The Courtesy Line – Baltimore – The Talking Head, Maryland – 2007-06-30

The Courtesy Line
Where: Baltimore – The Talking Head, Maryland.

When: 2007-06-30

For most Maryland natives summer begins on Memorial Day weekend with a trip “downey oshun.” (Those not familiar with Baltimore-ese this means “down the ocean“, i.e. a trip to the east coast tourist trap of Ocean City.) For everyone else however summer truly begins the first night you’re cramped into a dark club, sweating profusely to some form of loud and raucous music, downing one Natty Boh after another. The newly relocated Talking Head was the scene of such an unofficial beginning of summer as indie rock veteran Travis Morrison swung through The City That Reads with two of the city’s finest up and comers, The Courtesy Line and Gary B. and the Notions taking care of opening the festivities.

Located precariously down a dark alley in its new location, local club favorite The Talking Head is still undergoing renovations, having moved only a few weeks prior to the show. Once inside it looks a lot like your father’s rumpus room but with a stage and a better stocked bar. Drywall and fresh spackle serve as the backdrop for the performers and that was somehow fitting for the Courtesy Line. A lot of their supporters were on hand which lent to a casual friendly feel throughout their set. The band specializes in good old fashioned power pop which Baltimore has plenty of; but thankfully each band is different in just enough ways to make it fun. The 5 piece, recently augmented with keyboards, perform quick punchy numbers full of that wistfulness from the early 90’s alternative era when Belly, Nada Surf, and Teenage Fanclub received regular radio rotation. While fun to watch the band hit their stride halfway through the set with the “The Lake,” that despite it being a mid-tempo number, energized both band and crowd. Bringing their set to a blistering end was a pretty uplifting version of “The Only Living Boy In New York” followed by perhaps their best song, which I unfortunately didn’t catch the name of. What began as a slow lament ended in a cacophony of frenetic drumming with the bass and keys bouncing off of each other before stopping on a dime.

Consisting mostly of songs from their upcoming release A New Twist and Shout, Gary B led his Notions through their take on power pop Baltimore style. Perhaps derailed by some pre-set technical problems, their performance didn’t seem to properly convey the energy of their records. Tuning breaks between the songs were long and at several places the guitars and vocals wandered out of key, making for a difficult listen. Perhaps recognizing this in an attempt to keep morale up, Gary B. would channel some Jon Spencer and recite both his name and the bands between songs, shouted like a more coherent Wesley Willis. And much like the Blues Explosion, the Notions specialize in music from a bygone era, irony free. Second guitarist Tim Sullivan laid down some truly impressive fills and solos and backing vocals by bassist Kris Heath were a nice addition, pushing the new songs forward. Everyone will suffer from a so-so performance from time to time and while this was the case for the Notions, the new material sounds promising and inspired.

When it comes to indie rock whipping boys look no farther than Travis Morrison. While it’s difficult enough to overcome the shadow of a much loved former band, (in the case the Dismemberment Plan,) having to deal with an undeserved and infamous negative review just makes it that much harder. Armed with an impressive arsenal of instruments such as an entire set up for percussion, this is perhaps this is why the crowd thinned out a bit by the time Morrison & his Hellfighters took the stage . If so it is truly a shame and clearly their loss since not much has changed since the all-out 110% performances of his previous band. The songs may not be as electrically charged but time may not want, or allow for replica’s of a “That‘s When The Party Started” or a “Time Bomb.” The Hellfighters who make up his new band are amazing musicians in their own right and the slight change in Morrison’s songwriting since the Plan shouldn’t be held as a point of contention. It was refreshing to see Morrison back on stage after taking such hits in the indie press, shaking it all off and proving again that he’s best at delivering a good time.