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August 31, 2010

Lauryn Hill was late due to a mani/pedi

Wonder why Lauryn Hill was two hours late to her Rock the Bells performance at Merriweather Post Pavilion this past weekend? She was getting a mani/pedi, according to the Washington Post. Wow.

Posted by Sam Sessa at 4:55 PM | | Comments (1)

Frank Zappa celebration consolidated to Sept. 19

dweezil and frank zappa in 1985The dedication of the Frank Zappa statue, originally planned for the weekend of Sept. 18-19, has been consolidated to Sept. 19, organizers said today.

The day-long event will feature a symposium with Zappa's widow Gail, a free outdoor concert with Zappa Plays Zappa and Arbouretum, a dedication and afterparty.

"I think it will be easier for everyone," said organizer Sean Brescia. 

Here is the complete schedule, courtesy of Brescia ...  

10 a.m. -- "A Talk with Gail Zappa," at the Creative Alliance at The Patterson. RSVP here.

noon -- Live performance by Arbouretum and other bands at Eastern Avenue and Conkling Street

2 p.m. -- Sculpture dedication ceremony at Eastern Avenue and Conkling Street, featuring Enoch Pratt Free Library President Carla Hayden, Gail Zappa, Mayor of Vilnius, Lithuanian delegation of donors, Mayor Stephanie C. Rawlings-Blake. Performance by Zappa Plays Zappa immediately follows ceremony.

6 p.m. -- Arts district after-party at Creative Alliance at The Patterson featuring Big in Japan, Telesma and DJ El Suprimo. $5 cover.

Brescia expects about 5,000 to attend the dedication. While most of the day's events are free, VIP tickets are available. $100 tickets will give patrons access to a reserved enclosure during the concert, and $250 tickets also include a meet-and-greet backstage, with autographed posters, he said.

(Getty Images archive photo of Frank Zappa and his son Dweezil playing guitar)
Posted by Sam Sessa at 3:20 PM | | Comments (0)

Get Out: Budweiser Superfest @ Pier Six Pavilion

anthony hamiltonWhat's on the menu at tonight's Budweiser Superfest at Pier Six Pavilion?

Soul, soul and more soul.

Singer Anthony Hamilton, who has been nominated for something like six Grammys, headlines the fest, which also features Kem, Jaheim and Raheem DeVaughn.

The action starts at 7 p.m. at Pier Six, and tickets are $43-$77.

(Photo by Jonathan Mannion)

Posted by Sam Sessa at 2:51 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Get Out

Minor renovations under way at Brewer's Art

brewer's artBrewer's Art is undergoing some minor renovations to its upstairs bar today.

And by "renovations," I mean they're putting a new floor in behind the bar.

"It's nothing flashy or glamorous," said co-owner Volker Stewart.

"You're stuck with the same old boring bar upstairs for now."


(Baltimore Sun photo by Jed Kirschbaum)

Posted by Sam Sessa at 12:52 PM | | Comments (5)

Hogan's Alley is up for sale

hogan's alleyHogan's Alley, one of the last old-school Fort Avenue haunts, is up for sale.

Sherry "Pinky" Hogan, who owns the place along with her husband, a retired police officer named Girard, wants to keep the building but sell the business, she said.

"I'm tired," she said. "You know how you get worn out? That's exactly what it is. I'm tired and I don't want to deal with it anymore."

Hogan, who used to sell real estate, was showing a bar to some folks from out of town in 2004 when she realized she'd rather buy it herself than let them have it. So she did, and opened Hogan's. ...

The Hogans took over from Ellen Berry, the daughter of Robert Cox, who owned the corner bar from 1975 to  1991.

Cox is the reason why Hogan's doesn't have many windows -- cops caught him in the bar after hours (Cox lived upstairs), and in retaliation, he bricked in all the windows on the first floor. I love that story.

Technically, I like to call Hogan's a new old-school bar. It has flat-screen TVs and a few beers on tap, but there's also an authentic South Baltimore atmosphere.

So far, Hogan has had a nibble or two but nothing substantive. She wants to make sure it's the right person, though.

"This is a good neighborhood bar," she said. "I'm not going to let just anybody walk in here and destroy it."

(Photo by Rob Perry)
Posted by Sam Sessa at 10:53 AM | | Comments (16)
Categories: Bars & Clubs, News

The Funky Buddha has some great drink specials

buddhabuddhabuddha.jpgA little bar called the Funky Buddha has opened in the space beneath Kumari, where Liam's Pint-Size Pub used to be. 

According to Midnight Sunner ryan97ou, Funky Buddha serves $1 Bohs, $2 domestics and $3 imports during happy hour, and possibly all night on some nights.

I'm trying to get a hold of the bar to confirm.

UPDATE: I spoke with Bonnie Roberts, who runs the bar. According to her, appetizers are half price and drinks are two-for-one during happy hour, which is 5 p.m.-8 p.m. Mondays-Fridays. The food is from Kumari (Funky Buddha is way to small to have its own kitchen).

"It's very intimate," Roberts said. "Everybody knows each other." ...

Funky Buddha, which opened in March, now has outdoor seating on the Charles Street sidewalk, Roberts said. Before taking over Funky Buddha, Roberts has worked at Eden's Lounge, Melba's Place and Canton Arts and Entertainment, she said.

I spent many a sloppy, smokey night at Liam's Pint Size Pub before the smoking ban went into effect. It was a case study in second-hand smoke.

A thick fog of cigarette smoke hung in the air at all times. I get congested just thinking about it. Ah, the good ole days.

(AP photo)
Posted by Sam Sessa at 8:15 AM | | Comments (7)
Categories: Bars & Clubs

August 30, 2010

Rafters is closed

Yesterday was the last day for Rafters as we know it, according to Sun crime reporter Peter Hermann.

The South Baltimore bar, famous for having Formstone inside and out, had a closing celebration last night, Hermann said. Rafters could be re-purposed and re-opened in the coming weeks.

Posted by Sam Sessa at 3:19 PM | | Comments (21)

Get Out: Marianne Dissard at The Ottobar

marianne dissardI've always been wooed by women who sing in French.

Feist, Keren Ann and French chanteuse Marianne Dissard can all make my heart melt a bit.

I'm excited that Marianne Dissard is coming to The Ottobar tonight. Her new album will be out next year, and though I've never seen her live, I'd imagine it's a fun show.

Plus, the local group A Cat Called Cricket opens. Nice! Tickets are $10. The show starts at 8:30 p.m.

(Photo by Dave Good)

Posted by Sam Sessa at 2:06 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Get Out

Hey Justin Bieber fans in/around Baltimore

Are you a Justin Bieber fan or a parent/spouse of a Justin Bieber fan who lives in/around Baltimore? We'd like to talk to you for a story we're working on about Bieber's Maryland State Fair show. We're open to all stories, funny, sad, heart-warming, heart-breaking about the boy wonder and this weekend's show. Give Sun reporter Chris Kaltenbach a call at 410.332.6957 or shoot him an e-mail at
Posted by Sam Sessa at 1:13 PM | | Comments (1)

Sound Opinions features Baltimore bands, some dude named Sam Sessa

j. roddy walston and the  businessHave you ever listened to Sound Opinions? It's a colorful, informative radio show done by music critics Greg Kot and Jim DeRogatis.

On the latest edition of Sound Opinions, Greg and Jim took a virtual tour through the music scenes of Baltimore, Memphis and Portland.

In the Baltimore segment, they speak to some schmuck named Sam Sessa, who writes about music for some rag or another. I think he might work at a radio station too ...

While Sam sounds nervous, the music featured on the segment is a sampling of Baltimore standouts, from Beach House and Dan Deacon to Wye Oak, Darkroom Productions and J. Roddy Walston and the Business.

You can download or stream this episode of Sound Opinions here. The Baltimore segment starts at 8:45 and ends around 18:30. That's almost 10 minutes devoted to Baltimore. Nice!

If you want to catch Sound Opinions, WTMD airs it Sundays at 10 p.m.

(Baltimore Sun photo by Algerina Perna)
Posted by Sam Sessa at 12:01 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Local music

Concert review: Lauryn Hill, Tribe & Wu Tang @ Rock the Bells

tribe called quest

Sun writer John-John Williams IV was at Rock the Bells last night. Here's his review:

Rock The Bells had the potential to be epic.

The tour, which came to Merriweather Post Pavilion last night, boasted some of hip-hop's most legendary acts: Lauryn Hill, Wu Tang Clan, Rakim, KRS-One, Snoop Dogg and A Tribe Called Quest.

Instead, the sweltering heat combined with over-the top waits between acts had a fair share of ticket holders ready to rock some of the artists' bells.

Hill, undoubtedly the night's biggest draw, was a lesson in dysfunction. It's been nearly more than a decade since Hill's uber-successful album "The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill," and Hill's recording hiatus fueled an undeniable buzz at last night's show.

So when it was announced -- just before she was about take the stage -- that Hill was in danger of not performing due to illness, it appeared the crowd was about to flip its collective lid. Audience members hurled boos, hisses and curses ...

Organizers took the stage trying to reassure the crowd that the concert was still plenty good even without Hill. The audience wasn't buying it. And for good reason: Hill's music crossed ethnic, gender, and economic lines. Hill was the "it" girl --a gifted actress, singer, poet, and rapper.

Hill was the reason why a good majority of the crowd came to Rock The Bells. She's also the reason why many of them left with bad tastes in their mouths. Hill's performance was absolutely dreadful. Finally, two hours after she was supposed to perform, Hill was on the stage for just about 20 minutes, and barely attempted to sing any of the material from her legendary solo album.

To her credit, Hill came out ripping, which she does extremely well. (Hill is considered one of the greatest female emcees of all time. And for good reason. He delivery, speed, and lyrics have always struck a chord with fans.) Her singing -- on the other hand-- wasn't striking anything. Her voice was noticeably horse. Her band drowned her out in a number of spots during her brief stage time. Her background singers didn't do anything noteworthy. The arrangement of her music made many of her songs unrecognizable, and there were feedback issues to boot.

A surprise guest appearance by rapper Nas for the hit "If I Ruled The World" couldn't save Hill's short set. Overall, it was a huge let down for her fans -- many of whom paid more than $100 a ticket in this economy to see her.

The best performance of the night came from A Tribe Called Quest. With surprise guest Busta Rhymes, the group simply ripped it up. "Bonita Applebam," "Can We Kick It?" "Award Tour" "Find A Way," were among the energy-filled set list of familiar hits.

Wu Tang Clan also put on a solid show. It was good to see all the remaining living members of the group. (Ol' Dirty Bastard's son, Boy Jones, stepped in and rapped his deceased father's lines in each song, which was a classy touch.)

KRS-One lost me and a number of folks in the crowd when he launched into these ridiculous speeches where he attacked the "Civil Rights movement of the '90s," new technology, and higher education. It made him sound foolish. (Stick to the rapping, KRS-One. Leave the intellectual discussion for those "educated" folks better equipped to do it.)

And finally, there was Snoop Dogg's laissez-faire performance, which seemed a bit tired. And don't get me started on the rapper's choice of attire: A prison-looking uniform made of bandanna material. (Seriously? Who is dressing these people?) To add insult to injury, the west coast rapper made the crowd wait an additional hour after Wu Tang performed. It was the cherry on top a spoiled cake.

(Baltimore Sun photo of Q-Tip from A Tribe Called Quest by Colby Ware. Editor's note: More photos are on the way.)

Posted by Sam Sessa at 10:17 AM | | Comments (35)
Categories: Concert reviews

I'm back, and the Newseum was great

an exhibit at the newseumYou know it's bad when you're exhausted after a week's vacation -- and it's only Monday.

How was everyone's week? Did I miss anything super exciting? 

I spent most of the week being a tourist in Washington, seeing museums, eating at restaurants and relaxing to the maxing. 

