A group of roommates takes the house show to new, progressive levels.
Playing house is a completely different ball game for bohemian, slacker, rocker types than it is for, say, your little sister. While she might've stuffed the family dog into a doll's dress and made it sit for tea, when twentysomethings get together, it's all loud parties, a fridge door crammed with embarrassing Polaroids and a sink full of dirty dishes no one's quite ready to claim.
For decades, the show-house has served as that precious intermediate between the established bar scene and sidewalk busking. Armed with sinister appellations like Pirate House, Kansas House, Killtime, Fakehouse, Hall of Justice--and the slightly less-intimidating Veggieplex and Little School House--residences from Seattle to D.C. to Philadelphia have long hosted the next bristling bunch of potential big things.
Property values notwithstanding, it's time to welcome Danger Danger House. Situated in the midst of a tumultuously transitional West Philadelphia neighborhood, Danger Danger stands unassumingly cattycorner from a seemingly out-of-place Italian restaurant called Abbraccio, which looks kind of like a prefab ski lodge or a Sizzler.
More than just a house that "does shows," Danger Danger represents an attempt at a bustling epicenter of various creative projects, from member-swapping bands to a venue for local and touring bands. What's more, the kids are now launching their own record label.
Named for its slightly out-of-date home security system (when activated, a voice actually shouts "Danger! Danger!" all "I'm sorry, Dave, you know I can't do that"-style), the house is populated by sufficiently unkempt but charming residents, most of whom are new arrivals from Pittsburgh and the D.C. suburbs.
Although they may not have grown up in the shadow of the Schuylkill, the Danger Danger roommates say it didn't take them long to discover the city's charm.
"I don't think any of us would even consider being anywhere else," says strapping 25-year-old John Vogel, who splits his time playing in Red Rocket and writing music. "We've cultivated the musical circle we'd been searching for. It's just perfectly in the middle of being hoity-toity and shitty, the perfect stop between New York and Baltimore."
Vogel, who grew up with Red Rocket players Adam Katz and Tristan Palazzolo outside of Pittsburgh, moved to Philadelphia a few years after he graduated from Penn State. After "putzing around" haunts like the Khyber and the North Star for a few years, the gang still felt somewhat relegated to the bench, finding it difficult to drop into an already competitive arts and music scene.
They did, though, manage to strengthen their friendships with Baltimore-D.C. transplants Roman Salcic and Russell Brodie, as well as developing a fondness for West Philadelphia's connect-the-dots camp of subculturally approved group houses.
Bonding readily with folks from the band Pony Pants, the new arrivals soon settled into their current home, adopting the alarmingly appropriate name used by its last generation of renters.
"I think the DIY house-show circuit in general is really vital to keeping the music scene at least breathing in Philly," says Vogel. "We've climbed our way up pretty quickly, and that's because of a combination of getting good bands in and a tolerant atmosphere in terms of enjoying live music. Philly can be really hard for bands from out of town to get shows. As long as we like their music, then we're usually more than willing to have them."
The house has already hosted Load Records hotshots the USA Is a Monster and Kites, with Coughs scheduled to appear later this summer. Flagship indie Kill Rock Stars has also contacted Danger Danger while plotting some summer tours.
If it all sounds like the result of careful planning, think again. As Red Rocket's Vogel explains, the idea of running a label came to the house quite by accident.
"We'd self-released one album, and were half-heartedly looking for label representation," he says. "Then we just kind of thought, 'We know so many good bands and we know recording, and we've already gone through the process once. So why not just put a name and logo to it, release our own music and get a few other bands to sign on?' It makes us work harder, but we're more likely to put forth that effort than a label where we'd be a new recruit-last priority."
If you're thinking, "Sounds nice, but I wouldn't want to live next to it," fear not: The Danger Danger kids have been able to keep it kosher with the neighbors. "Things have run smoothly, and I'm hoping we can keep it that way," says Vogel. "Compared to our previous places, we've never seen so much neighbor support. We've been getting people just walking up to the house and sitting in on practice sessions, old ladies who tell us we sound good. It's pretty bizarre."
If you're not lucky enough to share a Victorian twin with these kids, though, you have a chance to sample their noise this weekend. Friday at the North Star Bar the Danger Danger family is hosting a launch party for their new Starpower City imprint.
Although the official occasion is the release of Grandchildren's debut album, every band on the new house-run label's roster will be squaring off for a revolving, rapid-fire evening of two-song sets. Red Rocket, Grand-children, Voodoo Economics, Bear Is Driving and Lee Jae-Won make up the bill.
If they organize (and pull off) a five-artist round-robin in one night, squeezing out a few more proper releases throughout the year should be no problem.
Starpower City Label Showcase
Fri., June 23, 9pm. $8-$10. With Thinking Machines, Grandchildren, Voodoo Economics, Red Rocket, Bear is Driving + Lee Jae-Won. North Star, 27th and Poplar sts. 215.684.0808. www.northstarbar.com www.myspace.com/starpowercity
Modern Baseball finds its sweet spot