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The Blog Archive -- Aug. 6, 2007 to Dec. 29, 2007 -- Go to lazyhome for most-current entries

Live Review: Noah's Ark, Paria; OEAs; Little Brazil tonight… – Dec. 29, 2007 –

Work has been crazy lately, which is why there was no update yesterday. Had I updated the blog, I would have told you to go to the Bruces/Mayday/Neva show at TWR or go to the Joe Budenholzer show at PS Collective (with Dereck Higgins opening) or head to Lincoln for Day 1 of two days of new music showcases at Box Awesome.

I definitely would have reviewed the Noah's Ark Was a Spaceship/Paria show that took place at TWR Thursday night. Here's what I would have said: There's been a lot of chatter about Noah's over the past few months. The whole time I've been scratching my head, wondering why an instrumental rock band that sounds like Mogwai was garnering all the attention. Then someone pointed out that the Noah's Ark now performing is nothing like the band I saw over a year ago at Sokol Underground. This version is a trio -- with vocals -- and now resembles a lot of the pre-grunge post-punk rock bands that I remember from the late-'80s and '90s, including Sonic Youth, Husker Du, Pavement, Polvo, Blonde Redhead, Archers of Loaf, etc. The difference being a deeper low-end to Noah's music, in fact, a deeper sound altogether. Vocals range from screaming/yelling to forceful singing. The whole thing was dissonant art rock with a groove. I need to track down a copy of their disc…

I spent most of Thursday night sitting next to one of the city's music legends who has an encyclopedic knowledge of '80s-'90s rock. He was the one who originally suggested the Sonic Youth comparison, which I didn't hear at first, but figured out after I got past all the low end (SY was never that bassy). He wondered how these youngsters knew so much about the '90s. I said that maybe they thought they were inventing a new sound -- not likely. This guy next to me also was a metal expert, which came in handy for Paria. Other than Slayer and Motörhead, I don't have a lot of experience with metal. Coming off a performance at the OEA showcase a few weeks ago at The Barley Street (which convinced the organizers to put them on stage for next Thursday's Holland show), Paria has a rather massive buzz going on around town. I've talked to people who know nothing about metal and never listen to the genre who told me how great they were -- that isn't necessarily a good thing. Before their set, my metal expert told me that Paria was the real deal. "You can tell good metal from bad metal in about 10 seconds," he said. "These guys know what they're doing."

Just a guitar, bass and drummer, Paria took the stage and launched into one of their explosive, propulsive metal "songs." To the uninitiated (i.e., me) the music was all about the drums. Huge drums, precise and hyper, they controlled everything happening on stage -- the guitar and bass merely played off the drummer's direction. With no vocals (purely instrumental), the drums became the central focus on proggy, jittery noise concoctions that seemed to change direction every 32 bars or so. Yeah, it sounded complicated, and you had to wonder how the band knew when to start and stop, but after a while, the math equation that underlies the compositions began to show through. It's pretty hard not to marvel at the musicianship. The guitarist was making some high-level, high-speed noise while the bassist kept it going underneath. But to me, it was all about the big-shouldered drumming. Other than one slower, more melodic number in the middle of the set, most of the songs sounded the same -- you could drop in at any point of any one of them and it would sound like the one before it. I mentioned this to the metal expert, who just shook his head.

"You're not a metal guy so you're not going to get it," he said. "There are subtle nuances that differentiate one song from another, and one section of the song from the next. The guys out there in the audience who follow the band know what's going on and know what to expect. That's the cool part about this -- to the uninitiated it may sound like unstructured noise, but if you listened to this again and again, you'd spot how these songs never differ from night to night. They're not just improvising noise."

To really understand Paria, he said, I needed to see them more than once. If I only saw them once, I probably wouldn't get past the noise (it was hugely loud). He said metal is like country music -- if you don't like country music, it'll all sound the same to you. But each song is really different. Metal's the same way. With metal, he said, melody is replaced with rhythm -- those beefy drums -- and the guitar is the accompaniment, the accoutrement. It all made perfect sense, and before long I felt like I was talking to the Yoda of metal. Maybe I was.

I told Yoda that Paria was going to play at the OEA's next Thursday. He thought that sounded cool, but not cool enough to attend. It just so happened that I took part in the first OEA awards night earlier that evening at The Scottish Rite. Awards were given in some of the arts, theater and music categories that there isn't time for next Thursday. WOWT's Sheila Brummer and I gave out awards for Achievement in Lighting Design and Achievement in Sound Design. There also were a few music awards given that night. The Song Remains the Same won for best cover band. Brent Crampton won for Best DJ/Electronic. And in a moment that recalled last year's debacle where The Jazzwholes won for best jazz band, Forty Twenty took home the award for Best Bluegrass/Country.

No offense to Forty Twenty -- they're one of the better live bands out there these days -- but they're not a bluegrass band. Forty Twenty plays rock music that twangs (Yoda told me they've been known to play heavy metal covers at shows). One could make the argument that they're a "country" band, I suppose, especially based on their Myspace recordings. But bluegrass, no way. The problem here is the category description -- bluegrass/country. The two should never have been grouped together. Bluegrass has a very distinctive style and instrumentation that includes upright bass, fiddle, guitar or mandolin, banjo. Certainly no drums. Forty Twenty isn't bluegrass, yet there it was in a category called Bluegrass/Country, up against acts like Black Squirrels and the Southpaw Bluegrass Band, and of course they won because they're more popular than their competition.

Like I said last year when the Jazzwholes took the jazz prize -- it's not they're fault if the unwashed masses don't know the difference between rock and jazz. We'll see more of these inconsistencies next Thursday at the Holland -- inconsistencies that we suffered through last year that we were told were going to be prevented this year. Apparently not. It underscores the problem with these kinds of awards programs.

Tonight at The 49'r, it's Little Brazil and No Action -- should be quite a crowd -- $5, 9 p.m. The Filter Kings open for The Bastard Sons of Johnny Cash tonight at The Waiting Room -- $10, 9 p.m. Meanwhile, down in Lincoln, it's night two of Jeremy Buckley's new music showcase at Box Awesome. Last night was UuVvWwZ, Spring Gun, Gold Lion, The Terminals and Aria Falls. Tonight it's Ideal Cleaners, Domestica, Dean Arm Band, PaperPeople, and Columbia Vs. Challenger. A great line-up that starts at 7 p.m. I'm begging Jeremy to figure out a way to get all these bands to play in Omaha for a couple nights this summer in all the Benson bars -- call it Lincoln Invades Omaha.

Hey, don't forget to enter to win a copy of the coveted 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 into the drawing. Tracks include songs by Stars, Interpol, Rilo Kiley, Wilco, Les Savy Fav, Justice, Baby Walrus, Bright Eyes, The Good Life, The Monroes, The Third Men and many more. Details and track order are right here. Enter today! Deadline's January 17.

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The Year in Review 2007; Win a copy of the Lazy-i Best of 2007 comp CD!; Black Squirrels, Bombardment Society tonight… – Dec. 27, 2007 –

Here it is, the annual Year in Review article, complete with the usual list of favorite CDs and favorite shows of '07. It's also in today's issue of The Reader, but you can read it here, now.

While you're there, make sure you enter to win a copy of the coveted 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 into the drawing. Tracks include songs by Interpol, Rilo Kiley, Stars, Wilco, Les Savy Fav, Justice, Baby Walrus, Bright Eyes, The Good Life, The Monroes, The Third Men and many more. Details and track order are right here. Enter today! Deadline's January 17.

A couple shows worth mentioning tonight: At The Barley Street Tavern, it's She Swings, She Sways with Dublin's own Robin James Hurt and The Black Squirrels. $5, 9 p.m. Meanwhile, up the street at The Waiting Room, it's Bombardment Society with Ketchup & Mustard Gas, Noah's Ark Was a Spaceship and Paria. $7, 9 p.m.

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Live Review: Mal Madrigal… – Dec. 26, 2007 –

Hope you're having a good holiday. The Lazy-i Year in Review article goes online tomorrow, and with it, the usual "best of" lists and the annual Lazy-i Best of 2007 CD track listing and contest. Yes, I put together another comp disc this year, and you can enter to win a copy. Details tomorrow.

Some late reflections on last Saturday's Mal Madrigal album release show at Slowdown: Steve Bartolomei is the best male vocalist of anyone in the local scene these days. His voice is rich and pure and without any affectations. There are other good singers around town, but most of them have some sort of made-up style or nuance that seems unnatural, and as a result, takes away from their performance. They would deny this, but anyone in the audience can pick out their forced stylization. Bartolomei doesn't try to create something in his voice that isn't there. He merely sings his songs, and that's enough. You could argue that he doesn't have much range, but few male vocalists around here do. He could certainly go above or below his comfort zone, but that's more of a criticism of his songwriting than his voice. If there's a stone to throw at Bartolomei's music, it's that his melodies often are too narrow and can be forgettable. He makes up for this drawback with a first-rate band that makes everything sound lush and gorgeous, especially on the vinyl. The show was clearly one of the best sounding live performances I've seen on Slowdown's big stage, and as always, I had to wonder if this band will ever get what's due to it by going out on a respectable tour -- not just to Kansas City and Des Moines, but to the East and West Coasts. The only way that's going to happen is if one of the established Saddle Creek bands takes them under their wing as a tour opener. Mal Madrigal would be a natural opener for Bright Eyes, Mayday, The Good Life, Art in Manila, Maria Taylor and Neva Dinova, to name a few. Unfortunately, Mal Madrigal isn't part of the Saddle Creek stable, even though Bartolomei has toured with a number of these bands (as part of their bands). Could the entire Mal Madrigal ensemble go on the road for three or four weeks? That's the big question.

I got to Slowdown early enough to see Ted Stevens do his solo set, starting out on ukulele then moving to guitar. Stevens goes in whatever direction he wants to, and I don't think he cares if you come along for the ride or not. He's content going his own way, singing for an audience of one. As accessible as Stevens can sound on stage, he's one of the most experimental singer/songwriters performing today. He ended his set with a song where he seemingly turned his electric guitar into a sitar. In fact, I wouldn't have been surprised if Stevens had pulled a sitar from back stage. What will he do Friday night when Mayday plays at The Waiting Room?

I watched most of Mal Madrigal's set from the balcony, looking down at a full floor below. The draw was much larger than I expected. Good thing they didn't hold this in Slowdown Jr. -- that would have been uncomfortable. Judging by the crowd around the merch table and the people walking around with copies of the album, Bartolomei moved a lot vinyl Saturday night.

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Live Review: Third Men/King Shi_; release shows abound this weekend… – Dec. 21, 2007 –

It's probably not fair to the rest of the band, but really, the highlight of any Third Men show that's dedicated to cover songs (like last night's at The Waiting Room) is hearing Mike Tulis belt out a song (or two!). Going in, you never know if Tulis will do any songs at all. It's always a game-time decision, and there's always a chance you're going to leave disappointed. Not last night. Not only did we get Tulis' rousing version of Nick Gilder's "Hot Child in the City," but we also got Argent's "Hold Your Head Up" performed as only Tulis can -- with fist held high in a brazen act of pride, anger, defiance. It was a true rock moment.

King Shit and the Golden Boys is a Guided by Voices tribute band that features frontman/guitarist Mario Alderfer in the role of Robert Pollard, with drummer/vocalist Robert Little, guitarist/vocalist Matt Stamp and a fourth guy on bass who I don't know. It wasn't a spot-on replica of GBV. That would have required the band to be drunk off their asses surrounded by spent Budweisers and cigarette butts (Who remembers the 2000 GBV show at Sokol Underground?). Me, all I wanted to hear was "I Am a Scientist." I like GBV, but I'm not a huge fan. I got my wish toward the end of the set. They did all that you can hope for from any tribute band: They made me reconsider GBV's catalog of songs and seek out the originals when I got home.

* * *

It's CD-release party weekend. There are two of them tonight, and one vinyl release show tomorrow. Don't these people know that they're gonna get screwed when it comes time for the critics to make their "best of" lists? They've already filed their '07 lists, and who will remember December releases this time next year?

The two tonight: Civicminded celebrates its new LP, Sequence, at The Waiting Room with Race for Titles, Sleep Said the Monster and Paper Owls. Your $8 admission gets you a copy of the new disc. 9 p.m. Meanwhile, down at Mick's, Goodbye Sunday is celebrating the release of a new four-song EP, with John Henry and The Cicadas. 9 p.m., $5. GS plays first because, according to Cami Rawlings in yesterday's OWH: "We're old, and we like to get it done. I'm 40. I can't stay up until 1 anymore." Come on.

I'll probably end up at O'Leaver's tonight for Reagan & the Rayguns, Thunder Power!!!, and Noah's Ark was a Spaceship. I've been told by a ton of people that Noah's Ark ain't the same boat that I heard a year (or two) ago. $5, 9:30 p.m.

I won't be missing tomorrow night's vinyl release show for Mal Madrigal's two new LPs, performed on Slowdown's big stage (This was originally slated for Slowdown Jr.). Seriously, someone should sell turntables at this show. Why not? Playing with Steve Bartolomei and Co. is Ted Stevens, Dan McCarthy and "special guests." Who could that be? $7, 9 p.m.

If you miss this show, you can see an abbreviated version at O'Leaver's on Christmas night, with Steve Bartolomei, McCarthy Trenching and Outlaw Con Bandana. Go to the one at Slowdown, though, just because.

Also Saturday night, a very special holiday evening with Bad Luck Charm at The 49, along with Santa's little helpers, The Deformities. $5, 10 p.m.

And also Saturday night, Song Remains the Same plays (again) at The Waiting Room. $7, 9 p.m., while, over at O'Leaver's, it's The Lepers with Matt Cox. $5, 9:30.

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Mal Madrigal goes double vinyl; King Shi_, The Third Men tonight... – Dec. 20, 2007 –

Just posted this morning, a feature story on Mal Madrigal (read it here). Frontman Steve Bartolomei talks about the making of his band's two new, separate, vinyl albums that will be the focus of Saturday night's album-release show at Slowdown. There was a ton of info gleaned during our interview at Blue Line last Saturday that didn't make it into the story. I don't have time to post it now, so I'll be recapping all that extra stuff here tomorrow. For now, read the feature and enjoy the Bill Sitzmann photos.

Tonight at The Waiting Room it's King Shit and the Golden Boys -- a Guided by Voices tribute band, along with The Third Men, who will be playing a set of covers. I'm told there will be an all-new Mike Tulis-sung cover, and maybe some Nick Gilder action (if he feels like it). $7, 9 p.m.

