Underground Life of House Shows Revealed

Students in Professor Lisa Phillips’ Literature of Journalism class were assigned to immerse themselves in the unfamiliar. Here’s what they found:

House shows are a common stable of the New Paltz nightlife. Matt Schenfeld explored the depths of the elusive world of basement shows.

Finding house shows in New Paltz takes a little bit of detective work. Some publicizing is done by word-of-mouth. Most of the time it’s students advertising their friends’ shows while other times you will get invites on Facebook with a note “DM for address.” Some houses even have their own band page that they invite you to like and receive notifications about upcoming shows. However, the majority of the exposure, and the way that I come across shows is via social media.

There are a number of houses that host these shows in New Paltz: Nacho House, Ghost House, Law Office, MOM’s and Lost Wood’s to name a few. All of these shows take place in the unfinished, dusty concrete basements, the only differences being the decorations, personal touches and layout. After visiting many of these spots, it’s safe to say that movies like Animal House nailed their depiction of the college basement environment.

The house that I found myself spending the most of my time at was Lost Woods, located on North Manheim Boulevard.

As my friends and I approached what we thought to be Lost Woods, we stopped and huddled up.

“What’s the address again?” asked my friend Sal.

“The Facebook page says 38, but those guys over there at 42 are packing up instruments,” said my friend Tyler. “I’m still going to trust this,” he said pointing to his shattered phone screen.

We stood there investigating the houses around us as best as we could, listening for any inkling of a musical performance. Five minutes passed before a large, fully bearded man came out wearing a Clash t-shirt.

“Hey guys, could you all like not stand in front of the house? We have a backyard you guys can hang in and the next band is about to go on,” he said.

Upon entering Lost Woods, you will be greeted by a few students passing the time alternating puffs from their cigarette with swigs of Pabst Blue Ribbon giving indignant glares to the excited show-goers.

No alcohol is served there. If you are ever having trouble locating the house all you have to do is search for a trail of students walking with suspiciously heavy backpacks for 11 p.m. on a weekend.  

More often than not there will be a tenant or band member standing by taking donations in an empty case of beer. Although donations tend to be only a dollar or two and are few and far between, the gesture always struck me. Broke college students giving the few singles they have left in their wallet to other students out of genuine appreciation for what they do.

You enter down a flight of uneven, creaky wooden stairs. Students on the taller side have to duck during the transition from stairway to basement. Whatever the legal minimum height for a ceiling is, this house cut it close.

Every square inch is covered with bubble-letter graffiti that would better suit the walls of a subway tunnel. Some of it was much more clever, however. There were motivational messages like “work those tired bones to pay those student loans” to more cliché statements like “good vibes only.” The only light source in this concrete cube is provided via Christmas decorations draped along the exposed, leaky pipes.  

People start to file in; show-goers anxiously awaiting some music begin to circle the “stage.” Lost Woods’ version of a stage is nothing to write home about, but it does the job. The stage is located at the far corner of the basement, just in front of a graphitized oil tank. A basic drum set held together by orange duct-tape is front and center, being the only evidence of a musical event. As the first band prepares, more and more students start to flock towards the partially formed semi-circle of bodies, filling the gaps.

The first band I experience is The Harpooneers. The Harpooneers consist of lead singer Bill Mendez, guitarist Eric Doering, bassist Zach Bell and drummer Justin Livore. All of them are students of SUNY New Paltz.

The original Harpooneers formed two years ago during guitarist Eric’s freshman year, but never maintained stable membership until recently.

“Over this past summer I texted Zack who I met using a flier. Then earlier this year I met Justin in my geology class. We became close friends so I asked him if he wanted to play in my band as our drummer and he accepted,” Eric said.

I was curious as to how these bands got the opportunity to play at these shows, but unsurprised to find out from Eric that it all comes back to who you know.

“Bill’s girlfriend at the time had some shows that she invited us to play at and soon enough we were networking more and getting more opportunities to play at different places. Now we have our own house to play shows at.”

Self-described as a unique blend of emo and post-rock, The Harpooneers’ sound reminds me of music from the ‘90s pop-punk and grunge scenes. Featuring sounds similar to alternative bands like the Foo Fighters and Nirvana as well as pop-punk groups such as Sum 41 and blink-182, the Harpooneers’ sound is diverse and dynamic. Songs like “Blue” features a beautiful, slow chorus that builds up to a brief hard-hitting emo sound.

As I watched the Harpooneers, I was instantly drawn to the boisterous personality of drummer Justin Livore. Dressed in his blue New York Islanders t-shirt, Livore welcomed the crowd, “check check check, what the f**k is goooood.” My favorite thing about Livore, however, is his ability to spontaneously turn anything into a song. My favorite was his original piece “Zach is tuning his bass.” It was so loud you see and feel the vibration in the wooden beams overhead.

From Nirvana, Foo Fighters and Smashing Pumpkins to Modern Baseball and Coldplay, the New Paltz rock band covers a wide range of styles. The most memorable being their cover of the theme song from the Nickelodeon TV show Drake and Josh. Eric remembers the “crowd [being] huge. Everyone was really into the cover. It brought a shared sense of nostalgia to the show. That night we played one of our best shows thus far.”

