The hour was late. The auditorium lights in Painters Mill Star Theater were dimmed while the stage lights gleamed.
The 1982 model Crack the Sky, fully equipped with a horn section and a backup vocal trio, was filling the hall with sound.
The Softones vocal group leaned into their mikes and crisply, harmoniously delivered the song’s theme—”Skin, skin, skin, skin, skin, Skin Deep.”
Across the stage, the four bebop gangsters with the horns added the instrumental punctuation marks.
The guitars, drums and keyboards came in on cue, the song surged ahead, stylish music performed with precision and artistry. When it was over, about 30 people clapped.
Only 30 people clapped because that is all the witnesses still around to hear the song. This was illusion, not the real thing. Crack the Sky, initial Baltimore favorites, was easing into the age of video.
A few hours earlier, the band had begun a sold out Painters Mill concert that had the fans in heat. The show had been videotaped by a crew from Sheffield Audios in Jacksonville for assembly into a visual package of Crack tunes.
But there had been problems with the sound during the live set. And the crew needed to capture a few close-ups of the musicians in the throes of intense rock and roll rapture.
So the building was cleared and the Cracksters returned to the stage to recreate the concert magic for the cameras.
When it was all done, John Palumbo was asked if it is hard to capture the feeling without an audience. “It’s impossible,” he said.
Palumbo, born in Ohio but lately transplanted to Baltimore, was one tired rock and roller by this time.
The band is halfway through recording their next album at the Sheffield studio in Baltimore County. The concert had been a high-energy deal. The remedial videotaping had its highs and lows.
The band is also preparing for a concert tomorrow night in Ocean City. They are slated to headline a show at the Convention Center, and will repeat their Painters Mill presentation for a crowd of Fourth of July weekend partyers.
“It should be a good time for us,” Palumbo enthused through his fatigue. “It’s always good for us.”
Indeed, the Baltimore region is probably his band’s biggest stronghold. Crack music, which Palumbo accurately described by saying, “We don’t do regular music,” had found a spot in the hearts of the Baltimore audience, even Cracking the night playlist of WIYY-FM (98 Rock).
The band is prone to do things like throw in a few snatches of “America the Beautiful,” and “All You Need Is Love” during their rendition of their own song, “Surf City.”
It is idiosyncratic stuff, given to sudden stops, starts and shifts, outbreaks of jazz horn riffs and assorted musical doodads. It is music that requires the listeners to put something into it, then rewards them when they do.
And, you can dance to it. Palumbo plays a right funky rhythm guitar, and orchestrated the horns to reinforce the soul.
When the videotaping was finished, Palumbo switched out of his rock and roll judo suit and into some jogging shorts for a brief interview. He revealed he has a low opinion of the video art. It was based, not on the fact that the taping had kept the band around for an extra few hours, but rather on a feeling that the form lacks artistic merit.
Video tapes, though, are becoming an important part of the equipment rock bands need to get exposure these days. Cable music networks, record store displays and video nightclubs all have a voracious appetite for material, giving a band a shot at enlarging its audience.
If ever a band seemed ripe to conquer new fans, Crack the Sky is it. Their concert presentation is elaborate and polished. Their songs are jammed with substance and rendered in pleasing form. Palumbo has been toiling in the vineyards of rock and roll for years.