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Column 154 -- LAD (not the dog, the disease)... – Dec. 19, 2007 –

Don't get me wrong, I still listen to entire albums, though rarely at one sitting. When was the last time you did?

Column 154: Listening Attention Disorder
The insidious disease is destroying the LP.

Lately I've noticed that I'm developing Listening Attention Disorder (LAD). It's a disease that's sweeping the country (and the planet), brought on by an affection for iPods/iPhones and anything else that plays mp3 files.

As a professional music critic (Yes, I actually get paid for writing this column. Not much, but at least enough to fill my gas tank (for now)), I figured I was immune to LAD. Critics must have a keen ability to FOCUS on music, to hear its subtle nuances and hidden meanings. It is only through this Zen-like state that they can ascertain if something is "good" and worth your time and money, or just another hack job. Few are those who have this gift, and most lose it before they reach the age of 30. Some day I'll make a holy pilgrimage to New York City and seek out my personal writing guru and spiritual mentor, Robert Christgau, who has been reviewing music for four decades (going on five). I'll ask him how he's managed to maintain his ability to "hear" music amid the ever-present static cloud that circles his mailbox. How has he been able to provide the same critical perception to both Dudes We're No Angels (Columbia 1975, rating B+) and Battles Mirrored (Warp 2007, rating B-)? Christgau, who was "let go" from The Village Voice a few years ago (The fools!) is without peer, and now writes for Rolling Stone (among others).

But I digress. My modis operandi for reviewing music is to first download the material onto my iPhone so that I can take it with me to the office, to the gym, to the grocery store, to wherever it is that I can listen to it with my high-quality Bose ear buds (If you're an iPod user and you're still using those crappy white ear-buds that came with your Nano, you're missing half your music. Consider this a holiday gift idea).

I hit play. I listen. I FOCUS. Even if the music initially stinks, I give it time. To breathe. Sometimes you don't "get it" in the first 10 seconds (though 95 percent of the time, 10 seconds is all it takes). If it ain't happening, I skip to the next song. And the next. And the next. Until I find something I like. Or don't. And so on.

I have more than just music to be reviewed within the 1,400 tracks that litter my 8 gig flash drive. Most of my favorite albums are there, both new ones (Cat Power's Jukebox) and ones that I've loved since high school (R.E.M.'s Fables of the Reconstruction).

But since I got my first iPod a few years ago, I noticed that I prefer to play music in "shuffle mode," excitedly anticipating what little surprise Apple will cue up for me next.

It's this shuffle mode that is the main culprit behind Listening Attention Disorder. It feeds our yearning for variety, the kind of variety we always wanted from our radio stations (Does anyone still listen to radio these days?). If you're in shuffle mode and happen onto a song that you're not in the mood for, you can merely press the >>| button and move onto something else. That hunger for variety is insatiable and is killing our ability to concentrate on any one artist or one album for more than a few songs.

I never thought I'd suffer from LAD. But recently, it crept into my psyche. I'll begin listening to a complete album, but after four or five songs, I've had enough. Though I might like it, I get bored and want to hear something else. The idea of listening to, say, Pink Floyd's The Wall in its entirety seems alien, though I used to do it all the time.

LAD didn't exist before Compact Discs. Sure, in the vinyl days, we could always lift the tone arm off the record and skip to the next song. But that took ambition. Most of us were too lazy to get up, so we suffered through the flaccid out-takes and filler that never made it to the radio to get to the good stuff that ended Side A and precluded turning the record over. Track order, it seemed, was everything. When CDs came around, it was only a matter of time until the first 100-CD (then 300-CD) jukeboxes were made for home stereos, complete with "shuffle mode."

Record labels figured out LAD a long time ago, which explains the recent emphasis on singles over albums. Kids can now download only the songs they like, leaving the fluff behind (along with some of the album's best, yet unpopular, tracks). The experience of listening to complete albums is dying, right along with the Compact Disc. I recently spoke to a musician who said his band will now only record EPs, that kids these days don't have the patience for LPs in this "age of shuffle play." Neither, unfortunately, do most adults.

With the death of the album comes the death of an idea, of a concept, of a theme that lasts more than four minutes. Is convenience and variety really worth giving up artistic ideas that demand listeners make a commitment beyond the time it takes to use the bathroom? Whether we like it or not, the answer for most people is probably yes.

Tomorrow, an interview with Mal Madrigal, whose new records fly in the face of everything you just read. And in case you haven't noticed, Pitchfork published its top-50 albums of '07 yesterday (here). No. 1, Panda Bear's Person Pitch, was one of the more boring records from last year. Lists generally suck (and as proof, I'll be posting mine next week).

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Live Review: the Terminals, Brimstone Howl; LJS music story... – Dec. 17, 2007 –

After a company Christmas party, I checked out Chris Aponick's birthday bash Saturday night at The Waiting Room -- quite a crowd (maybe 100?). The Terminals' present to Chris was putting on what I think was their best live performance -- blistering hot. Whenever I listen to The Terminals these days I get nervous, almost twitchy, thanks to their sheer speed and abrasiveness. They no longer sound like a "garage punk" band. Their style is edgier, almost brazenly jolting, as nervous as a triple shot of espresso. Brimstone Howl, on the other hand, brought more of a groove, but even they are straying from their original garage punk origins, pushing bracingly closer to '70s NYC punk territory (Ramones meets The Stooges). Like a finely crafted hot rod, their music goes in only one direction and has only one gear -- loud and fast.

* * *

Lincoln Journal Star's L. Kent Wolgamott wrote a massively long story on the future of music sales in Sunday's LJS that quotes Homer's Prez Mike Fratt and Saddle Creek Records Exec Robb Nansel. The nut of the story is nothing new: Record sales are spiraling down. As a result, labels, retailers and musicians have to find a way to make money in a era when more and more listeners are merely downloading music for free. Among the topics discussed are the dreaded "360 degree deal," the "regionalism" of music and the "middle-classing" of musicians. Even Nansel admitted that Creek is being impacted by the sales slump. "Five years ago, we could put out any record and sell a couple thousand without any trouble," he said in the LJS article. "That's not the case anymore. That Ladyfinger record is a prime example. It sold about 200 copies. How could a record released on a label sell only 200 copies?" Nansel even indicated that the future could bring more 360 deals -- where artists are forced to share revenues with labels generated not only by record sales, but merch and touring income. "That model is probably the direction things will go," Nansel said in the article. "The record label has to evolve. The label needs to operate more like a manager. Whether you sell pre-recorded music or not, there's still going to be a business side to a band's career." Fratt, on the other hand, said any band that did a 360 deal would be "sort of a fool." Read the whole article here.

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The weekend upcoming... – Dec. 14, 2007 –

Here's what I got:

-- Dance Me Pregnant and Noah's Ark Was a Spaceship at The 49'r. Why not? I generally don't like going to The Niner because there's no place to stand without being in someone's way. But few other venues in town have the holiday vibe that The Niner has this late in December. $3-$5, 9:30 p.m.
-- Evil Beaver and The Big Al Show at Shea Riley's. I haven't seen EB play in six years. There appears to be some controversy about this EB line-up, based on their old website, and apparently lawyers are involved. That won't stop Big Al and Metal Barbie from rocking some "Oregano," though. $5, 9 p.m.
-- The Song Remains the Same at Barfly. $5, 9 p.m. Suddenly these guys are playing all the time. They've got another gig at The Waiting Room next Saturday night.

Saturday night:

-- The Chris Aponick show at The Waiting Room featuring The Terminals, Brimstone Howl and Fucken Snakes. One of the City Weekly's key music writers puts on his own show. Hey, when is someone going to host a Lazy-i showcase? Problem: No bands would play for that sumbitch... $5, 9 p.m.

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Live Review: Dinosaur Jr.; Race for Titles tonight? – Dec. 13, 2007 –

J Mascis looked like that slightly overweight ex-hippy uncle who gets his electric guitar out once a year after Christmas dinner to entertain the nieces and nephews with a little G-L-O-R-I-A. Pudgy face, blue T-shirt, brownish jeans, long gray witch hair draped over his shoulders that from a distance looks like he's wearing a dirty wet towel over his head. Behind him, seven or eight Marshall amps stacked in three towers that stood taller than him, as if he was standing in a dressing booth made of sonic pain. To his left, a bald, fit-looking Murph on drums, and the ageless Lou Barlow (compared to J, anyway) on bass, his dark-brown hair covering his bouncing face. Dinosaur Jr. wasn't much to look at. And they didn't do much to intentionally draw your attention to them. Mascis barely moved his feet, except to shuffle up to the microphone between guitar solos. Still, I couldn't keep my eyes off them throughout the hour-plus set at Slowdown last night, a set that drew more than 430 to see if the legendary band still had it.

They did, of course. No one doubted that they still had it. But no one was expecting it to be so loud. Loud, yes, but not as loud as it was. Pity any poor soul standing on the main floor who didn't have hearing protection last night. I thought Jon Taylor's guitar in Domestica was loud a few weeks ago. It sounded like Joanna Newsom's harp compared to Mascis' wall of sound. So loud that halfway through the set, I wondered what damage I was doing to my hearing (and I wore earplugs). I could feel my clothes rippling across my body, moved by the shockwaves of noise (think of the famous Maxell poster where the guy sits in front of a loudspeaker, holding onto the arms of his easy chair to keep from being blown backwards by the volume). Crazy, excessive, pure, necessary loudness.

I've never seen Dinosaur Jr. before, though I've heard most of their records. I knew what I was in for. Judging by the looks of the crowd -- a lot of people my age who grew up with SST records -- they did, too. D Jr.'s formula has always been simple -- songs start off with a catchy riff shared by Mascis and Barlow, Mascis moans some sort of phrase over and over, and then plays a hyperkinetic guitar solo while Barlow repeats a bass line and Murph bashes the shit out of his drums. The solos seemed to go on for 20 minutes or more, but of course they didn't. It's like that slow-motion feeling one gets when experiencing a car accident or a free fall -- time slowing to a crawl as you notice every little detail for the first time. Mascis is recognized as a guitar god by anyone who followed indie rock in the '90s. The reputation is well deserved. Though there was a similarity in all his solos, Mascis always worked something different and interesting into them that made you pay attention. Considering the volume, though, you had little choice.

They played for an hour, then came out and did a two-song encore. Throughout the set, the band barely acknowledged the crowd except to say "We're happy to be here" and "It's been too long," that sort of thing. They barely acknowledged each other between songs as they constantly tuned up, Murph filling in the blank spot with precision drum fills. It was sort of like being at a band practice for one of the best bands from your youth, running through a set of your favorite songs and a few new ones, not trying to impress you, just trying to prove that they know what they're doing, and they do.

* * *

A little bird told me at Slowdown that there's an unannounced show at O'Leaver's tonight featuring the long-dormant Race for Titles (and possibly Landon Hedges). This is not confirmed, so don't blame me if it doesn't happen (but it probably will). Also tonight, Scott Severin and the Milton Burlesque play at The Waiting Room. $7, 9 p.m.

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Column 153 -- GGBB; Dinosaur Jr. TONIGHT… – Dec. 12, 2007 –

Before I get to this week's column, here's a plea to come down to Slowdown tonight for Dinosaur Jr. The band originally was booked to play at The Waiting Room. When I first heard that, I told the promoter that the show would sell out in a matter of minutes -- after all, just a few years earlier during their original comeback tour, they were drawing thousands to shows. For whatever reason, the gig was moved to Slowdown, but surprisingly, there are still tickets available for tonight's show. I've heard D. Jr.'s latest, Beyond, and it really is their best release since Green Mind. Reviews of their current tour, however, have been luke warm. This Dallas Morning News review of Sunday night's show points to a weak draw that appears to have left the band a bit uninspired. Hopefully, tonight's show will sell out before they hit the stage. It is, after all, a once-in-a-lifetime chance to see a band that inspired a lot of what you're hearing in today's harder indie music. Opening is Amazing Color and Coyote Bones. $20, 9 p.m. Brave the cold.

This week's column contains themes heard in last week's review of the OEA block party. Academy ballots must be in the hands of the OEA braintrust by midnight tonight. I sent in my ballot yesterday. Needless to say, I didn't vote in every category because despite the block party, there were still a number of performers in some categories I knew nothing about. This ignorance won't stop some members from voting, though, which is yet another factor that puts these kinds of events into question. Despite the OEAs' efforts to put the decision making into the hands of "music professionals," these awards are still really just a popularity contest. The winner isn't necessarily the best band or performer, it's the one that most people know, have heard before or -- as this column points out -- are friends with.

Column 153: GGBB
Sometimes the truth hurts more than words…

I first heard the term almost a decade ago at a show at The 49'r. The band (who shall remain nameless) had just finished playing on the Niner's make-shift "stage" at the far end of the room, while I leaned against the wall by the bar's only available space -- next to the shuffleboard table -- and talked with a musician about the set.

We both agreed that the band was, well, okay. Actually, we didn't like the band at all. But we liked the people in the band, nice guys, all of them.
"Typical GGBB," said the musician while taking a drag from a cigarette.

GGBB? Huh? "Good guys, bad band," he said, matter-of-factly. "Haven't you heard that before?" It was a term that had been around for years. It probably had been around in some form or other since the dawn of rock and roll, maybe all the way back to the swing era. Anyone who had followed even the periphery of a music scene knew bands that, well, sucked, but whose members were all super-nice guys who were really into their music, music that no one wanted to listen to.

GGBB became the unspoken theme to last week's Omaha Entertainment Awards "Block Party" in Benson, where a selection of the bands nominated in various "best of" categories performed in venues up and down Maple St. It was a hoot.

For that one evening, I imagined what it must be like in Austin in mid-March when the South By Southwest Festival is in full swing, and music fans and co-eds on spring break stroll from one venue to the next along 6th St., trying to catch all the bands on their list, the bands they'd planned to see for weeks leading up to the festival, only to be met by long lines and velvet ropes, forced to crane their necks over the crowds in hopes of hearing a smattering of their favorite songs.

There were no long lines last Wednesday night. You could walk through the vicious cold right into any of the venues, show them your $5 wristband and grab a drink at the bar while the next band got ready for their 20-minute sampler set.