One of the week's bright spots was the Newseum -- the museum dedicated to news of all stripes. Have you checked this place out yet? If not, you should. As museums go, it's fairly new -- it opened on Pennsylvania Avenue in 2008 ...

Granted, you have to pay to get in (adult tickets are just shy of $20), but for a news junkie like me, it was a steal.

The Katrina (pictured) and Sept. 11 exhibits were particularly moving -- especially the soaring wall covered in front pages from Sept. 12, 2001. Being a music fan, I also dug the Elvis exhibit. The Newseum has The King's motorcycle, American Express card and rhinestone-studded jumpsuit from the Aloha Special, among other artifacts. Better still: Newspaper stories about Elvis from the late 1950s and beyond.

If you go, be sure to budget several hours, because the Newseum has a ton of information to absorb. A ticket is good for two days instead of just one, and I went back for a second day to make sure I hadn't missed anything. It's easy to overlook all the Newseum's nooks and crannies.

(Photo by Saul Loeb/AFP-Getty)
Posted by Sam Sessa at 7:30 AM | | Comments (7)

August 27, 2010

Get Out: Trey Songz at Pier Six Pavilion

trey songzIf you believe R&B singer Trey Songz, the neighbors know his name and he invented sex. 

Tonight, Trey Songz will be in Baltimore -- performing at Pier Six Pavilion. Monica opens. 

Sun freelancer Al Shipley interviewed T.S. and wrote this piece on him for today's paper, in fact. Shipley also wrote a short piece about some of T.S.'s more notable collaborations. Here's the link.

(Handout photo)

Posted by Sam Sessa at 11:00 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Get Out

Ropewalk Tavern manager buys Taps at auction

marc mcfaulMarc McFaul (pictured), the manager of Ropewalk Tavern, bought Taps at an auction earlier this week, he confirmed yesterday.

McFaul paid $450,000 for the building and liquor license -- the whole shebang. That means McFaul and family (I like to call them the McFaul clan) will now have three South Baltimore bars (Stalking Horse, Ropewalk and Taps).

But McFaul isn't sure what he wants to do with Taps, he told me. He might transfer the liquor license up closer to Cross Street Market, or he might keep it at the corner of Fort Avenue and Charles Street.

In fact, McFaul wasn't expecting to own the place at all ...

Before the auction, McFaul planned on bidding $450,000, tops, for Taps. He put in a bid, and then bidding just stopped, he recalled. So he wound up with another bar. (The reason there aren't any direct quotes here is because McFaul called me while I was walking down the street in Washington.)

McFaul isn't sure about his next step. He said he doesn't want to rile up the neighborhood by running a loud and rowdy bar, but he doesn't have a building near Cross Street where he could transfer the liquor license. When McFaul makes a decision, I'll let you know.

(Baltimore Sun photo of McFaul in 2005 by Kenneth K. Lam)

Posted by Sam Sessa at 8:58 AM | | Comments (11)
Categories: Bars & Clubs, News

August 26, 2010

Get Out: B.I.M.A. Fest kickoff

The Baltimore Independent Music and Arts Fest, a three-day showcase of live music and film, starts tonight.

This is the first year for the festival, which is being run by Morphius Records founder David Andler. While the festival is modeled after the ill-fated Baltimore Music Conference, Andler said it will be better organized. BMC founder Lisa Suit had limited input on the BIMA, and Andler booked the lion's share of the BIMA's shows, he told me. Various clubs around town, including Bourbon Street, The Ottobar, Windup Space and the Depot are participating.

Hopefully, the BIMA will be a well-organized showcase of local and national arts and music.

Note: An earlier version of this blog misstated Suit's involvement with the festival. The BIMA is not just a re-branding of the BMC -- it's a new entity altogether.

Posted by Sam Sessa at 12:49 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Get Out

August 25, 2010

Get Out: Films on the Pier

I've been leery of plugging the Films on the Pier in Fells Point these past few weeks, because it's always been overcast. Well, since we're just about at the end of the season, I say why not?

Tonight's screening is of "500 Days of Summer" a charming flick with Joseph Gordon-Levitt (who has really come into his own as a star lately) and Zooey Deschanel (who is quite the singer).

The movie starts at 8:45 p.m. in the heart of Fells Point. Have fun!

Posted by Sam Sessa at 12:57 PM | | Comments (8)
Categories: Get Out

Concert review: Jackson Browne at Pier Six Pavilion

jackson browne performs at pier six pavilion

Sun writer Nick Madigan saw Jackson Browne at Pier Six Pavilion. Here is his review:

Jackson Browne was never the kind of performer to call attention to himself.

For four decades, and without fanfare, he has been delivering his heartfelt tributes to enlightenment and lost love to packed houses of the faithful, all the while doing his utmost to avoid the harshest of the public spotlight's glare.

That reticence, born of profound and often sorrowful introspection, was never more clear than on Tuesday night, at Baltimore’s Pier Six Pavilion. Pairing up once again with his longtime collaborator David Lindley — the virtuoso stringman who was at his side for much of his early career — Browne not only started off with songs by other composers, Warren Zevon and Bruce Springsteen, but ceded the stage entirely to Lindley after just four numbers.

However, upon returning with his full band after an intermission, Browne — still improbably youthful at 61 — proved that the vagaries of age and the passage of time have dimmed neither his energy nor the pleasure he takes in his adherents' adulation, even if much of his audience — this reviewer included — long ago sprouted gray hair and crow's feet ...

Before the concert, talk in the crowd had turned to Browne's resilience.

"The question is, do people like him still have the voice?" asked Greg Dunn, in tie-dye shirt and beard, who recalled being at the Merriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia when Browne and Lindley recorded part of the album "Running on Empty" in August 1977. "David Crosby's voice is almost gone," Dunn said, "and the Grateful Dead never could sing, so it wasn't an issue."

As Tuesday's concert progressed, any doubts about Browne's vocal stamina were laid firmly to rest, as Dunn acknowledged when it was all over. With "In the Shape of a Heart," Browne stirringly aroused memories of vanished affections, while a wrenching version of "Your Bright Baby Blues" brought even the most vocal chatterboxes in the audience to silence, its lyrics a haunting echo of youthful misdirection — "No matter how fast I run / I can never seem to get away from me / no matter where I am / I can't help feeling / I'm just a day away from where I want to be."

jackson browne and david lindleyWith that song, the band achieved a clarity and direction it had only hinted at in the earlier numbers after almost a week's break from its U.S. tour. At the conclusion of "Fountain of Sorrow," a seminal Browne track in which he laments that the "magic feeling never seems to last," the crowd jumped to its collective feet, uproariously, and would keep doing so through a succession of songs from Browne's well established canon, including "The Pretender," "For a Dancer," "Doctor My Eyes" and "Rock Me on the Water."

Still, there remained the feeling that, by sticking largely to songs everyone knows — admittedly a demand habitually made on perennial performers — Browne was leaving some of his most adroit and evocative songs on the shelf, a missed opportunity to give voice to gems recorded long ago and sitting idle in record collections.

The audience at Pier Six seemed not to mind, though, and was particularly amused by Browne's famously artful gifts as between-songs raconteur. Explaining that he had just flown in from California after the break in the tour, he said the couple sitting in front of him on the plane had spent the whole flight in amorous pursuits. "Were there blankets involved?" Lindley asked him.

"Turns out there were not only blankets involved," Browne replied, "but there was a small dog involved, too."

(Photos by Nick Madigan)

Posted by Sam Sessa at 12:49 PM | | Comments (6)
Categories: Concert reviews

Concert review: Tears for Fears at Rams Head Live

Sun writer Evan Haga saw Tears for Fears last night at Rams Head Live. Here are his thoughts:

There was a lot of grace and balance about Tears for Fears' roughly hour-and-a-half performance last night at Rams Head Live: A healthy sense of nostalgia was present, sure, but the show didn't use the past as a crutch, or as a reason not to apply a little elbow grease.

As a touring sextet, Tears for Fears sounded well-rehearsed, precise, über-professional; somewhat surprising considering the band hasn't, like many of its contemporaries, made a post-career of touring the hits ...

Craftsmanship has always been part of the equation, though. An English pop duo consisting of songwriters Roland Orzabal and Curt Smith, Tears for Fears is best known for producing a handful of singles that vividly evoke the mid-'80s but are so sharply written they transcend the period.

But TFF could sustain its songwriting prowess at album length, producing ambitious pop songs that sounded like hits even as commerce passed them by — 2004's comeback album "Everybody Loves a Happy Ending," which came and went with insufficient fanfare, comes to mind.

Last night's set deftly balanced the hits and album cuts, the vintage material and music from just a half-decade ago. Almost remarkably, there was a cohesion here that made it seem as if it all could have been from the same album — perhaps the edgiest adult-contemporary record you've ever heard, the sort of LP that sees no shame in featuring synthesizers playing horn sounds. So the mega-hit book-ends, "Everybody Wants to Rule the World" and "Shout," sounded coherent alongside "Happy Ending" standouts like "Secret World" and that album's Beatles-y title track.

"Sowing the Seeds of Love," an ambitious, multi-sectioned suite of a pop hit from 1989, made sense in the same set as 2004's "Call Me Mellow," or 1983's "Mad World" and "Pale Shelter," or 1993's "Break It Down Again," its militaristic synth groove absolutely propulsive in a live setting. (That last song came after Orzabal and Smith's early-'90s split, when Orzabal was using the Tears for Fears name essentially as a solo artist. A petty band might have excluded it on principle, but it's the best offering from that era of the band and was a welcome addition here.) Even a curve ball cover, a ballad arrangement of Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean," pretty seamlessly melded into the whole.

As pop music goes, this stuff can be demanding, with creative song forms and unforgiving vocal melodies. The band tackled the material head-on, however, doing an impressive job of recreating the expansive recorded arrangements, often to a tee, and without appearing to try too hard. Vocally Orzabal, who also played guitar, and Smith, also on bass, achieved the equilibrium they've long practiced, Orzabal singing in stout low tones, Smith in feathery highs. (The arrangement can call to mind another original synth-pop group with its fair share of hits, Depeche Mode; Orzabal would be the Dave Gahan to Smith's Martin Gore.)

But the evening's most outstanding vocal moment — it was thrilling, actually — belonged to Orzabal and back-up vocalist (and opening act) Michael Wainwright. On "Woman in Chains," Orzabal covered his part with trademark drama and heartiness, and Wainwright masterfully took on the female duet part that belongs on record to Oleta Adams. He tackled it so well, in fact, that the somewhat strange androgyny factor of the situation went out the window; instead, it was easier to just marvel at his vocal instrument, in all its wailing, falsetto glory.

There were jokes, too: some from Smith about aging, and a monologue from Orzabal listing gigs that might not reflect a band whose album sales number in the multi-millions. There have been gigs at casinos, theaters, small clubs and even a "car park" in Buffalo. The set was so good such modesty wasn't necessary, but it was a nice touch.

Posted by Sam Sessa at 12:32 PM | | Comments (18)
Categories: Concert reviews

August 24, 2010

Get Out: Cockabilly Road Show at Sidebar Tavern

From the locally based Trixie Little and the Evil Hate Monkey to other nationally touring acts, Baltimore gets a ton of burlesque shows.

But the Coney Island Cockabilly Roadshow, which comes to the Sidebar Tavern tonight, sounds like a particularly colorful celebration. They've got live music as well as burlesque babes. Now we're talking!

Posted by Sam Sessa at 12:36 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Get Out

Magooby's moves to bigger location

marc unger of magoobysIn the coming weeks, Magooby's Joke House will move into new digs in Timonium, according to comedian Marc Unger (pictured), who founded the club with his brother Andrew.

The club's new home, which houses the Timonium Dinner Theatre, seats about 400, which will make Magooby's the largest comedy club in the region, Unger said. The club is currently located in Parkville.

"It's a prettier space," Unger said. "The overhead is a lot higher, but it's got so much upside." ...

Since the new location has tiered seating, they can cordon off seats to make it feel more intimate if need be, Unger said. This will let the club book more high profile comedians.

