Links to the Microshow recordings can be found here
From the day Mat Leffler-Schulman and Emily Leffler-Schulman opened Mobtown Studios in Charles Village in 2008, they intended to make more than a traditional recording studio. Over the last four years, they have amassed a diverse array of clientele and worked a close relationship with Baltimore’s scene outside the studio. But one project in particular has become Mobtown’s unique calling card: the Mobtown Microshow.
One Thursday a month for almost every month since late 2008, Mobtown Studios is transformed into a micro-venue, where handpicked local bands give free performances to a packed room of listeners (tickets usually run out weeks before each show). With producer Mat Leffler-Schulman behind the band in the control room, every moment of the set is professionally recorded, and within days a live album goes up on Mobtown’s website for free. After three years and dozens of shows, Mobtown Studios have decided to compile Volume One of their favorite songs to come out of the Microshow series. Mat Leffler-Schulman gives a rundown of Mobtown’s best, in no particular order:
Austin Stahl – “Fruit on the Vine”
In June 2009, singer/songwriter Austin Stahl came to Mobtown the same week he released his first solo album, The Things You Carry, after releasing several albums as the frontman of the Baltimore band Private Eleanor. Augmenting his rich repertoire of originals and covers with banjo and electric mandolin, Stahl gave songs like The Things highlight “Fruit On The Vine” new life that night.
Yeveto – Five Fives
For many bands, the Microshows are an opportunity to play new material before it’s been properly recorded and give fans a chance to hear an early live-in-the-studio rendition. One of the most memorable debuts of a new composition was towards the end of Yeveto’s December 2009 performance. I remember keyboardist Russell de Ocampo having some serious thoughts during this song. After the song was over, Russell looked up at drummer Ben Hoffman, who didn’t take a breath in until the clapping ceased. Russell knew he nailed it.
Mr. Moccasin – Himalayan Marmalade
At Mobtown we love to encourage unique performances and instrumental configurations for Microshows, especially ones beyond simply going ‘unplugged’ for a smaller, quieter performance. The indie rock quartet Mr. Moccason is one band that made the most of the opportunity to develop new arrangements, even incorporating the stylophone, a type of miniature synthesizer. This song has always been a favorite of mine, and the Microshow version has a special nervous energy to it.
Secret Mountains – Dead Sea
These are quite possibly the best lyrics Jeff Silverstein has ever written. This song was unreleased at the time of the show, and I remember most of the audience was mouthing the words by the second chorus.
Rapdragons – Early For Work [performed w/ Dustin Wong]
The local hip-hop duo Rapdragons spent most of their 2010 performance previewing their then-upcoming album Featuring Baltimore, in which each song was built on a sample of a different hometown indie band, including Microshow alumni Weekends and The Art Department. “Early For Work,” had a special extra element: Ponytail guitarist Dustin Wong showing up to play the guitar part Rapdragons had sampled from his band’s “Late For School.”
Weekends – Roommate
When the duo Weekends came to Mobtown, their opening song provoked a reaction that felt bigger than the band itself. “It just builds and builds and builds. I had goosebumps,” says Leffler-Schulman. “I remember the heads of all the audience members bobbing their heads up and down without thought. We were all somewhere else.”
The Manly Deeds – They Blacken The Sky
In an upbeat set complete with banjos and mandolins, this song about crows was an unlikely emotional moment. It would be a lie to say there were not audience members with tears welling up in their eyes.
Yukon – Dimensions of Hope
The deliriously inventive Baltimore math rock band Yukon went through some lineup changes in their later years, before ultimately deciding to call it quits in 2010. As it happens, this Microshow ended up being their final performance together. It took forever to schedule Yukon between both our crazy schedules. But when we finally did it, they knew this was going to be their last performance–it’s evident in the music. The energy here is focused and bright.
We Used To Be Family – Pink Batman [Dan Deacon cover] Recently we’ve started to encourage bands to work up covers for Microshows, especially covers of other Baltimore acts. One of my favorites was instrumental quintet We Used To Be Family’s ambitious take on “Pink Batman,” one of Dan Deacon’s hyperactive sequencer symphonies. This was the last song I would have expected them to pick, and I think that’s why it worked so well. I remember watching Ruby work the violin arpeggiations and thinking to myself, “How is she going to keep this up?”
Celebration – In This Land
Mobtown Studios has a very limited amount of space for audience members, and requires people to RSVP ahead of time to secure a seat for each performance, so there’s generally little concern about whether a show will ‘sell out’ or if the room will be too full. But when one of Baltimore’s most nationally renowned indie bands, Celebration, came through last year, it was a little more crowded than usual. “It’s a good thing this show was in the winter–had it been summer we would have passed out from the body heat. Celebration was on their game this night. The groove was immense. You had to be dead not to feel what happened in that room.
Links to the Microshow recordings can be found here