Bittersweet musical blowout is a fitting sendoff for the Talking Head


December 28, 2006|By SAM SESSA

Monday morning, Baltimore will wake up with one less live music venue.

The Talking Head Club, a platform for local and nationally touring indie rock, folk and experimental music, must leave its current location at 203 Davis St. by the end of the year. The club's future is cloudy - the owners might move to another spot or give up altogether.

The Davis Street sendoff show is Sunday night - a big musical blowout featuring about a dozen bands. For the sake of this city's local music scene, I hope this isn't the end of the Talking Head and that the owners can find another location and start it up again. But if it is the end, I can't think of a much better way to send it off.

The Talking Head was the brainchild of Oranges Band front man Roman Kuebler and Dan McIntosh. In late summer 2002, the duo took over a venue in the same Mount Vernon building as the old Paloma's and started booking shows. They lasted about three months in that space before they decided to move to the Davis Street space that once housed the Ottobar and Chambers.

The catalyst was a near catastrophe in late October 2002. They had booked renowned Washington punk rockers Q and Not U, but the electricity was unexpectedly shut off. Finally, at 7 that night, the power came back on, and the show went on as planned. At that point, McIntosh and Kuebler decided they needed a new location.

They decided on the Davis Street space, which was one of the city's bastions for live music. Kuebler and McIntosh spent about a month fixing it up, and it opened in December 2002.

"It wasn't in great shape," Kuebler said. "It was in pretty rotten shape. It really needed a once-over all the way around."

Even with the renovations, the Talking Head is still run down. The stage and main bar are downstairs. Upstairs, the wood paneling is worn, the walls are covered with graffiti and old show posters, and most of the appliances have given up. The pool table is out of service, and both the cigarette machine and jukebox are broken. The Galaga/Ms. PacMan multi-cade game still works but costs a steep $1 to play.

While it would be nice to have everything in working order, a club itself can only do so much - the crowd is what really makes the concert. A feeling of endless possibility marks nearly every Talking Head show. You can witness a heart-stopping performance by a band you've never heard of. Mayhem can unexpectedly sweep the dance floor. On the right night, the club can be a gold mine for meeting people. Or no one could show up at all.

One time, my friend Patchen and I started talking to a couple named Josh and Emily about the city's music scene while tunes from downstairs bumped up through the floorboards. The four of us hit it off, and what started as a passing remark turned into a two-hour conversation.

"That's what the Talking Head is, essentially," Kuebler said. "It's just the people who participate."

The club also has been a way for Kuebler to meet great new bands, musicians and local music enthusiasts. But it's also been a bittersweet education in the way Baltimoreans sometimes ignore their local music scene. He remembers booking knockout bands only to have a dozen people show up.

"It's a little disappointing at times, because of how you have to maintain your crowd and the ways you have to really engage people," Kuebler said. "It's really difficult sometimes to get people participating in the local music scene."

As Kuebler became more and more involved with the Oranges Band, he turned over his booking-agent duties to Lexie Macchi.

When Macchi learned the club was going to close, she felt a little horror, joy and relief all at once.

"I really like doing shows in Baltimore, but it can be kind of a psychological drag sometimes," Macchi said. "I do it because I love it. And I swear to God if that place comes down, I will be right there. That's the kind of ending that I want. If we can't have that place, I don't want anybody else to have it."

Recently at dance event TaxLo, kids crammed the downstairs dance floor, writhing to Justin Timberlake's new single, "My Love." The song's lyrics - especially this one line - were a fitting tribute to 203 Davis St.: "Ain't another woman that could take your spot / my love."

The Talking Head's final show at 203 Davis St. is 9 p.m. Sunday and features a lineup not to be missed: Celebration, Dan Deacon, Eric Crapton, Vincent Black Shadow, Moonshine, WZT Hearts, Yukon, Wax & Wane, Mouthbreaker and more. Tickets are $15. For more information, call 410-962-5588 or go to

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