It was at one of those venues (which, again, shall remain nameless), after hearing a particular band that one of the city's more notorious scenesters walked up, beer in hand, and asked what I thought of the last performance. I was brutally candid. "Well, they sound like Justin Timberlake meets Jamiroquai, but only because they're trying to sound like Justin Timberlake meets Jamiroquai."

If there's one thing that's unforgivable, it's bands who purposely ape other bands' sound. You can be the lousiest musician in the world, you can have a voice like a drunken braying mule, heck, you can even absentmindedly start and stop during a song, but if you try to sound like another band, well, that's the deal breaker. That's the one thing I just can't stand.

"So you don't like them, huh?" came his reply. "Because the lead guy is one of my best friends. In fact, they're all great guys."

Moments later, I saw him up at the stage, shaking hands with everyone in the band and telling them how great they were, even though he had admitted to me that there wasn't an ounce of originality to their music. You do what you have to do, I suppose. It's one of the reasons why I don't pal around with the bands I cover. If I did, I wouldn't be able to write about their music with a modicum of honesty. No friendship with any artist can survive negative criticism of their work in the cold light of day. They might tell you they appreciate your candor that night when they're lost in a fog of Rumplemintz. But the next morning, those comments will generate only grating self-doubt and resentment.

The scene was repeated a few more times that evening. The showcase was designed to give the OEA academy (of which I am a member) a chance to hear as many nominated bands as possible. But there was a reason why I'd avoided seeing a lot of those bands before. A good reason.

Over and over again, someone asked what I thought of a particularly lousy band that sounded like whatever shitty alt-FM music is being played on the radio these days. That "someone" always seemed to be best pals with the drummer or the guitarist or the guy playing bass. I would hear how they'd grown up together and how they were the nicest guys you'll ever meet. But only after I told them their friends' band sucked.

It was the epitome of GGBB. Of course, those bands' friends would never admit that to them, or to me. And that was fine. But I had to wonder how the GGBB factor would drive voting for this year's OEAs. How many people would vote for bands because the members were great guys?

A few days later, while kicking back with a Rolling Rock at The Brothers, a member of that band I'd seen a decade ago at The Niner spotted me in the crowd and said hello. Turns out that he and the rest of the guys were playing a show this weekend. "It's going to be great," he said. "Are you coming?"

"I wouldn't miss it for the world," I said. "You guys rock. You always did."

See you tonight at Slowdown.

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Perfect timing (sort of)… – Dec. 11, 2007 –

You couldn't have asked for a better time to have an ice storm, at least musicwise. There are no major shows going on tonight (and none last night), which means there also are no cancellations. Now if today had been tomorrow, we'd all be wondering whether Dinosaur Jr. was still happening at Slowdown. I have no idea how J and the band are traveling these days. They were scheduled to play Oklahoma City Sunday night -- one day before most of that state went black due to power outages. Tonight they're in Iowa City (hopefully they're already there). There's nothing stopping them now.

That's all I got today, other than to ask you to go to the webboard (here) and list your favorite CDs from '07. I'm in the process now of putting together my year-in-review article for The Reader, so your suggestions are welcome.

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Live Review: The Show Is the Rainbow; Vampire Weekend, Forbidden Tigers tonight… – Dec. 9, 2007 –

Well, Eagle*Seagull canceled due to the weather. I can't say that I blame them. One of Slowdown's owners described the melee that ended Fathr's set -- one of the performers continuously stabbing a guitar. I would have liked to have seen that. The guitar was still lying on the stage as the grips prepared for The Show Is the Rainbow's set. Despite the snow/ice/sleet, there looked to be around 150 or so on the floor or milling around the balcony. A good draw considering the weather. Darren Keen brought his A game, but doesn't he always? It was the usual shtick -- Keen running around the audience singing/rapping over prerecorded tracks while his homemade videos were projected on a wrinkled bed sheet draped over a pole hung from the rafters. He told me he was going to have some "special guests" perform with him, but that never happened. If you took the entire set and divided the actual music from the between-song patter, you'd discover that Keen joked around as much as he sang. The crowd didn't mind. They were laughing. There is a self-defeating, self-deprecating tone to Keen's comments -- taken out of context, they could be as sad as they are funny, humor as pathos (though in real life, there's nothing pathetic about him). Keen makes fun of himself and the scene, his music and the audience. And when he reaches for applause, you naturally join in. The guy is up there alone, after all, with his shirt off, sweating, trying to get the crowd to put their hands above their heads. What easily gets lost at a TSITR show is the music itself, which is always interesting but clearly secondary to "the performance." I never had a chance to see TSITR with his short-lived band. But I have a feeling the only difference was the guys standing on stage, wondering what the hell Darren was going to do next. He ended with a new song that sounded more streamlined and tuneful that his old stuff. At the end of his two-song encore, the crowd rallied Keen with the chant of "Five More Years! Five More Years!" I have no doubt.

Tonight at Slowdown Jr., uber-hot indie band Vampire Weekend takes the stage with Grand Ole Party and 4th of July. $8, 9 p.m. Meanwhile, over at O'Leaver's, it's Brimstone Howl with Digital Leather and Dead Beat recording artist Forbidden Tigers from Grand Island, NE. The gig is FT's official CD release show for Magnetic Problems, an LP recorded by Brooks Hitt at DNA Studios. $5, 9:30 p.m.

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TSITR anniversary show, No Blood Orphan, Filter Kings tonight… – Dec. 8, 2007 –

At Slowdown, it's The Show Is the Rainbow's big 5-year anniversary extravaganza. TSITR main man Darren Keen wanted it on Slowdown's big stage and that's exactly what he got. Expect some special guests during his set. Opening is Relapse recording artist Vvervvolf Grehv featuring Dapose of The Faint, Fathr featuring James Cuato (Saxophone), Clark Baechle (Drums), Dapose, and Seth Johnson (Visuals, etc.), and Lincoln indie rockers, Eagle*Seagull. $8, 9 p.m.

Meanwhile, over at The 49'r, it's No Blood Orphan playing what likely will be their last show for awhile as guitarist/frontman Mike Saklar will be turning his attention to Mal Madrigal. Also on the bill, the "awesome sound" of Panang. Probably $5, probably starting around 10:30.

Finally, over at The Waiting Room, it's the annual Lash LaRue Toy Drive featuring performances by The Mercurys, The Filter Kings, John Henry and Vago. Admission is $10 or an unwrapped toy. Show starts at 8.

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Bright Eyes artwork Grammy nod; Pendrakes, Box Elders, Baby Walrus, Most Serene Republic tonight, the weekend… – Dec. 7, 2007 –

Our old friend Mike Perry pointed out on the webboard that Zack Nipper and Bright Eyes have been nominated for a Grammy for Best Recording Package for Cassadaga. This comes as no surprise to anyone who has seen the packaging, which received almost as much publicity as the recording upon its release. Zack and Co. are facing some stiff opposition from the likes of Black Sabbath, Menomena, The Fold and GTS (the list is here). It's impressive how many indie labels are in the running. Conventional wisdom would say that the Sabbath album should win due to the academy's familiarity with the band. But I'm not buying that logic (Yep, I'm predicting a Bright Eyes win -- surprise, surprise).

Tonight is huge for shows, starting off with The Pendrakes' CD release show at The Waiting Room with Old Money and Landing on the Moon. I'm listening to their CD, Sunday Punch, as I type this. For whatever reason, I was mistakenly under the impression that The Pendrakes was a rock-a-billy band. It isn't. Their style is straight-up rock in sort of a Tom Petty vein. It's well done. Interestingly, the disc was produced by Grasshopper Takeover's Curt Grubb and was recorded at Grubb's basement studio, Grubb Inc. (and mastered by Doug Van Sloun at Focus Mastering). $7, 9 p.m.

Meanwhile, garage punk trio Box Elders, featuring them thar McIntyre Brothers and groove king Dave Golberg, is playing over at O'Leaver's with Bombardment Society (featuring mega-bassist Lincoln Dickison (guitarist for The Monroes)) and Private Dancer (members of STNNNG). Bring your earplugs, it's going to be loud. $5, 9 p.m.

Baby Walrus headlines a show at PS Collective that features a handful of hot Next Wave artists, including Tim Perkins, Hyannis and Talkin' Mountain. 8 p.m., $5.

Meanwhile, Honeybee (a member of the Slumber Party brigade) opens for Canadian band The Most Serene Republic (Arts & Crafts Records) down at Slowdown Jr. $7, 9 p.m.

Hey, does anyone know who Cross Canadian Ragweed is?

Look for Saturday night's show line-up tomorrow.

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Column 152 -- The Show turns 5; Live Review: OEA Block Party; Alessi tonight… – Dec. 6, 2007 –

For those of you who can't get enough of Darren Keen, there's also a feature in this week's City Weekly that talks about his new role in Beep Beep. Darren mentioned this off-handedly during our interview, but I didn't know what he was talking about. I talked to another musician last night who said he laid down some harmonica for the new Beep Beep album at The Faint's Enamel studio. Can't wait.

To clarify, Saturday night's show isn't the actual anniversary of TSITR's first gig. "I played my first show ever on New Year's Eve going into the year 2003," Keen said. "It was a house party in Lincoln, and it ruled." Something tells me Saturday night's show at Slowdown will rule, too.

Column 152: Five-Year Rainbow
The Show Is the Rainbow celebrates its persistence.

I caught up with Darren Keen a.k.a. The Show Is the Rainbow during his lunch break at the Saddle Creek Homer's Sunday afternoon.

He had 30 quick minutes to scarf down some CiCi's and reflect on his past in the shadow of his five-year anniversary of playing shows. It also just happened to be his 25th birthday. The least I could do was buy him a $5 lunch.

We tried to figure out the vital statistics as he picked through a bowl of pasta salad. Darren said he was on a diet, though dressed in a long wool coat, thick square glasses and minus his usual bushy red beard and mustache, he already looked pounds lighter and years younger than the last time I saw him on stage doing his one-man band freak show odyssey that people know and love.

He's carved out a nice, though frugal, career over the course of five years and 620+ shows performed in 42 or 43 states. We tried to figure out his total miles traveled, but gave up when we realized he only had 20 minutes left to chat.

When he first started performing in 2002, Keen was known more for that manic stage show than for his music, often ending the night dripping in fake blood or green spit-foam, covered in flop sweat from running around in the audience dry-humping innocent bystanders or doing back kicks. When he took the show on the road, he was greeted both by fun-loving fans as well as a few annoyed guys who wanted to kick his ass.

These days, Keen has put away the fake blood. For the past few years, he's shared the stage with a projector screen that glows with homemade videos. Even so, he still finds himself singing from within the audience.

"I don't think it's a question of maturity, I'm not embarrassed by blood and props," Keen said of his change in performance style. "A lot of it is just that the show has gotten bigger. The videos were another way to express myself. Losing the props came from not wanting to keep doing the same thing. My whole show used to be a 20-minute burst. Now I actually pick the songs I'm going to perform as I go. It's looser. I don't want to be tied down by any concept."

The shift away from circus geek antics also meant a new focus on music. "People used to say, 'It's a good live show, but is the album any good?' I'd tell them that the album is great because you don't have me distracting you the whole time. I really love the music I make. I'm probably my favorite band."

He credits his meager lifestyle for his career longevity. "Being a one-man band helps," he said. "I don't have cable TV. I live pretty cheaply. That's part of why I stayed in Lincoln so long, other than the fact that Lincoln rules. Every now and then I would luck into a big tour with Cursive or Mindless Self Indulgence. The temptation was to spend a lot of money, but if you can keep from doing that, you can live off that money for a long time."

Still, the thought of chucking the whole project has crossed his mind, especially after a U.S. and European tour with a full band in the spring of 2006 that left him "artistically fulfilled."

"Afterward, the band quit, and I thought about quitting, too, or starting over under a different name," Keen said. "It would have been an easy way out. Quitting crosses your mind when you're a 24-year-old dude and a tour goes bad and you have to ask your parents for $300 for the rent. It's degrading. You ask yourself if it's worth it."

Dreams of "making it big" certainly weren't a motivator. Keen knows better than that. "I would love to be the biggest, most popular band in the world. I deserve it. But that's not the reason I keep doing it."

Because of "too much drama" with his publicist and his record label -- California-based S.A.F. Records -- Keen cut himself off from anything to do with the music business. "I completely stopped reading Pitchfork, stopped reading any kind of magazines about bands, stopped talking to S.A.F.," he said. "Anything that ties my creation to a product, I want out of my head. I don't want to have to deal with that, I just want to make music and have fun again. I don't want to think about status or relevance or marketability; I just want to create an album."

Which he's doing right now, from a rented storage room inside the building that houses The Faint's Enamel studio/practice space. And he's taking his time. "There's no deadline, no timeframe," he said. "Before, I was super excited about just creating music on my own. Now I'm really conscious of creating art. I'm really filtering out bad ideas, so it's taking longer than it used to."

And with that, we glanced at our watches. It had only been 25 minutes, but the store was already calling him back to work. Keen hustled to the buffet and snarfed down a couple brownies as we headed for the door. I asked him if we'd be having another interview five years from now. He just laughed.

"I asked my friends to come to the show at Slowdown Saturday night," he said. "I told them I wouldn't ask them again for another five years."

Last night's OEA Block Party was a success by anyone's standards. It didn't start out that way. The clubs were sparsely populated at 6 when things were just getting rolling. One of the club owners asked if I thought the Westroads shooting spree would dampen the event, and I thought it might. All night I heard stories from people who were either at Von Maur or knew people who were there. All were freaked out. It underscores just how small our city is -- no one won't to be touched by this madness in some way. We'll be hearing about in the media for the balance of the year and into the next, only to relive it again next year as Dec. 5 nears.

By 8 p.m., however, the clubs were filling up. It wasn't a SXSW-type situation with lines of people waiting to get in, but it was respectable, especially for a Wednesday night in Benson. I'm not going to provide my scorecard. I will say that there's a good reason why I haven't seen some of these bands before, and that I won't be seeing some of them again. There also were some remarkable performances. How 'bout we do this block party more than once a year?

Tonight at The Waiting Room, it's Alessi with Jake Bellows, McCarthy Trenching and Sara Bertuldo. I'm told Alessi's music falls under the "freak folk" category, sort of like Joanna Newsom without the Lisa Simpson vocals and harp. $5, 9 p.m.

