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Smaller digs, better spot for Lo-Fi Social Club

The Baltimore Sun

The Lo-Fi Social Club's reopening party had a promising start and an unfortunate finish.

Hundreds of hipsters, artists, local musicians and music lovers streamed into the club's new location on North Charles Street last Friday. Bands played while patrons swilled Natty Bohs and sweat through their shirts.

Because the venue didn't have a liquor license, there was no charge for drinks or admission. No one was keeping count of how many people showed up, either.

City police arrived just before midnight, and suspected the club was exceeding its legal capacity of about 200. As a result, founder Neil Freebairn decided to shut down for the night.

"We threw too big of a party," Freebairn said. "I probably should have turned people away, but I didn't want to. Oh well."

The Lo-Fi first opened at the beginning of the year in a South Baltimore warehouse. It closed several months later after a couple of run-ins with police.

Now, the new Lo-Fi is in the process of applying for a liquor license, which could take a while. Freebairn plans to keep the venue open in the meantime, and more shows are scheduled for this weekend.

In its new home, the club occupies the first floors of two adjacent buildings on North Charles Street in the Station North Arts & Entertainment District. Once it gets settled, the Lo-Fi should be a big shot in the arm for the neighborhood.

Inside, the club is divided into two spaces: a lounge with couches, chairs and a glass merchandise case; and the performance room and bar. It has a clean, minimalist look, which makes you focus on the art displayed on the walls, the live music or conversation.

Freebairn should keep the space relatively no-frills. A club's decor should never eclipse the music it hosts.

Freebairn traded size for location with the new Lo-Fi. It was the right choice. Sure, the new digs are significantly smaller than the old warehouse on South Hanover Street. There's less parking, too. But now, the club is just north of the Charles Theatre, which means you can grab dinner, catch a movie and then see a live show within a three-block radius. You could never do that in Brooklyn.

At its old location, the Lo-Fi attracted a sizable number of well-dressed twentysomethings from the suburbs. It was surprising, given the indie rock and sometimes-experimental bands Freebairn booked.

Though there were more tattooed hipsters, musicians and artists at the new locale last Friday, the suburbanites still came out in force. Attracting such a broad mix of audience members is vital for a club in its infancy. The more exposure, the better. And last Friday, the Lo-Fi got tons of it.

Last weekend, all the warm bodies in the place overpowered the air conditioning system. A pair of ceiling fans kept the performance room temperature at a tolerable level, but the lounge felt like a swamp in the summertime. Cris Cowan, Two if by Sea's lead singer, dubbed the night "Sweat Fest 2007."

"I don't need to exercise for a week," said the band's sweat-soaked guitarist, David Hardy, after its set.

While only half the scheduled bands got to play, most of the live music was a solid display of local talent.

Pariah Piranha, a three-piece alt-grunge group from York, Pa., opened the show, followed by Heroin UK.

The band members didn't know it at the time, but Baltimore-based Two if by Sea was the last act of the night. At times it was hard to hear Cowan's brooding, literary lyrics, but on the whole, the band effortlessly delivered accessible indie rock.

The Squaaks, Durden and Thrushes were also on the roster, but never got the chance to play.

Though opening night was a little anticlimactic, it looks like the Lo-Fi got off on the right foot.

Welcome back, Neil. Hope things go better this time around.


The Lo-Fi Social Club is at 1825 N. Charles St. For a list of coming shows, go to myspace.com/lofisocialclub.

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