Kids of the Black Hole #5: Zen and the Art of the Basement Show
by Mike Riley
Kids of the Black Hole #5: Zen and the Art of the Basement Show
It's shows like the one I attended the other night at the Charm City Art Space that remind me why I love punk and hardcore so much. There's no way that I could accurately describe the feeling of being packed in with a hundred people in a space that could maybe comfortably hold forty, everyone singing their lungs out to a band that sounds similar to so many others, yet has that something extra that pushes them ahead of the pack. It's something you have to experience for yourself although it certainly isn't for everyone. If you're the type that doesn't like to be too close to strangers or feels claustrophobic quite easily then you're just not going to understand what I'm getting at here. Let me try to describe that feeling anyway...

It's the feeling of seeing friends from out of town that have played in bands in the past that couldn't draw more than twenty kids when they'd come through town now being smothered by a heaving crowd that can't get enough.
It's watching people piling on top of each other for singalongs in a room with a six-foot, six-inch ceiling.
It's the sound of singing voices drowning out the PA.
It's seeing people that you never would have thought to be into the bands playing coming out and having the time of their lives.
It's people dancing, sweating, and smiling arm in arm with strangers.
It's joy, pure and simple.

I heard a few people say that they thought the show should have been at the Talking Head instead. They'd have more room to breathe, they'd have the bar, they'd have a place to sit down, etc. No way. No offense to the fine people that manage that establishment, but there's just no way that this show would have been as fun if it were at a place like that. There's just something about a basement show that transcends all need for comforts such as those. A show at CCAS isn't even your typical basement show, as the space's main use isn't as someone's home. I'm always amazed by the generosity of those who are willing to let complete strangers into their homes to share an evening of music and revelry, but to me that is exactly what punk is all about: breaking down those boundaries that work to keep us separated and secluded and safe in our own little bubbles; exercises in community-building and commodity-sharing.

I can't count the number of times I've felt that level of elation at other basement or house shows. It's pretty rare that I feel it at all when seeing the same show at a club. Seeing a band play up on a big stage just pushes them farther into that realm of spectacle. Part of what attracts me to all of this are the personal connections that are so much more attainable when crowd and performer are able to interact. As a band member, I can tell you I'd always rather have that connection and interaction of having the crowd right there in my face. Touchable. Tangible. Our energies feeding off of each other until they swell to fill the whole room. It's the stuff that legendary shows are made of, and it's something I hope I never get tired of.

(photo by Emily Burtner)
Posted by: Mike Riley

Features (December 12th, 2008)