Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Suburtban Renewal


Suburtban Renewal
For five years, the 'Gingerbread House' has been home to a quietly successful secret music scene

ON A WARM summer evening, a flock of youngish music fans wander around a backyard campfire, guys in beards sipping PBRs, gals with tats in retro boots smoking American Spirits. Inside, Unit Breed, a band visiting from Portland, plays to a small crowd packed into the living room.

This is the Gingerbread House, which has become the center of a unique music scene. On a select few Friday and Saturday nights, this quaint old San Jose home in a quiet residential neighborhood—notable only because its A-frame roof line is decorated with Christmas lights year-round—is transformed into a rock venue.

In theory, anyone is welcome to attend the Gingerbread House's legendary underground parties—but invites are strictly word of mouth. Todd, one of the four roommates who live at the Gingerbread House, declines to even share his last name.

"I try not to advertise the shows here too much, because if there were any more people, it would probably start to get chaotic," Todd says.

He says he was turned on to the idea of hosting shows in his home when a next-door neighbor who hosted underground parties moved out of town about five years ago. A musician himself, Todd wanted to offer a venue for out-of-town bands to play when they came to the South Bay.

And while hosting 100-plus people can present some serious problems (such as annoyed neighbors, a visit from the cops, drunken fights, stolen property, an aggravated landlord, etc.), Todd says he 's lucked out when hosting house shows.

"It's actually kind of a rare thing, because I expect chaos to happen, but everyone seems to behave themselves," he says. "Since it is in my house, I think people tend to behave themselves a little better than if it was at a venue."

Todd attributes the success of the Gingerbread House over the last five years to his tolerant neighbors and a hands-off landlord. Bands perform in a soundproofed back room. Todd never charges a cover to attend his house shows—all donations go straight to the band.

And while not many local residents may know about the Gingerbread House, there are plenty of bands from across the country that have heard of its legendary house shows. Past shows have included Up the Empire (from Brooklyn), Boy Skout (from San Francisco), Zettaimu (from Japan), Triumph of Lathargy (from Seattle), Mannville (from Boise), Seamonster (from Virginia) and Captain #1 (from Georgia). Todd says the word has gotten around that there's some kind of scene in San Jose.

"I get tons of requests all the time from people I don't know, and I have to tell them, sorry, we're not doing anything right now," Todd says. "It's kind of overwhelming.

"I would like to do this somewhere that is not my house, but I don't know how much of a demand there is for this in San Jose," he says.

While Todd doesn't see himself retiring from the world of house shows just yet, he does keep the future of the Gingerbread House in mind. "If I do move out, I would like to have younger kids here who get stoked on shows take over the lease. It would be a shame for it to end—this is such a rare thing."

Although it's usually a mellow scene, things do get out of hand on occasion. "Fourth of July was close. That was the most people we had here. The house was full, the back yard was full, the front lawn was full. I thought the cops were going to come for sure—especially when we started lighting off fireworks at the end of the night."

—Andrea Frainier

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