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OEAs Nominee Showcase Block Party tonight; Midwest Dilemma at O'Leaver's… – Dec. 5, 2007 –

Tonight is the big Omaha Entertainment Awards Nominee Showcase Block Party being held at a handful of venues in Benson. For $5 you can pick up a wristband that will get you into showcases at Mick's, The Waiting Room, España, The Barley St. Tavern and PS Collective. Sayeth the OEA website: "The Waiting Room Lounge, Barley Street Tavern and Mick's will host bands performing in 20-minute segments. España will feature DJs and ethnic ensembles, and the PS Collective will present the performing arts showcase. Screens throughout The Waiting Room and other establishments will show a constant feed of visual arts nominee highlights." This is a helluva deal. There isn't an official schedule yet, but a tentative line-up has appeared on SLAM Omaha, and is below:

At Mick's:
6:15 Steve Raybine
6:50 Side Effects
7:25 Lucas Kellison
8:00 John Henry
8:35 Oxygen
9:10 Sabor
9:45 Sarah Benck and The Robbers
10:20 No Better Cause
10:55 Forty Twenty
11:30 Chris Saub

At The Waiting Room:
6:00 Icares
6:50 Mariachi Luna y Sol
7:25 a symbiont
8:00 Mariachi Zapata
8:35 Satchel Grande
9:10 Little Brazil
9:45 Narcotic Self
10:20 Confidentials
10:55 Wholes
11:30 Venaculas

At The Barley St.:
6:15 South Paw Bluegrass
6:50 Tim Wildsmith
7:25 Acoustic Groove
8:00 Secret Weapon
8:35 Matt Whipkey
9:10 Black Squirrels
9:45 112 North Duck
10:20 Filter Kings
10:55 tba
11:30 Paria

At España:
9:30 Brent Crampton
9:50 Shor-T
10:20 Jamazz
10:45 Shif-D
11:15 HG Filled
11:40 CMB
12:05 Articulate
12:35 Chiffy
1:05 Breathless
1:30 Goo

As an OEA academy member, I need to see as many bands as possible that I haven't seen before, which means I'll be spending most of my evening at Mick's. I could come up with an elaborate personal schedule to weave back and forth through the various venues, but I know that none of them will adhere to their scheduled times. It's going to be a real crapshoot if you want to see a specific band. Just get there early and ask the guy at the door who's next.

Wouldn't it have been great if they had blocked off Maple St. and let people walk from venue to venue with beer/drinks in hand? Or if street food vendors (operated by Benson restaurants) were available so you could nosh as you go? I'm not looking forward to eating at Subway tonight.

If you don't want in to deal with the drama, swing over to O'Leaver's tonight for Midwest Dilemma with Zephuros and Lincoln singer/songwriter Cory Kibler (ex Robot, Creek Closer). I'm told the new MD recording is stunning and includes a plethora of instrumentation which may or may not be replicated tonight on stage. $5, 9 p.m.

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Live Review: Stevens/Grant/Bellows; 'Nathaniel Walcott and Michael Riley Mogis'… – Dec. 3, 2007 –

Saturday night was sweet and sour. I got to the Barley Street Tavern at around 10:30 and discovered that I missed an impromptu 4-song set of Compost songs performed by Todd Grant and Matt Rutledge. Everyone was still buzzing about it. Ah, if I would have only known…Ted Stevens was already on stage, backed by Alex McManus. Calling themselves The Shitbirds (or as McManus preferred, The Shyte Byrds), the duo played a set of bluesy folk songs punctuated by Stevens' trippy, clever lyrics. McManus spent the set ripping into some amazing fills and solos on electric guitar. At times, the arrangements seemed downright esoteric. Stevens hinted at a future album, but didn't give any specifics.

Next up was Cary Smith, with Todd Grant playing the sideman role. Smith only played a couple songs, stopping and starting throughout, sometimes to tune his guitar. Afterward, Grant played two songs -- one from the Grant/Kasher sessions from a couple years back; the other, a roaring version of "The Know" from Strangled Soul. And that was it for Grant. He told me he intended to play more, but apparently the night was running long and he wanted to give Jake Bellows the stage -- a real disappointment as I'd hoped to hear a full Grant set. Next time. As consolation, it was the best Bellows solo set I've ever heard. His voice soared throughout his hour of sleepy, downcast folk ditties (that included a Mayday cover). Nice crowd of 40-50.

* * *

There's an item in the Hollywood Reporter (here) about Nik Fackler's film Lovely Still, which currently is shooting somewhere around Omaha. One amusing line from the story: "'Lovely' will feature an original score by Nathaniel Walcott and Michael Riley Mogis of Bright Eyes." I guess score credits demand more formal names than "Nate" and "Mike." For the first time, Landau's and Burstyn's co-stars in the film were named: The super-hot Elizabeth Banks (40 Year Old Virgin) and Adam Scott (HBO's Tell Me You Love Me). I have yet to see the production trailers around town.

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Review: I'm Not There, McCarthy Trenching; Todd Grant/Ted Stevens tonight… – Dec. 1, 2007 –

I generally don't review movies on Lazy-i unless they have some sort of music connection, which is why I'm jotting down a few words about "I'm Not There." I saw it last night at the Dundee. All-in-all, a pretty bad flick. It's only saving graces were Cate Blanchett, Jim James and the soundtrack. The rest of it was mildly embarrassing. I suppose the whole idea behind the lack of a plot line was to reflect the overall chaos that was/is Bob Dylan's life. I get it. That doesn't make it very interesting, though. Neither do the cheesy, amateurish performances by Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, Ben Whishaw, and even little Marcus Carl Franklin, each representing either Dylan or one of his archetype characters/phases in life/ideas, all slammed together in one disjointed scene after another. Julianne Moore is so bad that I wondered if she was overacting on purpose -- maybe the whole thing was an elaborate satire/parody? If so, how do you explain Blanchett, who was remarkable? But even her eye-rubbing Dylan impersonation becomes tiring after awhile. The movie is two hours and fifteen minutes long. The only thing that kept us in our seats was waiting to see what kind of crazy shit they were going to make Richard Gere do. I ran into a local movie guru at The Waiting Room afterward who told me she liked the film. It turns out that she's a huge Dylan fan, and said if you weren't hip to Dylan's life story and "legends" you probably wouldn't understand most of what filmmaker Todd Haynes was trying to do. She was right. Though I recently read Dylan's autobiography, I know little else about him other than his music. So when Richard Gere rode a horse through "Halloween Town" -- a Western movie back lot populated by people in costumes -- I had no idea what was going on, nor why I should care. At least Gere didn't try to mimic Dylan's nasal drawl. The film's highlight came during that Gere sequence, when Jim James and Calexico performed "Goin' to Acapulco." That, along with the cinematography and Blanchett's eerie impersonation, almost made it worth sitting through the rest of the pointless, boring exercise. Almost. Well, not even almost.

More entertaining was McCarthy Trenching at The Waiting Room last night. In front of a pretty good-sized crowd (maybe 80?) Dan McCarthy and a drummer/keyboardist played a collection of dour, downcast acoustic folk songs that, to me, sounded like a combination of John Gorka and Kris Kristofferson. Pretty good stuff.

You might have noticed yesterday that I augmented my earlier post about tonight's show at The Barley Street. Instead of Scott Roth, who canceled, Ted Stevens is joining Todd Grant, Cary Smith and Jake Bellows for a night of singer/songwriter fare. Now that the ice is melting, I suspect this will be a crowded show at the little hole-in-the-wall venue. Get there early.

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Live Review: The Third Men; McCarthy Trenching, Nebraskafish tonight; Todd Grant/Ted Stevens, Antelope tomorrow… – Nov. 30, 2007 –

So I'm standing there next to the wall that divides The Waiting Room's stage area with the rest of the bar, next to a video camera that was recording The Third Men's entire set, wondering how anyone was ever going to hear this band's music.

Like I mentioned before, Boost is one of the best CDs I've heard this year, released on Speed! Nebraska records, eventually available from iTunes and Rhapsody and other online sales points. That's a lot of availability, but still, who would go out and buy this disc? Here we were at their CD release show with maybe 50 people. The band was pleased with the turn-out, but I thought it was kind of light. What did I expect? It was a Thursday night and there had been very little pre-show hype (My item in The Reader was useless, seeing as the paper apparently hadn't been distributed that day -- there certainly weren't any new copies at TWR last night). I'm watching them run through their set of songs from the new album, and this guy tells me, "These guys are the most accessible band in Omaha. I could play this for my friends (He was a youngster) or my folks and all of them would be able to get into it." He was right. And it was because of that accessibility that Third Men music would work so well on radio. But we all know that will never happen.

Neither would serious touring. Here was a band whose style would work well in rock clubs around the country. I can imagine them opening for Matthew Sweet or R.E.M. or Wilco (talk about dreaming). Still, every member of the band has a real job/career and isn't about to let that go to hit the road (well, unless Matthew Sweet or R.E.M. or Wilco called).

On top of that, I also know that Boost will never get reviewed in Pitchfork or any of the mainstream music publications (not that the band sent copies to them anyway). What would Pitchfork think of this album? It's not indie, it's not electro-dance, it's not freak folk. It wouldn't get reviewed. Believe me -- I get a lot of CDs in the mail. As hard as I try to listen to them all, I'll never have that much time. Imagine how many discs Pitchfork gets per week? I assume they shuffle through them and decide which to review based on being familiar either with the band or its label. Any copies of Boost sent to Pitchfork would wind up in a bin with all the other CDs from bands and labels that the editors never heard of.

So how does The Third Men's music get heard? On stage, at shows like last night's. Hopefully people who went will tell their friends and the next time they play, the crowd will be a bit bigger (though their next show, at TWR Dec. 20, will be part of a night of cover acts -- i.e., they'll only be playing cover songs). At that pace, without radio, without touring, The Third Men's record will be lucky to sell a few hundred copies. Which is probably enough for these guys, anyway. Still, it's a shame that it'll likely never get heard by a bigger audience, an audience that would eagerly embrace this band…

Anyway… onto the weekend, which starts tonight with McCarthy Trenching at The Waiting Room with Alina Simone, Brad Hoshaw, & Reagan and The Rayguns. Sounds like the only full band on the bill is The Rayguns, everyone else is either playing solo acoustic or with only one or two side players. $7, 9 p.m.

Meanwhile, down at Sokol Underground, it's the Nebraskafish Rising showcase featuring Sam Martin (Capgun Coup), No, I'm the Pilot, Ingrid Blood, Outlaw Sin Bandana (Brendan Hagberg), Robert Cook and FTL Drive. $6, 9 p.m.

Tomorrow night could be tricky if we get hit with an ice storm. Hopefully it'll miss us and I'll be able to make it to The Barley St. where singer/songwriter Todd Grant is scheduled to play a solo set accompanied by some of the area's best troubadours including Scott Roth (Roth canceled, he's being replaced by...) Ted Stevens, Cary Smith and Jake Bellows (Neva Dinova). Grant, a former member of '90s band Compost, will unveil a set of new material as well as songs recorded with Tim Kasher (Cursive) and, for the first time in years, will perform songs from his critically acclaimed 1995 solo album, Strangled Soul, an album which I still listen to regularly. Todd Grant shows are always unpredictable, and I suspect this one will be as well. 9 p.m., absolutely free.

Meanwhile, down at Slowdown, it's Dischord Records band Antelope with The Stay Awake and Bring Back the Guns. Antelope carries on the Washington D.C. punk tradition, sounding like Fugazi meets pre-dance Rapture. The Stay Awake are one of Omaha's best math/punk bands. Only $5, 9 p.m.

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Column 151 -- Three Years Down (and counting); Live Review: Box Elders, The King Kahn & BBQ Show; The Third Men tonight… – Nov. 29, 2007 –

Someone asked me last night at Slowdown if I ever get tired of writing this column after having done it every week for three years. The answer is no, though sometimes coming up with column ideas can be a challenge (and that's where you come in). I find writing columns and updating this blog much more fun than, say, writing features on jaded national bands who don't want to do interviews but realize that they have to in an effort to get people to their shows. As it was when I first started writing about music 20 years ago, it's much more fun interviewing the up-and-coming bands still hungry to get the word out, and our local bands who always always always have a good story to tell. On to year four...

Column 151: Three Years (and counting)
A look back on the third anniversary

Have I really been writing this column for three years? Yeah, I guess I have. And just as in year's past, here we are again, celebrating the anniversary by updating some of the people, places and things that were column fodder over the past year:

Leggo My Ego (12/27/06) -- Wherein Omaha rocker and former Lazy-i intern Matt Whipkey explained why he changed the name of his band from Anonymous American to Matt Whipkey and Anonymous American. It wasn't an ego thing, he said. OK. Whipkey eventually took it one step further by forming a new band: The Matt Whipkey Three. As for Anonymous American, well, there's always that inevitable reunion show.

Goodbye Someday Never (1/18/07) -- Music entrepreneur and all around nice guy Joe Vavak talked about closing the door on his promotion company, Someday Never, which brought some of the more intriguing -- though poorly attended -- shows to Omaha. Joe was last seen driving Nebraska's highways, taking photographs of every county in the state. Look for the photos at a gallery near you.

Englishmen in Omaha (1/24/07) -- Fun-loving Brit Devonte Hynes talked about coming to Omaha's ARC Studios to record his project, Lightspeed Champion, as well as his love for Target stores, Starbucks and giant display swords. The album, Falling Off the Lavender Bridge, which includes cameos by a handful of Saddle Creek musicians, is slated for release in early '08 on Domino Records.

Cultural Attraction (2/15/07) -- Dirt Cheap founder Terrence Moore reflected on the history of his record stores, which touched the lives of so many local musicians. Terrence succumbed to intestinal cancer on May 4. He is missed.

Perfect Sound Forever (3/15/07) -- It's hard to believe that The Waiting Room has only been open since March. It seems like it's always been there. Over the course of eight months, the club has become one of the city's most important stages for touring and local bands and a centerpiece of Benson's revitalization.

Digital Divide (5/2/07) -- Saddle Creek Records executive Jason Kulbel and Homer's President Mike Fratt discussed the growth of digital music sales. Fratt said dropping the retail price of physical CDs to under $10 could reignite business. Unfortunately, we're still waiting for that price drop. Meanwhile, artists like Radiohead and Nine Inch Nails have decided to just give away their music online.

Out of the Spotlight (6/7/07) -- Remembering those Halcyon days of 2002 when Omaha was being touted as the "New Seattle," and how those days are long gone. Despite the spotlight's shift, Omaha's music scene has never been stronger, with new bands popping every day.

