On Halloween night, Durham's Red Collar took its kinetic something-from-punk rock to a small house for students just off of Franklin Street for the second time in less than six months. Mingus Young and labelmates Hammer No More the Fingers (read our Record Review) opened, leaving the floor of the sheet rock and vinyl siding house open sometime around midnight for the quintet and revelers dressed like zombies, bank robbers and bananas. Just one song in, the vocals sounded permanently off, washed in fuzz or silence by microphones shorting out before they reached the P.A. Between songs, keyboardist Andrew Blass frantically twisted the wires, trying to fix the fried connection. That is, before what any loud rock band playing a too-small living room at a midweek party with two tapped kegs and a kettle of coffee brewing near 1 a.m. in the kitchen should do: They said fuck it.
As every band member shouted every word of every song, the audience joined. People shouted back if they knew the words (and, in the best cases, even if they didn't) and clapped along out of sheer participatory glee during the parts where there were no vocals at all. Audience members and band members gathered around microphones that didn't work, trading shouts and sweats and smiles. Guitarist Mike Jackson finished the set rolling on stubbly carpet, playing his last chords from his back, sweat painting the outline of his body onto the "stage" floor.
The most remarkable thing, though, is the appaearance of the same make-it-work spirit for the first night of Troika. Melissa St. Pierre, a New York pianist and composer, was set to headline Bull City Headquarters with a set of compositions for prepared piano. The chipped and battered upright, though, was missing keys and badly out of tune. So the members of Megafaun—who shared Thursday's bill and a spot on Table of the Elements' new Radium imprint with St. Pierre—did what most bands probably wouldn't: Phil Cook, who plays banjo and sings in Megafaun, invited Pierre to his house in the middle of the afternoon, raising the lid on the grand piano in his living room and letting her prepare it. She wedged screws and bottle caps against strings and wrapped pieces of rubber into delicate places. In lieu of Bull City's PA, Cook pulled an extra keyboard amp out of storage, set it in a chair to the left of the piano and ran Pierre's looping system through it. That night, not 15 minutes after Megafaun ended a set with a crowd stomping and singing along at Bull City Headquarters, 25 people arrived at Cook's house. They drank hot tea and listened as St. Pierre—back facing the crowd, staring out onto the lack of traffic along Lavender Drive—resituated two chunks of John Cage's legacy: That is, tampering with the expected and rolling with the unexpected. The night, which could have been a disaster, was perfect.