On The Restorative Value Of The House Show

Michael D. Thorn

On The Restorative Value Of The House Show

Michael D. Thorn

My first punk show was in somebody’s house. I think it was somebody’s house, anyway. The Loft was a DIY venue in a vaguely terrifying West Baltimore neighborhood, and my first time there felt like a movie. It was a rowhouse with graffiti all over the walls, virtually no lights anywhere, and a tiny stage that was maybe a foot off the ground. Someone kept that place running for years. I was in ninth grade, and I was there to see a band whose bassist went to my high school. I remember nothing about the music, but I remember everything about my first stagedive. That was an eye-opening night.

My last pre-pandemic show was in somebody’s house, too. It was a few days before lockdown, and I had to wonder whether it was a good idea for strangers to pass around White Claws or whatever, but it didn’t stop me. I was there to see Nosebleed, a band that no longer exists. The venue might not exist anymore, either. I couldn’t mosh; the ceiling was too low. I still somehow broke my glasses. That was a great night. When I was stuck at home for the next year-plus, I spent a lot of time thinking about that night.

For whatever reason, that was my last punk house show for four years. I don’t know why. No excuses. I’ve been to DIY shows, often in non-traditional live-music spaces, but that’s not quite the same thing. I’d also seen bands play in someone’s house since then, but not in the type of situation where people mosh, which is obviously the best type of house-show situation. I’m old, I live more than an hour outside Richmond, and house shows are kind of a pain in the ass. Sometimes, going to one of those shows feels like intruding on other people’s lives. Sometimes, you can’t really see the band because a house is generally not set up for shows. There are plenty of reasons to talk yourself out of the house-show experience, but whenever I go to one, I’m glad I went.

I’m glad I went to my last house show after taking way too much time off. A couple of weeks ago, the Richmond D-beat band Destruct organized a DIY undisclosed-location show to raise money for Palestinian relief. The bill was all locals, and it felt good to be there, even if I literally could not get into the room. I’m not in the photo at the top of this page, even though I’m taller than everyone in that room, because it was just not physically possible to be there. I was just outside, craning my neck around a hallway corner, taking in the whole scene without actually being able to watch anyone in any band. And that’s fine! Nobody’s going to a house show to witness a great performance, anyway. It’s the communal experience of the thing.

Once upon a time, people used to make speeches at house-show benefits. People used to hand out photocopied literature and talk to you, with slightly terrifying sincerity, about some very important cause. That didn’t really happen at this show — or, if it did, it happened while I was outside smoking cigarettes between bands, another hallowed house-show tradition. People would say “free Palestine” or make a couple of remarks to that effect, and that was really all that anyone had to do. If you were in that building, someone could probably assume that you wanted Israel to stop butchering Palestinian civilians. There are ideological divides in present-day punk and hardcore circles, but that isn’t one of them.

Shows like this are a good time, whether or not you can actually fit into the room. I missed Toxitolerant and Ultimate Disaster, the first two bands of the night, but I got there in time for VV, the kind of synthy-noisy punk band who rarely get booked at straight-up hardcore shows. VV’s nervous, buzzing attack reminded me of the kinds of Troubleman Unlimited warehouse-noise punk bands that I loved when I was a couple of decades younger. I don’t hear bands like that much anymore, and I never get to see people crowdsurf in kitchens to bands like that anymore. Nostalgia was not the point, but nostalgia was what I felt.

Most of the time, a new hardcore band will release a demo and then start playing shows, but the frantic new punk band Ivy Creep only just dropped their demo in January, after they’d already played a ton of shows. The members of Ivy Creep have already been in local punk bands like Deviant, Haircut, Richmond Vampire, and Fried Egg, and their feral fast-pogo style isn’t the kind of thing that calls for ritualistic singalongs. Instead, their songs are short, sharp shocks that blur together into one dizzy whole — the Gel style, basically. I can’t tell you how they looked onstage at the house show, since there was no stage and I couldn’t see them anyway, but that speedy-sloppy intensity sounded awesome in the room. Ivy Creep are at a magical stage right now, and I hope they keep that energy going for as long as possible.

Destruct, the band who put this bill together, are basically a perfect DIY-show headliner. My first show back after lockdown was a guerrilla Destruct show in an outdoor location that I will not disclose, a Mad Max battle-vest spectacle that I will never forget. That kind of scene isn’t possible at a house show, but Destruct’s battering D-beat will sound awesome in any space. Their guttural fast-growl style always sounds almost supernaturally pissed off, and their mastery of Discharge-style souped-up-bulldozer riffage comes across a lot more clearly live than it does on record. Destruct tracks don’t often shift into breakdown mode, but whenever the tempo switches, the air in the room changes. In this room, there wasn’t enough space for the pit to properly open up, and that was not a problem. It’s always a blast to see an entire packed-in crowd react to that, even if it mostly just translates as a shift in jumping-around intensity.

I don’t know if this kind of house show will change the world. Maybe the money raised will save someone’s life, or maybe it’ll just be a drop in the ocean. Either way, it’s a worthwhile pursuit, both as a way to spend money and as a night out. Sometimes, this column devolves into the same kind of music-business chatter that can bedevil every other conversation about hardcore. But there’s no such thing as a commercialized house show. It can’t be done. Lots of genres depend on that kind of grassroots support, but it’s woven into hardcore’s DNA. Ultimately, a show like that one matters a whole lot more than the question of who’s going to be the next Turnstile or whether there will be more Have Heart reunion shows. A house show like that one is probably happening somewhere near you sometime soon, and I heartily recommend that you seek it out.

