Joe Squared is a pizza place, bar, and music venue located in Station North. It is a small, intimate space. The walls are yellow and blue and covered with tiny rainbow flags. The lights shining on the stage are purple and golden. Fleetwood Mac plays between sets as patrons sing and laugh with each other. On Sunday, September 16, 2018, it served as the backdrop for four acts from Baltimore, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and Washington D.C.
The first act was Alice, also known as Borderless State. She is a member of the Baltimore-based ethereal folk metal band Gingerwitch and is currently working on a solo album. Her acoustic set, though short, explored many different sounds and emotions. The quick and tense song “Smooth Mud” was about dealing with crushing anxiety, while the final song of her set was about her mother, who was in the audience. Alice’s voice was expressive and full, soft when it needed to be, and always compelling.
The second act was an indie rock band called Buster. The 4-piece is from Philadelphia, and their show at Joe Squared was their first time playing in Baltimore. They played their latest EP Kupo!, as well as two other songs, one old and one new. The youthful, unreleased tune “Theme Song” had bouncy vocals, and “Growing Old” was a perfect song for the end of summer.
The Zells are an energetic basement punk band from Pittsburgh. They are currently touring (with Buster) in support of their debut album, Failure to Slide, which was released September 7, 2018, on Crafted Sounds. Like Buster, this show also marked their first time playing in Baltimore. The five members took turns singing lead vocals, and even switched instruments, with drummer Tyler playing the guitar, and singing halfway through the show. Though technical difficulties cut the band’s set short, they were good sports and still played a fantastic and fun set.
The last act was Saturday Night, an indie pop band from Washington D.C. Their show at Joe Squared was the last stop on their tour supporting their self-titled album, released August 17, 2018, on Gentle Reminder Records. The band’s sound revolves around bright melodies and prominent baselines. Their set was at the end of the night, but they effortlessly kept the audience dancing and singing along the entire time.
One of the most charming parts of the Saturday Night’s set was the band’s interactions with a fan in the front row, who sang into the microphone during the band’s final song, “Saturday Night.” This interaction is just a testament to the intimacy of Joe Squared. There is little separation between audience and stage, which helps make shows like this so special.
Part of the magic of indie and DIY shows is this lack of distinction between performer and audience, and the comforting humanization of the performers, who were all down to earth, friendly, and approachable. Between sets, Alek from Buster talked about the band’s relationship with The Zells (who they’ve known for some time), and Phil of The Zells talked about life on tour (for example, the difficulties of finding a place to sleep on the road).
At only $5, this show was an amazing way to not only hear great music and discover new favorites but also make wonderful and talented friends, as well. Upcoming events can be found on the Joe Squared Facebook page. Joe Squared is located at 33 W. North Ave., Baltimore, MD, 21201.