Walking away from the triple bill headlined by
—the Brooklyn, N.Y.-based dance-punk carnival band that was the darling at last year's South by Southwest festival—at the Ottobar Thursday night, we were wracking our brains trying to think of another band, or any sort of live act, that does as good a job as Matt and Kim do at becoming fast friends with the audience. Much of Wham City acts stage hyper-positive, interactive play-dates at their shows—Dan Deacon has his gauntlet, Blue Leader wants a few games of Nintendo with you—but most of that stuff is parallel play. None of them do what Matt and Kim do, which is to appeal immediately to the most sociable in the audience, to impress upon them how likable and un-rock star they are, to make everyone in the place feel a degree of ownership over the music:
These are my buddies. They've come over to jam. Isn't that cool?
That social invitation probably the same reason that a good deal of punk-influenced art-school bands, like occasional Matt and Kim tour-mates Double Dagger and the Death Set, prefer to set up in the mosh pit, or at least do the majority of their performing from there: It's democratic, intimate, and makes concerts feel like dance parties, without the self-consciousness of a performance. But Matt and Kim don't play from the floor. She pounds her drums and he sings and does hand-stands on his keyboard rig from the stage, both of them upfront and close to one another, with flickering slides of their album cover projected on screens behind them. The charm is in their intense familiarity and bubbling enthusiasm for what they're doing. "Kim," Matt will say before most songs. "Kim, are you ready?"
Thursday night began with a set of Misfits-meet-Siouxsie punk dirges from local band
, which features Blood Baby guitarist Peter O'Connell and Elie Beziat's moribund yowling of lyrics such as, "I can't fuck for the fun of it." Midway through their set, Beziat chugged a few 5-hour energy drinks onstage, offering one to the crowd. (Double Dagger's Nolen Strals raised his hand and was obliged.) "If these were around when I was your age," Beziat observed, looking at the small bottle in her hand, "maybe I wouldn't have done all that cocaine and dope and morning-after pills."
Following them was Hollywood Holt, a nerdy Chicago rapper whose "Throw a Kit," a song about souping up mopeds, is really just a more frenetic version of the Cool Kids' "Black Mags." Hollywood was a high-octane, slam-dancing showman, though. His voice through a stage mic is on the high side—he sounds a tad like the Digital Underground's Shock G: nasally and strained—and he frequently raps along with the studio version of his voice from pre-recorded tracks. But, "Hollywood" was a great dance track.
Matt and Kim set their instruments up onstage with some Biggie and T.I. tracks being piped in, and immediately started dancing with the crowd from the stage. Throughout their set, which was moderately long and touched on both their self-titled debut and last month's
, Matt kept gushing about how great it was to be in Baltimore. Shout-outs were made to Double Dagger and local DJ Emily Rabbit; past shows were reminisced. Kim's infectious and constant smile was impossible not to imitate. At one point she apologized into the mic for "breaking the rule" of not drinking more than two beers. In response, Matt took two song breaks to explain her "three stages" of drunkenness: the first is giggly. In the second, she "tells you all kinds of things that you don't want to know about feminine hygiene" The third is "Violent Kim." Did the crowd want to see Violent Kim? They did. Matt handed her another beer.
As for the songs, what they lose when played live in production value and Kim's vocals they gain in raw energy. "Cinders" and "Lesson Learned," two of the rowdier tracks from
, were great. Matt's keyboard work is mostly confined to the types of synth and organ work that you'll hear from Wham City acts, and with limited range he makes a surprisingly robust sound. Older tracks, such as "Good Old-Fashioned Nightmare" and "It's A Fact" sounded fresh. The crowd of mostly college-aged kids was with the band on every line, and the dancing was wild.
When the end of the set came, Matt was ebullient—stammering and thanking and telling the crowd "how much it means" to him that this was their biggest ever show in Baltimore. The finale was "Silver Tiles," a hand-clapper of an anthem with a huge, singable chorus—"And all our hopes and all our friends/ Through parking lots, it's where we've been"—that doesn't appear on any album. "This song is all about old friends," Matt said, and it looked like he was near tears. Then he took his mic, got up from his stool, and jumped onto the upturned, waiting hands of the audience.