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O, that way madness lies!
Beyond Here Be Dragons!
Wednesday, December 21, 2011
Rock Stars in Your Living Room
by M. David Hornbuckle
Last month on a Sunday night, David Thomas (from the legendary art rock/new wave band Pere Ubu) did a solo performance for about 40 dedicated fans in Birmingham. Was it at Bottletree? The Nick? No, it was in the living room of Troy Thompson and Laney DeJonge. It was a fantastically intimate atmosphere in which to see one of the strangest and most interesting performers in rock and roll history. The intimacy intensified the level of comfort and discomfort, depending on how you felt about the performance itself at that moment.
Jim Fahy from the local record label Communicating Vessels heard that Thomas was doing a series of living room concerts and was intrigued. “Basically,” Fahy said, “he would go anywhere for $1000. There were some other stipulations also, like you couldn’t sell traditional tickets and you couldn’t use traditional advertising. It had to be all word-of-mouth and social networking.”
Fahy got together with concert promoter Lee Shook to plan how they could make this event happen. Even before the idea of the concert came up Fahy and Shook had already been talking about their shared interest in Pere Ubu. Ten years ago, Shook even wrote his senior college thesis at Suwannee about the band. “I was never completely happy with that thesis,” Shook said. “Having the opportunity to bring this concert to Birmingham was a way of finishing it.”
Shook personally put up about half of the money needed to bring David Thomas to Birmingham. He secured the rest from the Birmingham Art Music Alliance, which had some funds left over from last year’s Improvisor festival. Though Thomas comes from the world of rock and roll, the board of the Art Music Alliance deemed his work weird enough to justify the expense.
Shook secured Troy and Laney’s house in Highland Park as a venue. Troy and Laney happened to be friends of his, and he knew they had a good space for such an event. Additionally, the house also happens to be the historic home of one of Shook’s ancestors, Paschal Green Shook. This connection deepened Shook’s personal interest in the concert. He said, “To arrange to have one of my musical heroes perform in a home that had belonged to my own family meant a lot to me.”
With everything in order, Fahy and Shook began to spread the word on Facebook. By contract with the artist, only 40 seats were available. Since they weren’t allowed to sell traditional tickets, they collected “donations” of $25 per person via PayPal. Fahy said, “I was terrified we were going to do something wrong, and he’d cancel the show.” However, the show went on and transpired smoothly (aside from an incident in which one attendee mistakenly parked in a neighbor’s yard).
Living room concerts aren’t new, particularly for artists in the avant-garde who have a scarcity of other venues available to them. However, they are becoming more popular with better-known indie rock and alternative rock artists who are interested in the opportunity to travel with low overhead costs and perform for a smaller, more dedicated audience than they might find in clubs. “It’s a buyers’ market for clubs,” Fahy said. “There’s a lot of competition for good nights at clubs, so putting a tour together that’s beneficial for both venue and artist can be a bit challenging.”
For example, Pat DiNizio from the Smithereens did a living room tour in 2006, and he’s offering these shows again to fans. According to his website, these are request-only, solo acoustic show that last nearly three hours. “The audience calls out songs, and I do my best to entertain them,” he said. Indie rock singer David Bazan from the band Pedro the Lion has also been including house shows on his recent tour. Thomas says he developed an interest in these types of shows after a “delightful experience” at a house concert in Copenhagen introduced him to the concept.
Fahy and Shook both said they would be interested in bringing more shows like this to the area, though they have no living room concerts planned in the immediate future. Troy and Laney, who were very gracious to all their guests, also showed an interest in hosting more events of this kind. Troy mentioned that he might host legendary rockers the Woggles in his basement in January, but at press time the show was not confirmed.
Posted by Lee Waites at 5:41 PM