Too Good for You (6/13/07) -- Like The Waiting Room, it's hard to believe that Slowdown has only been open since June. From the day it opened, it was recognized as one of the finest stages in the Midwest (despite the club's rather antiseptic, non-indie interior). And shortly after this column ran, the bar began stocking Rolling Rock -- who says Lazy-i isn't having an impact?

Omaha's Farewell Tour (6/21/07) -- The most controversial column from last year, my suggestion that low attendance at shows could ultimately lead to more bands bypassing Omaha for larger cities was met with hate mail calling me a doomsayer and an alarmist. Just telling it like it is, folks, just ask Interpol, Hot Chip, The Arcade Fire, Band of Horses, Justice, Daft Punk, PJ Harvey, Stereolab, Mark Kozalek....

In the iQueue (7/5/07) -- My review of the iPhone after six months: It was worth every penny, even the extra $200 that Steve Jobs and Co. bilked out of us early-adapters. My biggest gripe: I can't use the phone in my house because it won't pick up an AT&T signal. That's kind of a problem.

Park Life (8/15/07) -- The suggestion that The City may want to consider moving its annual "youth concert" to a more hospitable time of year -- say spring or fall or anytime when the heat index isn't near 110 degrees -- was met with rejection, as was the idea of featuring bands with a broader demographic than craptacular child act Plain White T's. How about Wilco or The Arcade Fire? Nope. The City is happy with the concert just the way it is -- a monumental waste.

Word to the Totally (8/30/07) -- Just as we were celebrating O'Leaver's five-year anniversary of hosting awesome rock shows came word that the club was considering abandoning rock shows altogether. Since then, the owners have reconsidered, though O'Leaver's will never host the volume of shows that it has in the past. It's still my favorite place to see a band.

Taken Too Sirius-ly? (9/6/07) -- Apparently, changing the Cornhuskers' "Tunnel Walk" music wasn't enough to save Callahan and Pederson.

For Against Again (9/19/07) -- The reunion of the fabled Lincoln post-punk band continues to gain steam. For Against played the Tinned Tin Festival in November in Castellón, Spain. Among their bands that shared the stage: The Sea and Cake, Dolorean, Wolf Eyes, Xiu Xiu, Deerhunter, and Asobi Seksu. So where's that new album, guys?

Onto year four, but before we go, a final request: Easily the hardest part of writing a column is coming up with topics to cover. I try to focus on newsy music-related subjects, interesting stories surrounding a band or comments (or complaints) about trends in the local or national indie music world. I say this in hopes that you, dear reader, will be generous enough to pass along your column ideas. Send them to Thanks for reading!

It was one of the bigger crowds I've seen for a show at Slowdown Jr. last night, which surprised a couple people who I talked to that are familiar with King Kahn & BBQ -- they figured no one would show up for the gig. But it looked like 100+ did, a lot of them followers or members of the Omaha/Lincoln garage punk scene. They weren't disappointed. Box Elders took the stage at around 9:45 (I thought Slowdown was going to strictly adhere to a 9 p.m. start time? I guess that flew out the window when they realized that people tend to buy lots of drinks while they're waiting) with Clayton McIntyre donning a bob-cut women's wig -- shades of things to come. Box Elders' unique spin on garage punk comes by way of the McIntyre Brothers' dueling vocals (and one-note harmonies) and pointman Dave Goldberg on drums/keyboards -- drums consisting mostly of a kick bass and high hat played with his leg and right hand while his left pounded out counter melodies on a keyboard. Goldberg's instrumentation stood out more than the guitar and bass, but it didn't overshadow those ginchy, sloppy vocals.

King Kahn/BBQ spent what seemed like 20 minutes fiddling with their guitars before tearing into their set of big-riff garage doo-wap music that merged '50s greaser with '70's NYC punk. The King was adorned in a rather sultry dress and a purple woman's wig that perfectly accented a macho mustache. BBQ (a.k.a. Mark Sultan) was less flashy, sporting a red turban, he played a kick drum and guitar seated, and hence was hidden behind an adoring crowd pushed against the stage. You had to get right up there to see him. After the first dozen or so songs, I got the gist of what they were about and headed home while the crowd continued to groove the night away.

Tonight at The Waiting Room it's The Third Men CD release show with Black Squirrels and Adam Hawkins. Do yourself a favor and stroll over to the merch table and pick up a copy of Boost. You'll be glad you did. $7, 9 p.m.

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CD release shows; Box Elders tonight… – Nov. 28, 2007 –

I've noticed that Mondays and Tuesdays have become much more quiet in the past few months. It seems like clubs are booking fewer and fewer shows Sunday through Tuesday, which is probably a good idea. I don't know about anyone else, but I rarely am able to go to shows on Sunday and Monday nights as I have deadlines that wake me at 5 a.m. the following morning.

Anyway, speaking of shows, there are a number of CD release parties that are getting scheduled through the end of the year. Consider this an early head's up:

-- The Third Men will be celebrating the release of their debut full-length, Boost, tomorrow night at The Waiting Room with The Black Squirrels and Adam Hawkins. As I said in this week's issue of The Reader:

You could say The Third Men were born out of the ashes of Omaha rock band The Sons of…, after all, both acts include vocalist/guitarist Matt Rutledge and bassist Mike Tulis (and on recordings, drummer Mike Loftus). But it would be more appropriate to say The Third Men were born out of the ashes of The Raspberries, Wings, Cheap Trick, The Animals, The Beatles, Big Star, Graham Parker and Strawberry Alarm Clock, as well as dozens of obscure '70s-era pop-rock bands that only these vinyl junkies would know. That said, the band's new album, Boost, which also features frontman Patrick White and keyboardist Dana Rouch (new drummer Matt Bowen isn't on the recording), is no retro project. It puts a modern spin on a style of rock last heard blaring from that stereo in the garage where your dad worked on his old Lincoln.

It's one of the most balanced CDs I've heard this year. Remember the old days when you bought a record fresh from the record store shelves, took it home and then were pleasantly surprised at how well the first three songs just fell into place one after another? You get that same feeling with the opening triumvirate of "High" "Happy as Larry" and "What a Day (to Call it a Day)" on Boost. The album is one pop gem after another, with no one song reaching the 4-minute mark. The production -- recorded by frontman Pat White and mastered by Doug Van Sloun -- is pristine. This CD is a long time coming, and I'm happy it made it out in '07.

-- Got an email from Greg of Lincoln band Strawberry Burns this morning saying that his band will be celebrating the release of its third long-player, Clam Diggers Peach, Dec. 15 at Box Awesome (which is garnering a buzz as maybe the best venue in Lincoln these days) with Gamma Goat, Dean the Bible, and Tenth Horse. I haven't heard these guys since their debut in 2003 (review here).

-- Last but far from least, I got an email from Steve Bartolomei saying that he will be celebrating the release of the long-awaited Mal Madrigal double-album Dec. 22 at Slowdown. I've been hearing from various sources about this record for what seems like years. Well, looks like the long wait is over. The hook with this one is that it will only be available on vinyl. If you don't have a record player, you better get out there and buy one. You'll be happy you did (They make great Christmas presents, by the way).

Tonight at Slowdown Jr., it's Canadian garage punk duo The King Kahn & BBQ Show with Omaha's own garage punk legends, Box Elders. Leather jackets are not optional. I'm told the Box Elders (featuring Dave Goldberg and the McIntyre Brothers) are about to release a new 7-inch in the very near future -- yet another reason to buy a record player. $8, 9 p.m.

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Live Review: Domestica, Ideal Cleaners, Monroes… – Nov. 26, 2007 –

The last few times that I've seen Domestica play -- whether at O'Leaver's or The Waiting Room or wherever -- I was a tad disappointed in the volume level. Among the things Mercy Rule was known for back in the old days was Jon Taylor's hugely loud, all-encompassing guitar sound -- massive yet tuneful, and never painful (as long as you took the proper precautions, which Slowdown now sells over by the photo booth for 50 cents a pair). Taylor told me during our recent interview that he'd decided to tone the guitar down with this new band, that it wasn't necessary to prove his guitar might by turning it to 11. So while past Domestica shows have been great, there was always something missing. Well, it wasn't missing Saturday night at Slowdown. I can't remember Taylor's guitar ever sounding that loud. It was freaking crazy LOUD, beautifully LOUD. During the set, a local guitar pro walked up and said, "I've never heard anything like this before. It's loud and I'm wearing earplugs." Was this insane volume necessary for Domestica to work? No, but it sure was fun.

Heck, you knew the whole night was going to be a fun when at 9 p.m. the Slowdown grunts pulled back the dividers to reveal a stage adorned in checkered flags, a Hot Wheels track and a sign that said, Welcome Racing Fans. The show started at around 9:45 with The Monroes. I've never heard a Gary Dean Davis-fronted band on such a large stage with such a large sound system. The result was as expected -- big and loud and sonically perfect. You felt every nuanced Lincoln Dickison guitar chord, every Gary Dean grunt and Tulis bass note. The most impressive difference, however, was Jesse Render's drums. In small rooms like O'Leaver's, Jesse can get buried and lost. For the first time, I could really feel his drumming and got a new appreciation for just how good he is. It was the best sounding Monroes set I've ever heard, but I have to admit that as pristine as it was, I would still prefer to see these guys at O'Leaver's or The Niner or any other of the city's smaller stages. It's a band that deserves a room where the crowd is standing right in front of them rather than seated somewhere beyond the shiny dance floor.

After The Monroes finished their set, the races began -- bracketed double-elimination Hot Wheels action. The double-lane track was draped from a table in front of the stage all the way across Slowdown's dance floor. The heated action was accented by a record played over the sound system consisting of race track noises. Sweet!

Ideal Cleaners took the stage after the first round of heats. Again, the Slowdown sound system allowed you to hear parts of songs that are missed at O'Leaver's or Sokol Underground. The band blew through a selection of tunes off Muchacho!, their just-released Speed! Nebraska full-length, before leaving the stage and resuming the Hot Wheel races.

Those races were still under way when Domestica began its set. Sound guy Dan Brennan certainly earned his pay Saturday night. With the first song, Taylor's guitar was absolutely huge, so huge that you couldn't hear vocalist Heidi Ore's sweet-angel voice -- and that's a big problem. Brennan, however, was on it, and by the third song, Heidi was brought higher in the mix, her gossamer soprano cutting through Taylor's low-slung guitar growl. This was how Domestica's music should always be heard -- big, mean, muscular. Here's to Taylor never turning it down, no matter where he plays.

I was told by Slowdown's owners that the bar originally wanted the show performed in Slowdown Jr., the small front-room stage, but that the bands insisted on the big stage and were willing to pay for it. In the end, it was the right decision if only to hear this music on such a mighty sound system. The final numbers were 106 paid at $6 a head, which was more than enough to cover facility costs and give the bands some cash to take home.

It's been a busy November for Speed! Nebraska Records. This Thursday, Speed! band The Third Men will host their CD release show at The Waiting Room for their new full-length, Boost. It's another must-see show...

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Landing on the Moon tonight; Domestica, tomorrow; Outlaw Con Bandana Sunday… – Nov. 23, 2007 –

It's shaping up to be another weekend to be spent at Slowdown. Tonight, Landing on the Moon headlines the small stage with openers Acadia and the Asteroid out of Billings, and Bright Light Fever out of Sacramento. LotM's Oliver Morgan says look for a set of all new material, most of which will be on the band's next full length, slated for next summer (They're in the studio now). 9 p.m., $7.

Tomorrow night on Slowdown's big stage, it's the Speed! Nebraska Records Drag Race and Rock Show featuring The Monroes, Ideal Cleaners and headliner Domestica. This is a once-in-a-lifetime can't-miss spectacle for just $6. Show starts at 9.

It's not the only show tomorrow night. Punk band The Stay Awake plays at The 49'r with Latitude Longitude. $5, 9:30 p.m. Team Love band Flowers Forever plays at The Barley St. Tavern with UUVVWWZ and Dim Light, 9 p.m., free. While over at The Waiting Room, it's Sarah Benck and the Robbers with The Filter Kings and Son of 76. $7, 9 p.m.

Finally Sunday night, again at Slowdown Jr., it's Outlaw Con Bandana (featuring special guest Matt Rooney) with The Bruces and the Southpaw Bluegrass Band. $7, 9 p.m.

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Domestica (and whatever happened to Mercy Rule); Live Review: Blue Scholars; TSRTS/Whipkey tonight… – Nov. 21, 2007 –

Just posted, a nice long feature on Domestica (read it here). The story begins in 1999 discussing the reasons behind the break-up of Mercy Rule, and runs through their one-off reunion at The Brothers in 2006 and eventual step forward as Domestica. It's a heartwarming story that you can share with your families tomorrow at Thanksgiving dinner. The article was so long that I had to use this week's Lazy-i column space to get it all in (so no column tomorrow).

One part that didn't make it into the article: The story behind Mercy Rule's lighting. Anyone who ever saw the band in its heyday in the '90s will remember how Mercy Rule used flood lights mounted on the stage -- pointed straight up -- producing an eerie yet cool hatchet-lighting effect. Jon Taylor said he got the idea after going to a Flaming Lips concert. Before the band went on while the stage was still dark, the club was filled with smoke. An unseen voice came over the PA saying, "Don't breath the smoke." He thought he was going to suffocate when suddenly the stage lit up with blinding flood lights pointed directly into the crowd, cutting through the haze. Taylor liked what he saw.

"With four-band lineups, everyone looks the same," said Domestica frontwoman Heidi Ore (who's also Taylor's wife). "If you change your lights, you've already changed something."

"We were always the best lit band of the night," Taylor said. "Days after a show, we'd get a stack of photos in the mail from someone in the crowd, saying, 'You guys were really well lit.'" There's a photo of what it looked like in the story.

I admitted that whenever I went to Domestica shows I was a little disappointed that the lights were gone, as stupid as it sounds they added something special to those Mercy Rule shows. Taylor said he still has the lighting rig. Will we see it used again at this Saturday night's show at Slowdown? Keep your fingers crossed.

