playing the Talking Head Tuesday night wasn't a bad show. It just felt like one of those somewhat perfunctory, minor-league touring indie band Baltimore stops that happens before a crowd of less than 20 people where you can just tell the band would really rather be dozing in its van at a rest stop a few hours closer to New York than playing a weird little place with a secret entrance and an Agnostic Front show going on in the next room.

Panther, though, has a different standard for charisma than most bands--any disappointment herein should take that into account. Even going through the motions for the Oregon group is a good show by most standards. Frontman Charlie Salas-Humaras would have to try to be unengaging--the dude's quick-footed white boy dance fury appears to come as reflex. He prances, legs blurring, and it's fun to watch.


A few years back, Panther's music was considerably more reckless and, as such, more fun in the listening sense--same guy, falsetto yowling solo over pre-tracked junk-store electronic funk--than the more "mature" tunes Panther played this evening, all of which came off the group's recent Kill Rock Stars debut,

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. Salas-Humaras sings in his "real" voice these days, often feeding it into a basic looping pedal and precariously self-harmonizing, always deftly on cue (though by this, the second

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tour, he should be well practiced). The music he makes now--with help from 31 Knots drummer Joe Kelly and recent addition violinist Eliza Sohn--holds to the funky rhythms and hop-along bounce of older work, particularly on "Decision, Decision" and the bass-juiced crown jewel "Violence Diamonds." For the most part, though, Panther now hews to a more avant-indie sound lit up with next-room-over soulful croons. Sohn's violin, presumably inserted into violin-friendly rearrangements of the songs (the instrument isn't in abundance on the record), adds an interesting touch. Fortunately, the group is wise enough to keep it mostly a textural sound--dropping violin solos into funky indie rock sounds like an awful idea. (The big chunky cello that drives "Take Yr Cane" just barely works.)

Still, you wonder what the point is of bringing a new member on tour just to play violin. A great deal of Panther's live show, even with three members, is pre-tracked anyhow--off iTunes, as an audience-facing laptop announced. Levity, we suppose. Or maybe simply for the sake of having another live element. And why not a violin?

The first opener, Montreal's

--playing its first-ever U.S. date--was fun like inflatable rooms and good cheap wine. Think Erase Errata with a frontwoman blurring between the apropos bark-shouting and making valiant Beth Ditto attempts. The band members wore cardboard beards and looked like they would be just as happy as all hell playing the alley outside. Local outfit

, who appeared to bring out most of the night's crowd, is a generally fantastic avant-rock project that does a lot with a whole lot of musical information--blues, psych, rock, etc.--and punches it out with shouted-chorus exuberance. Nice, but despite the shout-alongs, the band had a hard time keeping up with either the energy of Swamp Sex Robots or the well-practiced tightness of Panther. Still, Plans Plans was the only band on the bill with its own audience-participatory dance.

By the by, we're pleased to report that the Talking Head now has its own bathrooms. You've got, like, two shows left to have the rare experience of using a "new" bathroom at a rock club.