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Why you need to go to a house show

by Nina Corcoran / Music Columnist • November 8, 2012

Boston’s music scene gets more vibrant each year. Brighton Music Hall replaced Harper’s Ferry in 2011, ending the establisment’s 40-year run, and 525 people can soon cram themselves into The Sinclair, a new venue in Harvard Square that opens mid-November. However, while it’s customary to whack down old trees when your field is budding with new plants, Boston is beginning to cut trees far too young. Music fans should act quickly to seize the scene before it’s time to wave goodbye to Boston’s best musical treat: house shows.

From Jamaica Plain to the Allston corners, residents open their doors for bands to play “secret” shows in their basement. Each home creates an identity (Wacky Kastle, What We Talk About, The Box Fort) where music-lovers can scuttle once the show invite is posted online. With no address listed, you must ask to get the number from someone else already attending, which means entering the community. This level of secrecy must be observed in order to keep police from cutting shows short. Noise levels, possible drug usage, or other assumed infractions aren’t the guilty infractions; a permit is needed to own and run a venue for bands to perform, and these homes often teeter on the edge what is defined as “venue.”

Whitehaus, the quirkiest Boston home I’ve ever seen, is expected to soon shut its doors. The Victorian Jamaica Plain house boasts walls (and ceilings) completely covered in recycled art and is its own record company. Instead of sheltering itself in exclusivity, Whitehaus shares its creativity-infused evenings with literally anyone who would like to come. The hardest decision you’ll make there is deciding which stranger promises the most compelling discussion.

Since attendees are not required to pay money to enter, no real profit is made and no rules are broken. That’s why the possibility of Whitehaus being shut down is so upsetting — and why we must link arms to save Boston’s vital DIY. “DIY spaces bring people together in ways that for-profit venues can’t,” said Amanda Trock when signing an online petition to keep Whitehaus running. “But, as usual, that’s not the kind of thing that the authorities are taking into consideration.”

Often the bands on the bill hit every nail. Since the shows are created simply for an evening of good music, it allows college kids playing for fun to go on after an act that’s being signed to a small label. It’s a game of hide-and-seek; the prize is hidden in someone’s basement, and everyone is invited to come find it with open ears.

 But if the Boston Police Department zones in on Whitehaus and closes off more spaces, then bands may need to rely on secluded gems like Sleepover Shows. Married couple Kelly and Rob Ribera first created Sleepover Shows after allowing bands into their home when they needed a place to crash. It didn’t take long for the two to begin filming stripped-down sets (think La Blogothèque’s “Take Away Shows”) of three songs when groups stayed the night and posting them online. The best part of their project by far is that they give local artists like Lady Lamb the Beekeeper and Dirty Dishes the same attention as larger acts like Ok Go, Grouplove, and Frightened Rabbit.

Brave the trip to a house show, even if you don’t know any of the bands. When there’s spray paint on the walls and Sharpies resting on the side for visitors to make their mark, feel an allowed sense of rebellion — something college essentially requires you to experience. You’ve all now formed one group under the roof of someone you probably haven’t met (but soon will). It won’t be long before everyone dissolves back into the night. Then make sure to reflect on your house show experience; there may not be another one.