* * *

I've come to believe that hip-hop is best served as a recorded medium. At least that's always been my experience whenever I've gone to a live hip-hop show. Last night's Blue Scholars' gig at the Waiting Room, unfortunately, was no exception. All the cool instrumental counter-melodies, all the little subtleties heard on the duo's CDs, were lost amidst the bass-heavy mix. I know heavy bass is the language of hip-hop -- I drive next to the same ridiculous, bass-blasting SUVs that you do, the ones that force you to roll your windows up. I get it. I felt like I was riding in that SUV last night, the bass reducing the beauty of the songs to one long evening of thump-thump-thump. The other disappointment: the rapping. Unlike most hip-hop I've heard on MTV or wherever, you can understand every word of every Blue Scholars song… on disc. Blame it on the live setting, where half the battle is getting the crowd into it, but MC Geo's rhyming sounded forced and rushed, as if he was overextending himself to get above that bass. The only time I felt connected to the band was during the anti-war song "Back Home," and on one other song where Geo brought the sound down to a whisper before blowing it all up again. Strangely, the Scholars didn't sing their latest single, "Joe Metro," probably their most tuneful song which was just released as an EP. Who knows, maybe they kept it as an encore, which the Tuesday-night crowd of around 50 wasn't going to get, as Geo literally handed the mic over to Psalm One to begin her set.

* * *

Look, no one has to go to work tomorrow, right? So there's no reason to miss The Song Remains the Same at The Waiting Room with The Whipkey Three. I won't recast what I've already said about TSRTS, just go read this column, which explains the band and what they're about. $7, 9 p.m.

If I don't see you tomorrow, have a happy Thanksgiving.

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Blue Scholars tonight; Slumber Party gets Creek distro deal; Conor, not Bright Eyes at the 400... – Nov. 20, 2007 –

When Del the Funkee Homosapien came to Slowdown a few weeks ago, I got plenty of shit about not posting anything about the show on my site. Fact is, I'm not a follower of Del's. I barely know who he is. That doesn't mean I don't like hip-hop. Au contraire. I like hip-hop, I'm just excruciatingly choosy as to what hip-hop I listen to. You can count the number of hip-hop albums I own on two hands, and it's mostly old school stuff by N.W.A., Ice Cube, Ice-T, Public Enemy, as well as some stuff by Brother Ali, Justin Warfield (years and years before She Wants Revenge), Danger Mouse and those old white guys, the Beastie Boys.

And Blue Scholars. I got a copy of their debut in the mail back in 2004 and reviewed it in the matrix, saying: "I don't know a lot about hip-hop -- that's well documented. But I do know what I want when hip-hop comes to mind. Good, clean beats. The ability to understand at least some of the lyrics. A clear flow. I turn off bad hip-hop almost immediately. It better hold my attention. This did. It's well-produced. I like them horns. Reminds me of Pharcyde. From Seattle, with attitude."

I figured no one knew who they were, but I was wrong, as per usual. Blue Scholars have something of a cult following in the Pacific Northwest. Their songs are about life and living in Seattle; their name is a play on the phrase "blue collar," which is what they're all about. Their most recent full-length, Bayani, is a head trip rhymed in the language of a guy you'd meet riding the 49 Metro (Seattle's equivalent to a MAT bus) cross town -- with the same concerns and frustration of anyone just trying to make ends meet. Forget all the gangsta and bling-isms, Blue Scholars is honed, accurate social commentary from two very smart guys -- DJ Sabzi and MC Geologic -- who know their history and can tell you about it in a way that won't let you to sit still. They were named the best hip-hop act in Seattle Weekly's 2006 Music Awards Poll. Their just-released EP, Joe Metro, charted on CMJ. I never thought I'd see them on an Omaha stage, yet here they come tonight, opening for Psalm One and Articulate at The Waiting Room. $10, 9 p.m. Go!

In other news:

At Saturday's birthday party for Feirin down at Slowdown, Saddle Creek Records executive Robb Nansel told me that Slumber Party Records just signed a distribution deal with Saddle Creek that will dramatically increase the reach of that label, whose roster has included Capgun Coup (now on Team Love), Bear Country, April in Andalusia, Conchance, FTL Drive and Honeybee .

In addition to distributing their own products, Saddle Creek also distributes products for Range Life Records (White Flight, 1,000,000 Light Years, Fourth of July) and Team Love -- all of which, are in turn, distributed by ADA. Go to the Saddle Creek online store and there's already a link to the new Slumber Party Records online store. Nansel said the first release under the new distro deal will be Baby Walrus on Feb. 5.

* * *

According to an item at the Minneapolis Star-Tribune website, Conor Oberst will be performing for three back-to-back nights at The 400 Club in Minneapolis -- not as Bright Eyes, but only as Conor Oberst. According to the Trib article (here), "Word from 400 Bar management is that Oberst wants it explicitly known these won't be Bright Eyes shows – i.e., he won’t be doing any of those songs! He will be playing new material with a different backing band." Is that the band with M Ward or the solo project with Jake Bellows that Omaha City Weekly's Hildy Johnson referenced in last week's issue (here, scroll to the bottom of the page)? Guess we'd have to go to Minneapolis Dec. 27-29 to find out.

Tomorrow: Domestica. Be here.

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Live Review: the Big Al show; Celebration at Slowdown, Harvey/Roeder at Barley St... – Nov. 19, 2007 –

Briefly, I made it back from Lincoln Saturday night just in time to catch the Big Al CD release show at Saddle Creek Bar. Frankly, I wasn't expecting much, but ended up having a good time. Al and his bass-player sidekick Metal Barbie, played somewhat simplistic heavy metal songs over a pre-recorded rhythm track. Actually, "simplistic" really applies to the lyrics, which in the case of songs like "It's War, You Die," consisted of Al yelling the same phrase over and over. Then there was "Oregano," a spoken-word rocker about Big Al's run-in with undercover cops selling, you guessed it, Oregano. It would be easy to simply discount it all if the music wasn't so fun, and if Al wasn't sincere in what he was doing. Plus, his guitar riffs were seriously righteous. I still haven't listened to the CD that was given to everyone in the crowd (which was sizable for Saddle Creek -- at least 60?), but I have a feeling it's going to be just as fun. And what's so bad about having fun once in a while?

Tonight at Slowdown Jr., it's Baltimore-based 4AD band Celebration with Kill Me Tomorrow and Dim Light. $8, 9 p.m. Meanwhile, singer songwriters Kyle Harvey and Reagan Roeder are playing a set at The Barley St (and it's free). Starts at 8.

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Live Review: The Coffin Killers; Feirin's birthday bash (featuring Conchance, Capgun Coup, Bear Country, and Honeybee) tonight... – Nov. 17, 2007 –

I snuck into The 49'r last night just in time to see The Coffin Killers' set. It's the first time I've been in the Niner in probably a year or more. The only thing that's changed is the lighting. It was darker in there than I remembered, as if the overhead lights had been turned off. I liked it. What hasn't changed is the enormous crowds. As always is the case, if you get there late (as I did) you're going to have a tough time finding a place to watch the band without being in someone's way. I lucked out and noticed that no one was standing in front of the trashcan along the wall by the pickle machine and found my spot for the evening, just a foot or so from the band -- actually, a great spot.

Coffin Killers play old school punk with a guitar rock attitude. In other words, there's plenty of melody and actual singing that float on top of the constant barrage of classic punk guitar riffs. While I love punk rock, I've never had an encyclopedic knowledge of the genre. Sure, I know the usual dozen or so British and NYC '70s punk bands that everyone else knows, but I don't know the obscure stuff by rote like I assume most of the people who were standing in the first three or four rows did. Or maybe I'm just assuming they were punk experts by their tattoos. Regardless, my forced comparison for CK comes by way of '90s-'00s rock act The Explosion, who actually had a similar sound to The Loved Ones, U.S. Bombs and Strike Anywhere, and who counted Social Distortion among their biggest influences. Any band fronted by Lee Meyerpeter is going to get a few Social D comparisons because his voice so closely resembles Mike Ness' voice. That said, of all the bands I've seen Meyerpeter play in, this one was the least Ness-ian of the bunch. It's also my favorite. Don't get me wrong, I like Bad Luck Charm and The Filter Kings, but I enjoy listening to this straight-out melodic punk more than BLC's cacophony and FK's southern-fried rural punk. This is power rock with a punk snarl, the kind of music that gets people in the mood to fight. The set-up is simple -- Meyerpeter on lead guitar and vocals, looking like a construction guy, his eyes covered by dock worker's stocking cap. Backing him were bassist Ryan McLaughlin (Race for Titles) and drummer Matt Baum (ex-Desaparecidos, ex-89 Cubs). Baum replaced legendary drummer Jeff Heater, who was celebrating his birthday somewhere in San Diego last night. Meyerpeter toasted Heater in his absence, and the crowd joined in. Few people can match Heater for his over-the-top all-over-the-place drumming style that cranks up the sweat and energy to 11. Baum pumps things up just as effectively, but does it more simply. He's got a rugged drumming style, bashing the cymbals as hard as he can while wearing what appears to be shooting range ear muffs. Baum is well known for getting up between songs and yelling at the band and the crowd, but he never got up last night, and he didn't do any yelling until the final song. Rounding out the four-piece was another guitarist, a young guy that looked like a member of The Clash. I don't know his name, but I'm told he either is or was a member of Cruisin' Rosie -- blazing second guitar that churned it out while Lee did his solos. The band only played for about a half-hour and closed with rocker doused in feedback that still buzzed through the monitors while Baum began to tear down his drum set. Great stuff, indeed.

So what's going on tonight?

If you've been to a One Percent show, chances are you've met Feirin, who's been known to take your money down at Sokol Underground. Well, Feirin is celebrating her birthday tonight at Slowdown with a stellar lineup that includes a slew of the city's hottest new bands: Conchance, Capgun Coup, Bear Country and Honeybee. It looks like they're hosting it in the big room, so this may be the best chance you'll have of seeing Omaha's Next Wave of indie bands all in one night. $5, 9 p.m.

Meanwhile, down at The Saddle Creek Bar, Sarah Benck (acoustic) and Bleeding Ophans (apparently a derivative of No Blood Orphan) are opening for the Big Al Band CD release party. The Big Al Band is Al Hatfield on guitar and vocals and Metal Barbie on bass and vocals playing noise metal. The first 100 through the door get a free CD. $5, 9 p.m. Other than a Dec. 15 benefit show, this is the last gig currently scheduled for the Saddle Creek Bar, according to their website. Enjoy it while you can.

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Tonight: The Coffin Killers, Eric Bachmann, and… CONTROL – Nov. 16, 2007 –

Here's tonight's best bets.

At The 49'r: The legendary Coffin Killers, a band that features Filter Kings frontman (and ex-Cactus Nerve Thang member and Bad Luck Charm member) Lee Meyerpeter at the helm. I'm told this is a departure from the Filter Kings' twang-punk to something that's more punk-punk. As we all know, CK's drummer, Jeff Heater, has moved to fire-prone San Diego (Is it a coincidence that the town was set ablaze shortly after his arrival?). Taking his place is the equally incendiary Matt Baum (ex-Desaparecidos, ex-'89 Cubs). The Killers get it rolling at 10 and are followed by School of Arms. No idea on the door, but probably $5 or less. Go.

Meanwhile, down at Slowdown Jr, it should be a tad more mellow with Eric Bachmann (Crooked Fingers), Kyle Harvey and Adam Hawkins. Bachmann came through here a year ago with Richard Buckner and it was a terrific show (review). $10, 9 p.m.

It's twang night over at The Waiting Room, with Lincoln honky-tonk rockers Forty Twenty, The Black Squirrels and Western Electric. $7, 9 p.m.

And last but not least, down at filmstreams, it's opening night for the Joy Division biopic CONTROL. Directed by Anton Corbijn, the film has been getting rave reviews all over the world. Do not miss this limited engagement. 4:30, 7, 9:30. Go to for more info.

I'll give you the run-down on the rest of the weekend tomorrow morning. Check back!

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Column 150 -- It's the End of the Music Industry as We Know It (And I Feel Fine); Noah's Ark, Cloven Path tonight… – Nov. 15, 2007 –

The bottom line: Change is good. Change is inevitable. Change is unstoppable. It's like that ol' slogan used by challengers in political campaigns: Are you better off now than you were four years ago (or eight years ago or 20 years ago)? For an industry and a genre that's dying, I've never listened to more good music than I have in the past couple of years. Change is here. And things are only going to get better.

Column 150: Alive and Well
The reports of music's death are highly exaggerated.

Is anyone else getting tired of hearing how music -- indie or otherwise -- is dying or already dead?

Seems like you can't pick up a publication these days without reading how the music industry is in its final days, its death knell is being tolled by a digital bell. Just ask Rolling Stone. The once-great arbiter of all things rock 'n' roll has been publishing the music industry's obituary in almost every issue for the past couple years, documenting the slow decline of CD sales and the rise of digital downloads.

As part of the magazine's 40th Anniversary, Rolling Stone just published a special issue that includes a section titled, "The Future of Music." Inside, 21 "top artists" were asked about "technology, inspiration and what's next for the record industry." Among them, Lily Allen, Wayne Coyne, Michael Stipe, Justin Timberlake and our very own Conor Oberst.

The consensus: We're all screwed. Music is dying on the electronic vine. MP3 files are causing our ears to wither into dried tortellini noodles. Revenue streams are drying up faster than Atlanta's water supply. Once proud rock stars soon will be hocking deodorant and Cadillacs (Just ask Bob Dylan). While music has never been more available to the masses, it's all bad music (except, of course, for the interviewees' own records), and people are starting to lose the ability to tell good shit from bad shit. Record companies have seen the writing on the wall and are adjusting to the downturn by screwing artists with contracts that not only take away most of their album revenue but also a big chunk of their auxiliary income -- i.e., merch sales. Wave goodbye to your luxury tour bus and back that converted '97 Chevy Beauville right into the driveway.

Sounds bleak. Too bleak.

The industry will survive. It won't be the industry that folks in their 30s knew growing up, but something completely different. Something better. The industry will change from being a group of record labels that sells products, to a business that provides a service to both artists and consumers. Yes, you'll be able to find just about any song or album online for free -- all in high fidelity, brought to you in convenient digital chunks. Just download and listen. So how will artists survive? By performing, by selling merch at venues including limited edition CDs and vinyl -- i.e., collectors' items. And yes, by making endorsements and selling their music to Madison Avenue. And those who refuse to "sell out" will have other, more noble options for their publishing rights, including movies and television.

As for the death of indie -- when was indie ever alive? It's always been an underground phenomenon whose bands have survived on record sales that count well below 100,000 units. Those numbers come with the territory. Indie music isn't supposed to break into the popular culture, because after it does, it's no longer indie music.

