Sarah Reinsel | Col­legian

Only some­thing incredible or awful could happen when 60 people cram into the living room of a half-fin­ished house on Hillsdale St. at 8:30 p.m. on a Friday night.

But here they are. At an off-campus house called the Boon­docks — where blankets cover the windows, and floor lamps illu­minate a band crowded in front of a mess of ampli­fiers and wires blocking off the front door — nine of their class­mates are putting on a rock show.

Seniors Andrew Egger and David Johnson perform at the Boon­docks. Sarah Reinsel | Col­legian

With varying lineups, nearly always com­posed of members of the musical fra­ternity Phi Mu Alpha, these student bands have played at many school events, including the Student Activ­ities Board Welcome Party and the Phi Mu Alpha Battle of the Bands in the 2016 Fall semester.

But the per­for­mance on Friday, Feb. 17 was no school event. This is the Boon­docks House Show — an unof­ficial concert put on by stu­dents for stu­dents.

Sophomore Ryan Burns leans into a greasy micro­phone and psychs up the audience while behind him senior David Johnson tunes his guitar and sophomore Shad Strehle checks that his bass is still plugged into the amplifier. In the far corner, drummer and junior Dean Sin­clair opens a window to air the room out.

“This is one you’ve all lis­tened to in your car,” Burns says. “Get ready to sing along.”

The band breaks into the familiar chord pro­gression of The Killers’ “When You Were Young,” a favorite among student bands on campus. The audience starts dancing, stomping, jumping — and of course, singing along to every word.

When Burns belts out the line in the song’s chorus, “He doesn’t look a thing like Jesus,” freshman Ben Garst turns to a printed picture hanging on the living room wall and shouts, “There’s Jesus! It’s him!” Senior Alexandra Howell, dancing near Garst, whips around to face him and asks if he’ll come to mass with her the fol­lowing Sunday. Garst declines and rejoins the wild crowd.

On the other side of the room, junior Brigette Hall dances while a blue Campus Security hat atop her head sways with her body’s motion. Hall had been des­ig­nated “the bouncer” before the show — to keep rowdy people out — but in the middle of this Killers’ anthem about love and loss, that joke is long-for­gotten.

As the band rips into the final chorus, the audience’s fervor rattles a colonnade of empty Pabst Blue Ribbon cans on a shelf above. Someone bangs into the wall and tips over the shade of a glass lamp dec­o­rated with the PBR logo.

Senior Jake Coonradt, a Boon­docks res­ident, grabs the mic from Burns when the band con­cludes the song.

“Hey, Public Service Announcement,” he says. “The basement is lit­erally made of card­board boxes.We can totally rock, but jumping around — not so much.”

No one knows if he’s joking, and the jumping con­tinues. Coonradt would repeat his plea later when his own band launched into Queen’s “We Will Rock You” — the classic sports arena stompfest.

Both Burns’ and Coonradt’s bands — tonight called “Melo­phobia” and “Quran Quran” —  are part of a Hillsdale College stu­dents increasing efforts to build an off-campus rock scene.  

From the very beginning of the show, when junior Heather Wood­house played “Moon River” on the flute, accom­panied by Coonradt on the guitar, attendees were pushing to the front of the crowd, standing on couches, and craning their necks to see their class­mates perform —  and when the rock started — to sing along.   

“I love watching my friends play,” sophomore Suzie Peyre­brune said. “There’s more meaning in the music for me when it’s per­formed by people I know.”

Strehle said the house show allowed student bands even more freedom for musical con­nection with their peers — and in ways that might not be appro­priate for on-campus events.  

“It’s small, intimate, loud as hell, and nobody is telling you what to play,” he said. “There seems to be a pressure to appeal to popular tastes with other shows on campus, but a house show allows for a more raw and enjoyable feeling.”

Strehle, already known for his on-campus per­for­mances of the Beastie Boys’ “No Sleep Till Brooklyn” and Macklemore’s “Can’t Hold Us,” took advantage of the Boon­docks’ no-rules-allowed atmos­phere to rap a cover of “Break Stuff,” Limp Bizkit’s 1999 nu metal anthem about anger issues.

“The song is objec­tively hor­rible, but I love it anyway,” he said.

Other songs on Melophobia’s setlist reflected the free-spirited attitude of the band. Under the guidance of junior Mark Naida’s throaty whine, they played Chicago-based rock band The Orwells’ 2014 anti-war song “Who Needs You,” made famous by lead singer Mario Cuomo’s provocative gyra­tions during the band’s debut per­for­mance of the song on the David Let­terman Show. Naida did not imitate Cuomo’s Let­terman antics, but instead, he let loose his voice, which at its best sounds like indus­trial sand­paper or a wash­board rubbed on a whiskey-soaked Billy Corgan track.

Junior Mark Naida and sophomore Ryan Burns perform at the Boon­docks. Sarah Reinsel | Col­legian

“At a house show, melody is a sug­gestion,” Naida said a few days beforehand.  

The band also played the Pixies’ “Where Is My Mind,” Alvvays’ “Marry Me, Archie,” and Black Lips’ “Bad Kids” with Naida as vocalist. Burns sang the remainder of their set.

Although the show went smoothly, it only came together in the hours before. While Burns, Johnson, Strehle, and Sin­clair were prac­ticing the instru­mentals, Naida ran into the room wearing bas­ketball shorts and dress shoes, holding a sheaf of lyrics printed out from the website A-Z Lyrics. He hopped on the mic, excited to perform his songs, some of which he had not looked at in weeks.

“First I was playing bas­ketball, then I had Tower Light, then dinner, now I’m prac­ticing here — and I haven’t showered in four days!” he said.

As the band played, Naida noticed the sound mixing was dis­pro­por­tionate to the vocals, so much so that while the drums, bass, and guitar shook the Boon­docks’ living room, he could hardly hear his own voice above the din.

“You’re going to need to turn the vocals up,” he said to his band­mates. “This is a house show — everyone is going to want to sing along.”

And while most of the audience did sing along during the show, some com­plained that they could not always hear the vocals clearly, even after the band turned them up throughout the night.

“They just weren’t loud enough,” senior Oliver McLeod said. “But I think that’s in the nature of a house show — although Mark Naida does what he does with his voice very well.”

Sophomore Mike Purzycki said he liked how the Boon­docks’ slipshod venue — a few amps, some old micro­phones, and a lock for the front door so people wouldn’t come in  that way and unplug the tangle of wires — made the concert a more vis­ceral expe­rience.

“I thought it was amazing,” he said. “Even though the house is so small, it felt like a real rock concert because everyone was dancing and getting into it.”

Junior Aaron Andrews, who played the drums for Quran Quran, said playing music in front of a crowd like the one at the Boon­docks made him feel like a real rock star. During the band’s per­for­mance of “We Will Rock You,” Andrews kept time by beating his free hand on his leg. He hit himself with such vigor that now he has a palm-sized bruise on his inner thigh. Andrews laughed when he said that although the bruise hasn’t turned dark blue yet, he expects it will soon.

“I gave my body for the band,” he said.

Andrews said per­forming in front of a live audience means more than just throwing your whole body into the show — it’s about the endorphin rush of per­forming and becoming a star, if only for a moment.

“If ‘cool’ is a real thing, the closest you can get to cool is rocking in front of a crowd,” he said.