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I saw a great show the other night at Shea Stadium. The experience came courtesy of Mike D. (drummer), Mike B. (bass), and Randy Vandal (vocals), who together make up the punk band Vulture Shit. There were fewer than 20 people in the audience for the majority of their set, and it was one of the better performances I've seen this year, a madcap blast of heavy-as-hell songs, most of which ended before the two-minute mark. The lyrics, when decipherable, were hilarious, and the band's energy was bolstered by a surprising technical virtuosity from the Mikes and a gift for live performance from the bombastic Randy.
Shea Stadium, a Bushwick venue named for the Mets' demolished ballpark, is one of many near-anonymous rooms in New York City where concertgoers can still catch lightning in a bottle. The bands that followed Vulture Shit didn't move me as much (and in fact, the lead singer of the band that followed them muttered to himself that they were "too good.") But the excitement of seeing a performance that rock fans around the city would have loved was enough to make the night a success.
The January closing of Williamsburg venue 285 Kent was received by many as an omen of doom for DIY in New York. And yet these types of venues abound in the five boroughs, each of them as gritty and grungy and easy to glamorize as the next, and all of them with the potential to transform an average weekday night into an enjoyable (and occasionally unforgettable) experience. Shea, a second-story space housed above a garage, is one of the best of them.
Speaking to Adam Reich, one of the founders of Shea Stadium, makes it clear that the potential to witness a great performance is the best part of running the space.
"The reward is tangible, it's in the present," he says about what he hopes to gain from Shea. "I'm not so sure if there is a specific end-goal. It's just for as long as the space functions and it serves the needs of the people who come to play and organize the shows."
The idea of control is central to Reich's concept for Shea Stadium. The 28-year-old, who grew up in Bay Ridge and resembles a burly Charlie Day, has been involved in the New York music scene for more than a decade, recording, producing, and doing engineer work. He says that after attending other DIY venues such as Death By Audio, the concept of running a space became his focus.
"It was more about a sense of empowerment than any specific bands that were playing," he says. "It was like, 'Wow, this is a group of people who decided that they wanted to play by their own rules.'"
Reich and a group of like-minded friends founded Shea in 2009. Each member of the group contributed to the enterprise with a small amount of specialized knowledge, from ideas about what kinds of bands to book and how to book them to getting audio and recording equipment set up. Reich compares the cooperative quality of the space to a clubhouse, where 12 or so people share responsibility for ensuring things run smoothly, completing mundane tasks like copping ice and toilet paper and taking out the trash.
Booking bands falls to Nora Dabdoub, who started interning with Shea Stadium while she was still in college. She sorts through requests from touring bands, local bands, and promoters, curating lineups that meet a high threshold of quality and complement each other's sound. Dabdoub also ensures that Shea hears from a rotating group of performers all the time.
"It's important to me to have at least one new band on every bill," she says. "But also to nurture all of the bands that have come to call our space a home."
Dabdoub is a straightforward rock fan and tends to book shows based around her personal taste. "I have an obsession with rock music," she says. "I want the venue to be seen as the palace of rock 'n' roll."
But as much as Dabdoub shapes the sound of Shea Stadium, Reich's presences gives the venue the two characteristics that most set it apart from other spaces in the area.
The first, which seems to come directly from Reich, is the sound quality, which is hugely impressive for an independent space: crisp, clear, and loud as hell. Reich controls the sound at most of the shows himself, and his engineering chops have paid off. The venue has become known among local bands and concert-goers for the quality of the noise.
The other unique thing about Shea is the venue's dedication to recording music. The live shows are recorded within the sound booth, and live in an ever-growing archive on the space's website.
"We can have events and record everything and have this sort of growing document of where we've been, where we're going," Reich says, smiling when I bring up the extensive archives. "You can almost piece together the history of everything."
By recording the shows it hosts, Shea is able to pull double duty, not only capturing the kind of spontaneity that can come about in a grungy room in Brooklyn but also keeping it alive for posterity. In the way of 285 Kent and all worthwhile venues, Shea will no longer exist someday — but its archive should remain, to inspire, if nothing else, those interested in carrying on the torch of DIY. Just as those with some experience stressed the cyclical quality of creative spaces when 285 went cold, Reich seems most focused on his ability to inspire whoever comes next.
"Nothing is that impossible," he says. "What do you need? You need a PA; you need a space; you need a stage; you need people to come. That's a show."