"If it's the right deal, we can," he said. "(Besides) Leno and Seinfeld, there's nobody really off our radar."

The Ungers partnered with the dinner theater, with the hopes of buying out the theater in the long run. The address of the new location is 9603 Deereco Road in Timonium.

(Handout photo)
Posted by Sam Sessa at 12:30 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Bars & Clubs, News

Concert review: KISS at Jiffy Lube Live


Sun writer (and wrestling blogger) Kevin Eck saw Kiss at Jiffy Lube Live. Here is his review:

To many people, Kiss has long been Gene Simmons, Paul Stanley and two other guys.

Even when fellow original members Ace Frehley and Peter Criss returned to the iconic glam rock group in the late '90s, it was clear that Simmons and Stanley were steering the ship and the other two were simply along for the ride.

That's not the case with the band's current lineup, though. While "The Demon" and "The Starchild" are still Kiss' main men both on and off stage, lead guitarist Tommy Thayer and drummer Eric Singer – who have assumed the "Spaceman" and "Catman" stage personas made famous by Frehley and Criss, respectively – are more than just bit players.

In fact, they provided some of the more memorable moments from Saturday night's Kiss concert at Jiffy Lube Live in Bristow, Va. ...

Thayer and Singer have been given the opportunity on this tour to step into the spotlight and sing lead on a couple of Kiss classics that had been signature songs for Frehley and Criss back in the glory days.

Thayer sparked the crowd with his version of "Shock Me," which included a guitar solo that was at the very least equal to Frehley's. Thayer's solo morphed into an entertaining jam session between him and Singer, as they showed that they make Kiss a better band not only because they are free of the personal demons that hindered Frehley and Criss, but also because of their playing skills.

During the encore, Singer emerged from behind his drum kit to sing the hit ballad "Beth." Unlike when Criss would perform the song to pre-recorded strings and piano, Singer was accompanied by his bandmates playing acoustically. Also unlike Criss, Singer sang with conviction and actually hit the notes.

As for Simmons and Stanley, even at this stage of their careers, it was obvious Saturday night that the tongue-wagging bassist and pouty-lipped rhythm guitarist are not just going through the motions.

Kiss, still going strong as a live act 36 years after the release of their self-titled debut album and a decade after their "farewell tour," played a spirited 21-song set that went two hours and 10 minutes and had everything you would expect from a Kiss show (pyro explosions, flashing lights, fake blood, fire-breathing and, of course, Simmons and Stanley flying above the crowd) as well as something you wouldn't (Kiss leading the audience in reciting The Pledge of Allegiance).

Kiss opened with "Modern Day Delilah," the first track off its latest album, "Sonic Boom," and then played three songs from its first two albums – "Cold Gin," "Let Me Go, Rock 'n' Roll" and "Firehouse," before going back to "Sonic Boom" for "Say Yeah." The other track Kiss played off the 2009 album was the plodding "I’m an Animal," which actually is the only song that I skip when listening to the CD.

Another curious addition to the set was "Crazy Crazy Nights," which was one of three songs in the show from the non-makeup era. It’s not a great song to begin with, and the vocals here sounded flat compared to the slickly-produced studio version.

My only other complaint about the set list is that "100,000 Years" was retained from last year's tour while sing-along Kiss standards such as "Strutter" and "Hotter Than Hell" were dropped. Then again, when a band has a catalogue as extensive as the one Kiss has, it's impossible to please everybody.

Kiss wrapped up the main set with concert staples "Love Gun," "Black Diamond" and "Detroit Rock City" before returning to the stage for a six-song encore. Among the highlights was Stanley's rendition of "I Was Made For Lovin' You," which he sang after riding a zip line from the stage to a platform in the middle of the pavilion. Usually when performing the song live, Stanley grossly over-emphasizes the vocals, but he was much more subdued and thus truer to the studio version of the song.

As is often the case, Kiss saved "Rock and Roll All Nite" for its bombastic finale, once again proving that Kiss members and their fans may get old, but standing up and singing along to this song while being showered with confetti never does.


Modern Day Delilah
Cold Gin
Let Me Go Rock ‘n’ Roll
Say Yeah
Crazy Crazy Nights
Calling Dr. Love
Shock Me
I'm An Animal
100,000 Years
I Love It Loud
Love Gun
Black Diamond
Detroit Rock City
Lick It Up
Shout It Out Loud
I Was Made For Lovin’ You
God Gave Rock And Roll To You
Rock And Roll All Nite

Posted by Sam Sessa at 10:01 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Concert reviews

August 23, 2010

Get Out: Tears for Fears at 9:30 Club

I might be on vacation, but Midnight Sun never sleeps. 

Today's best bet is Tears for Fears, which will be performing at the 9:30 Club tonight and at Rams Head Live tomorrow. Here's the info on tonight's show.

Tears for Fears are one of those rare '80s pop bands that critics and the general public can agree to like. "Everybody Wants to Rule the World" is one of the decade's best hits, if you ask me. Tickets are $45 for tonight's show.

Posted by Sam Sessa at 11:27 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Get Out

August 20, 2010

By the way

I'm on vacation for a week, effective immediately. This means I'll be around, but won't be posting quite as much as normal. It could take a little while for me to get your comments published, too, so hang in there.

Where am I going? What am I doing? I'm staying put, for the most part, doing as little as possible and enjoying the last week or two of summer. Ah, summer.

Posted by Sam Sessa at 2:47 PM | | Comments (0)

At last! Septimius The Great has arrived!

Septimius The GreatSILENCE!

All hail the glorious arrival of Baltimore emperor/hip-hop champion/fashion icon, the legendary Septimius The Great! (Make sure you wear headphones when you click on that link.)

In case you weren't aware, he is almost 2,000 years old. He sits on a throne of naked people. He raps in slow motion. He cannot be defeated.

Behold, his glorious introductory rap:

He is known for being successful
and defeating them all
During the year of the five emperors,
he was the last one standing tall.


He has reigned superior,
and his legacy is here to stay.
He’s almost 2000 years old
and has reinvented himself today ...

He is here to erect
A new city to call home
Septimius presents
The new city of Rome.

septimius the greatThis is a new world
Of love, fashion and lust
You will find this new sound
To be exciting
And a must.

So lend me your mind
Body and ear
Without further adieu,
The new Rome
Is here.

Septimius will blind you with fashion, and crush you with his deadly rhymes.

All shall bow before the might and splendor of Septimius the Great!

(Photos by Robert Mercer Jr. Photograpy)

Posted by Sam Sessa at 8:30 AM | | Comments (13)
Categories: Local music

August 19, 2010

Baltimore Beer Festival is coming in October

The first (and hopefully annual) Baltimore Beer Festival is set for noon-5 p.m. Oct. 17 at Canton Waterfront Park.

The festival, which caps the second Baltimore Beer Week, will showcase local, regional and national beers from brewers such as Saranac, Heavy Seas, Victory and Harpoon. Alongside the big boys will be the home brewers, according to festival organizer Torbin Green, who runs the events promotions company Smalltimore.

"You're going to be able to pair up with the corporate brewers but also sample home brews," Green said. "It's an interesting twist." ...

General admission tickets, which are $35 in advance and $40 at the gate, include unlimited four-ounce tastings. You can also spring for VIP tickets, which cost $55 and give you access to your own tent and food vouchers.

Donegal-Xpress and a couple other bands will perform live, and a big screen TV will be showing the Ravens game. The festival's site,, is under construction but should be up in the coming weeks, Green said.
Posted by Sam Sessa at 12:29 PM | | Comments (12)
Categories: Bars & Clubs, News

Get Out: Flicks From the Hill

two friends -- lovers, perhaps -- are benched on federal hill parkWith summer in its last gasps and the evenings getting darker by the day, outdoor film screening season is almost finished for the year.

But there's still time to lay down a blanket on grassy Federal Hill Park and catch a movie tonight, as part of the American Visionary Art Museum's Flicks From the Hill

Tonight's film is a real classic: "Rocky." There will also be a beer garden, and the proceeds going to charity and a "Post Secret" meet-and-greet with author Frank Warren. The fun starts at 9 p.m.

(Granted, this isn't the side of Federal Hill Park which faces AVAM, but I love this photo, taken by Baltimore Sun photographer Algerina Perna.)

Posted by Sam Sessa at 9:48 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Get Out

Patchen's first warehouse party

Midnight Sunner (and former roommate) Patchen is breaking the law, breaking the law with his first illegal warehouse party. Here is his account of his recent exploits:

The text came at an absurdly early 8:31 A.M.

"Any interest in attending an illegal warehouse party in bmore tonight?"

The answer was, of course, totally.

I've mostly missed out on Baltimore's illegal/underground scene — no early-era Wham City shows, no freestyle battles, no dance parties that didn’t have the TaxLo seal of approval. I felt overdue for some illegit awesome ...

The texter—a dj friend of mine from DC we'll henceforth refer to as "DJ" — said there was a small cover and a Roman theme. He said his set would be early in the evening. He'd follow up with the address.

That evening found my girlfriend and I knocking on a door of a certain color in the alley of certain street. It was opened by a man in a toga. Immediately I regretted not having come in costume.

We flashed our IDs, paid the cover, got our wristbands and went upstairs. When I spotted the centurion, I really regretted not having come in costume.

But I'm skipping ahead. Turned out, this wasn't the warehouse I'd imagined — something like Sonar with a whole lot of extension cords in a neighborhood I'd only seen on "The Wire." Instead it was more like a typical loft/DIY artspace party, only with particle ceilings that suggested some kind of office. It was hot and humid and the only air came from a fan in front of an open door to a fire escape.

Whoever was throwing the event — I never got a clear answer on that from DJ; "some old ravers" he'd said — had done a pretty phenomenal job decorating. Almost every wall was covered with ivy, interrupted by the cartoony busts of emperors and columns drawn on paper plastered to the walls. There was a room with a bar made of tables; a main room for dancing with a dj booth, full lightshow, and projections; a kind of hallway/lounge; and a back room with another dj booth
and more of a seraglio vibe.

Much of the crowd was in costume — I saw togas, Mediterranean-looking dresses, big plumed helmets and full gladiator gear. The rest might as well have been in costume — ravers, girls with stuffed-animal backpacks, a couple in black who wouldn't have been out of place in a kink dungeon and a surprising number of girls with Orioles or Red Sox hats. The crowd was relatively young — I saw some Xed hands — and reasonably diverse — mostly white with a scattering of Indian, African-American and Asian.

The bartenders were pleasant and clearly this wasn’t a profit-making scheme — the keg was all-you-could-drink once you'd bought a $5 cup, and Gatorade and water were only a buck or two as well.

As for the music ... well, what I don't know about electronica could fill a hard drive. But both rooms had talented djs, the lights (controlled by a touch-screen display!) were impressive, and everybody took their turn on the dance floor. We bounced back and forth between the rooms, then settled in a bit once DJ got deeper into his set of two-step. We danced a little, then hugged the wall as ravers with glow sticks and light-up hula-hoops did their phosphorescent thing.

I'd love to say I stayed until the Roman bacchanalia became a Roman-style orgy ... but I only made it till midnight (I had my own djing to do in the morning). The list on the wall had djs lined up for several more hours and more people were arriving by the minute as we left, so I can only assume the rest of the night went well. After a warning that there were "No ins & outs!" — we assured them we were out — we were twice told to drive safe by toga-wearing doorfolk. I thanked them, wishing I was in costume.

Posted by Sam Sessa at 7:30 AM | | Comments (26)
Categories: Bars & Clubs, Local music

August 18, 2010

Biergarten Haus is authentic German, hopelessly Washington

look at the size of these beer mugs! look!

I don't normally discuss Washington bars on Midnight Sun, but thought this one was interesting enough to warrant a mention.

Last weekend, Amie, some friends and I had drinks at Biergarten Haus, the new German spot on H Street in Washington.

