Playing in the Egg Babies Orchestra is like taking a crash course in Covers 101.
Once every couple of months, a core group of musicians from different Baltimore indie rock bands gets together and comes up with a list of songs to cover in a live show. Then, the musicians spend the five days before the gig figuring out the musical arrangements and intensely rehearsing the tunes.
"It's kind of like band camp, where you practice every day and you do a show at the end of the week," said band member Mike Ward. "It's a lot of work, but it's also a lot of fun."
The next show, titled "Songs From Movies: an Audio-Visual Tour-de-Force," is Saturday at the Ottobar. In it, the musicians will perform pieces from the soundtracks of popular films of the past few decades - with an emphasis on '80s flicks. As the band plays a song from a film, a clip from the movie will flash on a screen behind it.
Learning to fluidly play a couple dozen songs in five days can seem like a pretty dizzying ordeal, Ward said. But the musicians in Egg Babies Orchestra have the chops to make it work.
"It's really a test of skill to learn a set in a week," Ward said. "It's a lot of work involved. It's really a fun way to keep your skill level up."
Though the lineup changes from show to show, the core group remains largely the same: Chris Laun on glockenspiel and vocals, Chris Myers on guitar and vocals, Jenn Wasner on vocals, Greta Thomas on violin, Adam Hopkins on bass, Billy Gordon on guitar, David Andler on drums and Ward on keyboards.
You could call the Egg Babies a glorified cover band; but they don't play at local pubs or other venues that typically host cover bands. Instead, they perform at indie-rock clubs like the Ottobar, G-Spot and the Talking Head.
Most shows feature at least one Electric Light Orchestra song. In the past, they've played "Mr. Blue Sky" and "Evil Woman." But not this one.
"Since it's a movie-soundtrack show, there really wasn't a quality song to pick from," Ward said. "There's 'Xanadu,' but that wasn't ELO's best."
The name Egg Babies was spawned - at least in part - from the kid-sized drum set Andler plays. The group started as a duo between Andler and Water School guitarist Chris Myers called Bebes d'Oeufs (French for "babies of eggs").
So far, fans have responded en masse. Anywhere between 250 and 300 people came to see the past couple of shows, Andler said.
"It's a little bit surprising.," said Andler, who owns the local musical label and album distributor Morphius Records. "We manage to pull off a really good show each time."
The Egg Babies Orchestra performs "Songs From Movies: an Audio-Visual Tour-de-Force" on Saturday at the Ottobar, 2549 N. Howard St. J-Roddy Walston and the Business and Brothers will also play. Doors open at 9 p.m., and the music starts at 9:45 p.m. All ages. Tickets are $8 in advance and $9 at the door. Call 410-662-0069 or go to theottobar.com.