It smells like drying piss and old beer on the back deck of Northside’s The Comet. The air is filled with the dull thud of a concert beating up against the walls.
There are shows at The Comet every night and people piss and drink there every night, and John Hoffman and Dylan McCartney are there just about every night. Tonight they’re just here to get drunk, but usually they’re the center of attention.
Hoffman and McCartney are in emerging Cincinnati Punk band Sleeves. Hoffman calls the band’s sound American Apparel Punk. Their debut EP Sex is Stupid can be downloaded for free here. They’re a three-piece made up of Hoffman on lead guitar, McCartney on drums and Alex Collins on bass. Hoffman and McCartney both sing, and they both end up on the ground and sometimes injured by the end of their shows.
Cincinnati has an active Do-It-Yourself music scene and Hoffman and McCartney are major players in it. They organize and play shows and Hoffman even records, masters and puts together records for other bands.
Sleeves has played at The Comet, but most of the band’s shows aren’t held in traditional music venues but houses.
Residents all over the city are opening their basements, living rooms, decks and kitchens to musicians that want to do what they love wherever they can do it.
“I still remember the super visceral feeling I got from walking into my first house show,” Hoffman says. “It was just like ‘Where the hell am I? I’ve never seen anything cooler than this.’ I finally felt comfortable in a public space.”
From the outside, a house show looks uncomfortable. There are usually four or five terrifyingly big and tattooed guys stoically staring and bobbing their head to the music. Mosh pits break out constantly, and beer gets all over everyone no matter what, but it’s the closest thing to a bohemian utopia in Cincinnati — anything can happen.
“At one show, there was a point where everyone was crowd surfing just so they could tag the ceiling with spray paint,” Hoffman says. “It became a group effort where everyone was holding people up so they could tag the ceiling. That house was a wreck.”
“Suffice to say they probably didn’t get their deposit back,” McCartney added.
There’s no malice in these ways of destruction and these different looking people. They worked together to tag the ceiling — vandalism — but with teamwork, so it’s OK. The terrifying gentlemen are the first to help anyone up who gets knocked over. For every beer that’s dumped, 10 more are handed out. All the dirt, grunge and basement gunk are exactly what Cincinnati’s DIY bands need. The bands are good enough for big venues, but something is lost when people have to pay to get in, pay to drink and pay to eat and they can’t go outside for a cigarette and walk back in without getting hassled.
“My other band [Mardou] played at Bogart’s once and it was the worst show of my whole life,” McCartney says. “I’ve had shows which were one-twentieth the amount of people, at a house or something, and it was so much more fun to me. You connect to people at a show like that and they connect to you.”
House shows are intimate. There’s usually only an inch between you and the mic stand, but the intimacy comes from more than just close proximity. Certain houses become “venues” all on their own by regularly hosting shows — like The Outhouse in Clifton Heights and The Last House on the Left on Kirby Avenue in Northside. Communities form around these bands and houses, and people that feel like they didn’t fit in anywhere can find a home in someone else’s house. It’s an Island of Misfit Toys that serves Skyline chili.
“At the end of the day, I think it’s just an arts community — or a weirdos community,” Hoffman says.
Sleeves’ next show is Tuesday, June 24, in the basement of Lucy Blue Main Street location in Over-the-Rhine. Find details here.