Biergarten Haus has upstairs and downstairs bars and a big patio out back with long tables and benches. More on that in a minute.

First, the beer list. Oh my, what a beer list ...

Budweiser, Coors and Guinness are nowhere to be seen amongst the dozen German drafts, thank God. A sampling: Spaten Optimator Doppelbock, Paulaner Hefeweizen, Gaffel Kolsch, Eggenberg Pilsner -- the list goes on. They're available in half-liter and liter portions.

I ordered a one-liter glass mug of Hofbrau Original Lager ($12.72), a medium-bodied golden brew with a touch of hops and honey. We stood at the end of the sizable line to get to the outdoor patio, expecting to wait for a while and sip our beers.

Though the beer list (and the food, from the looks of it) is German all the way, the music was hopelessly Washington. I was prepared for polkas or other old school music. Instead, we got techno. Loud, pumping techno. Yuck.

Fortunately, we had only waited in line for a few minutes when a hostess walked up and told us we could follow her back. I guess our party of four was the smallest one in line.

We sat close to the end of a long bench, near the back of the patio. Biergarten Haus seats strangers at the same table, which was fun -- we chatted up our neighbors until they left about 20 minutes later.

Judging by the number of people in Biergarten Haus last weekend, it's already a hit. Though I can't speak for the food (we didn't have any), I highly recommend it for German beer lovers, or beer geeks in general.


(AP photo)
Posted by Sam Sessa at 12:46 PM | | Comments (26)
Categories: Bars & Clubs

Corkboard: Baltimore fantasy football draft bars?

eli and peyton

Finally, it's football season again. 

As an Orioles fan who grew up and went to games when the team was actually good, I can't bear to watch baseball now.

But football? I'm on it.

With real football practically upon us, it's also time for fantasy football. 

Since the best place to do a fantasy football draft is in a bar, not a bedroom, I ask you:

What Baltimore bar has the best fantasy football draft? ...


It's fairly common for Baltimore bars to offer specials for fantasy football drafts, especially if the whole league is there at once. Everybody brings their laptops and sets up around the bar or at a big table.

Granted, a bar has to have a good WiFi connection to host a fantasy football draft. Elbow room is also key. There's nothing worse than celebrating your signing of Peyton Manning by swinging your arms up in the air and hollering "AAH YEAH SON" and accidentally knocking over your beer onto your neighbor's laptop.

(AP photo)
Posted by Sam Sessa at 9:07 AM | | Comments (15)
Categories: Corkboard

August 17, 2010

One of my many disguises ...

Since my photo runs in the paper and online, I use disguises from time to time to stay anonymous. I've been known to rock a Santa suit (when the season is right) or a beard, shades and white suit. It looks something like this ...

Posted by Sam Sessa at 3:39 PM | | Comments (5)

Are microbrews 'domestic' beers?

look at all these microbrews!It's 5 p.m. -- prime happy hour time -- and you're parched.

You duck into a corner bar advertising $3 domestics and $4 imports, scan the draft list Yuengling, Bud, Bud Light, Clipper City, Dogfish Head, Oliver, Guinness, Stella Artois.

You order a Clipper City, and the bartender asks for $4.

"But it's not an import," you say. 

"It's a microbrew," the bartender responds.

That's usually where the conversation ends. But it shouldn't, because Clipper City is brewed over on Hollins Ferry Road. Why, at many Baltimore bars, are microbrews considered 'imports?' ...

It's a question that has bugged Midnight Sun commenter MR for some time. That's why he asked me to blog about it. He writes:

I can count numerous times that I've been told something like "All Domestics $3, Imports $4.50" and then gone on to order a Clipper City (I disapprove of the Heavy Seas re-branding), Dogfishead, or Flying Dog and been charged $4.50. Ignoring the fact that the three aforementioned beers are more "domestic" than any Coors, Bud or Miller, the fact that any bar would employ such a backwards system just tells me I'm not in the type of place I want to be.

What should bars do to solve this problem? The simplest answer is to make microbrews count as domestics, as long as they're brewed in America. Or, bars could advertise, "$3 domestics, $3.50 microbrews and $4 imports." That's a deal I could get behind. 


This reminds me of the time I stopped by Muir's Tavern on a Sunday and asked for a sixer of Yuengling to go. The bartender smirked and said, "We don't sell imports." Apparently, Pennsylvania is another country.

(Baltimore Sun archive photo from 1997. Points if you can identify the bar.)
Posted by Sam Sessa at 1:29 PM | | Comments (43)
Categories: Bars & Clubs

Get Out 2: Organic Soul Tuesdays @ Eden's Lounge

olu butterfly hosts organic soul tuesdays at eden's loungeSince one just wasn't enough, I wanted to plug another event today: Organic Soul Tuesdays at Eden's Lounge.

Olu Butterfly (pictured), Fertile Ground and the rest of the crew has been doing Organic Soul Tuesdays for years now. I remember going to one in 2006 when it was at the 14 Karat Caberet.

It's a night of great local poetry, spoken word and hip-hop, as well as live performances from promising jazz artists and singer/songwriters.

The fun starts around 8 p.m.

(Baltimore Sun photo by Barbara Haddock Taylor)

Posted by Sam Sessa at 10:07 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Get Out

Get Out: 1/2 price Maryland Zoo tickets today

penguin time!Remember that list (real or imaginary) of all the things you wanted to do this summer?

I make mine in April or May, and then, when summer is in its last gasps, frantically try to cross everything off the list. I'm just a deadline guy, I guess.

Today's weather forecast is lookin' good, lookin' great, and the Maryland Zoo is slashing ticket prices in half every Tuesday this month.

That's what I call synergy.

Don't let the end of summer be a bummer. Do the Zoo, boo.

(Handout photo of young penguins at the zoo)

Posted by Sam Sessa at 9:47 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Get Out

Rock crowds drink the most at Merriweather

richard branson serves beer at last year's Virgin Mobile FreeFest

Last November, when I saw Bruce Springsteen at 1st Mariner Arena, the number of drunk folks stunned me.

Some people were so sloshed they could barely walk, before the show even began. I was strolling up the street next to two dudes who were trying -- and failing -- to have a conversation with each other. It was more like a stream of drunken ramblings.

During the show, I saw one dude tumble head-first down the aisle next to me, and another sloshed sucker kept yelling for "Streets of Philadelphia" while Springsteen did a solo piano version of "For You." I wanted to open-palm slap him.

So it should come as no surprise that rock fans tend to drink more than most other audiences, according to Michael Palad, operations manager for Charm City Hospitality, which handles Merriweather Post Pavilion's drink and food sales ...

"Those guys love to drink," Palad said. "Anything that rocks, sells."

The most recent example of this was the M3 Rock Festival, which featured the Scorpions, Kix and everybody's favorite dough boy '80s singer, Vince Neil.

I'm going to generalize for a bit and try to explain why older rock fans love to drink so much. In the '70s and early '80s (before I came along), my parents were huge live music fans. They used to hop on a bus from the Eastern Shore and head to Merriweather for shows all the time. Back then, crowds used to get sloshed all the time, they said. They make it sound like quite the scene.

I'll bet many of the folks who still go to see Poison, Motley Crue, Kix and even Springsteen drink like fishes because they always have, and they always will. For them, a show wouldn't be the same without a case of Miller, Coors or Bud in the belly. And this is probably tame, compared to what they consumed pre-show back in the day. Again, this is just my guess.

Country music fans like to eat and drink, Palad said. And this past weekend's David Gray/Ray LaMontagne double bill stood out as well, he said.

"We sold the most wine all year," he said. 


(Baltimore Sun photo of rebel billionaire Richard Branson serving beer at Merriweather Post Pavilion last year by Christopher T. Assaf)

Posted by Sam Sessa at 8:58 AM | | Comments (12)
Categories: Bars & Clubs, Local music

August 16, 2010

Introducing Gameday Warehouse, a new Ravens bar

gameday warehouseRavens pre- and post-gamers now have a new hangout that's much closer to M&T Bank Stadium than anything in Federal Hill.

Gameday Warehouse, a 2,500-square foot bar with a capacity of 750, opened for last week's preseason game at 1400 B Warner St.

Gameday Warehouse, which is being run by CBS Radio, will be open for every home Ravens game. After getting a sneak peek at the new space, I think Gameday Warehouse was a brilliant idea ...

Instead of buying a liquor license and going through that whole rigmarole, organizers applied for single day liquor licenses for each of the home game days. Even if the Ravens tear it up in the playoffs, Gameday Warehouse will only be open a dozen days, at most.

inside gameday warehouseInside, Gameday Warehouse has wood paneled walls, four bars, several purple booths and lots of standing room. They're leasing the building from the neighboring Second Chance, and salvaged much of the bar's decor from leftover antiques and scrap materials.

The bars are made from oak doors (you can still see the mail slots), and are topped with old pine. A statue of Cecil Calvert stands near one corner, draped in a purple cape with a raven on his right shoulder. And a sign for the old Chug-A-Lug Bar & Grill rests on the other side of the room.

While Gameday Warehouse is a buck or two more expensive than most of the bars in Federal Hill (and exponentially pricier than bringing your own cooler), it's much cheaper than drinking inside the stadium.

Miller Lites and Coors Lights are $4, Yuengling is $5 and bottled water is $2. Shots or cocktails made with name brand liquors like Maker's Mark and Jameson are $9, bombs (Jager, cherry, etc.) are $7 each. The warehouse has food, too: A jumbo lump crab cake is $11, pulled pork sandwiches are $8 and a cheeseburger is $7.

Gameday Warehouse doesn't have a website yet, but they're working it, organizers said. It will be open next for the Ravens-Giants game Aug. 28.

(Photos by me) 
Posted by Sam Sessa at 1:16 PM | | Comments (23)
Categories: Bars & Clubs

Concert review: MGMT @ Merriweather Post Pavilion

vocalist/guitarist Andrew VanWyngarden and keyboardist Ben Goldwasser

Midnight Sun correspondent Evan Haga saw MGMT at Merriweather Post Pavilion Saturday. Here is his review:

MGMT, a psychedelic quintet whose founders and leaders — vocalist/guitarist Andrew VanWyngarden and keyboardist Ben Goldwasser — are precocious, sometimes brilliant pop craftsmen, offered one of their biggest hits on Saturday night in a way that might be termed an "anti-performance."

To its pre-recorded synthesizer track, the two men sang "Kids" and danced modestly while the rest of the band loitered, nodded along or tooled around on their instruments. (At one point a bra was thrown onstage from the audience and tossed around until VanWyngarden put it on.)

The decision to go karaoke could have been interpreted a couple different ways, depending on what music blogs you read and how much of them you choose to believe. On one level it was an exercise in group catharsis; a way to get the players out from behind their instruments, get loose and enjoy a big falsetto hum-along with the large amphitheater crowd. In a different way it seemed to mock the song and deliver it as an afterthought; a kiss-off to a pop single from a band with much bigger ambitions, perhaps? ...

Gossip can be fun, but let's go with the former: The other party-starting early singles, "Time to Pretend" and "Electric Feel," were given the full-band treatment, and, actually, this has long been the band’s standard live delivery for "Kids." Still, the song deserved a little more elbow grease. After all, they care enough about the Grammy-nominated track to sue French President Nicolas Sarkozy for misusing it, and it surely helped them garner a fan base large enough to fill out a respectable portion of Merriweather.

The crowd was enviable for any working band, especially one with only two full-length albums to its credit: mostly college-aged or slightly older; loyal enough to adopt a neo-hippie-meets-hipster dress code that revolves around a headband or bandanna — a look the band invented but didn’t adhere to. And the loyalty didn't stop there.

Danceable synth-pop may have been MGMT's bread and butter early on, but those singles are actually aberrations at this point. The majority of the band's two Columbia-label LPs consists of formally involved yet impressively tuneful psychedelic rock that seems equally indebted to '60s British Invasion and California pop and to the more recent bands — the Flaming Lips, Spacemen 3 — who've worshiped similar gods. Both of MGMT's offerings are exemplars of songwriting, baroque arrangement and expansive sonics — the sort of front-to-back listens worth a turntable and a nice set of headphones, and an argument for major labels giving promising young people some coin without micromanaging them.

