House shows saw a bit of a surge during these strange times and sensibly so, as musicians and fans try to find a way to connect in small, safe, sterile environments. And for all anyone knows, this is a common manner by which music goers will be engaging with artists moving forward.
Well, there’s a local “house show venue” that has already built an impressive list of artists it’s hosted for intimate, in-home performances that should be considered special treats for those who’ve been in attendance. And this week, Club 603 — situated just off the Northern Parkway — hosted what was its 107th show, a number that even the hosts — Scott and Jean Vieth — admitted is quite extraordinary.
A singer-songwriter, keyboardist and guitar player working out of Los Angeles but with connections in music far and wide, Katie Toupin made a stop in Baltimore Tuesday night at Club 603 for what turned out to be an explosive and emotional full-band house performance.
Katie is perhaps still best known for her former role as the distinguishable background/occasional-lead voice in the Louisville band Houndmouth — her edition of “Houston Train” halfway through the set at Club 603 should have reminded anyone what she brought to that group, and what it lost with her departure. Since her announced exit from Houndmouth in 2018, she’s has been on a journey to find herself and her unique identity as a songwriter and musician.
She’s battled through personal challenges — eliminating alcohol from the equation along the way — and connected with outstanding musicians in cities like Nashville and Austin. And a creation said to be almost accidental, she put together her first EP in 2018, titled Moroccan Ballroom. Since then, she’s been regularly releasing new music that has been well-received, including her 2019 self-titled, full-length premiere, Magnetic Moves, and this year’s EP, Little Heart.
Watch the official music video for Katie Toupin’s single “Astronaut” on YouTube:
Leading her squad down a winding staircase Tuesday night to greet what was no more than 40 people in the lovely, warmly-lit living room that is transformed every so often into Club 603, Katie charmed the room with a single glance — all you could hear for a moment was instruments being shuffled and tuned.
But Katie began as she would all night to fill the air with insight into her life and stories about her music. As an artist trying to reinvent herself after a successful run with Houndmouth, she had no qualms sharing the challenges artists face, especially in times as trying as these. Loud and clear in her messaging was her gratitude for the opportunity to perform, and to do so in the presence of people who care about her music.
Kicking it off with “Danger,” Katie showcased her ability to use her voice — truly one of a kind — in manners both acute and razor-sharp. She can wield it like a weapon, and she showed in this bluesy track from Moroccan Ballroom. She climbs from down in the pits to the highest peaks in belting out lyrics that paint a startlingly raw image of a zealous relationship going up in flames as the multi-directional forces of love combust. Her voice resonating as authentic, Katie made a case with the first song of the set that she has the call to expound human struggle and achievement — she’s been through it.
One of her 2021 releases, “Ghost” was an early dive into Katie’s psyche, a view into her struggles with her own demons, her regrets, her longing for what’s been lost and her dreams for what’s ahead. And it served and sounded like the perfect way to showcase her three supporting musicians early in the set.
Keyboardist Alex Devor mesmerized with an intro much like a French wind-up music box before bassist Bill Peters and drummer Ryan Moore filed in with a pummel that marched this track along as Katie toiled with her inner specters in search of a better identity, what might amount to happiness on the daily.
Stream Katie Toupin’s 2021 EP Little Heart via Spotify:
Revealing her emotive side, tears welling in her eyes, Katie was shameless in her vulnerability—and, though the audience was smaller, there was something so admirable about such an unabashed display of passion in such a small room, filled with — for the most part — total strangers. She openly talked of becoming someone she didn’t like, hitting the bottom, picking herself back up, even one-night stands — she didn’t hold back in offering herself and her path with what felt like a promise to help someone else.
Adopting the smoke in Katie’s voice, “Someone to You” from Magnetic Moves echoed classic R&B sounds and injected a contemporary intonation into the room. In absence of the band’s current lead guitar player — whom Katie and her mates jokingly implied had “died” on tour — Devor improvised to help carry this tune, giving it a timeless aura that blended naturally with Katie’s enrapturing, fervorous words.
Rightfully dipping into the Houndmouth catalogue, which during the “Toupin years” is undeniably impressive, Katie’s voice was eye-watering as she rang out an unforgettable version of “Halfway to Hardinsburg” — remarkably blue, almost tragic with repentance.
Even if originally crafted for a man’s voice to sing, Katie’s soul seemed more fit to present the words and load them with heartache: “And you were halfway to Hardinsburg, and you were halfway to hell, when you heard the sound of the organ’s bitter swell.”
If anyone’s been following Katie, they’d be familiar with her plans to re-record an entire Blink 182 album, and she’s even running a successful GoFundMe campaign to help support that effort. She explained some of the origins of that project at Club 603, adding that the effort will ultimately serve to support cancer research, a direction she’s taking it in the wake of the band’s bass player, Mark Hoppus, revealing that he recently overcame diffuse large B-cell lymphoma.
After sharing that, Katie and her band blasted a cover of Blink 182’s classic “Adam’s Song,” shedding light on the influences that moved her to rock out as much and for as long as possible. Even without their lead guitarist — he’s out there, alive somewhere — this group can create powerful punk and pop sounds and augment those with a kaleidoscopic improvisation along the fringes.
Watch the official music video for Katie Toupin’s “Shake Baby” on YouTube:
“Shake Baby,” an energetic, pulsing composition from Moroccan Ballroom, tempted even the most comfortable member of the audience to launch into a groove as Katie and her bandmates blended together along a rapid track that twisted, undulated and shook the artwork hanging on the walls.
The first to last song of the night, the Houndmouth hit “Sedona” — successful no doubt in part because of Katie’s signature vocal delivery — was strikingly imaginative and enthralling, featuring a psychedelic intro that ascended and ultimately saw the instruments flawlessly rebound off one another as she surged the intensity of her words.
The final original of the evening, this track likely pleased all the ears in the common room thanks to fresh keyboard management from Alex and amplified, well-timed contributions from Bill and Ryan, who, while they haven’t toured with Katie as long as Alex, proved to be more-than-competent supporters to Katie’s cause.
Closing with a cover of the blues staple popularized by Sam Cooke, “Bring It On Home,” Katie and company put their own polish on a classic that seemed like a natural fit for Katie to be at her most agonizing, with lines right out of the gate that would create a lump in any throat coming from this emotionally (and professionally) accomplished woman: “If you ever change your mind, about leaving, leaving me behind …”
I Need You
Halfway to Hardinsburg
Adam’s Song (Blink 182 cover)
Someone To You
Bring It On Home (Sam Cooke cover)
Here are images of Katie Toupin and her band performing at Club 603 in Baltimore on Sept. 28, 2021. All photos copyright and courtesy of Casey Vock.