I’ve heard the wailing and howling of fire truck sirens as I’ve driven past the fire station on Highland Avenue some Friday nights. But last Friday night, I heard the dissonant screams of youth culture within the walls of Spring Street Firehouse, an all-ages music venue located in an historic building that once used to be a fire station in Avondale. I’ve never thought of spending the night in a fire station as a way to start the weekend, but my Friday night at the Firehouse listening to hardcore bands screaming their lungs out may be the start of a new tradition for me.
It’s possible that you’ve heard of “screamo,” a style of music characterized by screaming vocals, loud guitars and drums, and a fast tempo, but you may not have known that right here in Birmingham, there’s a place you can go to hear the raw and expressive screams of this hardcore sound.
There’s a sign on the front of Spring Street Firehouse that says “Jefferson County Register of Historic Places, 1890,” but don’t be fooled: if you go inside, you’ll hear and see indie bands breathing new life into the firehouse.
You won’t mind standing on your feet most of the night and crossing the street to get a cherry Coke at Munchies convenience store if the thought of hearing rapid-fire drumming and screams above a wall of ringing guitars gets your heart pounding. There’s no vending machine, no bar, and only one couch to sit on inside the Firehouse. But being in a space that’s like a garage or basement and looking around at exposed brick walls is the only way to hear straight-ahead hardcore music.
Four bands played at the Firehouse last Friday night: Summer Pledge, from Detroit; Red Hands, a local band; Gnarwhal, from Nashville; and Ghost Whistle, another local band. Red Hands, Gnarwhal, and Ghost Whistle were more aggressive in their sound. The vocalist/guitar player from Ghost Whistle screamed into his microphone and bumped into audience members a couple of times as he played his guitar -- maybe he wanted to get a mosh pit going in the audience, or maybe he was paying homage to the great tradition of slam dancing. He walked out into the audience as he played, because there’s no stage at Spring Street Firehouse. The musicians stand right next to the audience, almost, or at least right in front of them. I loved the democratic feel of being on the same floor as the musicians, being right there up close to watch them pound the drums at speeds that defy logic and scream into the microphone.
The Summer Pledge, a five-piece band from Detroit, started off the night as an add-on to the show.
While they may not have been as vocally aggressive as the other bands, their vocals and guitar sounded as pure and clear as early U2 to me. The high notes of the guitar riffs made me think of The Edge’s introspective yet hopeful guitar notes. While I enjoyed the raw, pared down basics of the other bands, such as Ghost Whistle’s one guitar and drum, The Summer Pledge’s three guitars, keyboard, and drum made for a multilayered, ambient yet powerful sound that was refreshing. If they make the drive from Detroit to Birmingham again, they are definitely worth listening to.
A sign on the wall at the Firehouse reads: “No drinking, no smoking, no violence, and no rock stars.”
That’s the way hardcore music should be heard, the way that Cave 9 and Unity 1605 did it back in the glory days of my youth: no alcohol and no stage for the musicians to elevate themselves. As Nathan Barrett, an organizer of the Firehouse shows says, “The Firehouse is nothing glamorous. It serves its purpose.” Although Cave 9 and Unity 1605 may be long gone, the Firehouse has kickstarted the scene’s heart again, to borrow a phrase from Motley Crue. “A couple years ago there was a gap for mid-sized all-ages shows. For a summer, the only all-ages shows we could do in town were at very small spaces like basements or arts spaces or at very large spaces. The Firehouse stepped in and filled that gap. What I really enjoy is being involved in the creative community in my city,” Barrett says.
Save the smoke and fog machines, laser lights, makeup and spandex, pouty lips and poufy hair and rock star attitudes for someone else. Save the clouds of cigarette smoke and absurd drunkenness emanating from audience members for someone else. As for me, give me raucous screams, pounding drums, ringing guitars and musicians that pour their hearts out standing a heartbeat away from me any day.
Take me to Spring Street Firehouse.
Upcoming shows at the Firehouse include: Fargo, AND, Fewer Moving Parts, Abstract Artimus, and Quartetris on Saturday, October 22nd, as well as Aids Wolf, Henry and Hazel Slaughter, Nightmare Waterfall, and Nowhere Squares on October 30th. Both shows start at 7 pm. For more info and a complete calendar of upcoming shows, visit www.springstreetfirehouse.com. Spring Street Firehouse is located at 412 41st Street South, down the street from the Birmingham Weekly.