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The Big Three
2007: The Year in Music

by Tim McMahan


The Year in Music 2007 will be remembered for three "big things" that shaped the end of one era and the beginning of the next.

I struggled with this article last year, struggled to come up with anything that represented the blank space that was 2006. Nothing had happened of any consequence in the Omaha music scene, and I was left wondering if anything would ever happen again.

This year it was much easier. The Year in Music 2007 will be remembered for three "big things" that shaped the end of one era and the beginning of the next, which may or may not be as good as the one that preceded it.

First the bad news. Last year the music industry's ever-winding downward spiral began to touch the lives of musicians in our fair city. We all know that more and more consumers are acquiring music -- legally or otherwise -- via the Internet. And whether that local music store chain wants to admit it or not, the practice of downloading will eventually consume us all.

In what was either a raising of a white flag or a savvy marketing move, Radiohead offered its latest album, In Rainbows, as a free download, though anyone with a conscience could throw a few coppers into the hat as they passed through their website. Few did. Nine Inch Nails followed suit a few weeks later. And suddenly the notion of a future where musicians merely give away their music was very real. Consequently, a chill began to run through local musicians and anyone else who makes a living from music who used to think downloading was something only megastars and major labels worried about. Now they had to wonder how they were going to make a living when no one was buying.

Saddle Creek Records appeared to have caught the scent long before the rest of us. For years label execs Robb Nansel and Jason Kulbel pooh-poohed the evils of downloading, saying they were too small to be impacted. But they must have known in the backs of their minds that their future wouldn't be tied to a label, but to a project called Slowdown.


Which brings us to the second "big thing" that will shape our scene's future: The opening of The Waiting Room and Slowdown. For the past few years, the best place to see Omaha's up-and-coming indie giants was in a dank, lifeless basement deep in the bowels of a South Omaha gymnasium. Despite its barren interior, Sokol Underground had hosted the finest bands the indie music world had to offer during a time when Omaha became Ground Zero for a music movement. The entire time, however, music fans wondered if they could do better than a renovated rental hall.

We got it in March when Marc Leibowitz and Jim Johnson -- the duo behind One Percent Productions -- opened The Waiting Room in a building that once housed Marnie's Place, D Dubs and the legendary Lifticket Lounge, smack dab in the heart of Benson. For Johnson and Leibowitz, The Waiting Room was a dream come true, the culmination of years spent hustling indie rock shows in other people's venues, always knowing in the back of their minds that they could do it better if only they could run the venues themselves. Boasting the city's second-best sound system and its own legendary history (Nirvana once played there), The Waiting Room quickly became Omaha's primary venue for live music -- indie or otherwise, and effectively drained Sokol Underground of the One Percent shows that were its life blood. Seriously, when was the last time you went down to Sokol?

Three months later, Saddle Creek trumped One Percent's hand by opening Slowdown, the multi-million dollar music hall/bar located in the horribly nicknamed "No Do" district of North Downtown. With a capacity of 615 and a state-of-the-art sound and lighting system, Slowdown became a coveted stage for both local and national indie rock bands. The only drawback: It's sparking clean interior might be too nice for this slacker crowd. But that didn't stop them from going there to see some of the year's hottest shows (all, incidentally, booked by One Percent), including Built to Spill, Stars, Dinosaur Jr. and local heroes Cursive, Bright Eyes and The Good Life, as well the bands that comprise the third "big thing" of 2007 -- the emergence of Nebraska's Next Wave.

While we were sitting around trying to figure who would take the place of Saddle Creek's Big Three, they were busy playing shows at PS Collective, O'Leaver's and the home of Omaha's house show scene, Hotel Frank. This so-called Next Wave of Nebraska bands includes Capgun Coup, Baby Walrus, Bear Country, Coyote Bones, Flowers Forever, The Family Radio, Hyannis, Talkin' Mountain, Dim Light and Spring Gun. Like the Saddle Creek bands who were influenced by Golden Age acts like Mousetrap, Frontier Trust, Ritual Device and Mercy Rule, these bands were influenced by Bright Eyes, Cursive and The Faint. The circle, it seems, remains unbroken.

And like the bands before them, will this Next Wave make its mark nationally? Only time and their willingness to tour will tell. Saddle Creek bands also got their start at house shows (and The Cog Factory), but they knew that their future required a lot of time spent inside a van touring the country. The same holds true for this Next Wave. If they're content to only play at Hotel Frank, TWR and Slowdown, Nebraska's spot on the indie music map will quickly fade.

Which brings us to the annual year-end "best of" list. Remember, I'm not saying these are the year's best, I'm saying they're my favorites. For your convenience, in alpha order:


Win a copy of the Lazy-i Best of 2007 Compilation CD! All you have to do is e-mail me ( with your name and mailing address and you'll be entered in the drawing. Hurry! Deadline's Jan. 17! Check out the track listing.


