A night of diversity and discovery

Electronic composer Dan Deacon (seen in New York in 2007) was Friday's big draw. Electronic composer Dan Deacon (seen in New York in 2007) was Friday's big draw. (Roger Kisby/ Getty Images/ File 2007)
By James Reed
Globe Staff / October 6, 2008
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Right from the start it felt like the basement parties your older brother used to sneak off to in high school instead of going to the movies. It was held in a gym-like open room with a wooden floor usually used for basketball. It smelled like a men's locker room, and your glasses steamed up upon entering.

What better way for the Baltimore Round Robin to make its Boston debut last week with a two-night stand at the Pozen Center at Massachusetts College of Art and Design? The 29-band tour divided its lineup into two nights: Thursday was the "Eyes" portion (read: "Shh! I'm trying to hear Beach House!"), and Friday was for the "Feet" ("Dude, why aren't you dancing?!").

Friday night started on a communal note, with all the performers linking hands to make a giant daisy chain to surround the audience huddled in the middle. Everywhere you looked there was a tangle of wires and equipment with bands stationed all across the room.

In this corner we had a nasty blast of two-minute, three-chord punk rock. You got pushed, shoved, and then the light went out. Right behind you another bulb illuminated, this one blue, and a DJ cued up a track and suddenly the aggression morphed into a dance party against a backdrop of mutating images projected on a screen.

For four exhausting hours, the Baltimore Round Robin went on pretty much like that, a reminder of how diverse the city's music scene has become. No band introductions. No chitchat with the audience. No breaks between songs except when technology wasn't ready to do its part.

With all that surround-sound commotion, it was hard not to get caught up in the action. You never knew what was going to happen. If you decided to hang back for one band, the next one might start playing right behind you, inadvertently putting you front and center, just one elbow away from losing a front tooth in the sea of pogo-ing bodies.

(Thinking aloud: Has anyone ever considered planning a Boston round robin? Surely someone out there wants to hear Bang Camaro kick out the jams right before Lori McKenna straps on an acoustic. Um, anyone?)

It certainly wasn't a showcase for individual bands (that's what the merch table was for). Still, there were singular moments - and for a lot of people, probably several discoveries - that stood on their own. Double Dagger tore through a piercing set of loud-soft punk with singer Nolen Strals parting the crowd like Moses. On "Luxury Condos for the Poor," he paced the floor dejectedly while assailing urban sprawl. "You're building a ghost town," he said deadpan before crouching and thrashing to his band's brutal one-two punch of drums and guitar.

The Nuclear Power Pants amped up the theatricality with its two male singers dressed as conjoined twins stuffed into a suit. Their backing band donned glow-in-the-dark monster heads that I'm guessing were made at a local elementary school earlier in the day.

Ostensibly, the evening's big draw was electronic composer Dan Deacon, who curated the tour, but he took his turns just like everyone else. Under the glow of a green skull that seemed to pulsate in synch with his beats, Deacon often disappeared into the throng, just one more guy dancing eye-to-eye with the crowd. But then there he was, bobbing up and down in a cluster of contouring bodies, with everyone laying hands on him as if anointing a leader.

James Reed can be reached at

Baltimore Round Robin

At: Massachusetts College of Art and Design, Friday

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