Last Wednesday night at the former ForkLift repair facility known as The Compound on 2239 Kirk Ave. in East Baltimore Midway, folks gathered for a three-band bill, a DJ, and a space that offers a reprieve from the norm.
My friends Marlon Ziello and Nick Wisniewski bought the place years back and transformed it with the help of many gifted masons, plumbers, engineers, and builders. I’ve had a unique chance to watch it evolve from a giant beat up old repair shop into a multi-faceted live-in artists space. The Compound contains within its multitudes: the Oak Hill Center For Education and Culture, a wood shop, a plethora of utilitarian studio spaces crammed with pottery, canvases, and woodshavings, and jam spaces for bands. When I lived here, there was even a coffee roaster and chicken coops.
Last week though, people came to rock. With some sweat and heavy renovations, the mammoth DIY space swung into the realm of legit venues with a 250-person capacity space complete with a high-end P.A. system that sonically rivals many area clubs.
Buzzworthy NYC-based noise rockers Godcaster, who I’ve gigged with here and there, were headlining as part of the promotional tour for their brand new self-titled record. Playing second was the Baltimore-based angsty jangle pop group – and Godcaster label mate – Tomato Flower. Kicking off the night was the experimental electronic percussion stylings of Nashville transplant Bl_ANK, who’s also the organizer of the night’s event as well as my bandmate, and friend, aka Will Hicks.
DJ and electronic artist Alex Silva spun records between bands. I’ve had the pleasure of touring and breaking bread with Alex. He dives deep into record bins at every chance to find those choice cuts which always make me stop and pester him as to what I am listening to.
He explained over all the noise that currently he was playing Misha Panfilov’s jazzy flute-infused “Amphibian Girl.” He also gave me the scoop about his upcoming full-length album, “Now Is A Wave,” which will be dropping very soon.
I overhear Will mention nervously that the headliner from New York City, Godcaster, had just started making their way out of the Big Apple not too long ago. Apparently they had a “very important car modification to attend to.”
I stepped into the adjacent courtyard for some fresh air and a few sips of coffee. I got to chatting with Baltimore photographer Sam Levin, who delightedly pointed out that the song being played by DJ Alex Silva is in fact a tune from Herzog’s “Aguirre, the Wrath of God.”
I ran around the courtyard with Sam and his partner Janet in hopes of getting another glimpse at the moon which appeared abnormally large that evening. It was hiding from us. I made my way over to the merch table to chat with Tomato Flower guitarist Jameson Murphy who was wearing a blue dress shirt which looks as though it may have originally gone with a tux back in 1997. Great style. He seemed a bit anxious to get on stage. While keeping an eye out for merch table visitors, Jameson explained that though the four-piece band has been together for little over three years, Tomato Flower are no strangers to the road.
They’ve hit the trail four times, including a U.S./ Canadian tour with Animal Collective. This time around, they’re on the road for a little over two weeks, joining Godcaster in a few spots along the way in support of their recent 2022 EP releases: “Gold Arc” and “Construction.” Like Godcaster and a thousand other touring bands, they’ll also be braving the chaos that is SXSW for a few gigs.
The show finally kicks off. Will holds it down by himself playing drums, coupled with electronics, offering up thick jazzy dance beats minced with noise and colorful projections which emanate from the side as he muscles in and out of hooks ranging from brittle intricate fills to face-melting stomps. It’s a throbbing, catchy as hell, and often emotive suite of songs that sets a great pace for the night.
Next up, Tomato Flower starts off their set. Guitarist, synth player, and vocalist Austyn Wohlers comments, “How about that moon!” The four-piece sets it off, vacillating between jangle pop, spaced-out vocals, killer rhythms, long synth strobes, and surprisingly aggressive vocal flourishes here and there which really spices things up. At times it felt like I was watching Let’s Active playing at Athens Georgia’s Forty Watt Club in 1983. At other moments it felt like I was watching an early Strawberry Switchblade set on a cruise ship smashed into Velvet Underground’s “Oh! Sweet Nuthin”.
As I head back out into the courtyard I hear someone yell “They’re here!” Godcaster rolls up the alley in a maroon 70s van with a broken trailer that had apparently just busted off as they turned onto Kirk Avenue due to the fact that the undercarriage holding the trailer in place was rusted out.
Will breathes a big sigh of relief as he rushes to help the band load onto a stage now surrounded by around 120 or so folks who wait in anticipation to see what all the hubbub is about. The band rushes by grinning and ready to rock. Within what seemed like minutes they were busting into their first jam. The six-piece tour de force does not disappoint.
Godcaster’s set flows from brutal unhinged earworms that get the pit going, to moments which are so delicate you find yourself a bit dumbstruck. There really does not seem to be a front person in this six-piece band. Almost each member steps into the spotlight at some point. It feels purposely egalitarian. Each member reveals a different dimension ranging from guitarist Judson Kolk’s Iggy Pop-like physicality mixed with Michael Gira’s vocal stylings, to keyboardist David McFaul’s Generic Flipper-era crooning, to flutist Von Kolks tender operatic grace that gave the whole compound shivers as she gently soared while the band showed their MTV unplugged side.
They throb and thrash with long rhythm-laden instrumentals and choruses that are so catchy that people who have never heard them before are singing along within seconds. They are less a band and more a portal into a universe of perfectly composed eruptions built on silly taffy. You can’t just hang out at one of their shows; you’re in a glorious mud pit of exploding dirges and diamonds that leave you feeling altogether different from when you entered the room .
When they finished, a large gathering of newly indoctrinated fans clamored to the merch table to grab a copy of their latest vinyl which has an orange and black cover featuring drawings of Von in various poses weilding an ax.
The Compound really felt like the perfect place for this show as it has that old Baltimore DIY vibe coupled with a professional staff and great sound that really lets the audience lose themselves to the jams in a safe space that cares about the music.