Boise's Basement Bands Breed Business-Minded Boom

Local house show venues provide underground music infrastructure


Scott Pemble is not your typical homeowner. The 27-year-old bought his Caldwell home in 2010 and began hosting all-ages rock concerts. Now his house has a name--Scott's Manor--and his walls are adorned with mementos bands have left behind, including a pink marker doodle from Seattle's Tacocat, with a flaming yin yang O and pepperoni pizza A's.

"I purchased a house when that first-time home buyer credit was going on. And Theo [Maughan of Caldwell band Art Fad] and I mutually agreed to have a housewarming shindig with live music," said Pemble. "Like 100 people were in my house. It's an older house, and I had no furniture, so there was no damage to the house. Live music, shows, pizza in the oven. ... It was a good time."

Pemble's first show featured local bands like No Comprendo, The Maladroids and Mickey the Jump. After the success of that initial concert, he decided to try a few more shows.

"It was magical. Word spread and before you know it, Finn Riggins is playing my living room," Pemble said. "I didn't think things were going to continue ... until Theo just happened to snag half of the [Los Angeles, Calif.] band WHY? at the last minute for a spontaneous show. That solidified that we had something rad going on."

Most kids who grow up in Boise have been to a house show, which likely has less to do with musical tastes than it does the limited number of all-ages music venues in the Treasure Valley. So, in order to provide a platform for under 21-year-olds and up-and-coming bands, music-minded Boiseans pack amps and equipment into their living rooms and host small scale concerts.

But while these house show havens might start on a whim, they're hardly unorganized. The folks who run the houses become proficient in booking and running a venue. In fact, Neurolux and Pengilly's owner Allen Ireland said he gets so many requests from bands to play his clubs that many touring acts end up playing house shows.

"A lot of times the next email I get when I turn someone down is, 'where are the house shows?'" said Ireland.

Pemble now works with agents and bands from all across the country. But because of the overwhelming number of requests he gets, he mostly books acts he has personal relationships with.

"For the most part, each show revolves around a touring band. It's crazy how many requests I get, so I don't get an opportunity to have all-local shows anymore," said Pemble. "Now, I only book people that I have good connections with. I'm so honored to know some really great people, record labels and touring agencies."

Wes Malvini takes the opposite approach, eschewing labels and agents to work directly with bands. Malvini books Gramma's House, a Boise venue that has had its ups and downs since it opened.

"A band who books through an agent really doesn't belong in a house show," said Malvini. "If someone like Brett Netson of Built to Spill wanted to do a house show, he wouldn't send his agent to book it."

The house show circuit can also be a great way to solidify connections. Pieter Hilton of Portland, Ore.'s mini-indie orchestra Typhoon met his band's myriad members while hosting house shows.

"I put on house shows in Eugene, [Ore.], that's how I met those guys," said Hilton. "The amount of people that I met who were national touring acts was incredible. Hosting bands, or putting on shows in your house, and not just turning it into a huge party, is a huge things for touring bands."

Playing a house show can actually be more lucrative than playing a venue. While venues pressure bands to draw in certain number of attendees, house shows are more flexible.

"Bands have to pay hundreds of dollars worth of gas nowadays with gas being at what price it is," said David Wood, lead singer of the raucous Boise band Teens. "We make so much more with the generosity of people at house shows than we have ever done at actual venues. People will just pass around a jar of donations and it is amazing."

And Pemble is well aware of this selling point. He knows that the intimate environment can offer a unique experience for fans and bands alike.

"The intimate connection between the audience and the band at house shows also drives great merch sales," added Pemble.

But house shows aren't without their problems. Underage kids combined with stringent noise ordinances--which prohibit amplified noise clearly heard within a residence or at a distance of more than 100 feet--create a perfect storm for cops.

"Everywhere you play, the cops show up eventually, and then those houses just dissolve because they can't pay the fines. And ... you just have to wait until the next crop of kids that start renting out houses start again," explained Christian McKenna of local band The Maladroids.

Gramma's House was closed for two years because of noise and underage-drinking complaints before it reopened.

"I moved in a bit over a year ago and immediately got to work cleaning it up and implementing strong criteria for shows so that we could operate them within the laws that hurt them prior," said Malvini.

The most important part of keeping a house show venue open is a good rapport with neighbors, Malvini said. In his opinion, "underage drinking is just uncalled for."

That's why Pemble also makes sure to keep everything legal at Scott's Manor.

"There is actually no noise ordinance in Caldwell," he explained. "But the neighbors have the right to call whenever. That's what the police always tell me. I have to put, 'All noise must end by 11 p.m.' on the Facebook events now."