On every Buzzfeed, Huffington Post, and random website list of why Philly is the best, the music scene is always mentioned. And I agree. I really enjoy the music scene in Philly, and after getting to know it a bit better in the past year, I realized that the music scene I know is not where the heart of the music in Philly really lies. It’s not the venues and music businesses and radio stations. It’s in the houses, or should I say “house shows.”
There is a thriving culture of DIY shows in places where you can’t buy tickets. Sometimes it even takes you a few times to find the actual address. The music is loud, safe to say as loud as it can go, without breaking the speakers or troubling the neighbors. Mostly punk in nature, the shows are crowded, beyond sweaty, and filled with all the energy that raucous punk deserves. Oh! And alcohol. Lots of that.
It is basically everything I don’t want in a show. I’m not sure if I missed my rebellious teenage years or whether the magic “chaos-craving” fairy forgot to wave her wand in my direction, but I have an aversion to everything described above. Some semblance of order, an organized crowd that gives me personal space, and a proper stage and sound system just really floats my boat. So much, in fact, that I have been to over 50 concerts since August. In an effort to go against my own mainstream-oriented grain, I thought I would venture into what others consider to be the true Philly music scene by going to a house show.
My chosen house show was at the house of some newly-made friends. An admittedly smaller and less daunting event, if I am being entirely honest. They had a signature and memorable venue name, as they all do, and an event page that promised shear awesomeness. Though I would normally answer quickly with a “no”, it seemed to be the perfect opportunity to dive in for myself with completely drowning.
Living in an outer Philly suburb and facing rush hour traffic, the drive to where most house parties exist is about 45 minutes. I picked up a friend (Read: emotional support), who was slightly more excited about the evening than I was, and we navigated through highways and streets around winter road caverns (Read: potholes). We found a parking spot just down the street from the house and dilly-dallied near the car for about 10 minutes, both slightly afraid to go in.
As a self-professed introvert in an extrovert’s body, I really was terrified. People forget that introverts love conversing with up to a few people at a time. They hate large groups of people, especially ones comprised of strangers. I felt that familiar panic feeling right away. The house was small, like most West Philly houses tend to be, and was filled with an impressive number of people. I waved quickly to the person who had invited me and then ran in search of open space which I stupidly thought would be in the basement. Of course, there were actually more people down there. It was also darker and much, much sweatier.
I lost my friend in my dart for the only open spot I see, but manage to find another friend on the way. Just as our conversation ended, the music starts and it was as loud as expected. It always amazes me the amount of noise the simplest of PA systems can make. My trusty earplugs saved me from a solid amount of hearing loss, and I’m sure I was the only person with them.
The music was as loud and passionate as expected. The first two bands were what I expected from a house show: college buddies who’d formed a band and make music that is pleasing for a crowd of under-21-year-olds who would like to drink and listen to loud music. These two bands in particular were of the rock/pop variety. Just starting on their musical journeys, they had catchy riff or two, and one song that everyone remembers. There was a lot of screaming and a few noticeable wrong notes, but all good fun. Good, sweaty fun. The PA got nudged a few times and narrowly escaped total demise but everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves.
The third band was great, and really my favorite of the night. They had a solid collection of songs that were well-written, a natural stage presence, and clean form. It was refreshing. The crowd tripled in size and fervor. You could tell that people came specifically to see them and their set. Things got exciting. The lights went out several times and people crowded them to a distance that nearly made it hard to play at all. I had heard this band before in a different setting and enjoyed their music, but it was much better in a dirty basement. I enjoyed their set enough to even forget my surroundings.
My friend and I had been packed in the crowd so long that we needed to take a break, which we mistakenly (again) took in the hallway upstairs where everyone needed to walk. She “roughed it” in the toilet-paper-less bathroom, and we talked about how much we wanted water but couldn’t get any, as sweaty people banged into our shoulders.
Hearing the next band start to play, we slowly (and reluctantly) made our way back downstairs, dreading the impending crowd and roaring noise. We reached the dim basement to find that all the youngsters had left. Maybe it was past their bedtime. Or past their drunktime. But they were gone. It was a small crowd of people who seemed to be able to really appreciate the music and men appreciating a female bass player. This music was punk with a pinch of scream. The singer had a beautiful voice and was clearly a talented musician, as were the rest of the band members. My favorite points of the set were the moments when his non-screaming vocals shone through.
The last band’s set was what I’d been told was going to be: an explosion of fun and talent. It certainly was, yet slightly over-shadowed by copious amounts of alcohol they had managed to down before going on stage. They seven guys on stage rocked with every fiber of their being. All of the songs of the set sounded like a familiar collection of punk-infused, Irish drinking songs about the lead singers family, friends, and troubles. The crowd was like a small family of brothers who knew every word to every song: a drunken huddle of young-adult warriors fighting against adulthood together. It was a joy to watch from afar despite the myriad of technical difficulties. For those who knew the words and the history, it was even more beautiful to share with the select group of people remaining.
As the night closed, I hugged my sweaty friends goodbye and I went outside, delighted to find the crisp fresh air and dismayed to see that a car had parallel parked and was touching the front of my car. After assessing that no damage had been done, my friend and I returned to our suburban hideaway, a 40 minute drive away.
I have to say that I enjoyed myself, definitely more than I thought I might. I think the fact that no one spilled alcohol on me really helped, but I am no longer going to use an automatic no upon being invited. There really is a passion and a sense of community that is lost in the business of the shows I normally attend. House shows are a great place to grow and nurture, expanding a bands talent, a group of friends, and a love for music from the city. I think everyone should go, even if its just once.