I've written some reviews of basement shows for Music Times, and the more often I go to them, the more I'm convinced that they're superior to big venue shows in almost every way. Here are some reasons why.
1. They're Significantly Cheaper
Fugazi famously refused to play shows that were more expensive than five dollars, but if Ian MacKaye decided to book a Fugazi tour tomorrow, he'd probably find that he wouldn't be able to get a show at any decent sized venue with such a low price. Basement shows, on the other hand, are rarely ever more expensive than five dollars, and sometimes they're even free (with suggested donations if one of the bands is touring). Why bother spending two hundred dollars for a back row seat at Madison Square Garden to see one or two acts, when you could spend five to see five acts up close and personal? Speaking of up close and personal...
2. They're More Intimate
In my write up of a Cloud Nothings concert earlier this week, I mentioned how Music Hall of Williamsburg doesn't have a barricade between the crowd and the stage, which I found to be surprising, but refreshing. These barricades limit the personal connection that an artist can make with its audience, as well as render the artist untouchable and somehow superior. Not only do basements not have barricades, they almost never have actual stages, either. The artist is literally (and therefore metaphorically) on the same level as its audience, which is the way it should be.
3. You Can Hang with the Bands
I once waited an hour to meet Wayne Coyne after a Flaming Lips concert in Montclair, New Jersey. While it was definitely worth the wait (he's an incredibly kind man), this intense separation of artists from their audience is just another distasteful pedestal that raises them above their fans. There's no such separation when playing a house show, though. Before and after sets, the bands are usually managing their own merch table or just hanging around the crowd with everyone else. If an artist is unwilling to talk to a fan at a basement show, they're probably not worth knowing anyway.
4. They're BYOB
Every time I go to a house show with one of my friends, we absolutely must stop at a liquor store before we get there. If the show were at a venue, though, this would definitely be out of the question. You're not even allowed to bring a bottle of water into a venue show, let alone a six-pack of Newcastle, which of course forces you to spend all of the money you might spend on merch on an eight-dollar beer instead (Unless you're driving, of course. Don't drink and drive, please).
5. Getting Into NYC is a Pain
This one's more specific to people like me who live in North Jersey, or anyone who lives in the suburbs of an impenetrable city like New York. Most of the big shows I want to go see are in Manhattan (sometimes Brooklyn), but there's no good way to get into the city from New Jersey. You could try mass transit, or drive in and be at the mercy of NYC traffic, or even swim across the Hudson, but none of these are much fun. I'd much rather just drive an hour south to New Brunswick, park for free on the street, and see a pop-punk band at a smelly college house.
6. They Have Tons of Indie Cred
Although "indie cred" may not actually exist, there's no downside to having some, and you can get plenty at a basement show. There's nothing like telling Front Bottoms fans that you saw them once in a church basement in 2009, and that you gave them twenty dollars for a t-shirt because they didn't have any change. Unfortunately, you can't buy anything with indie cred, but it still feels cool.