Music

Sunday Night's Alright For Crying

The Paul Baribeau congregation.

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Three days ago I wandered over to the the Bell Foundry at Baltimore’s Station North to see Paul Baribeau, a folk-punk singer a few of my female friends had sung the praises of for months. Baribeau is only one of a lawn army of DIY singer-songwriters with nasally, monotone singing voices; descriptive, confessional lyrics (“It’s three-AM on the corner at the mall, my heart still hurts, but you’re not here, so fuck you/I’m an asshole”) and bare musical arrangements—nothing but three chords on an acoustic guitar and words. All of these dudes owe a titanic debt to John Darnielle of the Mountain Goats, whose sperm they all emerged from, beards and plaid in the womb. The formula is easily replicated and accessible to most anyone—dumped, no job, dumb friends, friends hate you, hate your friends, no friends, punk scene sucks, punk scene rules, wasn’t high school awesome, wasn’t high school awful, am I an asshole?, I’m an asshole. It’s music that comes off as cloying and absurdly self-absorbed and bland on record, but in a room full of acolytes and zero PA’s, microphones, monitors, or amps, it’s 100 percent more relatable, at least in the moment.

John Crodian opened, playing a short set of originals and a blink-182 cover no one recognized. The small upstairs living room was packed with pretty kids in their late teens and early 20s with sad faces and chips on their shoulders, about being alone in high school, being best friends with the girl you’re in love with, or the only lesbian in a community of cis-apes. I can’t claim to know anything really of the DIY folk-punk scene, nationally or here in Maryland, but Baribeau’s work must be resonating, because the 60-or-so people there stood reverently and sang loudly when they knew the words, which is an amazing, ineffable feeling—being in a crowded room of people, all giving their undivided attention to a performance and singing along—no matter what your taste is. I’d seldom listen to anything Baribeau put to tape but seeing him belt out “the hits” to kids who knew every word felt great.

I’m not a Baribeau fan. I find Baribeau and many of his contemporaries, sampled sparsely as I have, to be nearly identical, preening, melodramatic, and afflicted of the most solipsistic and dense white boy suburban ennui on the face of this planet. Then again I can only stand Darnielle’s Goats in small doses. I was alone at the Bell Foundry though—these kids hung on Baribeau’s every word, looking up to him with religion in their eyes as he sang things like “My parents made me in 1980/and I was born in the hot hot summer/I loved my parents, my parents loved me/ but they just couldn’t love each other/broken hearted boys like me are everywhere you look” and “I had a beautiful brown-haired girlfriend/but something awful happened to us one summer/we both got real sad/and by spring time/we forgot how to love each other.” Baribeau grasps the Holy Grail in an era where the challenge isn’t getting your music made or even heard, it’s establishing a meaningful connection with an audience too distracted to care or think about anything too hard. If only the more progressive and heady sects of underground scenes and communities were as personal and direct as the DIrtY and often trampled folk punks.

—Follow Nicky Smith on Twitter: @MUGGER1992

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