The instrumentation, however, is what really makes the Harpooners stand out. Sophisticated songs such as “Perpetual” feature choppy, rhythmic guitar riffs while the more experimental, musical journey that is “Ceiling” includes many changes in tempo and dynamics.

Another artist I had the pleasure of seeing was Jordan Fiction. He approached the stage with silver glitter all around his eyes, resembling a mask. He wore black eyeshadow. His hair was in four perfectly placed buns forming a square on his head.

As he began to play, smoke slowly arose from behind the “stage.” One continuous cloud poured out of what I was hoping was a machine. Within moments I could tell this wasn’t going to end well. People in the crowd began looking at each other with blank expressions on their face, not saying a word, hoping others would have some kind of information. The more they waited, the less they could see. It took less than five minutes for a muffled beeping to start.

I recognized Laine, one of the house members, and approached him to let him know about the fire alarm. “Ah s**t,” he said nonchalantly before strolling up the stairs. He seemed to have not a care in the world.

Fiction’s band has no drummer. Instead, they use a drum machine, which can produce a plethora of rhythms, beats and sound effects at the touch of a button. For Fiction, it produces a much more grandiose sound than he would get using an actual drum.

He opened his set with an acoustic cover of Nirvana’s “In Bloom.” From there, he played mostly originals until covering a hip-hop song that got the crowd singing and dancing. That is, until about halfway through when the band’s power source failed. To pass the time, the crowd chanted “olé olé, olé olé” in unison. The chant would eventually die down for the most part, with the exception of a few stubborn, goofy guys who just couldn’t get enough of it. One of these guys, Rob, could find anything to entertain himself during the brief music break.

A spider dangled from the pipes above, curled up in a ball at the end of its web. Rob turned to a stranger standing next to him, “Hey dude, do you dare me to eat this? How much would you give me?” This remark sparked a conversation that went on way too long. Back and forth, they went on about this spider.

“No balls, you won’t do it,” said Rob. “How about for ten bones?” said the stranger. I could hear the gears in Rob’s head turning, but in the end decided against it.  

After the power situation was handled, Fiction came back on the stage.  

“Closer, closer, don’t be shy.” The crowd closed in on Fiction as he finished his set. “Thank you so much, it’s been a blessing and a privilege.”  It wasn’t until the end of Fiction’s set that I noticed a female photographer crouched in the far corner recording Fiction’s performance.

“Do you hire that photographer to film all of your events?” I asked. “Yes,” said Fiction.

As the bands changed over, you could see the appreciation and admiration these groups had for each other as they shook hands, congratulating each other on their great shows. Some even engaged in conversation, seemingly picking the brains of members of other bands.

During this turnover period, many students ran to the bathroom as the dimmed lights grew in brightness, revealing the crowd again. Some went out for a smoke break, while others who seemed to be there in support of one particular group, left early. As I gazed around the room, I kept my eyes peeled for anything out of the ordinary. For the most part it was the same old; students conversing with drinks and smoking while others danced and goofed around with their friends, seeing who had the best moves.

With no music, I began to feel out of place. In that moment, music was the uniting force in that room, the one thing keeping us all together. I also began to feel lightheaded from all the body heat.

I began to push my way through the wall of bodies. It wasn’t easy. For every step forward I took two backwards as I sidestepped by way through the crowd trying to avoid bumping into people’s liquid gold. I made my way back upstairs where I ran into the Harpooneers. They sat around the kitchen table conversing with friends and counting their tips with dispirited looks on their faces.

“At least it’s better than MOM’s. They cut us off after two songs and didn’t give us jack sh*t,” Bell said.

The band was very welcoming as we began to converse.

“What is the inspiration behind your lyrics?” I asked Mendez.

“I’d say most of my inspiration for my lyrics come from personal experiences in my life, mostly relationships I’ve had. I always had an interest in the surreal as I was very imaginative ever since I was a kid. I think it’s a testimony to the dream-like nature in my lyrics,” Mendez said.

I made my way toward the exit, ears still ringing. Three guys stood in a circle, blocking the exit.

“How am I going to get this tallboy back?” said the tallest of the bunch.

“Just pocket it bro,” his friend replied.

In front of the door they remained as he shoved the beer into his right front pocket.

“Is this too obvious?” said the tall guy as he moved his hand revealing the 24-ounce beer protruding from his pants.


Read more about #ImmerseYourself here:

Trish Mollo stays committed to a 6 a.m. start at the gym to delve into the minds of the gym rats that seem to live there.

Alicia McGowan observes the rugby team and how they handle practices, games, losses and life.

Meg Tohill examines the library and late night study room till 4 a.m., observing and conversing with other students finding a haven in the library.

Emily King is a farm girl at heart, but keeps that a secret as she accompanies the Sustainable Agriculture Club on campus and discovers what they think of the future of farming.

Bryan Godwin watches band MoonUnitt who is new to New Paltz perform and light up the house show scene.

Maeve Allen watches puppets perform during a rehearsal of Avenue Q, where the theater department students express themselves through their characters.

Max Freebern is confused about this wave of music new to him called Noise music, but he sits back and lets it surround him.

Sabrina Petroski joined the SUNY New Paltz burlesque troupe for their 10-year anniversary show where she learned more than just the art of burlesque.

Little Rebellion

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