When it comes to seeing live music in Portland, there are a hell of a lot of options – unless you’re looking for a good all-ages show. That’s one of several reasons why house shows are a good thing. The tradition of (literally) underground music goes way back, from speakeasies during Prohibition, to The Beatles playing the Cavern Club in Liverpool, to Kid ‘n Play’s super-stunning 1990 opus, House Party.
Just about every week in Portland, there’s a good band playing in someone’s basement or living room to a small mob of appreciative fans. These shows generally go unadvertised and unmentioned in newspapers. They are promoted via MySpace, word of mouth and sometimes through fliers at other house parties. A lot of bands can use shows at house parties as a good stepping-stone from the seclusion of private practice to the bright lights and big stage at a traditional music venue. It’s easy to see how some bands could prefer to play in the intimacy and closeness that is inevitable in someone’s basement, rather than at the face-kicking level, like some of Portland’s bigger stages.
”New bands can sometimes have a difficult time getting a crowd at the venues around town. Generally, house shows are better promoted and can have a really good turnout,” said Rachel Wilson, all-around genius/badass of Portland’s house show venue Dekum Manor. “House shows are, generally speaking, more energetic. There’s more intimacy between musicians and the audience at house shows, perhaps due to closer quarters, lack of formality and the fact that more people know one another.”
There’s something immediate, charming and thoroughly unpretentious about being face to face with a band that’s rocking your socks off. There’s almost no better way for a band to show that they’re down to earth than to play in a dark, dank basement filled with sweaty enthusiastic partiers. Plus, it’s hard for the bands playing to act like rock stars when the backstage area is filled with someone’s hanging laundry and a kitty litter box.
Basement shows are mutually beneficial for both the bands and the hosts: the bands get to play for an audience that might not be inclined or even able to see them at a traditional venue, and the host gets to have a kick-ass party with their own friends as well as whatever crowd the performing bands might bring.
These shows are generally free and are, therefore, purely music for the love of music, not to earn the band or the bar money. However, as bands become more and more prominent, and the space limitations of basements become problematic, they can outgrow house parties. Therefore, a basement show is a good way to catch a local band on the rise.
Miss Joseph, bassist for the power-pop trio The Bugs of Lightning, says that house shows have “maybe more vomit, cops, theft, but you know, usually it’s just good-natured mayhem. They’re important to us because they are less stress and more fun and random and easier to throw together to play with friends, etc. People go to parties often more readily than they’ll go to a venue, since everyone’s broke.”
Most house party shows are free, all ages and have interesting local bands that play.
Many local bands play at traditional venues like Doug Fir, Berbati’s or Holocene, but still enjoy playing house parties at places like Dekum Manor and Le Bloody Hummus Haus.
Reverse Dotty & the Candy Cane Shivs have been playing house shows for about a year. “We fucking love playing house shows. We always have a good time playing shows and house shows are just a real down-to-earth way to get your music out to kids who wouldn’t necessarily come to our shows.”
Ezra Fowler, who hosts shows at Le Bloody Hummus Haus (located at 6805 N. Maryland Ave.), said, “We have house shows because we believe in local music, love local music, support local music, and feel that bands should be able to perform – with bands they want to play with, with no club interference, or we hook them up with like bands to help them find other local bands in their genre.” They have an upcoming show with Drats, Dykeritz and Narwhal planned for late September as well as an all-ages house show festival involving eight to 10 homes over three days with 40-plus bands later this year. Anyone interested in being involved in that festival can e-mail [email protected].
It’s worth seeking out those new, hidden gems of bands that haven’t made it too far up the ladder yet. Or even if they have made it up the ladder, they still enjoy the view from the basement. Do a little research online, find some local bands you’ve never heard, grab a friend and go see a show at a house party.