MGMTThroughout this roughly 90-minute performance, MGMT focused on convincingly recreating those recorded performances. On film, they've taken advantage of bigger budgets and creative license, releasing music videos that suggest everything from Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dalí to zombie movies, but this was a fairly straight-ahead concert with a sharp set list and some simple yet effective psychedelic projections.

VanWyngarden, Goldwasser, drummer Will Berman, bassist Matthew Asti and guitarist/keyboardist James Richardson mostly stayed put without props or gimmicks — the Lips live this was not. Aside from some guitar heroics courtesy of Richardson, the most Woodstock-looking of the bunch, or a few words of thanks from VanWyngarden, the majority of this gig presented the sort of parlor game the Beatles tribute band the Fab Faux has made a go of: That is, where are those sounds on the record coming from? Ah, that's a synth handling the koto-like timbres on "Congratulations"; oh, that's a real electric sitar on "Someone's Missing."

On more complexly structured songs like the epic "Siberian Breaks"; "It's Working," which resembled sunshine pop as interpreted by Air; or "Flash Delirium," the precision and execution were imposing. "Destrokk," an older song, was a decidedly contemporary-sounding rocker and an overall highlight. Less thrilling were VanWyngarden's vocals, even as the group nailed surf-rock harmonies, and even if certain vocal moments — say, the squeezed tenor the singer fell into on slower numbers like "I Found a Whistle" and "Pieces of What" — were winning.

This material doesn't call for a vocalist of any real power or singularity, but VanWyngarden had trouble projecting and some general pitch problems — most obvious in Prince-falsetto mode, as on "Electric Feel." Not that it mattered much to the fans, who ate the show up in its entirety, far beyond the spare synth-pop moments, and even when it resembled some esoteric meld of the Mamas & the Papas and Spiritualized.

Opening act Devendra Banhart's set worked in an opposing fashion. If you hadn't kept up with him, you might've expected a Norcal freak-folkie looking Jesus-chic and playing through composed acoustic rambles. Instead, Banhart wore very short hair and danced as if on the verge of a bathroom break. His band — a jaunty, taut guitar-rock five-piece — and vocals — a sly croon that suggested Lou Reed with a voice coach — called forth the Lower East Side of mid-'70s Manhattan.

(Handout photos)

Posted by Sam Sessa at 8:37 AM | | Comments (7)
Categories: Concert reviews

August 13, 2010

Facing lawsuit, Ottobar holds benefit

The Ottobar is holding a benefit show tomorrow to raise money for a lawsuit filed by an injured patron, according to club co-owner Michael Bowen.

The patron, who was struck in the head about two years ago when a club-goer dove off the stage into the crowd, has since recovered from her injuries but is seeking $30,000 to pay for medical bills and time missed from work, Bowen said. At Bowen's request, the plaintiff's name is being withheld from this article.

"I would like to see this young lady get compensated," Bowen said. "I don't have any beef with this woman pursuing the time she missed from work and some of her medial bills. I'm happy she's healthy and fine."...

The Ottobar's insurance company, United America Insurance Group, declared the case "assault and battery" and has refused to pay the fees or settle, Bowen said.

"I'm really annoyed with our insurance company," Bowen said. "It's like, 'God, how can you people live with yourselves?'"

Though the Ottobar has been reeling from the down economy, it's not going out of business anytime soon, Bowen said. He hopes tomorrow's benefit show will raise a few thousand dollars to help offset the costs of the lawsuit. For information about the show, go here.

Posted by Sam Sessa at 12:31 PM | | Comments (19)
Categories: Bars & Clubs, Local music, News

Three hotel bar reviews

diamond tavernToday, my review of three -- not two, not four, but three -- hotel bars.

Dig it.

They are, in no particular order, Tavern 101, Diamond Tavern and Explorer's Lounge.

Two out of the three were great. One wasn't. Guess which one. Take a guess! Do it! Or just read the story and find out, I guess.

Of all three, I liked Tavern 101 best. The Explorer's Lounge's reputation preceded it, so I knew what to expect. Tavern 101 caught me off guard ...

I got the impression the Diamond Tavern wasn't even trying. They're right next to the stadium, so I'm sure they get a ton of walk-up traffic during Yankees and Red Sox games (that's about it). Zink! 

But our bartender's shirt was dirty. I get a little neat-freaky about some things, and I don't like it when a server's shirt is dirty -- especially in a semi-upscale setting. It's unprofessional, and un-Hilton. Am I alone here? He didn't even keep much of an eye on our glasses, either. Shameful!

(Baltimore Sun photo by Lloyd Fox)

Posted by Sam Sessa at 11:03 AM | | Comments (11)
Categories: Bars & Clubs

August 12, 2010

Sweet Sin gets its license

After much debate, Sweet Sin has been granted a liquor license with the condition that it close early. Sun reporter Jessica Anderson has the scoop.
Posted by Sam Sessa at 4:29 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Bars & Clubs, News

Get Out: Ravens vs. Panthers preseason game

ray lewis sees you. ray lewis is always watching Let the games begin.

Tonight, the Baltimore Ravens take on the Carolina Panthers in the first preseason game of the year. 

The Ravens starters aren't expected to see much playing time, but who cares? It's football, baby!

The shoulder pad-rattling action starts at 8 p.m. at M&T Bank Stadium.

(Baltimore Sun photo by Amy Davis)

Posted by Sam Sessa at 1:42 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Get Out

Sweet Sin's second liquor board hearing is today

sweet sin bakery

Sweet Sin Cupcakes and Cafe's controversial plans to open a restaurant with a liquor license will get a second look at a 1 p.m. liquor board hearing today.

The Remington bakery, which offers gluten-free desserts, wants to open a restaurant and bar next door.

Neighbors appear to be split over the idea of a new bar opening in the 'hood: the Charles Village Civic Association is for it, as long as it closes a couple hours earlier than 2 a.m. But the Remington Neighborhood Alliance is against the restaurant serving alcohol altogether.

In July, the liquor board sided with the upset neighbors, and denied Sweet Sin a liquor license ...

As you may imagine, a restaurant without alcohol doesn't present the best business model. Though he was against it at first, owner Richard D'Souza now seems amenable to the idea of opening a restaurant with adjusted hours if he can sell booze. He and his lawyer petitioned the liquor board for another hearing, and will plead their case again today.

Liquor board chairman Stephan Fogleman, whom I spoke with this morning, is expecting a fracas.

"It's going to be heated," said liquor board chairman Stephan Fogleman.

If approved, the new restaurant would offer a gluten-free menu. No word yet on whether it would also offer gluten-free drinks. I'll keep you posted on the outcome of the hearing.

(Baltimore Sun photo by Barbara Haddock Taylor)
Posted by Sam Sessa at 9:52 AM | | Comments (21)
Categories: Bars & Clubs

The early review: Tavern 101

tavern 101

With a few weeks of summer vacation left and the Orioles actually winning for a change, it's a great time to be a tourist in Baltimore.

For this week's nightlife column, I'm putting together a roundup of two or three downtown hotel bars (no, the B&O Brasserie is not included, because we write about that place way too much).

Instead, I'm writing about Tavern 101, the newish bar in the newish Fairfield Inn & Suites, at the corner of President and Lombard streets. You've probably driven past this place -- it has the SmartCar parked out front. The whole complex was an unused lot just a year or two ago.

Tavern 101 surprised me -- in a good way. Since it's new and it's a hotel bar, I expected Tavern 101 to be sterile and nondescript. Far from it ...

Whoever thought up Tavern 101 did their homework: It has (new!) pressed tin ceilings and, in cubbies in the bar back, for DeGroen's chalices. DeGroen's was the late, great brewpub which, before it closed four or five years ago, used to sit a few doors down from the hotel. Touche, Tavern 101.

Most of the draft beers were $2 last night as part of the bar's happy hour, which runs 3:30 p.m.-7 p.m. I had a $3 Victory Prima, and my co-pilot, jmgiordano, had a $3 Clipper City Gold Ale.

The rest of Tavern 101's decor gave the space a homey Baltimore feel: banks of big windows, dark wood trimmings and patches of exposed brick. It even has two ceiling fans connected by a conveyor belt.

Tavern 101 ranks high on my list, as far as Baltimore hotel bars go. You guys have any of your own favorite hotel bars?

(Baltimore Sun photo by Gene Sweeney Jr.)

Posted by Sam Sessa at 7:30 AM | | Comments (7)
Categories: Bars & Clubs

August 11, 2010

Concert review: Black Eyed Peas at 1st Mariner Arena

fergie of the black eyed peasMuch fuss has been made about The Black Eyed Peas selling out. Target, Apple, Best Buy, Nokia, Pepsi -- no corporate sponsor is turned away by the pop stars, it seems.

So what?

Any criticism of the band's success was drowned last night in the sea of fans who mobbed 1st Mariner Arena last night to bounce in place along Fergie,, and Taboo.

Here's a link to a photo gallery from the show.

Aside from a few slow spots, the show was a ball of electricity, with the Peas tearing through hit after hit...

Backed by a DJ and four-piece live band, the Peas rose through the floorboards one by one, lit up in green laser light, fog curling at their feet, and burst into the first song, "Let's Get It Started." The show was pretty much the same as their Verizon Center performance in Washington a few months ago, with some minor set list changes.

The staging had digital bells and whistles by the boatload, and the costumes were one big sparkle-fest. Remember what people thought the future would look like back in the '80s? It kinda resembled that.

taboo, and will.i.amHalfway through the show, rapper Taboo rose from the stage atop a neon-glowing motorcycle (a la "Tron"), which he rode out above the crowd, suspended from the ceiling while doing "Rockin' to the Beat." Fergie emerged in a shiny metal outfit that looked like something from the Silverhawks, and made a handful of wardrobe changes over the course of the night.

Fergie doesn't get enough attention as a singer. She's dexterous enough to lilt through a ballad or shriek out a rock song, and though she warbled a bit last night, her performance was solid on the whole.

In the middle of the show, each Pea had their own solo spots. The mohawked did "Mare," Taboo rode his laser bike, Fergie-Ferg sang a smattering of her solo hits and spun house and pop songs in a mini-DJ set. After 15 minutes of listening to (dressed like Robocop) play hits from Michael Jackson, Journey and the like and give endless shout-outs to Baltimore, I was ready to get back to the Peas' own material. We didn't come to see do his DJ thing, we came to see the Peas.

While most of the show felt pre-planned, one moment stuck out as off-the-cuff: free-styled around texts fans had supposedly sent in earlier that night.

The Peas' recipe for selling albums is to throw together songs with irresistible grooves, big hooks and accessible lyrics. The urgent beat of "Boom Boom Pow" and sharp keyboard riff of "I've Got a Feeling" had the audience jumping. Near the end of the night, confetti cannons went off, firing countless colored scraps of paper into the air. The crowd soaked in the moment, knowing in spite of all the commercialization and crazy theatrics, they'd gotten what they came for: a party.

The Black Eyed Peas went on at 8:37 p.m. Here is the set list:

Let's Get it Started
Meet Me Halfway
Don't Phunk With My Heart freestyle
Imma Be
My Humps
Missing You Mare
Taboo: Rockin' to the Beat
Fergie: Fergalicious, Glamorous, Big Girls Don't Cry DJ set
Pump It
Where is the Love?


Boom Boom Pow
I've Got a Feeling

(Baltimore Sun photos by Gene Sweeney Jr.)

Posted by Sam Sessa at 6:30 AM | | Comments (10)
Categories: Concert reviews

August 10, 2010

The Pedal Party is an awesome idea ...

