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Behind concrete walls

Armed with a flask and a sense of adventure, the Weekly Volcano went into the basements of rock

IT CAME FROM THE BASEMENT: Tacoma gathered under the 808 House's Christmas lights for a five-band bill last week. Photography by Patrick Snapp

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I make my way to the 808 House in Tacoma, and I'm pre-funking like you wouldn't believe. As my need to drink in social situations has increased over time, my standards for consumption have drastically lowered, to the point where now I find myself travelling with a $5 pint of Potter's Whiskey ("satin smooth" and "distillers excellence" in theory, something more like gasoline in practice) in my jacket pocket.

The show I've come to see is swarming with terribly young and hip folks. I pat my breast pocket in relief. "It's you and me, buddy," I think. "Let's make this happen."

Reader, this show is to be the first in a series, wherein I take you by the hand on a brief tour of house venues. Of course, house shows are thrown all the time, but what I am looking for is a house that has managed to prevail over the innumerable difficulties that come with establishing and maintaining an actual, functioning house venue. To make it an entire night at a house show without being forced to hide in the bushes from cops with bright flashlights is a feat unto itself.

808 House

Nestled in the heart of University of Puget Sound's surrounding neighborhood, the 808 House sort of typifies the standard mold of the house venue. Catering largely to college kids, shows at the 808 House are thrown in the basement, where young people cram tightly in amongst the Christmas lights (a house venue staple) and various ephemera as bands blast the concrete walls with cacophonous rock.

It's a sweaty, ear-drum-splitting environment, and my experience there was no different.

I had arrived to see a huge, five-band bill, featuring James and the Giant Bitch, Humble Cub, Apache Chief, Broken Water and Sugar Beats. Gathered in and about the backyard were droves of young people drinking cheap beer, most of whom elected to not transport whiskey in a spent bottle of green tea, as I had decided to do.

Once inside, the real appeal of a house show becomes immediately evident: the bands are right the fuck in front of you, man. You can reach out and touch Humble Cub's Allan Boothe, if you so desire. All pretense of an artist/audience separation is thrown out the window.

Dancing is mostly kept to a minimum, with the more rambunctious attendees up close to the bands, and the rest of the typically wallflower-ish Tacomans huddled in the back of the room.

At one point, during Broken Water's set, I found myself caught in the middle of a light mosh pit, accompanied by Allan Boothe throwing rock-hard hunks of cornbread over his shoulder and, invariably, into my face. I socked him on the arm and resumed almost getting knocked to the ground by the swaying, stomping pit.

"I guess (the 808 House) started when I was a sophomore, in 2008, so it's coming on two years now," says Sarah Moore, booker and resident of the venue. "I think the very first show that we had here was my 19th birthday. It was my band, Headbangs, which was really new at the time, and we weren't used to playing shows at all. ... So it first started out as that, and then I started to get to know the Tacoma music scene and the Olympia scene more."

Soon, shows started popping up at the 808 House every month, and sometimes more often. Judging by the size of the crowd at the show I attended, and the volume of some of the bands (I'm looking at you, Apache Chief), it seems crazy to me that the 808 House has mostly avoided any intervention by police.

"We haven't had much trouble with the cops at all," says Moore. "And I think that's because it's by UPS, so cops kind of turn a blind eye, which is really awesome. We've had a few little things, but nothing where I've had to pay fines or anything. I'm wondering if that's in our near future, but I'm hoping not."

Toward the end of the night, Moore walks around the crowd with a donation jar. She says that the out-of-town band (Broken Water) gets first priority with the donations, and that the rest of the bands get paid what they can from what's left over.

The show seems less about exposure and making money than it is about the good time. House shows will always beat out traditional venues when it comes to intimacy and the very real possibility that you may get beaned in the head with some cornbread.

Fucking Allan Boothe.

The ABC House

Going to the ABC House was a big wake-up call to how out-of-touch I am. Similarly pre-funking, I headed to Olympia for the first time in a couple years. I have an address and not much else to guide me to this mysterious house on top of a hill.

I sit down at The Brotherhood Lounge in downtown Olympia and order two delightfully stiff whiskey sours and ask the bartender if she knows where the ABC House is.

"All the way up that hill, in the nice neighborhood," she says.

Up the hill I venture, succeeding in getting pathetically lost at the first fork in the road I encounter. Walking nearly two miles out of my way, drinking from my pint and smoking too many cigarettes, I reflect that perhaps I should come to Olympia more often. And, next time, with a car. Eventually, I make my way to an alley with a long driveway that leads up to a house that is sheltered from the street by large bushes. A sign on the front says "show in the back," so the back is where I head. I find some stairs leading down to a basement door, behind which loud indie rock buzzed.