  • Arcade Fire, Neon Bible (Merge) -- When everyone thought they were a one-trick pony, they pulled this rabbit out of their hat. What sophomore slump?
  • Bright Eyes, Cassadaga (Saddle Creek) -- Not as good as Wide Awake or Lifted, its songs superseded their over-the-top arrangements. Now, how about that solo acoustic album, Conor?
  • The Good Life, Help Wanted Nights (Saddle Creek) -- The most straight-forward record of Tim Kasher's career, and also the most revealing. Someone please make this movie.
  • Glen Hansard, Marketa Irglova, Once (Canvasback) -- The soundtrack to year's best music movie, it's a postcard reminder of the film's finest choke-up moments.
  • Interpol, Our Love to Admire (Capitol) -- More dance than mope, who can resist Daniel Kessler's trademark Ethel Merman-esque bark? Not me.
  • Justice, Cross (Ed Banger/Vice) -- Noise-pop dance beats and edge-fest keyboards, it's an irresistible look forward. This generation's Danse Macabre.
  • LCD Soundsystem, Sound of Silver (DFA) -- Not as good as their first one, but still blows away anything else in its category (except for maybe Justice).
  • Les Savy Fav, Let's Be Friends (Frenchkiss) -- Cohesive post-punk that's remarkably tuneful (and fun). Hard to believe this is the same band that released Go Forth in '01.
  • Mal Madrigal, Life Among the Animals/The Road is Glue (self released) -- It's a double album in my book no matter the band says. Yet another reason to buy a record player.
  • Emma Pollock, Watch the Fireworks (4AD) -- The Delgados frontwoman goes where Mary Lou Lord and Kristin Hersh can only dream of.

  • Radiohead, In Rainbows (self released) -- The best five pounds I spent last year, and the best thing they've released since OK Computer.

  • Wilco, Sky Blue Sky (Nonesuch) -- Jeff Tweedy's Sea Change, which means, like Beck, it's also the best record of his career
Stars at Slowdown Nov. 4
Bright Eyes at The Waiting Room Oct. 24.

Two Gallants at Slowdown in August.
Kyle Harvey at The Waiting Room this past summer.

With Slowdown and The Waiting Room entering the fray, we suddenly had too many venues offering live music in Omaha last year, and as a result, the smaller clubs suffered. After celebrating five years of live music, O'Leaver's announced it was pulling back on its show output. So did The Saddle Creek Bar after only a year of business. Meanwhile, Benson emerged as Omaha's version of Austin's 6th St., boasting TWR, Mick's, The Barley St., PS Collective and The Foundry, all located a few blocks from each other along Maple St. I foresee many street festivals in Benson's future.

In a year rife with great shows, I missed some of the best ones, including Built to Spill, Wilco, and the Black Lips. Here are the ones I did catch, and almost all were either at The Waiting Room or Slowdown -- a testament to those venues' dominance.

  • The Faint at The Waiting Room, March 11 - The invitation-only break-in of The Waiting Room's sound system took place just a few days after the club's grand opening. The sub-woofers will never be the same. It's probably the last time we'll see this band on such a small stage.
  • Morrissey at The Orpheum, May 11 -- I came expecting a spectacle and that's exactly what I got, complete with "Everyday Is Like Sunday" "How Soon is Now" and "Panic," along with the best stuff from Ringleader of the Tormentors. Viva The Moz.
  • Cursive at The Waiting Room, May 31 -- All dressed up in tuxedoes (Kasher even wore tails), they ripped through Happy Hollow with a small brass section in tow, completing the evening with a cameo from former drummer Clint Schnase (on guitar).
  • St. Vincent at The Waiting Room, July 25 -- Frontwoman Annie Clark impressively handled the lead guitar, and when she ripped into the heavy stuff, the music was cathartic. After finishing her set, she returned alone to do a cover of "These Days" Nico-style, sitting on the edge of the stage with an acoustic guitar, surrounded by fans bent close to hear her quiet voice. She's going to be as big as PJ Harvey. Maybe bigger.
  • Okkervil River at The Waiting Room, Sept. 14 -- It was a standing room only victory lap for a band that started out playing to a dozen people at The Junction five years ago.

  • For Against at The Waiting Room, Sept. 22 -- They didn't sound much different that the last time I saw them play -- 14 years ago at the (original) Howard Street Tavern. Frontman Jeff Runnings' voice still had that same high, childlike tone heard on those early recordings -- the perfect, ironic counterpoint to the band's bleak, lonely, lost music.
  • The Good Life at The Waiting Room, Sept. 24 -- Proof that Help Wanted Nights worked as well live as it did on CD. Was this really the last we'll see of these guys? I doubt it.
  • Bright Eyes at The Waiting Room, Oct. 24 -- The 10-year anniversary show for One Percent Productions also was the best Bright Eyes concert in years, thanks to a stripped-down band that included guitarist David Rawlings. It easily eclipsed the more ornate and orchestrated Holland concert.
  • Domestica at Slowdown, Nov. 25 -- This was how Domestica's ringing anthem-punk should always be heard -- big, mean, muscular. Here's to guitarist Jon Taylor never turning it down, no matter where he plays.

  • Dinosaur Jr. at Slowdown, Dec. 12 - The only show louder than Domestica, halfway through the set, I wondered what damage I was doing to my hearing (and I wore earplugs). J Mascis is renowned as a guitar god by anyone who followed indie in the '90s. Based on this show, the reputation is well deserved.

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Published in The Omaha Reader Dec. 27, 2007. Copyright 2007 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

With Slowdown and The Waiting Room entering the fray, we suddenly had too many venues offering live music in Omaha