People constantly fight over what "indie" means. My definition: Indie music is generally anything not released on a major label that doesn't get FM radio airplay for one reason or another. Some would say all good performers were "indie" at one point in their careers. I disagree with those who say indie has a distinct audio fingerprint. It doesn't. Take any indie song, put it in heavy rotation on Clear Channel, and it's no longer an indie song. Perhaps a better definition: Indie music isn't written for the broadest consumption -- in other words, the songwriter wasn't trying to write a "hit."

Most indie artists I've interviewed over the years never expected to sell 100,000 copies of anything. Sure, they would love to, but they never deluded themselves into thinking it would actually happen. That's not why they became musicians. Their reticence to sign with major labels has more to do with an unwillingness to "play the game" than it does any "cool factor." The price for being an arena rock star means the loss of your creative freedom.

And indie has always been about creative freedom -- the ability to write and perform whatever you want. Sometimes the cost for that freedom is only having 20 people at your shows. 100,000 albums? Most indie bands would feel successful selling 10,000. Many would be happy selling only 1,000.

And finally, for god's sake, quit blaming everything on iPods. This idea that people love their gadgets more than the music they play is both contrived and nothing new. When I was growing up, it was cool to have a bitching stereo system. Most of the guys I hung out with in high school spent a sizable chunk of change on their stereos, and were proud to show them off to ear-bleeding effect. Who remembers going to World Radio and Stereo West and all the huge stereo stores before the rise of Best Buy? Back then, few could afford a high-end stereo, but even us "disadvantaged" kids were proud of our Realistic and Spark-o-matic systems.

Technology is a good thing. Do MP3 files sound as good as CDs? No. Do most people care? No. Most people don't have stereos good enough to tell the difference. What they do have is the ability to carry their entire music collection with them wherever they go. And unlike the old stereo days, the technology is affordable and continues to drop in price, unlike Compact Discs.

I've seen the future too, and it's going to be okay. Honest. We'll make it through this. And Homer's will be there, too. And there will even be a sound track to live by. And it won't cost you a dime.

We go a couple days without shows around here and you think it really is the death of music. Well, there are a couple good ones tonight, and the weekend's looking pretty crowded as well. As mentioned yesterday, Cloven Path plays at O'Leaver's tonight with or without a vocalist. Along for the ride is opening band Slough Feg. $5, 9:30 p.m. Meanwhile, over at The Waiting Room, it's the full-throttle grinding head-rush of Noah's Ark Was a Spaceship with Yuppies and Bazooka Shootout. I haven't seen Noah's Ark in about a year and a half. Judging from the tracks on their Myspace page, they've changed their style somewhat since then. "Adult Sized Skeletal" is filthy slacker indie punk that reminds me of Vitreous Humor. I don't remember Noah's having vocals back then. They've got 'em now. And what is it about Bazooka Shootout that reminds me of Chavez? Probably the way the lead singer does his thing. Vitreous Humor? Chavez? I'm really dating myself with these references. If you've never heard of either band, run out and buy their shit now, then head to The Waiting Room. $5, 9 p.m.

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Quiet time… – Nov. 14, 2007 –

It been kind of quiet the past few days musicwise. Something worth mentioning... Remember how I said there were only four shows slated for O'Leaver's for the balance of the year? Turns out the bar just hadn't gotten around to updating their myspace calendar. That number has doubled (actually, one of those dates is a chili cookoff), and includes a Cloven Path show tomorrow night, which should be interesting as the band recently lost its singer and was contemplating either finding a new singer or going without one as they had for so long before Kat showed up.

And... that's all, folks. Tomorrow's column discusses the bleak vision so many people seem to have for the future of the music industry. As pre-reading, go find the current issue of Rolling Stone. You can't miss it, it's the magazine with the giant holograph for a cover.

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Live Review: Saturday night at O'Leaver's… – Nov. 12, 2007 –

I didn't get rolling until 10 on Saturday, so it came down to: 1) I've never liked Trail of Dead, 2) That Nirvana Tribute will be packed/require waiting in line to get in, 3) that touring band at SCB probably already played (as SCB has touring bands open so as not to get Omaha'd). That left The Rayguns/Sleep Said the Monster at O'Leaver's, which is where I intended to go in the first place, specifically to see the Rayguns. I got there just in time for their last song -- a Jazz Odyssey-style noise symphony that reveled in its own improvisational excess. I'm told it wasn't a typical Rayguns' song, and made a note to make sure I get to The Waiting Room early on Nov. 30 when they open for McCarthy Trenching.

Reagan and friends were followed by Nashville band Happy Birthday Amy, a four-piece fronted by a woman seated behind a keyboard. By her side, a bassist, drummer and a guy who plays a variety of horns (trumpet, trombone, other brass that I wasn't familiar with). The music felt like indie cabaret, with leader Amy Smith belting out one rousing ballad after another, sort of like an alt-Bette Midler meets Joanna Newsom. Rocking enough where you didn't miss the lack of electric guitar.

Sleep Said the Monster played last. A guy watching the set next to me screwed up my evening by saying, "Don't they sound just like Coyote Bones?" I've seen SStM a few times and that comparison never dawned on me. Afterward, it was all I could think of, though honestly, their songwriting style is somewhat different. Coyote Bones' songs have a stronger central melody; SStM sounds more closely married to traditional indie rock. The biggest similarity sonically comes from their keyboard arrangements; whereas similarities performance-wise come from their frontman (don't know his name/it ain't on their myspace) who's stage presence is equal to or eclipse's CB's David Matysiak's. SStM's frontman pushes his music with his eyes and facial expressions -- I mean, when was the last time you saw a singer's eyes at O'Leaver's? He sings well, too, but his performance style makes you think he's belting it out in front of a TV camera, reaching out to those viewers watching at home. On the minus side, I can remember what SStM sounds like, but I can't remember a single song from their set. They still need to write that song where, when you're talking to someone about them, you can say, "They're the guys that do that song about…" Halfway through the set, someone asked me what I thought. I passed on that Coyotes Bones comment and afterward, he told me that's all he could think about, too. Sorry dude.

Looks like a quiet week ahead...

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Live Review: SCB and The Matt Whipkey Three; crowded Saturday night… – Nov. 10, 2007 –

Another lonely night at The Saddle Creek bar. Like O'Leaver's, SCB isn't getting out of the live music business altogether, they're just going to become extremely choosy as to who they let perform on their stage, a stage that unfortunately never lived up to its potential. I was hugely excited when I heard more than a year ago that someone was taking over the venue and turning it into a club that would cater to all types of music, including indie. The size and location are made to order. You can come up with your own list as to why so few people ever came to shows there. I point to the booking, the ever-changing sound system and the fact that the club was launched by a guy who came from outside the current music scene. Mike Coldewey is a musician who's played in rock bands for years, but none of them were part of Omaha indie collective. As a result, most of the bands that I talked to about SCB always looked at the club as an oddity among all the other clubs doing shows these days. So, as I said, Coldewey says he'll still do music, but only shows that he thinks are positively going to draw well. He can't afford nights like last night, where by the end of the evening, the headlining band was essentially only playing to the other bands on the bill and a couple stragglers like myself. The irony of it all is that the PA never sounded better. Part of the reason has to do with the bands themselves, who know how to make the best out of any PA.

I only caught the last three Scott Severin and the Milton Burlesque songs, which included a cover of Ian Hunter's "Once Bitten Twice Shy" (you probably remember the version covered by Great White). I need to see an entire Severin set, but from what I could glean from last night, he's trying to create something in the purest essence of rock 'n' roll (and he has the history and chops to pull it off). I'm redundant with this comment: The Matt Whipkey Three is the best band that Whipkey's ever been involved in, and after last night, that includes The Movies. I'm an enormous fan of perfectly balanced trios. It doesn't get more balanced than this. If you like alt-Americana rock, you'll be hardpressed to find a better band. Last might was more proof that they should have been in The Reader top-20. Something tells me that if they get this new album recorded and get out on the road (all three work at Dietz, so there's nothing stopping them other than booking the tour), I have no doubt they'll be on that list next year.

As for the Saddle Creek Bar, well, they've got another show going on tonight -- Midwest Dilemma and the Southpaw Blues Band, and according to the Saddle Creek website, St. Louis band Grace Basement, which was chosen as the Best New Band of 2007 by The Riverfront Times. The band's new album, New Sense, recalls Wilco, Kinks, and laidback indie rockers like The Reivers. Grace Basement frontman Kevin Buckley's work includes contributions to the new New Pornographers album. Check out their myspace. $5, 9 p.m. It would be a shame if they played to 10 people, but with everything else going on tonight, that's what will probably happen. The only things left on the SCB calendar is Sarah Benck next Saturday and a benefit show Dec. 15.

So your choices again tonight:
-- the SCB show just mentioned,
-- Reagan and the Rayguns opening for Sleep Said the Monster and Happy Birthday Amy at O'Leaver's
-- the Nirvana tribute showcase at Slowdown
-- and Trail of Dead with Virgasound at The Waiting Room.

Something tells me I'll be doing some bar-hopping...

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Live Review: Georgie James; the weekend ahead… – Nov. 9, 2007 –

Well, if you missed the show last night or got there late like I did, then you missed the last-ever performance by Kite Pilot (for real this time). Whether the band is breaking up or not isn't the question. Todd and Erica Hanton and Jeremy Stanosheck have instead decided to simply quit playing Kite Pilot music. Call it a long-term hiatus, though the chances of the three of them playing again as Kite Pilot are slim outside of a reunion show in eight years. They aren't giving up music altogether. Instead they say they're going to explore new sounds that are a long way from conventional guitar/drum/bass rock music. Erica also said that she's tired of fronting a band, preferring to simply be in the background. What will they come up with next? Stay tuned.

I showed up halfway through Aqueduct's set. I thought I'd seen them before, but I would have remembered their style -- straight-up melody-driven rock (indie or otherwise). The highlight was their cover of Warren G's "Regulate," (You know, the one with the sample from Michael McDonald's "I Keep Forgettin'"). It's a perfect example of why a band shouldn't cover a song that's more memorable than their own material. Afterward, I heard a couple people say how much they liked the cover, but neither mentioned Aqueduct's own songs, which included a number of tunes off Or Give Me Death, their latest album. Aqueduct is a great match for a band like Georgie James -- both bands obviously have a love for '70s rock.

This was the first night back for Georgie James after a break due to illness. They sounded tight, running through songs off their new Saddle Creek album, Places, essentially replicating the recording almost too much to a T. Maybe it was because they haven't stepped into the ring for awhile, but they seemed to be going through the motions, finishing the last song and then saying goodnight somewhat abruptly.

* * *

You've got a lot of choices this weekend, starting tonight. Let's just go down the list:

At The Waiting Room it's Toronto band Do Make Say Think, yet another act coming through town associated with Broken Social Scene. Their music is moody instrumental fare, and to be honest with you, I like the opening band, Apostle of Hustle, a little more. Lead apostle, Andrew Whiteman, also has played with BSS. $10, 9 p.m.

At Sokol Underground it's Portland punk trio The Thermals with Reporter and Thunder Power!!!. Judging from the scuttlebutt the past few weeks, this one will be well attended. $10, 9 p.m.

Finally, over at The Saddle Creek Bar, it's The Whipkey Three, Scott Severin and the Milton Burlesque, and Kyle Harvey. The Third Men originally were on this show but apparently had to cancel. $5, 9 p.m.

Saturday is just as crowded:

Slowdown Jr. is hosting a Nirvana tribute featuring more than 11 bands including Baby Walrus, Flowers Forever, Coyote Bones, Bear Country, The Shanks, Thunder Power!!!, Outlaw Con Bandana., Steph Drootin, Jake Bellows, Flamboyant Gods, and Ascetics. Each band has chosen a different Nirvana song to cover (there will be no duplicates). Should be interesting and you can't beat the price -- FREE. Starts at 9.

Still not sold out (surprisingly) is … And You Will Know Us By The Trail of Dead at The Waiting Room with Virgasound. Odd, considering that this band has drawn huge over the past few years. $12, 9 p.m.

Sadly, if you look at O'Leaver's online calendar, there are only four shows listed through the end of the year. Saturday night it's Sleep Said the Monster with Happy Birthday Amy (from Nashville) and Reagan and the Rayguns. $5, 9:30 p.m.

Of course Sunday you've got your Meat Puppets with Ha Ha Tonka at The Waiting Room. $13, 9 p.m.

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Column 149 -- Secret Social Scene; Georgie James, Kite Pilot tonight… – Nov. 8, 2007 –

I already talked about missing the Broken Social Scene show last week. I have no regrets, though it still stings a little.

Column 149: Only the Lucky Ones…
…get to see the "secret shows."

They call them "secret shows," but really they're just last-minute concerts set up on a whim, performed to a lucky few, and remembered as legend. Afterward, most will say they were there, but most are liars. They create feelings of envy and betrayal, these secret shows. The same envy and betrayal people feel when hearing about the "party of the year" the day after -- a party in which they weren't invited.

But with secret shows, it's not so much that you weren't invited as you were out of the loop.

One of my favorite secret shows happened in February 2006. Cursive had just finished writing the songs that would become Happy Hollow and wanted to test drive them in front of a crowd. What better place than tiny O'Leaver's? Word got out the day before, though even the guys at Saddle Creek Records didn't hear about it until a few hours before it all went down. That night O'Leaver's was a crush mob, but no one was left outside when the music started. By the end of the evening everyone knew they saw and heard something special, something that they probably would never hear or see again in such intimate confines. We felt lucky, and we were.

Another example: Two weeks ago, while half-dozing on my couch, my phone rang. Who the hell was calling so late? I glanced at the caller ID -- Matt Whipkey! Forget it, Matt, I'm not picking up. I went to bed only to wake up the next morning to see the following text message on my iPhone, time stamped 11:51 p.m.: "Bright eyes at barley with friedman."

It turned out that Bright Eyes drummer Clay Leverett had thrown together an impromptu country band that included Mike Friedman on pedal steel, Josh Dunwoody (Filter Kings) on upright bass, and Dave Rawlings on electric guitar. The band played country classics for about 90 minutes at the Barley Street Tavern -- a hole-in-the-wall in downtown Benson. Conor Oberst was in the audience, and after the band wrapped up and most people left, he decided to join in on the fun, playing a set of seven or eight new songs backed by Leverett and Co. Whipkey said only about 20 people were in the crowd. Twenty lucky people.

