For both band and audience, the house show can be a double-edged sword. On one hand, it's intimate and fun, with few rules. It's a great place for musicians to field-test their secret formulas, and it's easy for artist and fan to get to know each other when they're literally cheek-by-jowl. On the other hand, that low risk does limit the potential rewards: Often, there's no stage, you'd only call it a P.A. if you're in a forgiving mood, and the cops might show up to shut the whole thing down. It's an adventure undertaken for the love of the game, and The Spin was excited to cap our week with just such an outing.
The petite villa is a near-perfect location for a house show: Perched atop a steep hill, it's surrounded by empty lots and construction-supply businesses, and its backyard provides an astonishing view of the city. We felt a little like E.T. seeing the L.A. suburbs for the first time. The Spin piled into the music room just in time for Dirty Dreams, whom we'd yet to see in person. Since issuing their one online offering, 2011's Dirty Demos, the group has augmented their post-punk-meets-Beach-Boys sound with a full-time drummer, and replaced the Casiotone accompaniment with a meaty triple-guitar attack. The group managed their stage volume well, giving us and the 20 or so others squeezed into the room a full-body massage without splitting our skulls, and the guitars' distinct tones were discernible, even if the vocals weren't. We were the only ones who called out "Yes!" when they asked if they should turn down a little, and that was only to give the P.A. a fighting chance, but we were voted down. If it's too loud, you're too old, right?
Up next were Clear Plastic Masks, transplants from the hip-a-center of Brooklyn's Bedford-Stuyvesant district, who recently collaborated in Thunderbitch with locals Fly Golden Eagle and locally recorded Grammy nominees Alabama Shakes. CPM work some of the blues-soul territory currently dominated by groups like The Black Keys, but where the Keys garnish their brew with a little of glam's electric sugar, the Masks flavor their Stax-y concoction with something a little older: strains of streetwise Dylan, circa Highway 61 Revisited, curled without irony through tree-like frontman Andrew Katz's snarl. Eddy DuQuesne and Charles Garmendia in the rhythm section held back on the dynamic of their playing, loping along like Levon and Danko until time to pounce at the end of the set. We're definitely looking forward to seeing them again at The End on the 29th.
Taking a break to chat, we missed the start of Ranch Ghost's set, and it was almost too late to do anything about it. The little home on the hill was brimming with younguns, and the mosh pit that threatened to break out during the first two bands materialized in full force. In the middle of it all was a cameraman with a handy battery-operated LED panel. We certainly don't begrudge the guy trying to get good-looking video, but the brightness was too much for us. We went all Mogwai and retreated to the front porch, where we found guests poking into the room through an open window. Score! Best seat in the house. Like a good old-fashioned peep show, everyone took turns at the hole in the wall, ogling what someone referred to as "THE cutest band." Whether due to his explicit encouragement or their own stepping up to match his playing, it seems like Ranch Ghost has gotten tighter and tighter since Mitch Jones (Majestico, Fly Golden Eagle, Thunderbitch) came on board, prior to their NYE show at The Stone Fox. Like Dorothy waking up in Technicolor Oz, our ears snapped to attention at the refreshing contrast provided by his gritty gospel organ, as a sound we already enjoyed got even better.
We had learned our lesson: When it was time for Western Medication, we just hung out by our porthole. It was getting to be a popular place, but we held fast. The show was booked to celebrate Western Meds' new 7-inch, The Painted World, recorded at Battle Tapes and officially released on Jan. 29 by Jeffery Drag. Their strong OG-punk underpinnings doused in garage echo were on point to keep the party moving, but with regular drummer and Bad Cop frontman Adam Moult down with the flu, the remaining members and their able sub wrapped it up just before midnight. This lineup could have easily rocked most bars or clubs around town (and in so doing, be a little more intelligible), but we'll join them at the clubhouse anytime.