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If you watched TV this summer, chances are you’ve heard Matt and Kim. The bubbly opening verse of “Daylight” underscored a ubiquitous Bacardi commercial, and the gloating chorus of “Good Ol’ Fashion Nightmare” backed those even more ubiquitous ads for NBC’s great sitcom hope “Community.” But as summer drew to a brisk close on September 17, M&K rocked Baltimore for the second time this year, this time to a cramped sellout crowd at Sonar’s club stage. Though “Community” had finally premiered hours earlier, M&K and their pumped-up, smitten fans seemed far more impressed with the community surrounding them than the one on TV.

As the well-off few who prefer to pay bar prices for their pre-gaming strutted in, The Intelligence squealed some studiously arty noise-rock across the speakers of the Talking Heads. Their muffled vocals, sinewy riffs, and Pollockian splatters of feedback had been done a million times over, and a thousand times better. Guitarist Lars Finberg and his stone-faced cohorts had a curiously detached interaction, as though positioning themselves as the post-grad, super-repressed, higher income bracket alternative to Matt and Kim. Too bad most of the headliner’s charm lies in the very fresh-faced, childlike innocence that The Intelligence proudly shun.

Amanda Blank, however, is hardly a child, and she wanted her audience to know it. Her face sheathed in a jet-black head scarf for half the set, her body writhing and gyrating like she’s studying for finals in Peaches 101, she shook whatever she could to distract from the fact that she basically has one song and one schtick. Granted, said schtick plays a lot better to a room full of restless, horny drunks than it does on record, but at the end, Blank still falls short of being to feminine sexuality what M.I.A. is to the MIEC. Tellingly, her realest and liveliest moment came from another person’s song: a passage from LL Cool J’s “I Need Love” that abruptly closed a set that often lived up to her surname.

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Matt Johnson took the stage dressed in a black basketball jersey (representing his native Brooklyn) that left him resembling a younger Larry Bird, and his female compadre Kim Schifino was decked out in a garish, sleeveless Amanda Blank tee and bright red Converses. It was appropriate attire for their sweaty, athletic set: 45 hyperkinetic minutes of sensory overload — images faintly projected on striped wall panels, colored lights flickering on and off like a makeshift rave, the audience’s limbs semi-rhythmically bobbing along to the groovy beats. Kim banged away at her drumset like a gleeful little girl, Meg White on Adderoll instead of Xanax, an inhumanly wide ear-to-ear smile permanently etched upon her face like a Sailor Moon character. She proved the incorrigible id to Matt’s energetic and ingratiating workhorse: her microphone monologues were profane and hilarious (she praised Blank, soon to depart from the tour, and waxed ecstatic on the joys of having a fellow lady on board, someone to call up and tell “my fucking vagina hurts”), she lead the crowd in multiple sing-alongs (even diddling Matt’s keyboard in the drum-less “Turn This Boat Around”), and plunging in for some crowd surfing during a “Sweet Child O’ Mine” interlude.

For his part, Matt got hands flailing and mouths humming as he wadded up sugar-shocking balls of electro bubblegum, and offered some Storytellers-worthy anecdotes about his spunky, funky songbook. His constant affirmations of the crowd occasionally teetered on “American Idol”-style pandering (like when he summoned Orioles fans), but more often, his amazement that his duo’s modest little ditties could pack such a room were genuinely touching. Sonar had even proposed moving the show to its more spacious main stage, but Matt vetoed. “We wanted to keep it intimate,” he explained. “But this is a bit too intimate. Somebody’s gonna get pregnant.”

That may as well have been a promise. Theirs is music not for considering the problems of the world or your life, but for escaping them. Hence other escapist devices—alcohol, sex, drugs—were plentiful. Full of countdowns and count-offs, terse lines and nonsense words, Matt & Kim are fun but not deep: perfect for chanting and dancing and dry-humping and numbing your self-consciousness. “Rock and Roll, Pt. 2,” Gary Glitter’s glam-rock anthem turned University of Maryland fight song, fit effortlessly into a set full of spry, limber ass-shakers tailored for kids who like their pop songs sweet, sugary and danceable.

And like most no-frills, all-thrills good times, it was ephemeral: with only two albums, each clocking in under thirty minutes, and a couple EPs to their name, they skipped through their songbook at breakneck speed. They closed with “Daylight,” of course, their sorta hit, the kind of instantly recognizable number that many indie bands spend their lives chasing or avoiding, the song that (with the help of lucrative liquor ad money) made this sell-out possible. “Daylight” exposed Matt and Kim to fans of all ages and tastes, not just the blog-skimming trendspotting cognoscenti who dominated the last Bmore gig (and, predictably, sat this one out). That M&K embraced rather than scorned this newfound universality lent the night a poignancy absent from their peppy, exuberant rave-ups.

by Charles A. Hohman
[Photos: Lindsey Best]
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