I really didn’t know what to expect as I slowly drove down a little back road in Williamstown, NJ looking for some sign of activity that would lead me into this perfect stranger’s home. Hunched over the wheel, I inched down the road frantically searching. Then I saw it, a modest little house set far back on the property and cars jockeying for parking spots between the many trees and dense shrubbery. This had to be the place. This was my first living room show.
A Living Room show is pretty self explanatory. It’s a concert in someone’s living room. The band, or artist, asks for volunteers to host incredibly intimate performances. If you have enough space for 40 or so people and a guy with an acoustic guitar, you’re an eligible host. This particular show featured a performance by David Bazan, the mastermind behind the indie band Pedro the Lion that broke up in 2005. I saw Bazan play with his band in the summer at on of my favorite small venues, Johnny Brenda’s, but I knew this was going to be entirely different. There was no opening band. There was no backing band for Bazan. It’s just Bazan, a balding 35-year-old father with an acoustic guitar. No amps, no microphone, just the man and his guitar and the 40 audience members sitting in tiny plastic chairs designed for preschool kids. Bazan’s lyrics tackle incredibly difficult topics ranging from religion and politics to his own struggles with alcoholism. His songs are deeply personal and his voice, perfectly imperfect filled the room with raw emotion.
The thing that struck me the most as I sat in that musty and dimly lit living room was the absolute silence and the respect of the crowd. At every show I’ve ever been too, there is always the murmur of voices, the snapping and clicking of pictures being taken, glasses clanking at the bar, coughing, and all the human noises that are inescapable even among the most devoted fan bases. Here, there was nothing. There was no glow of cellphone light on anyone’s face as they checked the time, snapped a picture, or texted. Matthew Hovern, who was at the show with me said the sheer respect of the audience was shocking to him, “It’s strange, really. I usually like going to shows where everyone knows the words and sings along, but here, no one sang or even talked. Usually, at shows, you have idle chit chat and people who don’t pay attention, but here, in this guy’s living room, it was dead silent. You could hear a pin drop.”
Bazan didn’t play song after song for the 90 minutes he was “on stage.” He sprinkled the time with questions and answer periods, stopping every so often to ask, “Does anyone have any questions or concerns at this point in the show?” He did this when I saw him at Johnny Brenda’s as well, but here it was different. People weren’t shouting out random questions like, “What’s your favorite pasta?” they were asking serious questions with the utmost respect. Audience members tentatively raised hands to ask questions. Bazan talked candidly about his inspirations, his songwriting process, his family, and his feeling towards his work.
It wasn’t just this particular living room show that was filled with silent and rapt listeners. Sibyl Kemp, a 19-year-old Bazan fan who attended a living room show in North Carolina shared her similar experiences. “No eyes weren’t on David the whole time…as the night went on, David loosened up, got more comfortable, told jokes, and had small back-and-forths with audience members. I’ve seen David Bazan specifically in both types of settings [small clubs and living room shows] and it’s an amazing difference,” Kemp said when I asked her about her experience. If given the choice, Kemp prefers living room shows, saying, “Small shows are great, but I don’t think there’s anything more intimate than a living room show. Mostly because David Bazan walks into the room, all alone, and probably as last-minute as he can manage to avoid standing there awkwardly before he’s supposed to start playing. It seems like a very vulnerable situation…that closeness that you feel to the music and the artist [in a living room show] doesn’t feel quite the same, even in a tiny club.”
After attending my first living room show, I tend to agree. The most intimate shows I’ve been to have never achieved a connection as deep as this one. There was something truly beautiful happening in that dingy little living room, a feeling of love and respect and oneness that simply can’t survive in any other environment worked its way into each and every person there.