“Johnny’s in the basement, mixin’ up the medicine” – Bob Dylan, 1965
Basement house party gigs are weird. And great.
The first time I ever played music in public – 50 years ago next autumn – that gig was in one of my high school classmates’ basement. From my vantage point of 65 years on the planet I have watched rock & roll shows progress from those basements to festivals in huge, barren fields and football stadiums in the 1970’s, and now back to people’s basements.
I spent the decade of the 2000’s as road manager for an act from New York called Hamell On Trial – aka Ed Hamell, a four-man punk band rolled into one bald, sweaty guy – and right at the end of my tenure on the road Hamell started playing house concerts. Nine years earlier – July 1st, 2001 – Hamell had opened a sold-out Ani Difranco show at the 7,000 capacity Universal Amphitheater in Los Angeles. By 2010 Ed was playing in people’s dining rooms. Sometimes, looking back, I think that’s the entire history of what the music industry did to rock & roll music in the early 21st century, in a nutshell.
Which brings us to Marah at Hogan House Productions’ basement concert a coupla Friday's ago.
Early in my service as a roadie for Watershed back in 2005 (to supplement my Hamell income), Colin & the guys opened a Marah show at the old High Five Club. It was sold out, hundreds of people, the place was packed, and Watershed and Marah deployed one motherfucker of a rock & roll show. Power, passion, volume to the point of pain; on that particular evening both bands mightily kicked out the jams.
So last week I saw the Bielanko brothers – Dave & Serge – of Marah with Colin opening for them in a guy’s basement. That’s a really different show than a packed High Five. But then again, this is a really different basement. P.J. Hogan’s home base for his shows seats maybe 50 people, the walls are lined with great classy DVD’s, there’s a decent little sound system and PROXIMITY to the performers that you’re not gonna get in a larger setting, even the intimacy of a small listening room club like Natalie’s Coal Fired Pizza (my current favorite singer/songwriter venue in Columbus).
At Hogan House you’re almost TOO CLOSE to the performers. After the first song Colin asked me and the audience – “Am I WAY too loud? Do we need to turn this down? Is this volume okay?” – because he was so close to the listeners it seemed overwhelming. But it wasn’t. Admittedly you could probably play PJ’s basement with no PA system at all, just sing and strum guitars and the sound would be fine, but the presence of that little bit of power & electricity just makes the show that much more exciting. It's a rock & roll truism: Volume makes EVERYTHING better.
So Marah are, it almost goes without saying, genius-level great in the context of a basement house gig. At one moment in the show – during a particularly dissonant Dave Bielanko guitar solo – his brother Serge (who normally is the lead guitarist of Marah, but at that point is grinding out a GREAT rhythm guitar bed for his brother’s solo) leans over and says, “Somethin’s tryin’ to get out,” as if Dave is attempting to conduct some sort of sonic exorcism with his beat-to-shit black acoustic guitar.
It’s a rock & roll moment I won’t soon forget, and one I probably wouldn’t have gotten in even a small club, and most CERTAINLY would never have apprehended in Nationwide Arena or the Schott. And it was a moment I got because I saw Marah in P.J. Hogan’s basement. Thanks P.J. Thanks Marah. – Ricki C. / April 24th, 2018
The next Hogan House Production is Amy Rigby on Saturday, May 5th.
Here is a link for details on that show: https://amyrigbycolumbusohio.brownpapertickets.com/. I’ve seen Amy Rigby two or three times in the past – but again, never in somebody’s basement – and to my mind this show would be the absolute best use of twenty dollars of your entertainment budget for all of 2018 that I could possibly think of.
For more info on Hogan House Productions in general, check out P.J. Hogan Talks About Marah and His Successful House Shows earlier in Pencilstorm.