About five hours into the show Friday night at the Cambridge YMCA, MC and resident Whitehaus scribe Brian S. Ellis once again climbs on stage in a pool-shark three-piece suit to introduce the Needy Visions. “We knew we had to get the greatest band that Weymouth, Massachusetts, has ever produced. And we did research.”
10 PHOTOS: Blasfest 2009
Needy Visions frontman Dan Shea looks out into a darkened auditorium teeming with Whitehaus denizens and assorted spectators amped for the second annual Blastfest — a 13-act festival of folk, rock, folk rock, freak folk, and spoken word — and says, “No disrespect, but I guess you haven’t heard of Siege? They started grind.” A wave of indifference from the audience. “Okay, didn’t think so.” It was a good sign anyway for the Visions, who proceeded to whip up the kind of 15-minute dance party I thought existed only on American Bandstand, all tinny guitars and ’60s-pop clapping parts.
It’s been a long night — you can see it on the faces of bandana’d folks manning the communal merch table in the back, and in the depleted supply of whole-wheat bread over at the DIY sandwich station — but we’ve been in the throes of a monumental surplus of homegrown bohemia and gleefully introverted artistic spirit.
The collective Whitehaus Family Record is the product of a very stuffed house in Jamaica Plain (current count: 11 residents) with more than its share of musicians and poets and a basement venue that stays open all year. The pseudo-hippie group (they pass out business cards saying “Tune In, Bliss Out”) coalesced in 2006 around a weekly jam session, Hootenany, in another apartment in JP before they moved into the three-story Whitehaus in 2007 and began holding basement shows and putting out homemade recordings under the “Family Record” moniker. Since settling in, they’ve released more than 30 CDs and tapes from inhabitants and friends.
Kate Lee, an early member and Blastfest organizer who’s running around tonight in a pink go-go dress and bright green tights, says the festival began last year as a way of introducing Whitehaus to the rest of the world. “It was the first time we’d actually planned something outside of the house. It’s great because, finally, in Central Square, people can’t complain about JP being so far away.”
It’s not totally foreign territory, however — the crew seem to have dragged half the house on stage with them. Toy planes, Barbie dolls, plants, driftwood, an old lamp, and a dozen old bike wheels — all part of an ever-changing sculpture that takes up all three stories at Whitehaus — are scattered and hung up around the stage, giving it a surreal, rustic-drama-club or Goonies-attic feel. Red-headed, soft-spoken Lindsay Clark strums a guitar with a parade of miniature ponies at her feet. On a mic draped in pink handkerchiefs, April Ranger rants about the gantlet of upper-class social pitfalls awaiting her brother at college. Ellis makes his way to the stage again to hawk some joke “UMass-JP” T-shirts. “Classes start in the fall,” he says in his Emo Phillips version of a cowboy beatnik drawl. “Come sign up at Whitehaus.”
The door girl, Lenora Symczak, turns out to be Whitehaus’s newest resident, having moved in just last month. “I’m the only non-musician in the entire house,” she says, before describing how there’ve been people rehearsing on all three floors for days leading up to tonight. “I guess I’m still really fresh, so nothing really seems annoying yet.”
There’s major overlap in the cast of characters up on stage, with a rhythm section of Sam Potrykus (bass) and Greg Beson (drums) figuring in on six different groups each, and that makes the inter-set shuffle bump along at a variety-show pace, with quick sets like Baixa’s blurry psych incantations bumping up against the ukulele/guitar duo Gracious Calamity (one of Lee’s two bands tonight) and Beson’s own solo set, where he hushes the full room down to a whispered chorus of “All is full of love,” over and over. It’s got the precious vibe of childhood friends and siblings getting together to put on talent shows for parents in the living room. Which is sort of the point of most Whitehaus shows anyway.
“I knew this was the kind of thing I wanted to be doing all the time after I went to my first Hoot,” says Lee. “Maybe I don’t feel like having to go to a bar or a dance or go see movies all the time to be entertained. This is it.”
The sprawling Peace, Loving finish the night off with a finale that combines collage and improv action. A dude in Carhart rakes a handsaw over a 2x4 with a bunch of rusty chimes hanging from it. An ancient record player spins around inaudibly. Crickets and wind and running-creek sounds materialize from hand-held tape recorders. The band play on with a tribal, musty old battered upright bass and a guitar. Someone’s shaking the entire sculpture, and it looks as if an old video camera hanging on some twine were about to come crashing down. It seems half the crowd has gotten involved by the time the thing wraps up — at which point Ellis invites everyone in the room over to Whitehaus later, then starts stacking up chairs to clear out by the Y’s curfew.