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Baltimore’s zany art-proggers Ponytail enlivened the Kay Spiritual Center Saturday night with their signature primal shrieks and enchanting melodic commotion.

With the 2008 release of Ice Cream Spiritual!, Ponytail experienced a textbook case of Web-launched ascendancy: They’ve gotten plugs everywhere. But singer Molly Siegel‘s erratic pulsations and escapist chanting make the Baltimore foursome bigger than the Stereogum hype.

Along with drummer Jeremy Hyman‘s roto tom lightening speed shredding and the crafty, conversant guitar work of both Dustin Wong and Ken Seeno, Ponytail brought curious back-of-the-crowd dwellers up front and moved the Tenleytown spiritual basement to cathartic gyrations.

The no-stage floor setup was a good fit for Siegel, as she pushed through the arm-to-arm crowd and grabbed on to kids in the front row, almost as if she were christening them.

The songs transitioned with bouts of dizzying guitar loops and crescendoing delay bleeps. Siegel was laconic when she wasn’t singing, saving her weeping/screaming non sequiturs for Ponytail’s anthems.

The set was a part of American University’s Capitol Punishment series, a semester-long group of free shows orchestrated by AU’s student-run radio station, WVAU.

D.C.’s Mittenfields opened the night with Radiohead-influenced indie alt-pop (including a cover of “Bones”) and the Screaming Females turned up the volume with one screaming female’s howling vibrato and classic rock soloing. Instrumentally, the trio’s stoner bass trilling and slow tempo pacing draws from late ’60s Black Sabbath projects, but they break out of low-tempo with high-energy, in-your-face riot girl/poppy punk rock hooks. The band is currently on tour backing new LP, Power Move, and in May they’ll play Big Bear Cafe.

Photos by Andrew Merrill