The Performant: No place like home


KC Turner’s House Concert series gets up close and personal

When did the home become a fortress? It’s as if each city block were comprised of hundreds of tiny sovereign states squeezed in next to each other, doors locked and shades drawn, the notion of running next door for a cup of sugar all but lost. Who even uses sugar anymore, let alone pesters their neighbors for an emergency ration of it? It must be this entrenched reclusiveness that makes the idea of a house concert especially appealing. When just the act of opening your home to a group of strangers feels subversive, the act of accepting the invitation can feel downright revolutionary—a banner waved against the forces of encroaching isolationism.

Call KC Turner a field commander of the revolution, then. For over five years he’s been wrangling space for his well-regarded house concert series, not to mention names that draw people to keep coming back for more: Sean Hayes, Ben Kweller, Chuck Prophet, Peter Case, Matt Nathanson. From tiny living rooms that might seat 10-20 people to expansive backyards that fit 100, the low-key, mostly acoustic shows offer artists a unique opportunity to connect immediately with attendees (and attendees with each other) without the dubious comfort of artificially-imposed distance. At a house show, everyone has to use the same toilet. It’s a great equalizer.

The casual familiarity of a house concert makes it a perfect showcase for local troubadour, John Vanderslice, whose legendary nice-guy charisma and onstage confessional meanderings often make it seem like he’s in his own living room, even when he’s playing for a crowd of hundreds. Saturday night, at an exquisitely funky private home cum arts space boasting an incredible black and white John Baden mural, sculptures by Robert Bengston and Jonathan Weisblatt, and a small but fully functional performance space built in the garage, around a hundred people crowded in to see him perform. After a luminous Debbie Neigher opened with songs from her eponymous album, Vanderslice and frequent collaborators Jason Slota (drums) and Jesse Cafiero (double bass) squeezed precariously onto the charmingly minute stage.

After riffing humorously on Twitter frenemy “not_john_vanderslice” (“he called Henry Rollins a jarhead,” he grudgingly admired) and playing the Davies Symphony Hall with the Magik*Magik Orchestra, he launched into “Dead Slate Pacific,” an introspective ode to psychotropic medication and the cold waters of a personal abyss. A David Bowie cover (“Sweet Thing”) followed by man-on-the-moon saga “Lucifer Rising,” the wrenching “I’ll Never Live up to You,” and the enigmatic curiosity “Numbered Lithograph,” comprised the solo acoustic part of the show, after which his fellow musicians gratefully joined in.

Vanderslice is a consummate story-teller, and from musical meditations on PTSD, New Haven, and David Lynch films, to joking asides about the awkward shame of showing up for a nice dinner with friends with cat hair all over your jacket, he skillfully held the attention of the oddience for the entire set, despite the uncharacteristically warm weather that turned the cozy confines of the space into a bit of an impromptu sauna. But it was everyone’s willingness to overlook such petty discomfort that really exemplified the comfortable community vibe of a house concert. After all, it seems unlikely that, ten years down the road, attendees will remember being a little warm. But probably no one will forget the night they saw John Vanderslice perform in someone’s garage—which is precisely the kind of memory worth creating more of.

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