Oftentimes, when people think of house shows, DIY shows or any other sort of “show” with some other word leading it, they think of a damp, cold room accompanied by people awkwardly standing around as the sound of feedback screeches from a guitar amp off in the distance. These shows blend together, featuring band after band that usually encompasses a similar set of sonic characteristics and songwriting subjects, with members either strictly playing the drums, bass or guitar.
But why is that? The term ‘house show’ should simply imply some sort of show inside of a house, right? Why is the term associated with such a consistent, specific experience? Why does the term conjure up mental images of christmas lights strung up around moldy basements with people awkwardly bobbing their head to loud music that all sort of blends together for three hours?
This past Friday, I was invited by two close friends to attend a show they were putting on … inside of their house. One might even call it a house show. However, the show didn’t require me to walk down to a dimly lit basement or to stand around as my back slowly started to yell at the rest of my body for having such poor posture. When I arrived, I was greeted by a collection of smiling faces, quietly chatting in the living room, sitting in different chairs, couches and even on the carpeted floor. The space was exactly as the Facebook event had described — cozy.
The two artists each played sets of their own music. One played a collection of found sounds in order to create an immersive soundscape that turned what I thought was 15 minutes into nearly 40. It wasn’t until she approached the piano that I started to come to. The next performer played some of his songs for the first time ever, prefancing his performance with a short blurb about how he had never shared some of these songs with more than one or two people at a time before diving into a song featuring a droning synthesizer, piano, cello, and of course, singing. These songs were much different from what you might typically hear from a coffee house singer/songwriter; I was mesmerized by the long and atypical structures found in these performances, wondering when I had last been so captivated at a house show.
So why do we think of bands playing different variations of rock music in a smelly basement as what a house show is? I don’t think there’s anything wrong with those types of shows; in fact, I’ve had great experiences at many of them, as most of my friends and even acquaintances probably know. However, I really think it’s important to expand the ideas of what a house or basement show can be, especially for people booking shows. But just as there is a difference between a house and a home, I believe there’s a difference between a house show and a show inside of a house. A sui generis performance like the one I experienced on Friday are events that could only achieve the intimacy and wonder that they do because of the setting and environment it creates.
House shows, to me, are more than anything else an intimate experience. Sharing music with your peers is something that’s really special, and I think that no matter what your music sounds like, it deserves to be heard. That’s what these house shows are for.