Sunday, March 28, 2010

Underground Sound: Notes From Some Guy's Basement

So I'm standing in the middle of a crowded basement apartment in the Logan Circle area of Washington, DC getting a serious contact high and waiting to see a folky musician whom my best friend loves named Radical Face (the musician, not my friend). Scattered around the room is some of the best people watching I have ever seen: 20-year-old emo boys who love each other more than they love their annoyed girlfriends, check. High-fiving frat boy wearing a backwards Red Sox cap polishing off a bottle of Jim Beam, check. 60-year-old black guy smoking a joint in the corner, check. Beatnik dude who could have been an extra at that party in Annie Hall where Woody Allen meets all those weirdo Hollywood producers, check. And who can forget the group of high school kids who came with their mom who is pretending not to be totally freaked out by everything going on around her, um, check. The whole vibe alternates between adorably sweet and cult-meeting creepy.

While we wait for Radical Face to take the stage (and by stage I mean a spot on the stained carpet by the wall) we watch the three opening bands perform. The first is just a guy who can't sing and makes Daniel Johnston look like a good guitar player. The next performance is by Tree River which features the guy who couldn't sing on drums and is led by a guy who really can sing. I'm totally into Tree River except for the fact that the guy who couldn't sing can't really drum either. The final band to come on is the annoyingly-named Snow Baby. Snow Baby are as precious as they sounds and we all have to be quiet to hear them. Seriously, we have to be quiet, the guy who owns the basement is yelling at us to shut up and everyone is shushing everyone else. It's like being in a room full of pissed off librarians. Snow Baby is incredibly talented and incredibly derivative. Each moment of their music evokes either Grizzly Bear, Fleet Foxes, Le Loup or Animal Collective. I want to like them but I don't understand how it is that Snow Baby could afford electronic equipment that makes bug and animal sounds but not microphones.

After Snow Baby finish their set the guy who owns the basement takes the microphone and tells us how awesome he is and reminds us over and over that this is in fact his kick-ass basement where this show is happening. He introduces Radical Face and when Radical Face walks up to the microphone, instead of moving out of the way, he tells us how awesome his basement party is a little more.

Radical Face, a Floridian by birth has just made it back from SXSW in Austin and has an Amish beard covering his radical face. He warns us before the show starts that he's been sick and his voice isn't what it should be before launching into his set. Radical Face's music is eclectic - part acoustic confessional, part Postal Service laptop inspired beats and bleeps. He tells the crowd (numbering around 100 at this point) that he gets a lot of shit for the laptop but that it's cheaper than a band. While I'm digging his music, it's hard not to agree with the people who give him shit about using a computer. When I see live music I want it to be live and that's why Radical Face is at his best when he is joined by his drummer and the computer functions as atmosphere rather than leading instrument. The best moment of the night is when Radical Face breaks out his song "Welcome Home" which sends the crowd who all seem to know every song in his repertoire as it is, into a frenzy. The song has a beautiful and soaring chorus of 'ahhhs,' which the entire basement sings in unison. It is a gorgeous moment that breaks through all of my cynicism. The Red Sox guy is high-fiving everyone in sight, the emo boys are hugging each other, the high school kids' chaperon is smiling.  It is a moment that transcends the night and carries me out of the basement on a literal high-note.  Sure, I need to shower the smell of smoke off of my body and pray my days of hanging out with college students in basements are now officially over forever, but for a moment all is well and as it should be, the way only good music can make it. Then the guy who owns the place starts congratulating himself again and it's time to leave.


  1. Best friend28/3/10 20:00

    I wished at times for the four of us, Mr. Cooper (Radical Face), and maybe Ken's nice asian friend to be whisked away from that smokey basement on the soaring back of Falcor (or maybe Lucy?) to a nice old coffee shop or bookstore or coffeeshop/bookstore, where stories are appreciated and you're only bumped into once, twice, or maybe three times.

    Radical Face--
    Strength: real, original, inspiring, independent electro-folk music.
    Weakness: VEN.UE.

  2. Anonymous1/4/10 09:55

    Wow guys really penetrating journalism. I'm pretty sure every single other person that was there that night isn't a miserable 40-year old and agrees with the opposite of everything in this post.

  3. Anonymous1/4/10 10:04

    Wow you're really arrogant.

    the guy with the Jim Beam is an scientist and an AIDS researcher and it was a mets hat, you shmuck.

  4. Well then I clearly wasn't talking about the Jim Beam drinking AIDS researcher b/c the guy high-fiving in front of me wasn't wearing a Mets hat.

  5. I was at the show. Thanks for this post. I enjoyed Tree River a lot, and thought that the first couple of songs done by Snowbaby were great. Radical Face sort of annoyed me. Generally the feel in the room was annoying, but specifically it really wasn't that bad. The people throwing the party were irritating but not everyone in the room was. I thought your write up was funny however. I

  6. Luke Skywalker1/4/10 17:33

    No I think I know the guy the blogger was talking about. He was by the stairs and was hanging out with girls who were actually radical face fans. I heard him say something like "woah babe you're right! I actually do like this type of music!"

    I thought the show was much better than this blogger made it seem. There was a very warm communal everyone-is-welcome vibe in the room. Most of the people, including the acts, were friends with eachother. And the hosts turned an apartment into a decent music venue for 100 kids. Also the blogger missed Shining Through, the first act. But he has the right to talk lots of shit, because he's just a little blogger. It feels good to anonomously post complaints about people who are actually doing creative things! Its much easier to complain about art than to make it yourself, you know?

  7. just a little blogger8/4/10 12:49

    Damn that did feel good. Although I don't know how anonymous I am given my email and name are on the blog, although I'm sure your real name is Luke Skywalker. It was definitely a warm and communal vibe, reminded me of the parties I used to attend back in the 60's with Charlie Manson and friends. And do you really wanna stick up for a dude who uses the words "whoa" and "babe" in consecutive order when he talks?

    All shit talking aside, I never meant to imply this show was terrible. I quite liked Radical Face and I thought I captured that in the final paragraph - the whole transending, being carried away thing, etc... And the guy who opened up his place has to be given big props for that he just needs to work on his hosting skills (i.e. not grabbing the mic every 10 minutes or so and not telling people to shut up). The shushing was 10 times more distracting then the talking...

    And trust me, coming up with well over one hundred blog entries in a few months when you work 10 hour days does require some creativity, you know?