I enter the basement and meet a woman just inside who holds up five fingers - the first sign that things are handled differently here than at the 808 House. I pay and continue inside.

The ABC (Alexander Berkman Collective) House is an institution in Olympia, created about 30 years ago. Its residents are a rotating community of artists and teachers - currently, several Evergreen professors live there.

Playing in the basement are Outdoor Voices, an austere indie rock group performing for a crowd of about 15 people. Couches line the walls, and most people deign to sit for the show.

The audience is full of artsy types - quiet, appreciative people who have come to see a show, not to cause a ruckus. At the end of their set, the lead singer of Outdoor Voices gets a call from a friend, asking how the show is going. He holds the phone up to the mic and responds, "We just finished up. It went great."

Fifteen people cheer in support.

"The history with the ABC House starting to put on shows goes back, I think, to the '80s," says Judith Baumann, a resident of the house. "Everyone in the house has to vote to have shows happen at the house. ... [Now] the shows are more sporadic, I guess. The house is kind of getting older. In the '90s, especially, there were a lot of young, twenty-something's living there."

Some problems, Baumann says, are that "kids show up for the party and not for the show. People will be in the basement, listening to the bands, and we can shut the door and it's fairly contained, but just people in the backyard hanging out and drinking has been one of the biggest struggles that we've had to deal with, especially recently. I honestly think that MySpace and Facebook have really changed the dynamic of how people find out about shows and who comes to shows."

Inside, the second and last band of the night, the Fall of Electricity, performs math-rock instrumental workouts in front of a crowd of respectful fans. It's a far cry from the boozy mosh pit at the 808 House. Not worse; different.

The ABC House has been around long enough, with enough success, that I think they've garnered a reputation for professional shows, and crowds have responded with professional conduct.

I find my way out of the basement and am lucky enough to snag a ride back to sweet, comfortable Tacoma. I can't remember the last time I got lost here.

Hilltop Hollows

If the 808 House is on the rise and the ABC House has is already risen then Tacoma's Hilltop Hollows' feathers are still wet.

I attend a show at Hilltop Hollows in honor of a friend's birthday. Later I learn that, based on the success of that birthday show, Hilltop Hollows will try to make a go of it as a venue.

At the birthday show were Red Hex, Basemint and a pickup band version of the newly re-formed Skeleton Rebellion. When I got the assignment to cover house shows, I think that my editor had this kind of fucked-up rambunctious in mind.

In between blazing sets from Red Hex and Basemint, a knock-down drag-out fight breaks out on the lawn. Everyone at the show is wasted, inhaling cigarettes like air, the bands nearly annihilating the sound-proofing adorning the walls of the garage in which we've assembled.

The blaring rock howls late into the night and - guess what - not a cop in sight. It was gorgeous.

The question now is whether it can be repeated. My guess is that the 808 House and the ABC House are successes specifically because their shows don't go so overboard.

Time will tell. In the meantime, house venues surge underground in Tacoma and Olympia, constantly disappearing and being replenished. It's up to you to find them.

LINK: Patrick Snapp's shots for this cover story

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Comments for "Behind concrete walls" (5)

Weekly Volcano is not responsible for the content of these comments. Weekly Volcano reserves the right to remove comments at their discretion.

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Brett Cihon said on Sep. 16, 2010 at 11:25am

Great stuff, Rev.

Crunchy sound, keg cups, and sweaty basements. The best shows are house shows.

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Ryan Ceresola said on Sep. 16, 2010 at 3:38pm

Really good article Mr. Reverend Sir. I could feel the cornbread hitting my face and the painful ringing in the ear the next morning. Best work yet.

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Rev. Adam McKinney said on Sep. 17, 2010 at 2:18am

Thanks, Brett; thanks Ryan.

It's never unappreciated to receive good feedback, especially after a week like this.


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Reylan Fernandez said on Sep. 18, 2010 at 11:35am

Great article, but I hope exposing this scene doesn't bring it to the attention of the wrong fills. Remember the Warehouse article in the City Scene mag?

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Rev. Adam McKinney said on Sep. 18, 2010 at 2:23pm


This was my concern from the beginning. That City Arts/Warehouse fiasco was definitely in the back of my head, and I made sure to not include too many details about where these venues are located. And I consulted with each house's residents before even attending a show.

So hopefully we're safe from the powers that be who may have too much time on their hands.


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