Off Brand: Roller Barn concert was a real barnburner

I’ve watched Dinosaur Jr.’s Lou Barlow play an acoustic set in a garage. I’ve witnessed a Kiss tribute band set off bottle rockets in a used car lot. It doesn’t matter that I saw Bob Dylan at the zoo. What matters are the scrappy gigs billing a handful of local bands who walk away with just enough gas money to haul their instruments back home.

This is music for the love of it; such is the case with the recent Raise the Roof show at the Roller Barn. I admit I was hesitant to stand for six punk-adjacent bands I’d never heard of, but questioning the show’s legitimacy would’ve gone against my indie music morals. So we paid the $12 entry fee, skipped the skates, leaned up against the unmanned snack bar and waited for the first chord to echo off the walls of the barn-turned-roller rink.

If there’s a disco ball twinkling up above and generations of skaters rolling about, stale scents are justified. The Roller Barn has a potent tang of sweat and angst. With its sturdy furniture and unsound ceiling, the venue’s design scheme radiates nostalgia for the recent past, harboring an atmosphere akin to a bowling alley or the late video store. A fresh coat of paint would diminish the ambiance, but I fear this romantic entertainment is obsolescing. The Roller Barn is a rare beast. We should protect it like the Red Panda.

The opening band, Otherwise Elsewhere, sound-checked with a truncated, over-driven version of Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs.” What they lacked in bass players the pop-metal frontman made up for in low guttural growls. Once they got into their groove, the excitable singer – incongruously dressed in all white, opposite his genre’s color – flailed around, instigating and pushing what little of the crowd was brave enough to stand within arm’s reach. Like a paltry sidewalk tornado, a three-person moshpit was born.

Conceptually, moshing combines fast-paced dancing with shoving and headbutts. One less hooded teenager and the moshpit would’ve been a fistfight. The roughhousing lasted about as long as it took the band to ignore the all-ages concept of the show.

Spectating these incidents from a distance galvanizes my inner child. For a second, and only a second, I believe that I’d enjoy being in that small moshpit, jamming to the rhythms in a primal way. The music provoked those boys like a stimulant. They felt the rush of the sludgy guitars. They elbowed each other’s faces. They were candid and alive. I felt their animalistic frequencies by the arcade cabinets. That is music’s magic.

The Roller Barn is an unconventional venue, but it is no less one despite it. Six acts and we stayed for four. While arenas and theaters bleed together, it’s hard to forget standing in the middle of that rink with bands playing through a bare-bones sound system. It’s raw and unfiltered without the frills or burden of a budget. It’s music for the love of it.

Brandon Berry is a curious newcomer to Whidbey Island who still enjoys the inconvenience of a VHS tape.