... but it will never fly here. Or will it? You be the judge.
Posted by Sam Sessa at 1:09 PM | | Comments (5)

Fergie's oldest fan?

esther lenettEsther Lenett might not be the Black Eyed Peas' biggest fan, but she's probably their oldest.

At 92, Lenett is a passionate fan of the pop group, and will be at the 1st Mariner Arena tonight to see the Peas live.

Lenett has followed the Peas for years, she said. She especially likes Fergie, who, at 35, is about a third her age.

"First of all, I love music -- any kind -- and I love the beat they have," she said. "Know what I mean? I may be old and aged but I’m young at heart. Even my daughter says, 'Mom, aren't you ever going to grow up?' I say, 'No.' I think young."

Lenett's daughter, Rena Polun, bought her the tickets and a copy of the Peas' latest album, "The E.N.D.," as a birthday present in March. The family was celebrating at the Cheesecake Factory in Bethesda at the time, and Lenett was giddy with excitement.

"You should have heard her," Polun said. "Everybody in the restaurant knew before we left. Since March, all I've heard is 'I can't wait until Aug. 10. I can't wait until Aug. 10. I can't wait until Aug. 10.'"

The Black Eyed Peas aren't Lenett's only pop music crush. She saw Tina Turner perform at the Verizon Center in November 2008. Lenett, who lives by herself in Bethesda, follows the musicians on and off stage. She knows (and likes) Fergie's husband, Josh Duhamel, she said. The only question left is, what will she wear to tonight's show?

"I said, 'You don't go to these things dressed in heels and sequins,'" said Polun, who is taking Lenett to the show. "If you want to wear jeans, fine. I don't know if she owns jeans or not, but she might. She's a real character."

(Baltimore Sun photo by Barbara Haddock Taylor)
Posted by Sam Sessa at 11:47 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Random stuff

The Atlas Bar is closed, could relocate

the atlas bar The Atlas Bar, the Charles Village hideout which won Best Secret Bar, is closed and could relocate in the coming weeks, according to manager Angela Devoti.

Devoti has long been at odds with her landlords, who own the Charles Carryout, and decided to close up shop last week. Devoti is in talks with an employment lawyer about suing the owner to try and recoup lost pay, she said.

"I can't stay here," she said. "I can't believe how much he didn't want the business to succeed." ...

Devoti has her eye on another space in Charles Village, which she'd like to take over in the coming weeks. I'll keep you posted once I know more.

The back pay thing is only the tip of the iceberg, Devoti said. I won't go into further details for fear of libel, but she's got some pretty serious allegations against the owner. If and when she files legal documents, I'll pass along the details.

Atlas Bar will be sorely missed. Why do all the best ones have to come and go so quickly? That's one thing I've learned after writing about bars, clubs and restaurants for five years: Enjoy them now, because there are no sure bets.

(Baltimore Sun photo by Kenneth K. Lam)
Posted by Sam Sessa at 7:26 AM | | Comments (16)
Categories: Bars & Clubs, News

August 9, 2010

Racers Cafe trades the peanuts for popcorn

racers cafeAwww ... nuts!


Racers Cafe, the beer lover's bar right near the county line, has traded its barrels of peanuts for popcorn. A reader sent me a tip about this, and I confirmed it with Dustin at the bar.

The reason for the swap? It wasn't allergies, believe it or not. Peanuts were too much of a hassle to clean up after, Dustin said, and attracted unwanted pests. Popcorn is much more hygienic.

And delicious, if you ask me.

(Baltimore Sun photo by Lloyd Fox)

Posted by Sam Sessa at 3:22 PM | | Comments (15)
Categories: Bars & Clubs

Concert review: Erykah Badu, the Roots & Chuck Brown at Spirit Fest

chuck brown

Sun correspondent Evan Haga was at Merriweather Post Pavilion for Spirit Fest Saturday. Here are his ruminations from the show:

Chuck Brown

Like the leader of any world-class funk band, Chuck Brown knows not to neglect the groove, even for a second. The go-go beats began and they didn't quit until set's end, and in between was an interpolated regional hit parade — "Go-Go Swing" and "Bustin' Loose" cropped up, obviously — from a jazzman who is also the ambassador for one of the most singular rhythms on the planet.

The sound on the lawn was a shame, though: The District was well represented, as cries of "Wind me up, Chuck!" proved, but the mix beyond the seats was spotty and soft. I could hardly hear Brown's warm-toned, Grant Green-styled guitar lines ...

the rootsThe Roots

The Roots are, according to an announcer on Saturday who shall-go-unnamed, currently working with late-night-TV host Jimmy Kimmel. Ouch. Once tireless road warriors who toured so much it was easy to take them for granted, the Roots have, since March of 2009, had a steady gig on "Late Night With Jimmy Fallon," making even festival dates like this one something to savor.

Black Thought is a force and, with ?uestlove and Captain Kirk Douglas — rap's resident guitar hero — the Roots bolstered their reputation as hip-hop's greatest live band. One thing felt like a missed opportunity, though I'm sure the logistics presented a challenge: Douglas sang the chorus on "You Got Me," a part famously recorded by Erykah Badu, who was slated to go on next.

erykah baduErykah Badu

Like Sly Stone before her, Badu has traded the Afro in for a bleached-blonde mohawk. It was impressive, to be sure, but not as flooring as this hour-long set, which began late but thankfully plowed through Merriweather's 11 p.m. curfew.

Badu's ace band set the table by grooving like Herbie Hancock's Headhunters circa 1974, heightening the anticipation before the empress arrived to grab the reins. She started out slow and spacey but eventually the vamps became robust and hypnotic; hits like "Love of My Life" were grand, but the real magic was off the cuff. Whether tapping out beats on a drum machine or messing around on Whodini’s "Friends" with surprise guest (and former beau) Common, her charisma was arresting.

A soul queen but also a hip-hop kid, Badu spit vintage gansta-rap lyrics in a way that was deft but also hilarious, evoking a bawdy blues singer spinning off double entendres. Somehow, the explicit lyrics didn't seem so explicit.

(Baltimore Sun photos by Colby Ware)

Posted by Sam Sessa at 12:14 PM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Concert reviews

Get Out: Colbie Caillat at Rams Head Live

colbie caillatKnown for her breathy singing and breezy songwriting, Colbie Caillat broke through a couple years ago with the acoustic hit "Bubbly."

Caillat's most recent album is last year's "Breakthrough," which gave us the pleasant, comforting tune "Fallin' For You."

Tonight, Caillat and her band will be at Rams Head Live. Get more info here. This has all the makings of a feel good show.

Tickets are $29 and doors open at 7 p.m.

(Photo by Meredith L. Ward Photograph)

Posted by Sam Sessa at 11:01 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Get Out

Never underestimate Guerilla Gay Bar

It's been almost two years since Guerilla Gay Bar started, and it's more popular than ever. Much bigger than the management at Ryan's Daughter expected.

Have you heard of Guerilla Gay Bar? It's a gay happy hour which travels to local "straight" bars once a month. While the bar knows a couple days ahead of time, the location is kept secret for the patrons until the day before.

Last Friday, when the organizers of Guerilla Gay Bar got to Ryan's Daughter, there were only two or three bartenders on duty, according to one of my spies. Uh oh ...

The Ryan's Daughter crew thought only 35 or 40 folks were going to show up. It was more like 300 or 350, according to my source.

"Straight people don't realize the success of this," my source said.

That made getting drinks a nightmare.

"They were over-packed and overwhelmed," my source said. "It was incredibly hard to get a drink."

I did a piece on Guerilla Gay Bar shortly after it began in November 2008. Several cities, including Washington, have their own Guerilla Gay Bar events The happy hour "invasion" can come as a surprise for unsuspecting regulars.

"We don't want a ton of warning, because we don't want people to avoid that bar that night," co-founder Mark Yost said at the time. "We want good, peaceful interaction with people."

It's great to see Guerilla Gay Bar doing so well.
Posted by Sam Sessa at 8:48 AM | | Comments (5)
Categories: Bars & Clubs

August 7, 2010

Corkboard: Baltimore bars with the best karaoke?

In yesterday's paper, I did a quick roundup of three dive bars with great karaoke. Check it out. The bars on my list were Nevin's Cross Street Station, Frazier's and Walt's Inn.

I've been to all three and Nevin's is by far the dingiest. I've heard stories of people puking on stage while singing. But Nevin's is the only holdout from the old Cross Street corridor -- before places like MaGerk's set up shop.

In that piece, I was just looking for low key spots. But now, I'm opening it up to suggestions. What's your favorite Baltimore spot for karaoke, and why?

Posted by Sam Sessa at 10:05 AM | | Comments (7)
Categories: Corkboard

August 6, 2010

B.o.B.'s "Airplanes" was written by a kid from Rockville

If you've turned on the radio for as much as a minute this summer, you've probably heard B.o.B.'s hit "Airplanes." It's everywhere. Paramore lead singer Hayley Williams sang the chorus, and Eminem even threw down a verse.

Tim Sommers, a guy who grew up in Rockville, wrote the song with his friend when they were freshmen at Cornell a few years ago. True story. I did a piece about it in today's paper. Check it out.

Something that didn't make it into the story: I asked Sommers if he ever brags about writing the song, or even just tells people about it. I chuckled at his response ...

"Honestly, I feel weird telling people," he said. "Sometimes when I'm DJing, I like to put it on. There's always random people who are talking to me, I put it on and they're like, 'I love this song' and I'm like, 'I wrote it.' People are like,  'What? No you didn't.' They don't get it. I find it's a lot better when someone else says something. If it comes on the radio and they're like, 'Tim did this.' That makes it a little easier. It's weird."

Sommers is 22 now, and he's already written a song that's affected millions of people. Talk about a promising start.

Posted by Sam Sessa at 10:00 AM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Local music, Random stuff

Concert review: Keane at Merriweather Post Pavilion

keaneIt had all the makings of a mediocre show: The lawn was largely empty, the weather soggy and overcast.

But those who did come to see Keane at Merriweather Post Pavilion last night wanted to see a great show -- not a middling one. Through sheer force of will, the crowd members made it happen. They screamed before, during and after nearly every song. They clapped, and belted out the lyrics and danced at their seats. The energy was unbelievable. Singer Tom Chaplin seemed genuinely surprised at their enthusiasm.

"You should give yourselves a hand," he said after a few numbers. They did ...

Keane responded with a dynamic 90-minute performance that saw the British rock trio dipping evenly into its three studio albums and new EP, "Night Train."

Unlike most of its contemporaries, Keane's songs are built around the piano instead of the guitar. Though Chaplin strapped on an axe for several songs, his fret work didn't add much to mix. Keyboardist Tim Rice-Oxley, on the other hand, was the musical centerpiece. He's one of the most underrated and animated keyboardists in rock. He swayed on his seat at his electric piano, his left leg bouncing nearly as high as the ivories, head banging and fist-pumping in time.

keaneThe lanky, baby-faced Chaplin held himself a little more stiffly, occaisionally making grand gestures with his arms to punctuate the notes. Chaplin has a voice that would be at home on Broadway; even his softer notes can be sweeping. Last night, Chaplin's mike level was too low, and the other instruments occaisionally drowned him out.

Though a shade slow, "Everybody's Changing" was just as poignant live as in studio, and I'm fairly certain "Somewhere Only We Know" will go down as one of the best rock ballads from the last 10 years. A bare bones take on "Try Again," with both the drummer and bassist on hand percussion and Rice-Oxley on a stand-up piano, was a welcome break from all the electric numbers; I wish they'd played a few more this way. Though solos aren't Keane's forte, Rice-Oxley hammered away at his keyboard so fast on "A Bad Dream" his hands were a blur.

Chaplin turned the mike over to Rice-Oxley for "Your Love," saying he had "golden" pipes, but Rice-Oxley's voice was more reminiscent of Human League's Philip Oakley on a bad day. He's much better singing backup than lead.

