Courtesy of Will Scerbo
Ed Schrader and Music Beat put on a high-energy show at Metro Gallery on March 2.
Ed Schrader has stood the test of time as a local legend in “alternative” Baltimore, from performing with local comedy group Wham City, to hosting a pop-up spaghetti restaurant, to his t-shirt series “Cats On The Lake.”
However, a full picture of Schrader would be incomplete without his eponymous band Music Beat, consisting of him and bandmate Devlin Rice.
The pair are known for their short bursts of distorted tom-and-bass post-punk, over which Schrader lets loose all manner of vocal hysterics from Bowie-esque croons to panicked screaming. On their latest record, Riddles, the band has expanded their sound.
Co-written and produced with Baltimore’s own auteur of symphonic pop mania Dan Deacon, Music Beat’s palette on Riddles has widened drastically compared to their relatively sparse records Jazz Mind and Party Jail. Deacon’s trademark player piano and vocal manipulation appear throughout Riddles, deepening Schrader and Rice’s sound to new levels. This new style is akin to the maximalism of ‘80s synth-pop but not without Schrader’s mantra-like vocal lines.
On March 2, Schrader and Rice tore up a sold-out show at the Metro Gallery with supporting act Wume to celebrate Riddles’ release, kicking off their spring tour with a bang.
The opening act was the Baltimore band Wume, the dynamic duo of April Camlin on drums/vocals and Albert Schatz on modular synth.
Their meditative krautrock stylings consist mainly of Schatz adding and subtracting layers of synth arpeggios from a soundscape upon which Camlin lays down beats.
The polyrhythmic interplay between the two on some of the songs is masterful, especially on the tracks where Camlin seamlessly switches rhythms after a blistering tom-heavy buildup.
Camlin also drums live with Dan Deacon, whose intense drum parts require speed and endurance, but I think her true skills as a drummer are showcased in her own band. Camlin has great technique, but instead of opting for flashy solos, she instead focuses more on evolving, complex grooves, like Can’s Jaki Liebezeit.
Having seen Wume more than once over the past three years, it’s safe to say they’ve stepped up their game. Their set of mostly new material feels tighter and more blissful, with jamming segments that build to soaring highs.
Schatz even pulled a violin out and ran it through an echo effect, producing a psychedelic screeching noise, like an acoustic version of a ‘buildup before the drop’ synth rise. Consider me excited for whatever projects the duo has in store for 2018.
After Wume played, Schrader and Rice took the stage in a Giants jacket and a suit, respectively, and it was immediately clear that this was a new kind of Music Beat show. Without his red tom-tom drum — a common feature of Music Beat’s live performances — Schrader pulled some dance moves from the Sam Herring playbook, leaping around and gesturing to the audience as they began the set with “Dunce.”
The band had instrumentals playing in the background — including drummers David Jacober and Jeremy Hyman, saxophonist Andrew Bernstein, and guitarist/cellist Owen Gardner, the latter two from fellow Baltimore band Horse Lords — and credited the expansive cast of guest musicians on Riddles between songs.
This new live approached worked, but I felt a kind of sad nostalgia watching them play a longer, heavier version of their classic “Sermon” without Schrader pounding his red tom like a madman.
In fact, most of their old songs had rewritten drum parts on a full kit which really hyped up their more fun songs like “Laughing” and “Pink Moons” from Party Jail. They played everything from Riddles except for the instrumental meditation “Humbucker Blues.”
The new songs sounded fantastic, minus a technical slip-up during the title track where Rice’s bass tuner malfunctioned and cut the sound out temporarily. While fixing the issue, the audience was treated to one of Schrader’s trademark acapella improvisations, which might have veered into a Sting song at some point.
Each track was preceded with Schrader explaining his idiosyncratic lyrics, which seem to alternate between bizarre storytelling, abstract imagery grounded in social commentary and just straight-up “ooooooo”-ing.
My favorite stories he told were about “Kid Radium” and “Culebra,” two of the more melodic highlights from the new record. “Kid Radium” talks about how the lack of regulation of dangerous chemicals (radium and lead) affects the poor in Baltimore, Freddie Gray in particular.
“Culebra,” meanwhile, discusses the beautiful island off the coast of Puerto Rico, where the ruins of old sugar plantations stand in juxtaposition to the abject poverty on the island.
They closed the show out with the brutal “Rats,” which one might recognize from the Deacon-scored Rat Film that was released last fall. I was a bit disappointed that this was the only song where the audience broke out into a mosh pit, but Music Beat’s set was so diverse in intensity that it probably wouldn’t have fit the entire time.
Overall, Schrader and Rice packed the house and proceeded to bring it down with a set showcasing all their shredding skills. Catch them on tour if you can!