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Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Column 180: The Spin on SPIN...

You can read the SPIN feature here (see page 118).

Column 180: Omaha Spin
Another national looks at our scene.

It's been a while since I've been able to say this, but the Omaha music scene has made it into the pages of a national magazine (again). This time it's the July issue of SPIN, in the form of the rag's monthly "Rock City" feature.

Rock City highlights a different town's music scene every issue by compiling its Local Heroes, Bars and Clubs, History and Bands in a two-page spread tucked away in the back. The Omaha version of Rock City, written and reported by former Reader editor Tessa (We miss you) Jeffers broke it down this way:

In the Local Heroes section, Simon Joyner (troubadour/genius), Marc Leibowitz & Jim Johnson (1% Productions), Robb Nansel and Mike Mogis (Saddle Creek/ARC Studios), Lallaya and Trey Lalley (The Brothers, Capitol Bar & Grill) and true godfather of the Omaha music scene, Dave Sink, were the subjects.

Under Bars and Clubs, the once-active now-fading Sokol properties got the money shot, followed by The Waiting Room, Slowdown, O'Leaver's and Barley Street Tavern. In the History category, Tessa wrote about the late, great Cog Factory, the Wal-Mart-ed Ranch Bowl and Omaha's historic jazz scene, while the featured bands included Tilly and the Wall, The Show Is the Rainbow, Outlaw Con Bandana, Sarah Benck and The Robbers and Ladyfinger (NE).

It's a terrific article -- a serious, accurate summation of Omaha music's highlights and little-known gems. But what really made this feature stand out among the dozens of "gee whiz, ain't Omaha cool" articles that have appeared in pubs like The New York Times, Filter and Time is how it mentions people, places and things that reside outside of the usual Saddle Creek scene-o-sphere (despite the fact that the article's "tour guides" were Tilly and the Wall's Neely Jenkins and Jamie Pressnall, who, though not on Saddle Creek, fall into the Creek classification by default since they're on Conor Oberst's Team Love label).

Now here's a back story behind the article. SPIN editor David Marchese originally approached little ol' me to put this piece together. He apparently found me by stumbling upon my website, E-mail was exchanged. Eventually I sent an outline, which either was never received or (more likely) was rejected, as weeks and weeks went by without a response. Eventually Tessa told me she got the gig, which was a good thing since she did a much better job than I ever could.

So what did I propose to SPIN? Under the Local Heroes category, which Marchese said should focus on "non-musicians who are integral to the city's music scene" I suggested Sink and the guys from 1 Percent and Creek, but also included Homer's Records President Mike Fratt and 89.7 The River's Sophia John.

Marchese said featured bands shouldn't be well known outside Omaha. "Bright Eyes is a no-no. If possible, a mix of different styles is good here… shouldn't be five earnest indie rockers." I figured Tilly also was a no-no -- they've been on Letterman, after all. My list:

-- Eagle*Seagull. "Actually, it's a Lincoln band, which would disqualify them if we're only considering Omaha. They play here all the time, however."
-- The Terminals -- "A garage-punk band, their last album came out on Dead Beat Records."
-- Capgun Coup -- "Recently signed with Oberst's Team Love label. Touring all over the country. Has 'next big thing' status."
-- Brad Hoshaw -- "Under-the-radar acoustic singer/songwriter."
-- The Monroes -- "A self-described 'tractor punk' band."
-- Honeybee -- "A female-fronted indie five-piece, on upstart Slumber Party Records (distro by Saddle Creek)."
-- The Whipkey Three -- "A twangy Americana band."

Sarah Benck and the Robbers and The Show Is the Rainbow were the only two Tessa and I had in common.

History, Marchese said, should include "some interesting pieces of local music lore." As an example, he cited Rock City Toronto, where the writer talked about the El Mocambo rock club where the Stones played a secret show recorded for a live album. Like Tessa, I suggested The Cog Factory (how could you not?), but also included The Farnam House.

"This small apartment building was home of Omaha's mid-'80s era punk scene, and hosted shows by Millions of Dead Cops, The Adolescents and a variety of Omaha punk bands," I explained. "In the late-'90s, the house became Gunboat/The Jerk Store and was the home to Conor Oberst (Bright Eyes), Clark Baechle (The Faint) and a handful of other Creek bands, who hosted regular house shows. Today, the house is known as Hotel Frank and is the indie scene's central house-show venue for traveling and local bands, including Capgun Coup and Flowers Forever. Gentrification could force it to stop hosting shows in the very near future."

Some young millionaire needs to buy the Farnam House and declare it a local landmark and safe haven for up-and-coming musicians. Conor, are you listening?

I also suggested The Lifticket Lounge, saying it "was a central Omaha club that hosted, among others, Nirvana (circa Bleach), Soundgarden and a ton of other national grunge and punk acts. It closed later in the '90s and became a biker bar. It reopened last year as The Waiting Room, a primary music venue."

Finally, for Bars and Clubs, Marchese asked for "places you might catch some of the bands you mentioned."

Along with Slowdown, TWR, O'Leaver's and Sokol, I added The Brothers ("Not a live music venue, but the center point for everyone involved in the local music scene") and Mick's ("Acoustic / folk venue, also located in Benson").

Tessa and I could have suggested a dozen more in every category. But the problem with these "list" stories is that, inevitably, something or someone misses the cut. Ironically, this time the bands that got left out are the ones our scene is known for. Something tells me, considering all the press they've received over the years, that they won't mind.

--Got comments? Post 'em here.--

posted by Tim at 10:40 AM

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