The muggy weather, which opener Ingrid Michaelson called "a wet sponge," had the guys in Keane sweating through their shirts after a couple songs. Halfway through their set, they were soaked but smiling. Chaplin couldn't help but grin at the audience's relentless enthusiasm. Near the end of their set, he summed up the night in a few words.

"You must have amazing stamina," Chaplin said. "It's been absolutely awesome."

Keane's set started at 9:10 p.m. and ended at about 10:40 p.m. Album titles are listed in parenthesis.

1. Again and Again (Perfect Symmetry)
2. Bend & Break (Hopes & Fears)
3. Everybody's Changing (Hopes & Fears)
4. Nothing In My Way (Under the Iron Sea)
5. Clear Skies (Night Train)
6. This is the Last Time (Hopes & Fears)
7. Stop For a Minute (Night Train)
8. Try Again (Under the Iron Sea)
9. You Haven't Told Me Anything (Perfect Symmetry)
10. Spiralling (Perfect Symmetry)
11. A Bad Dream (Under the Iron Sea)
12. Is It Any Wonder? (Under the Iron Sea)
13. Your Love (Night Train)
14. Perfect Symmetry
15. Somewhere Only We Know (Hopes & Fears)
16. Bedshaped (Hopes & Fears)


My Shadow (Night Train)
Crystal Ball (Under the Iron Sea)


Before Keane went on, singer/songwriter Ingrid Michaelson and Travis front man Fran Healy helped liven things up. A couple songs into Michaelson's set, a little girl named Morgan threw a blue dolphin-shaped Silly Bandz up on stage. Michaelson picked it up and wore it for the rest of her performance. She and her five-piece band closed their set with a cover of Britney Spears' "Toxic." It was tame, compared to her earlier cover of Radiohead's "Creep," but a synchronized dance at the end of "Toxic" was killer. Later, during Keane's performance, the Jumbotrons showed little Morgan singing along with the band. Cute as a button.

(Handout photos)

Posted by Sam Sessa at 7:30 AM | | Comments (5)
Categories: Concert reviews

August 5, 2010

Heavy Seas Loose Cannon wins silver medal in British Beer Festival contest

Heavy Seas Loose Cannon Ale has placed second in the Great British Beer Festival's American cask real ale competition. Details here.
Posted by Sam Sessa at 3:45 PM | | Comments (0)

Dizzee Rascal's 'Road Rage,' goes platinum with Baltimore Club beat

aaron lacrate and samir with the fruits of their labor

Baltimore Club's influence keeps growing, thanks in part to producers Aaron LaCrate and Debonair Samir (pictured).

LaCrate and Samir produced "Road Rage," a hip-hop track with a Baltimore Club beat, for British rapper Dizzee Rascal. 

The album, "Tongue n' Cheek," (NSFW) was recently certified platinum in England. LaCrate and Samir received platinum plaques for their work.

"It's really exciting," said LaCrate, a Baltimore native who runs the label Milkcrate NYC. "Baltimore's creeping up there."

(Photo courtesy of LaCrate)

Posted by Sam Sessa at 3:42 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Local music, News

The inflatable Irish pub, or, 'I want that'

Do you have a big yard you're tired of mowing? Would you rather open an Irish pub there, but don't want to waste time buying materials/building it?

Portable Pubs to the rescue! ...

That's right, folks. For the low low price of $12,797-$45,978 (depending on the size), you can own your very own inflatable Irish pub, and invite your friends to the Most Wickedly Awesome Yard Party Ever.

Hold on for a second, my belly hurts from laughing. OK. Whew.

Yes, Portable Pubs exists -- at least as far as I can tell. Volker Stewart turned me onto them this morning. They're like moon-bounces for adults. Some of them come with multiple rooms, (fake) fireplaces and bars. All you need to bring is the Guinness. And the air. I'd call my inflatable Irish pub Shelale Sam's Slainte Shack.

And you?

Posted by Sam Sessa at 12:11 PM | | Comments (14)
Categories: Bars & Clubs, Drink-ology, Random stuff

Get Out: Silly Bandz Swap Party @ Muggsy's Mug House

silly bandz are, like, so silly! The obvious choice for today's Get Out would be Keane at Merriweather Post Pavilion. But I've never been one to take the easy road.*

So instead, I'm going with the Silly Bandz Swap party at Muggsy's Mug House.

In case you've been living on a boat in the Inner Harbor for the past few months, Silly Bandz are these little rubber bracelets that, when you set them down, form various shapes. They're the new Beanie Babies -- only much, much cheaper. Recession Beanie Babies, if you will.

Anyway, Muggsy's is poised to cash in on the trend at tonight's party ...

There will be trading, of course, as well as Silly Bandz shoot-outs and ring toss. Select drafts are $3 and $4 Pinnacle whipped cream vodka and orange juices, which sound strangely appealing. Oh, and then there's "all the awesome you can handle," according to co-owner Danny Young.

I can handle a lot of awesome, Danny. Just sayin'. The fun starts around 8 p.m.

*This is a lie.

(Baltimore Sun photo by Lloyd Fox)

Posted by Sam Sessa at 7:13 AM | | Comments (10)
Categories: Get Out

August 4, 2010

Get Out: Quartet Offensive @ Joe Squared

Quartet Offensive's name couldn't be farther from the truth. The Baltimore jazz group is actually five members, not four, and their music is far from offensive.

Tonight, Quartet Offensive is playing a free show at Joe Squared. If you like pizza, rum, jazz or all of the above, you should really check it out.

Posted by Sam Sessa at 4:13 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Get Out

Concert review: Goo Goo Dolls at Pier Six Pavilion

are you goo goo for the goo goo dolls?Sun sports editor Ron Fritz was at last night's Goo Goo Dolls show at Pier Six Pavilion. Here's Ron's review:

To be honest, it was my first time seeing a concert at Pier Six, but it won’t be the last. Not only is the venue impressive, but last night the weather matched it, with a cool breeze coming off the water.

Then the bands took the stage and raised the temperature a few notches. The Spill Canvas from Sioux Falls, S.D., was the opener and they played a tight, 30-minute set that included two new songs, "Dust Storm" and "Our Song," and ended with fan favorite "All Over You."

I'll admit that I'm a huge fan of the group and have seen them four or five times in the Baltimore area and each time they seem to get a little better. Touring with Switchfoot and a veteran band like the Goo Goo Dolls definitely agrees with them ...

Unexpected for me was Switchfoot. I honestly didn’t know a lot about the band and someone had told me going in that I'd recognize two or three songs. The band from San Diego, Calif., was terrific. The group played for 45 minutes and continued the strong pace set by The Spill Canvas. One highlight from Switchfoot was its cover of Tom Petty’s "I Won’t Back Down." It sounded even better than Petty, and the group rocked it out.

The Goo Goo Dolls clearly know how to put on a show and the group did not disappoint the huge crowd. I'm not sure the attendance, but it looked close to full. When lead singer  Johnny Rzeznik said before the third song the band was going to kick it up a notch, it did with "Slide."

Out promoting a new album, "Something for  the Rest of Us," the group played some of the new material. "Home," and "As I Am," have the potential to be hits. The Goo Goo Dolls didn't leave out some of its biggest hits, either. The band filled the show with "Name," "Iris," "Black Balloon," and closed with "Broadway."

Just a great night of music, and the atmosphere could not have been better.

(Handout photo by Kurt Iswarienko)

Posted by Sam Sessa at 2:22 PM | | Comments (6)
Categories: Concert reviews

Are $10 credit card minimums fair?

Yesterday, when I hit up Johnny Rad's, my beer cost $3.25. I looked in my wallet, and realized I only had three one-dollar bills (such is the life of a two-bit hack journalist). 

Feeling like a schmuck, I had to give the bartender my credit card. To try and set things right, I tipped him two bucks in cash.

This would never have happened at Club Charles or The Ottobar, because they both require $10 minimums on credit card purchases. Ditto for Down the Hatch. I realize this policy is because credit card companies take a big cut of every charge a customer makes. From what I understand, the bars would barely see a penny if you were running up $2 and $3 tabs. But how do you feel about it? I want to hear from bar owners and bar-goers alike ...

I know people who are afraid of carrying cash -- period -- in some Baltimore neighborhoods, so they carry credit cards instead. But if they go to a place like Club Chuck, they have to buy three or four beers just to use their credit cards.

Lucky's, the convenience store on Fort Avenue, tacks on an extra 25- or 50-cent fee for every purchase made with a credit card under a certain amount (sorry guys, I can't remember the exact number, it's been a while since I was there). Why can't more bars do this, instead of minimums?

Forgive me if I'm missing a law that prohibits these practices (I was never good with math or law). But I think it's a fair question. Thoughts?

Posted by Sam Sessa at 12:03 PM | | Comments (37)
Categories: Bars & Clubs

The early review: Johnny Rad's

Johnny Rad'sJohnny Rad's, the new pizza pub where Fells Point meets Highlandtown, is the only Baltimore bar I've seen that pays tribute to the skate punk culture of the '80s and '90s.

Given the number of skaters, skate rats, skate punks which grew up then, you'd think there would be more bars like Johnny Rad's, which opened last week.

Done in black and red, Johnny Rad's is a drastic 180 from Kelly's, the dark, old school bar which used to be there. The owners knocked out the old glass blocks in front and installed proper windows and overhauled the interior.

Johnny Rad's honors the skate culture without seeming gimmicky or patronizing. The bar's sign is an appropriation of the Black Flag logo, and street signs and skateboards (sans wheels) hang inside on the walls ...

The beer list is small but mighty. I had a draft Acme IPA, which cost $3.25 at happy hour. There are five drafts, and all of them are good: Victory Prima Pils, Oliver's Blonde Ale, Flying Dog In-Heat Wheat.

There's an old Wurlitzer jukebox in the back, wired to the rest of the overhead sound system. Last night, they were playing Arcade Fire and the Postal Service.

Normally, I don't generalize, but I'd like to think Johnny Rad's would appeal to all the folks who spent time skateboarding in Broadway Square in the '80s and '90s (when you could still do that) and then put roots down in the surrounding community. They're older now, but they're always game for a funky little spot to sit and sip good brews. Johnny Rad's is just that.

(Photo by me)
Posted by Sam Sessa at 7:11 AM | | Comments (30)
Categories: Bars & Clubs

August 3, 2010

ESPN Zone's corporate closure letter

espn zoney roney boneyWhen I walked past the shuttered ESPN Zone last week, I spotted a sign affixed to the outside door. Curious, I went up to check it out. 

Turns out, it was a note talking about how ESPN Zone is closed and stuff -- except in corporate jargon.

Whereas most local businesses would put out a hand-written note saying "We're closed, suckers!" or maybe even nothing at all (the long-closed Ullswater still had an "open" sign outside the last time I drove by), ESPN Zone went all-out.

Maybe a little too far, in fact. Here's the opening graph of the letter, which was dated June 16 ...

ESPN Zone operations in Baltimore, Chicago, New York, Las Vegas and Washington, D.C. were discontinued today. The Los Angeles and Anaheim locations will remain open and operated by AEG and Zone Enterprises of Anaheim respectively.

It goes on with a couple graphs from some bigwigs about how regretful it is, and how ESPN Zone remained "a long term business challenge." Then they thanked their employees, vendors, customers and everybody else who made it "a first class entertainment and dining destination."

While I was standing there absorbing all this, a group of kids walked up and tugged on the door. It didn't budge. One of the kids skimmed the letter but didn't understand it. After a few seconds, another kid realized what was going on. 

"It's closed!," he said. 

Sorry, kids. espnzoneletter2.jpg

Posted by Sam Sessa at 2:37 PM | | Comments (12)
Categories: Bars & Clubs

Concert review: The Dead Weather at Rams Head Live

singer alison mosshart of the dead weatherMidnight Sun contributor Evan Haga saw the Dead Weather at Rams Head Live last night. Here is his review:

Strangely — very strangely — the Dead Weather can evoke a reaction similar to what one feels in the presence of a symphony with a sharp conductor, or a particularly inventive jazz repertory band.

