Ottobar brings together local and national bands

By CHAEBIN JEON | September 13, 2018


Lhcollins/ CC BY-SA 4.0

The Ottobar hosts weekly concerts and events in the heart of Remington.

For any Hopkins students who have heard of the Ottobar in passing but have never bothered to find out more, here’s a quick overview. The Ottobar is a music venue for local and touring bands, as well as a bar.

On Thursday Sept. 6 at around 8 p.m., a friend and I walked down to the venue, located on 2549 North Howard St., in the Remington area.

The opening band was already playing when we arrived, but, to our surprise, there were no more than a dozen people watching or lightly swaying with drinks in their hands. The rest of the stage area was wide open. 

Walking past the bar, with its Ghostbusters-themed pinball machine positioned on one wall and band and event posters plastering the others, you immediately get a sense of the quirky, retro 80s vibes.

We then walked up the stairs to the balcony area, where there were just five people sitting and listening. 

I had never been so close to a performing band before, and the intimacy of the venue is definitely jarring at first. We were, quite literally, right above the singer’s head and quickly made the decision to not talk about any of the bands (or, at least, not too loudly).

The first of three bands that performed that night was local Baltimore band Romantic States. Normally a duo (consisting of drummer Ilenia Madelaire and guitarist Jim Triplett), the two expanded to a performing group of four people for the evening’s concert, with pared-down rock aesthetics. 

I had heard a few of their songs before the event and was familiar with this type of Bandcamp band. 

The drummer, dressed in a Nintendo 64 t-shirt, was steadily working away at a small drum kit with just a tom, snare, hi-hat and cymbal.

The guitarist and bassist played riffs with simple, pop-influenced melodies, while Madelaire sang lyrics dripping with despair: “Head in chains/I tried I broke/waves down/ships drowned.” 

Because their music was more minimalistic, the set wasn’t deafeningly loud. And, despite our seats being on the balcony, it was actually a surprisingly enjoyable concert experience. 

After Romantic States’ set, the four-man group EZTV set up their gear. I hadn’t listened to them before the show, and I had assumed that they would be in a similar vein to Romantic States. I was pleasantly surprised. 

The band was more energetic than the first, playing tight pop rock music with heavy influence from Midwestern pop melodies (and a full drum kit!). In a way, lead singer, songwriter and guitarist Ezra Tenenbaum’s riffs were reminiscent of both The Shins and The Velvet Underground, other alternative rock bands. 

The band seemed tight, and, judging from the fact that they came touring all the way from New York City and had an official website in addition to their Bandcamp page, it was clear that they had a good amount of experience with gigs.

The final band and headliner Ex Hex arrived shortly afterward. Ex Hex is an all-women rock trio hailing from Washington, D.C. consisting of Mary Timony, Laura Harris and Betsy Wright. 

They’ve been playing and touring for a while now, beginning in 2013 and opening for Speedy Ortiz in Montreal in 2014. All their songs were energetic — driven by a poppy drumline and chord progressions. The lyrics laced with a fem-punk sensibility and infused with 80s pop rock jams.

The lyrics and vocal delivery of Mary Timony fit their style perfectly and reminded me a little of Joan Jett. The band was able to keep up a heated energy throughout their set that never lagged, with beat-driven rhythms and angular solos. They finished their set with a song from their upcoming LP to the largest applause that night.

Having paid for a season pass for Ottobar, it was nice to walk away from the night not having felt like I wasted money. That being said, I probably won’t listen to any of these bands regularly. But I had an enjoyable evening, if not just for the chance to listen to music in a fun venue without being surrounded by masses of bodies. 

The Ottobar has weekly shows from all different artists from around the country and featuring all different types of music. Tickets aren’t very expensive at around $15 a piece, and if you can find the time, seeing a show is worth the short trip.

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