The Breath – “Reasonless Hate”

The Breath come from Tokyo, and I truly cannot tell you whether this song’s lyrics are in English or Japanese. That is a good thing. When you’re making this kind of metallic-speedrun basement-punk, it truly helps when your singer sounds like an angry mongoose who blames you for his serious gastrointestinal pain and who is screaming at you over an unstable phone connection. When the breakdown kicks in and that singer goes into windmilling werewolf-transformation mode? Whoo, buddy! That’s a good time! [From Reasonless Hate EP, out now on Convulse Records.]

Crush Your Soul – “Getmoney”

Mindforce’s Jay Peta has one of the all-time great hardcore voices. It’s not a booming, commanding demon-growl. Instead, it’s a honking nasal yawp, like a cartoonishly exaggerated New York kid who’s been bullied too many times and who’s striking back. Peta barks everything out in this clipped, rhythmic way that’s not rapping but that’s not not rapping, either. It works so well in Mindforce, and it works just as well in Crush Your Soul, the new side project that goes for simplistic, recklessly heavy brutality. The style might be slightly generic, but with that guy yelling, it simply cannot be. [From Crush Your Soul EP, out now on Streets Of Hate.]

Domain – “Corrode”

Did you ever slam your finger in a car door and let out a primal roar of pain and rage? This song sounds sort of like that — both the door slamming and the resulting bellow — and that’s before Indecision legend Tom Sheehan comes in with a screech that’s always about three octaves higher than what I’m expecting from his podcast voice. South Florida is on some real bullshit right now, and this track is so heavy that light can’t escape from it. [From Life’s Cold Grasp, out 3/8 on DAZE.]

Gigan – “Steel Through Bone”

You remember Gigan. Alien monster who showed up in some of the ’70s Godzilla movies. Mandibles. One horn on his head. One glowing red eye. Big hooks on his arms instead of hands. Weird buzzsaw thing on his belly. Looked cool as hell, even though he always lost. I know zip zero about the hardcore band Gigan. Most of my internet searches direct me toward a Chicago death metal band with the same name, but I think this one is different. In any case, this song doesn’t really capture the spirit of Gigan the kaiju. But as a one-minute adrenaline-jammed blastbeat burst, it does capture the feeling of when Gigan first shows up onscreen and you’re like, “Oh shit, this guy is about to be a problem.” [From Crime Scene Photos EP, out now on Streets Of Hate.]

NØ MAN – “Glitter And Spit”

Three members of Washington, DC’s NØ MAN come from the pioneering Richmond screamo band Majority Rule, but the group’s vocal point is Maha Shami, a Palestinian-American singer whose throat-shredding roar couldn’t possibly be more electrifying. On “Glitter And Spit,” Shami’s bandmates lock into primal, anthemic riffage, and she goes goes scorched-earth all over it. Every time I play “Glitter And Spit,” I feel like my skull is melting. I play it all the time. [From Glitter And Spit, out 3/29 on Iodine Recordings.]

Planet On A Chain – “Cocalero”

Oakland’s Planet On A Chain write short-as-hell songs, but they don’t really have anything to do with powerviolence. Instead, their minute-long bursts of righteous violence are rigorous and straightforward, and I don’t really notice how short they are when they’re actually playing. Instead, they seem to fit entire songs into those minute-long windows, simply by playing them twice as fast as anyone else. Hearing them is like upgrading to faster internet speed. You’re getting the same feeling, but it’s hitting your brain with more immediacy than you might’ve thought possible. [From Culture Of Death out 4/5 on Revelation Records.]

Shoot Da 5 – “Soul Searching”

These days, Zach De La Rocha is the only ’90s rap-rock screamer who gets any respect, and god knows he deserves it. But there used to be so many of those guys, even before Korn and the whole rap-metal explosion. Last weekend, I was back home, getting extremely fucked up with old friends and remembering the way those guys used to make us feel. Downset. Mutha’s Day Out. Biohazard, sort of. New York’s Shoot Da 5 bring that feeling back — the bluster, the intensity, the strange vulnerability that seems to shine through almost by accident. [From Language Of Da Unheard EP, out now on LI 2 Da BX Records]

Simulakra – “Heathen’s Prayer”

The breakdown here doesn’t even change much. The riff slows down just a touch, and the drums get slightly more tribal, but the effect is still the same. I close my eyes and take a journey to another place. Here, blood is carbonated, and you can buy cans of it from convenience stores or vending machines. When you see your friend for the first time in a while, you both stab each other in the eye. On holidays, or maybe to celebrate decent paydays, people run out and buy spiked gauntlets or baseball bats with nails sticking out of them, and they run out to bludgeon strangers, who are also trying to bludgeon them. Then, 20 seconds later, the song is over, and I’m back on earth. I miss it. It was nice there. [From Reincarnation EP, out 3/15 on DAZE.]

Spaced – “Rat Race”

I can’t say I’ve given this a lot of thought, but I think I might like chanting more than I like singing. (I definitely don’t like it more than I like rapping.) Singing is great, but it’s hard to do in a big mob. When a big mob does try to sing, it usually ends up sounding more like chanting, so when you’re trying to incite big singalongs, you might as well go straight for chanting instead. When you’re in a giant group of people and you’re all chanting, you feel invincible. That’s a good feeling. There’s some great chanting on this song. [From This Is All We Ever Get, out 3/22 on Revelation Records.]

Xcelerate – “As I Look Around”

It’s rare to hear a new band that can do the early-’80s fast-hardcore style in a way that does justice to the bands who originated it, but West Palm Beach’s Xcelerate are right up there with Restraining Order. “As I Look Around” lasts for 63 seconds, and there’s a moment when the already-fast beat suddenly goes double time and I can feel my spirit levitating out of my body and then throwing a garbage can at my physical self. At least, I think that’s what happens when I regain consciousness and I’m covered in coffee grounds and melon rinds. [Stand-alone single, out now on Extinction Burst.]

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