Stairiker: Low-price local shows offer big sound

In his final column, Stairiker praises the worth of the local live music scene.

Kevin Stairiker

Kevin StairikerIn this meager space that I’ve been given by The Temple News, I’ve written at length about different genres of popular music, but I have yet to really delve into the music that inspires me more than any Beyoncé song I’ve heard yet. On any given night in this city, there’s music to be heard. Tucked deep in the back of a bar or right up front in an openmic for everyone to see, there are things happening, and sometimes wildly different things waiting to appease the qualities you find best in music.

I came from a town that had its own very insular selection of bands. There were maybe five or six bands, and the lineups usually overlapped with each other. There was only one place to play outside of the yearly “Battle of the Bands,” and the audience was often comprised mostly of the other bands playing that night.

So when I came to Philadelphia, I was so ready to soak in as much of the deep musical variety of the city as I could. Unfortunately, as a freshman, I was too withdrawn to seek out nearly as many shows as I could have. Eventually, I did muster up the courage to just go to a nearby house show by myself. I can’t remember the bands, but it’s not really important.

I remember being tightly compacted between other sweaty, shorts-clad people. The singer of the band shouted as loud as he could, but it was impossible to make out any words he was mustering because the drummer’s snare hits were louder than the singer was. It was mesmerizing. College kids’ heads nodded in unison like they had practiced beforehand, and they got rowdy when it was appropriate.

I committed myself right then to trying to go to as many shows as possible and also to try and play one or two if I could. I didn’t know anyone who ran anything, and I was far too nervous to find out, lest these keepers of house shows would smell the outsider on me.

Since then, I’ve bore witness to some truly great shows in the square mile radius of this campus, usually for $5 or less. I’ve seen broken strings played off with a laugh and singers losing their voices only a couple songs in and just screaming the rest of the set. The sense of community here has been one of the best things to see.

Instead of bands being rivals with each other and trying to outdo one another – which is a real thing I’ve seen elsewhere – bands in North Philadelphia are constantly helping each other, whether via borrowing equipment, setting up shows or simply giving the standard mid-set shoutout to the bands before and the bands up next. As bands have come and gone since I’ve been here, the community aspect stays the same.

So in this final column, I must plead to you, the reader: go out and see a show. Especially if you happen to be a freshman or someone who’s never been to a house show in the area, because it’s an experience that is generally worth the little effort it takes to find one.

I can bet that everyone has a friend who sends incessant invitations via Facebook for a show that another friend’s band is playing at 18th and whatever. The “decline” button is usually a first instinct for one reason or another, but it doesn’t have to be. Odds are that, because there are usually four or five bands thrown on a bill, there’s a good chance at least one will be good.

There’s nothing nearly as rewarding as walking into someone else’s home, walking down the stairs to the dingy basement and hearing something great that you hadn’t heard before.

This is not to say I haven’t seen my fair share of bad shows. Sometimes amps break down, a band has an off night or, in worst-case scenarios, the old maxim of “one bad apple” is proven by a particularly rambunctious showgoer. But even on those nights, the sense of community between band and audience is proven by the “We’re all in this together!” nature of malfunctions.

Arguably, the best part of the whole thing is that the members of these bands are most likely classmates you didn’t realize you had. I’ve been lucky to meet a lot of people and create friendships that started as conversations about their bands or their music. But even if it doesn’t lead you in that route, you could discover your new favorite band. Seeing someone fall in love with new music before your eyes is pretty incredible.

So please, go out and find your new favorite band. It won’t find you while you’re sitting in your living room – unless of course it’s playing a show there.

Top 5 Songs for Leaving
  1. “Hey, That’s No Way To Say Goodbye” – Leonard Cohen
  2. “I Said Goodbye To Me” – Harry Nilsson
  3. “Bye Bye Bye” – ‘N Sync
  4. “Farewell Ride” – Beck
  5. “So Long, Farewell” – The Sound of Music

Kevin Stairiker can be reached at 

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