It's all about heritage with this quartet, about sifting through the ages and plucking the really good stuff. The ominous, psychedelic-eye backdrop; the Captain Beefheart entrance music; the roadies dressed like Southern Gothic assassins; the goat-head stage props: Making aesthetic decisions is something this band does well.

The blues-crazed music, with its keen ear for late '60s and '70s sonics and deft way with rhythm, followed suit, and the attitude and posturing were veracious. Most of last night's one-hour-and-fifteen-minute set at Rams Head Live sneered and bristled as in the pushing-match moments before a fistfight. These people have the right idea. ...

The Dead Weather is a super-group of sorts, the most super component being Jack White of the White Stripes and the Raconteurs on drums, some vocals and less guitar. White was often eclipsed by singer Alison Mosshart, who made her name in the Kills, and joined throughout by guitarist/keyboardist Dean Fertita, who also plays in Queens of the Stone Age, and bassist Jack Lawrence of the Raconteurs and the Greenhornes.

The band formed in 2009, but has already released two fine albums — also a kind of throwback to the LP era, when groups quickly developed their chemistry onstage and outran creative malaise with touring and recording.

This set nicely balanced highlights off the two records. From the first: the explosive "Hang You From the Heavens;" the chunkily grooving "I Cut Like a Buffalo;" and the final encore, "Treat Me Like Your Mother," which underscored White and Mosshart's distinctive vocal chemistry. (While the tandem could be delicate, almost sensual, as on "Will There Be Enough Water?," most of their traded phrases and rough-hewn harmonies came off like a domestic quarrel about to turn ugly.)

jack white of the dead weatherA lot of the material from the new record, "Sea of Cowards," is freer, more grooving and more meandering, and those songs became out-sized jams here: "Hustle and Cuss," essentially a big Led Zep riff that the groups vamped on at different volumes, and the similarly propulsive "Blue Blood Blues."

As an ensemble it was obvious the Dead Weather's touring had paid off, but the parts were often greater than the sum. Mosshart has grown more assured since I last saw her but has retained her slovenly charisma. Slouched, with her black mop of hair almost constantly covering her face, she stood atop monitors, rested on side stage speakers, played a Bo Diddley-style guitar mostly for sound effects and breathed life into the lyrics: Sexy, rough-and-tumble confessions and witticisms that romanticize the down and out. ("I'm not the way that you found me/I'm neither here nor there/One day I'm happy and healthy/Next I ain't doing so well," she sang on "The Difference Between Us." And on "Gasoline:" "To be afraid is a luxury/Don't cool your engines for me.")

White played drums with robust attack and zero frills, and his voice was a treat to hear in a club environment. He made a cover of Them's "You Just Can’t Win" his own, and backed off the mike so his voice could fill the room acoustically on "Will There Be Enough Water?"

Fertita was the band's not-so-secret weapon and its source of musicianly flash. His solos on "60 Feet Tall" helped him steal the guitar-hero trophy from White, and his synth and organ playing added welcome vintage prog-rock flourishes.

Cross your fingers White gives this outfit some room to grow.

(Photos of the Dead Weather performing at the Glastonbury Festival by Getty Images)

Posted by Sam Sessa at 12:18 PM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Concert reviews

2010 Otakon attendance tops 29,000

2010 otakon baltimoreThis year's Otakon drew more than 29,000 -- a new high for the annual celebration of Japanese pop culture, according to organizers.

The unofficial tally, which includes staff and vendors, was 29,274.

That number is expected to rise by a couple hundred when the official count is released, according to Otakon publicist Alyce Wilson ...

"This is the biggest we've ever been," Wilson said.

Last year's head count was 26,586. The three-day event has seen a steady increase in attendance since it began.

"We expect it to grow every year," Wilson said.

Here is a link to our 2010 Otakon photo gallery.

(Baltimore Sun photo by Kim Hairston)

Posted by Sam Sessa at 10:32 AM | | Comments (4)
Categories: News

Get out: Lilith Fair at Merriweather Post Pavilion

sarah mclachlin

Canadian songstress Sarah McLachlan (pictured) brings her revived Lilith Tour to Merriweather Post Pavilion tonight, with a bevy of notable female performers in tow.

Some of the acts are old favorites like the Indigo Girls, but many are newer, up-and-coming stars on the music scene.

Highlights on the bill are the lush, breathy Sara Bareilles and the enigmatic Cat Power, as well as Jesca Hoop and Missy Higgins. Tickets are $77-$127, and doors open at 2:30 p.m.

A few years ago, I met Hoop during a music conference in Louisville, Ky., sat next to her during dinner and interviewed her the next day. I ended up writing one of my all time favorite ledes ...

Here it is, from a piece that ran in June 2007:

Louisville, Ky. -- After dinner, singer/songwriter Jesca Hoop picks up her full glass of pinot noir and offers you some. There is too much wine left for her to finish alone, and she needs some help.

As a joke, you wonder aloud whether she has mono."No, but I do have stereo," she answers.

Whimsical, playful and enigmatic in her life and music, Hoop is building a buzz among acoustic music fans and industry reps. She's on tour with the Polyphonic Spree and comes to the 9:30 Club on Saturday.

(Getty Images photo)

Posted by Sam Sessa at 7:30 AM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Get Out

August 2, 2010

"Bikini Barista" by Quickie

While Java Divas, the coffee shop with scantily clad employees, is new to Maryland, the idea is pretty common on the west coast.

Drive-thru coffee shops with baristas in bikinis are all over Seattle. A band named Quickie even wrote a song and made a music video about them. Check it out ...

Posted by Sam Sessa at 4:09 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Random stuff

Get Out: The Dead Weather at Rams Head Live

the dead weatherRockers the Dead Weather have a charismatic front woman (Alison Mosshart) and a renown drummer (Jack White).

Tonight, they'll be at Rams Head Live for a sold out show. Will you be there?

Recently, bad things are happening to bands with the word "Death" or "die" in their name. First, a member of the group You Say Party! We Say Die! passed away. Then, Deadmau5 collapsed on stage.

If I were a member of the Dead Weather, I'd be shaking in my leather pants. Or whatever the kids are wearing these days.

Doors open at 7 p.m. 

(AP photo)

Posted by Sam Sessa at 2:10 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Get Out

Concert review: Heart at Pier Six Pavilion

heart performs 'a night with heart' in los angeles

Midnight Sun commenter Jay Trucker saw Heart play at Pier Six Pavilion last night. Here is his review of the show:

'70s hard rockers-turned-'80s balladeers-turned classic rock mainstays Ann and Nancy Wilson brought their 2010 tour to Pier Six Pavilion Sunday night, with a well-rounded set list and pleasing performance.

Heart's multi-generational fan base was on hand, including a sizable number of sidewalk freeloaders and boat-dwellers.

Just as sunset hit the Inner Harbor, Heart made their way to the stage for a 100-minute set that featured every song the casual fan wanted to hear as well as a number of lesser-known tracks ...

From the start, it was obvious that Ann Wilson's voice is still in fine form, and Nancy Wilson is still full of rock 'n' roll front woman spunk after 35 years in the business. The group tore through two songs, "Hey You" and "WTF" from their 13th studio album, the forthcoming "Red Velvet Car." 

Mid-set, they mixed in a faithful rendition of "These Dreams" and a stripped-down take of '80s megahit "Alone," which Ann noted came in at an octave lower than it was 25 years ago. It was a sultry and full as ever. Change is good.

The group back loaded their set with '70s classics "Magic Man," "Crazy on You," and "Barracuda."  Near the end of the show, it seemed like Heart had finished, and a few fans left. They missed out on an encore that featured covers of Led Zeppelin and The Who. Heart has a powerful rendition of "Love, Reign O'er Me."

As with most classic rock shows, last night's Heart concert was not without its cliches, including an unnecessary video montage of machine-generated visuals. Fire! Black light! Flaming donuts (I think)! But the cliches did nothing to take away from the power and professionalism of Heart's current incarnation and the ageless vocals of Ann Wilson. The Wilson sisters have still got it.

Jay Trucker is an Assistant Professor at the Community College of Baltimore County. He writes about the Orioles for and and typically freeloads on the sidewalk near Pier Six.

Posted by Sam Sessa at 11:15 AM | | Comments (9)
Categories: Concert reviews

Deadmau5 collapses at 9:30 Club show

Canadian DJ/producer Deadmau5 collapsed on stage Friday during a set at the 9:30 Club, "suffering exhaustion and vomiting," according to his website. His following nine shows have been canceled to allow for his recovery.

Deadmau5 (pronounced "Dead Mouse") was about 50 minutes into his set when he collapsed, according to Audrey Schaefer, the venue's publicist. It was the third night of a sold-out three-show run at the club.

Posted by Sam Sessa at 10:14 AM | | Comments (16)
Categories: Local music, News

Java Divas has baristas in bikinis (and other outfits)

Lindsay Krebs is one of the Java Divas

On the side of Ritchie Highway in sunny, beautiful Pasadena, there's a little gray coffee shack called Java Divas.

It's a drive-thru coffee shop with beans roasted by Caffe Pronto in Annapolis, snowballs and all-natural smoothies.

Oh, and all the baristas are young women in skimpy outfits. Seriously.

Here's my story on Java Divas, which ran in today's paper. And here's a photo gallery of three of the divas.

The whole bikini barista idea isn't anything new. Shops like Java Divas are all over the west coast, in states like Washington ...

Java Divas owner Brandy McMillion (I love that last name) saw a special on the Travel Channel and decided to open one of her own. 

Java Divas opened last November, and is doing better than McMillion originally imagined. Her husband, Billl, built the little shop, and they leased the land from a gas station. The owner of the gas station said business has been up by something like 20 percent since Java Divas opened.

Of course, Java Divas has its skeptics. But McMillion hasn't gotten any complaints, and the customers I talked to were loving it. I didn't try any, but I heard the coffee's great. 

(Baltimore Sun photo by Doug Kapustin)
Posted by Sam Sessa at 7:42 AM | | Comments (10)
Categories: Random stuff

August 1, 2010

My Keane interview was more candid than expected

keaneI've interviewed a decent amount of musicians over the years, and gotten my share of by-the-book answers.

Typically when you ask an artist about record sales -- especially if they haven't sold many lately -- they'll tell you they don't care about the numbers and yadda yadda.

Since Keane is coming to Merriweather Post Pavilion this week, I spoke with lead singer Tom Chaplin about the band's new EP, hip-hop collaborations and their struggles with fame. But I also wanted to know what he thought about their sales figures. Here's a link to the piece, which ran in today's paper.

Keane's first album, "Hopes and Fears," was huge. It sold millions upon millions, and made them overnight stars. But every album since then hasn't sold as much. 

I asked Chaplin if he ever thought about that, and instead of giving me a stock answer about not caring, he was quite frank about it. Check it out ...

Here is his quote, in its entirety:

"When we finished with the first record, it was a monster. It did so unbelievably well and it exceeded all of our expectations, but we all sat down at the end of it and said, 'We never want to make a record like that again.'

We wanted to make a record which finally brought out our own artistic sense of direction. We didn’t want to make another "Hopes and Fears." We could have easily done. We could have easily cashed in, but we wanted to be in it as artists, as opposed to just cashing in on all the success of that first record.

We said, 'It doesn’t matter if we don’t sell as many records the next time around. Let's make a record for ourselves, for the right reasons.' I think ultimately, that puts you in a better place.

Sometimes you think, 'Wouldn't it be lovely to sell that many records again,' but to be honest, we're made for life, and we’ve got a large fan base. It's done a lot for us, but it's not how we define ourselves. We're not worried too much about the number of records we sell.

You never know what's around the corner. We could quite easily make an album that's a big smashing hit, but at the same time, we could end up making an album that's weird and strange and off in a different direction. We'll just have to wait and see."

(Handout photo)

Posted by Sam Sessa at 12:25 PM | | Comments (6)
Categories: Random stuff
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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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