walk in on the day of the drawing buy like two beers and end up winning."

Muggsy's might repeat the event this summer, with the prize being a trip to a local Oktoberfest. Cool stuff. Now, he said, they're gearing up for St. Patrick's Day, when they'll have five different stouts on tap, in addition to the usual Irish staples.

(Photo by Shankman)

Posted by Sam Sessa at 8:43 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Bars & Clubs
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About Erik Maza
Erik Maza is a features reporter at the Baltimore Sun. He writes for several sections of the Sun paper and contributes weekly columns on music and nightlife. He also writes and edits the Midnight Sun blog. He often covers entertainment, business, and the business of entertainment. Occasionally, he writes about Four Loko, The Block, the liquor board, and those who practice "simulated sex with a potted palm tree." Before The Sun, he was a reporter at the Miami New Times. He's also written for Miami magazine, the Orlando Sentinel, the Sarasota Herald Tribune and the Gainesville Sun. Got tips? Gripes? Pitches? He's reachable at Click here to keep up with the dumb music he's listening to.

Midnight Sun covers Baltimore music, live entertainment, and nightlife news. On the blog, you'll find, among other things, concert announcements, breaking news, bars closings and openings, up-to-date coverage of crime in nightlife, new music, round-the-clock coverage of Virgin Mobile FreeFest, handy guides on bars staying open past 2 a.m. on New Year's Eve and those that carry Natty Boh on draft. Recurring features include seven-day nightlife guides, Concert News, guest reviews of bars and concerts, Wednesday Corkboard, and photo galleries, as well as reader-submitted photos. Thanks for reading.

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