Market Hotel opened its doors in the winter, and Silent Barn has been around for over over a year and a half now, even just since the name change. Before those there were others like them, decades of roofs and lofts and basements straight back through Williamsburg's prime years and over the East River to the Lower East Side and Tribeca and Soho. And the living room has, along with the garage, long been a basic unit of high school rock bands everywhere. So nothing about the current borough-spanning wave of apartment shows is especially new, besides the sheer volume of them cropping up everywhere lately. Moreso than ever, concert options on the cheap and laid back are always available, through the efforts of both intrepid promoters and perhaps even more intrepid lease-holders.
Over the course of my fourth of July weekend alone, I found myself at four of the things, in a typically weird range of spots:
–Dead Herring House, a now well-established perennial spot, despite a bit of living room floor piled with instruments on show nights being the only real concession to venue status.
-An unnamed but epically crowded rooftop in South Williamsburg with a fantastic and unobstructed view of the fireworks.
–248 BS, a long basement apartment put to good use for a variety of events about once every month since opening its doors in November.
-A briefly empty and unlocked apartment in a friend's building, turned to admirable party purposes.
Bonus: one week later, another one, this time at Magicland, a newly christened apartment above the Roebling Tea Room.
Of course, the success and attendance of these shows varied pretty wildly, from a couple dozen friends of residents and random seekers to hundreds of inebriated bodies wavering precariously five or six stories above the street. Dead Herring, as the most familiar spot of the bunch, hosted a couple of the better-known bands and drew pretty typical small-but-committed crowds. Renegade ADD jazz quartet Mostly Other People Do the Killing (combining equal parts avant, classic, and smooth jazz approaches, always in a single song, often in a single solo or phrase) are all regulars on the Zebulon/Stone experimental jazz circuit, but make even their most experimental tendencies approachable by just being a lot of fun. Fitting, then, that after their own set they followed drummer Kevin Shea into one of his other bands, Puttin' on the Ritz, laying down inventive grooves for singer BJ Rubin to rant and caterwaul the standards over. The show was actually a release party for the first real (as in not a small-run CDr) Puttin' on the Ritz record, Bangin' Your Way Into The Future, which also features MOPDTK as backup band and turns out to be a good combination of new, surprising finesse and haphazard Ritz tradition. The space and crowds were well suited to this sort of thing, and Rubin used it appropriately, ranging around the room and knocking over Shea's drum set for dramatic effect. The space, as always, was a charming clutter of altered bric-a-brac, loft seating above the band, bursts of light from passing J-trains, and kitchenwares.
On the other side of things: one-off house parties. Both examples pulled in surprisingly large crowds. First, the rooftop July 4 party with Effing and Birthday Boyz and a completely firework-reddened sky and hordes of people who somehow heard about it and wandered up (discussed here). The next night, just a few blocks away, a performance by Jackson Heights 60s garage rockers the Beets (thankfully back now with a new drummer after a percussionless hiatus) and free beer came together in an impressive party even without the fantastic view (or explosions to view). The story was simple: downstairs neighbors move out, empty apartment becomes available, space is capitalized on. The Beets, sounding classic without being overly referential to any one band, caught my ear a full year ago after only a matter of months of existence and seemed to certain to pick up momentum quickly. Now, two drummers later, they'll perhaps be able to continue on that course, though for the moment they claim to be only playing house shows. If such shows were as much fun as this one, that doesn't seem like a bad idea.
248 BS, as a recurring multi-use art space and occasional venue, falls somewhere in between. In this case, the night's program was musical: Charlie Looker (Extra Life) and Mike Pride's jazz collab Period, instrumental metal-inflected punk rockers STATS (formerly known as Stay Fucked), and Normal Love, a sheet-music-reading avant ensemble like Philadelphia's less noisy answer to Zs (with whom they have unsurprisingly shared bills in the past). The narrow apartment-spanning living-dining space wasn't huge but did the trick, and promisingly the place has some kind of a yard, as well.
A week later, I found myself climbing a tall flight of metal stairs to the top of one of Williamsburg's many reclaimed former industrial spaces. The spot had only just been named Magicland (as evidenced by the blank looks that still followed any inquiries as to its location), but turned out to be a decent sized hardwood-floored loft with access to three different levels of excellent roof and views of the entire surrounding area. Probably due to the appartment's unfamiliar and somewhat tricky-to-spot nature, combined with a No Age show just across the Burg, crowds were thin, but I still got to catch a set of rapid glockenspiel and toy keyboard classical adaptations from occasional touring Fiery Furnace Glockabelle and some heavy electronica and breaks (sequenced and live) acompanied by 3D projections. I couldn't get my 3D glasses to work, but my eyes are not all that great at the moment so it could have been human error, and it was a good thought. Apparently Mexico's answer to the Beatles were to headline, but I had to take off. Organizer Joe Ahearn (SleepWhenDeadNYC) wasn't too psyched about the turnout, but was psyched about the fact that the residents had offered their apartment for him to book for the night, something which is happening more and more, he said, as more people realize it's an option.
So there you go: excellent concerts in the comfort of your own home is a very real option, whether through your favorite local booking people, or through your own efforts. Wouldn't your living room look better with a rock band in it?