Without any knowledge of history or topography, one would think that a city with as much filth and poverty as New Orleans would have a stronger hollowed-out basement scene. But unlike our blighted correlatives all the way up in Detroit, we don’t live the basement life, which is a shame considering our ballooning numbers of gutter punks and the infinite uses they’d find for a dark, abandoned underground hideaway. But as it so happens, the low-lying-bowl abnormality that caused New Orleans to disastrously flood half a decade ago is the same reason that her residents are forced to keep their wine cellars, man caves, fight clubs and secret sex families above ground.
Sure, living in the progressive Mecca of the deep south, we’re accustomed to experiencing punk and rock n’ roll in the most unconventional venues and, like our many other points of metropolitan eccentricity, with a certain whimsical pride. Yet, even as we enthusiastically fill the city’s all-purpose galleries, pseudo-LGBT theatre bars, arthouse picture shows (RIP Movie Pitchers), tree houses, green houses, shotgun houses and coffee shops, we must tacitly admit that we’re missing out on the single most thrilling setting in which to enjoy rock n’ roll against a backdrop of dim serial-killer-grade yellow lights, dusty broken bottles and unsittable toilets: the basement rock show.
In the UK, basements were practically the breeding ground of anarchist punk, while in the US they’re all but inseparable from the image of a Middle America high school kid’s wasted hours worshiping the Stooges, Black Sabbath, Neil Peart. Here in New Orleans, where it’s not just logistically but physically impossible to experience a basement show, we’ve had to make due, and we’ve slowly begun to do so admirably by utilizing the plethora of flood-excised, garden level first floors found in nearly every traditional-style home in the city. I don’t think all that “resetting the clock” imagery in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button contemplated a dystopian world where college kids wantonly offer their gutted bottom floors out to whatever experimental noise pop collective or girl punk band happens to need a makeshift venue, but it’s pretty rad whenever they do because the result always tends to be an epically inebriated, smoke-filled ripper of rowdy pits, gritty sound, toppling amps and traditional Irish drinking chants. And the fact that these shows can be as legendary as they are without the perverse titillation of sauntering down a rickety staircase into a dingy menacing basement (you know the feeling: that mutton-chopped bartender following Brad Pitt and Edward Norton as they prepare to pound faces while “Goin’ Out West” by Tom Waits plays in the background) is just as much a testament to how correct New Orleanians combine seediness and rock n’ roll as it is to how completely bad ass the “real thing” must be.
photo credit: Ricky Adam