When you're really, really excited about a particular band or songwriter—as I am about Maritime and, well, every musical thing its frontman, Davey von Bohlen, has ever done—it's easy for your perception of their popularity to get skewed. Then there's the hometown factor: Both Maritime and von Bohlen's previous effort, the Promise Ring, for instance, are from Milwaukee, Wis. Being from the Midwest myself, I got used to seeing von Bohlen's bands play to full houses. Add to that the fact that I put the slight, oft-ballcapped 32-year-old in the ranks of songwriters like Jeff Tweedy and even John Lennon, and you can see why I'd expect everyone to love the guy.
You can probably also see why the turnout of about 10 people at my first PacNW von Bohlen outing (a Maritime show at Berbati's about three years ago) left me a bit flabbergasted. Via phone from a Montana Quizno's (en route to Missoula for the first night of a tour opening for pop-punkers Jimmy Eat World), von Bohlen told me turnouts inexplicably vary from city to city. But he added that regional differences mattered more during the Promise Ring's heyday in the '90s, citing larger crowds at shows on the East Coast, where his seminal emo band's label, Jade Tree, is based.
But von Bohlen (who happens to make a cameo on Jimmy Eat World's "A Praise Chorus") has come a long way since those salad days, recording two excellent albums with his acoustic side-project Vermont, battling a brain tumor in '02 and birthing Maritime—originally something of an indie-rock supergroup featuring ex-Dismemberment Plan (and now-departed) bassist Eric Axelson—in 2004. Now, the band's cemented bassist Justin Klug and guitarist Dan Hinz, who von Bohlen, a one-night-a-week bartender and "stay at home mom," says is the "best guitarist he's ever played with." He adds that Hinz drunkenly claimed one evening, "I'd totally play in your band." Von Bohlen held him to it.
And, though von Bohlen's been on tour endless times—he says in earnest that statements like "Pull over at Exit 336; that's my favorite gas station" are not uncommon—he doesn't sound at all tired. In fact, Maritime's upcoming Heresy and the Hotel Choir is vibrant with a new, full-band energy. Songs like "For Science Fiction"—which features von Bohlen declaring in his semi-raspy lisp over bombastic drums and fuzzed-out riffs, "I wanna thank God/ For the science-fiction!"—are positively fervent.
And the songwriter (whose close-shorn head bears a wicked post-op scar) plans on making music as long as it's fulfilling. "It's not like professional sports. After I retire, I can still have all this," he says before asking if I caught the sarcasm. But it's clear von Bohlen does feel he has a lot—and a lot to give. Maritime's Portland appearance is one of its only headlining gigs, scheduled on an off night of the Jimmy Eat World tour. "It's always more fun playing to your own crowd," he says, adding, "We figured we could do more [shows]." This super-fan, for one, hopes he'll keep doing more for years to come—even if I'm the only one listening.
Maritime plays Saturday, Oct. 13, with Southerly and Norman at the Towne Lounge. 9:30 pm. $8. 21+.
comes out Tuesday, Oct. 16.