Why keep these shows secret? Because Cursive and Bright Eyes regularly sell out large venues all over the country. If word got out about these shows in these tiny venues, well, someone might get hurt. Best to keep it on the down low. If you were meant to be there, you'll be there.

That was the philosophy for what may be one of Omaha's all-time best secret shows, which happened just last Friday night. Between gigs in Boulder and Chicago, Kevin Drew, Jason Collett and the rest of Broken Social Scene decided to spend their day off in Omaha. Broken Social Scene is one of the hottest indie bands in the country, spawning such acts as Feist (she's the woman in the iPod Nano commercial) and Stars (who played at Slowdown last Sunday).

Wanting to make up for always missing Omaha on BSS tours, Drew got the idea of doing a "secret show" at the legendary Hotel Frank, an apartment used for house shows located near The Brothers Lounge on 38th and Farnam. By 6:35 that evening, posted the rumor under the headline "Holy Crap Breaking News!" Ian Atwood, who runs with Andrew Bowen, said he heard about the show via an e-mail from Aaron Markley of Slumber Party Records. It could have been one of the best house shows in house-show history.

But eventually Drew decided he needed a venue with a better PA -- he didn't want to shred his voice. That's where Slowdown came in. Val Nelson, who runs hospitality at Slowdown, said Drew and Collett were hanging out at the bar in the early evening and approached her about doing a last-minute show on Slowdown's small stage. All their gear was available except for a drum kit. Nelson called Clark Baechle of The Faint, who said he'd be happy to let them use his. With that, the show was on.

I heard the "BSS rumor" well past 11 while drinking a Rolling Rock at O'Leaver's, waiting for Life After Laserdisque to play its final show. The story seemed far-fetched. I knew I could confirm it with a single phone call, but what was the point? There was no way I was going to miss Laserdisque's last hurrah.

The only thing worse than missing a great show is hearing how great it was from people who were there. It's like listening to your co-worker blather on and on about his trip to Hawaii when you're stuck in Omaha in January. That's how I felt when Omahype reviewed the show the next day, complete with photos. Val at Slowdown said that if they could have, BSS would have played until 2 a.m., then she twisted the knife by saying Kevin Drew told her it was the best show they'd done on their entire tour.

Diehard Broken Social Scene fans who missed it had to be heart broken. In fact, Val said she heard a few sob stories the next day. But the fact was, if they didn't have friends "in the know" there's no way they could have found out about the show except for reading Omahype. And even then, chances are, like me, they could either have been asleep or indisposed and missed it anyway. Sometimes even being lucky isn't enough.

There's no secret about tonight's must-see show: Georgie James with Aqueduct and Kite Pilot at Slowdown Jr. It's a terrific line-up for only $8.

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Georgie James interview; Reagan and the Rayguns tonight … – Nov. 7, 2007 –

Just placed online, an interview/feature with John Davis of Georgie James. Davis talks about his love of soft rock derived from a life growing up in the radio business. His father, Don Davis, even did a tour of duty in Omaha at the now-defunct WOW FM, a short-lived rock station. Davis also discusses Georgie James' influences, the break-up of his former band (Q and Not U) and getting signed to Saddle Creek Records. Read it here. Some tidbits that didn't make into the story:

-- Tomorrow night's show at Slowdown Jr. is the first one back after the band took a break due to "illness." James said he's now nearly 100 percent, that constant touring without a break took its toll on him. "I'm not normally an anxious person, but it's starting to wear me down," he said last Saturday. "At this moment, I'm fine."
-- While Georgie James is primarily Davis and Laura Burhenn, the band also includes bassist Michael Cotterman, who used to play in Kid Dynamite and The Loved Ones, and drummer Andrew Black, formerly of The Explosion. "Those guys are the live band," Davis said. "The reason it's presented as a duo is that Laura and I do the writing and recording. Originally it was just the two of us for a year. These guys have been friends of mine for a long time."
-- The band's name, Georgie James, is a play on Georgie Fame and the Blue Flames. "We kicked names around for three months," Davis said. "What about Tall Grass? What about The National Zoo? We were desperate. I always thought Georgie Fame and the Blue Flames was a great name. I'm not a huge Georgie Fame fan, but what an awesome name. I suggested Georgie James because I just read a book about James Taylor. Laura liked it."
-- Though Q and Not U broke up in September 2005, Davis said the breakup had been in the works from the beginning of that year. "We half-assed a tour. It didn't go well and afterward we said, 'See? Our time's up.' It was intentional on our own part; it gave us a reason to get out of it. Harris (Klahr) and I were feeling the same thing about not wanting to do it anymore. We felt if we kept the band together when we were doing new things, the (new projects) wouldn't get the attention we wanted them to get. People would say, 'Oh, the side project is great, but when are you going to get back to the real stuff?' Forget that."
-- Davis is a vinyl music fan and is proud that Places has been released on vinyl. "I think in some ways it's a better format, both the way it sounds and the bigger artwork. It's just a better experience," he said. "In an era of free downloading, vinyl has its place. You can't download vinyl."

Now go read the whole darn article, and go down to Slowdown Jr. tomorrow night for Georgie James along with Kite Pilot and Aqueduct. It's only $8 ferchristsake... But before you do, go down to Slowdown Jr. tonight for Reagan and the Rayguns (that's Reagan Roeder's band) when it opens for Will Hoge along with Brad Hoshaw. $12, 9 p.m.

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Vverevvolf Grehv (Dapose from The Faint) signs to Relapse… – Nov. 6, 2007 –

Relapse Records, home to such artists as The Dillinger Escape Plan, Mastodon, Cephalic Carnage and Alabama Thunderpussy, announced yesterday that it signed Vverevvolf Grehv, the one-man metal project of Faint guitarist Dapose (a project formerly known as Precious Metal). "Metal has always been the most extreme form of music since its creation, and I've always felt a calm and a peace from it," Dapose said in the Relapse press release. "Something like the intensity of a Buddhist monk's chant, or the sounds one hears when riding a train, relentless repetition becomes meditative and allows a reflective process aiding our well being. Which to me is why many people in the metal world are among the nicest people you'll ever meet."

Dapose's Relapse debut, Zombie Aesthetics, is slated for release March 4. Omahans may get a sneak peak at Dapose's new album when VG opens for The Show Is the Rainbow at Slowdown Dec. 8.

Tomorrow, look for an interview with John Davis of Georgie James.

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Live Review: Stars, Slowdown notes… – Nov. 5, 2007 –

Nearly 400 diehard Stars fans got more than their money's worth last night at Slowdown -- a set that lasted nearly two hours. The whole time, you could tell that Torquil Campbell and the rest of the band were thrilled to be there. In fact, they told the crowd so, over and over throughout their set, saying such glowing things like Slowdown was a gem "built on music." All night, band members would make their way to the microphones and say how proud they were to be there. It was kind of sweet and charming.

The band came on at around 10:15 to a stage adorned with bouquets of flowers and abstract artwork on easels. It almost looked like a funeral, except for the computer-controlled strobes that blared from behind the stage. Talk about your theatrics, at one point Torq strolled out in a jacket covered in lights, looking like a walking Christmas tree. Glam!

I'm not a long-time fan of Stars, having only discovered them with this last album. Obviously they have a strong back-catalog judging by what I heard last night. I had a couple people tell me to check out Set Yourself on Fire, which I'll definitely do after hearing some of the lush songs performed last night. Gorgeous stuff. The six-piece included a guitarist, bass, drummer, keyboard player, Torq on a Casio-style keyboard, trumpet and vocals and Amy Millan on guitar and vocals. It was the best-sounding set I've heard on Slowdown's big stage (and that includes Cursive, Two Gallants and The Rentals). They finished at around 11:15, then went on to play an encore that lasted nearly 45 minutes. I didn't get out of there until midnight.

A few notes about Slowdown while I'm thinking of it. First, they've installed a huge, white Habitrail-looking piece of artwork that hangs from the ceiling over the main floor (see homepage pic). The installation is from Brooklyn artist Jason Peters who currently is working at The Bemis. I'm told that the tube actually lights up in different colors. For some technical reason, it didn't light up last night, but it was still impressive and fit right in with Slowdown's overall aesthetic. It's not a permanent feature. Proprietors Nansel and Kulbel tell me that it'll only hang in the rafters for about a month, but that we can expect to see more artist installations in the future.

The other bit of news is the new capacity rating for Slowdown. The city originally gave the room a capacity of around 470. The new number is a whopping 615. That's a huge jump based solely on having the inspectors come out and take another walk through the venue. There's no question that the new number will have a positive impact on the size/stature of bands that One Percent and Slowdown can book for the venue.

Tonight at O'Leaver's, Athens band Casper and the Cookies with Pat Fleming. $5, 9:30 p.m.

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Yep, I was there... – Nov. 3, 2007 –

I know what you're wondering and the answer is yes, I was there, too. I actually heard about it a lot earlier than most, but I couldn't get over there until around 11, and by then, well, as expected the place was packed. They started off by thanking the crowd for coming out and then tore into a number of songs off their last record, which made the crowd go completely apeshit. In fact, I thought there was going to be a riot when they said that their next song would be their last, but as luck would have it, they had time for one more (which I think they had intended to play anyway). When they finally finished, everyone was on their feet begging for more, but that was it, not only for last night, but forever.

Waitaminit. You didn't think I was talking about the Broken Social Scene show at Slowdown last night, did you? I heard about that one, too, at around 10:30 last night, but as much as I like BSS, there was no way I was going to miss LALD's last show ever. From what I can tell, Omahype was the first to get the scoop online, and also is the only one with a full review of the show, complete with pics. Check it out. It will go down as another in a series of amazing "secret shows" that everyone will say they were at, but few actually were. The same will be said for LALD's last show, too. What's the old adage? The biggest crowds that bands play for are at their CD release show and their farewell gig. That probably also was the case with LALD. It was the biggest show I've seen at O'Leaver's in quite a while. It was also the best performance I've ever heard from the band, so good, in fact, you wonder why they're hanging it up. I'm sure they have their reasons, and I'm sure we'll be seeing these guys performing around town again in other bands in the near future.

Tonight, the not-so-secret Mountain Goats show at Slowdown, or the pop-rock stylings of Black Tie Dynasty at The Waiting Room.

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A Slowdown weekend; Life After Laserdisque's Last Waltz tonight... – Nov. 2, 2007 –

Is it me or has Slowdown put some giddy-up in their booking? Remember when Robb and Jason said they were only going to do two or three shows a week? Just glancing at their calendar, I think that's headed out the window, and why not? It's a shame to let the venue's two wonderful stages go to waste. But before we get to that, tonight is the farewell performance of Life After Laserdisque. I'm not sure why the band has decided to hang it up, but they're going out in style, headlining at O'Leaver's with Kansas City's The Dark Circles (Anodyne Records) and Ketchup and Mustard Gas (Mark from Dance Me Pregnant, Dustin from Paria, Andy from Capgun Coup). Will there be special guest appearances by Eric Clapton or Bob Dylan? Highly doubtful. 9:30, $5.

Also tonight, Hyannis, Talkin' Mountain, Electric Needle Room and Top Hat at Shea Riley's. It's the CD release party for ENR. $5 if you're over 21, $8 if you're not (but are over 18). 9 p.m.

Saturday night, The Mountain Goats return to Omaha, this time at Slowdown with Bowerbirds. Anyone remember what happened the last time the Goats came through? You can reminisce here, and then look for Donovan lurking over by the photo booth, ready to pounce. $12, 9 p.m. Also Saturday night, Dallas-based '80s-inspired rockers Black Tie Dynasty plays at The Waiting Room with A. Symbiont. $7, 9 p.m.

Sunday night it's Stars at Slowdown with Magnet. $15, 9 p.m.

Did I miss anything? Post the show here.

<Got comments? Post 'em here.>

Column 148 --Stars and Pitchfork; Erin McKeown tonight... – Nov. 1, 2007 –

There's no love lost between Stars and Pitchfork, at least not from the Pitchfork side. Just yesterday they published a tour update on Stars, where they called the band "the most romantic theater troupe around." Torq isn't the first to rail against the 'zine, and he won't be the last.

Column 148: Critical Mass
Stars and Pitchfork

When I was interviewing Torquil Campbell, one of the driving forces behind the band Stars (see feature), there was one topic I tried to avoid. I wanted to keep the interview focused on music, not on gossip, not on business details, not on web-based controversy.

But I couldn't help myself. If you look up Stars in that vast online research junkyard called Wikipedia, there's a portion of the entry dedicated to Campbell's recent scrap with Pitchfork, the all-knowing, all-seeing online bible of the indie music world. Was a day when Option and Magnet were the key critical publications for all things indie. Not anymore. Pitchfork, an online music 'zine located at, has become a make or break critical entity for new and unknown indie bands. A rave review in Pitchfork can mean the difference between playing to 20 people on tour and 200 (or 2,000). This, despite the fact that music consumers can simply go to Myspace and listen to tracks for free and ascertain for themselves if they like a band's music or not.

Glowing reviews by those "tastemakers" at Pitchfork have been cited for helping break bands including The Arcade Fire, Clap Your Hands and Say Yeah, The Go! Team and Tapes 'n' Tapes. But strangely, a negative review in Pitchfork isn't necessarily a bad thing, either. Just being mentioned on the site means possibly piquing the interest of some of its reported 200,000 daily readers. No, the worst thing that can happen is for Pitchfork to ignore you altogether. That means you don't even exist.

I'm not a regular reader of Pitchfork, not because it's a bad website, but because I generally don't have time and almost never agree with their reviews, which are consistently too long and too wordy. When it comes to criticism, all I want to know is if a record is worth checking out. Pitchfork's 10-point rating system is archaic and noncommittal. The common denominator is that anything scoring over an 8.0 is good. The rest is mediocre.

Maybe that's why Campbell was so pissed when he read Pitchfork's 7.4 rating of Stars' new album, In Our Bedroom After the War. Most bands would kill for a 7.4. It probably wasn't the rating, but the review itself that pissed him off, specifically writer Ryan Dombal's descriptions of the songs. "The Les Mis-esque weeper 'Barricade' doesn't fare as well," the review goes. "Its storyline is trite (a couple brought together -- then torn apart -- by a common, radical cause!) and, accompanied by a lone piano, there's nothing for Campbell to hide behind" and "Muddled by forced postmodern nonsense and an oddly lifeless narrative, 'Life 2: The Unhappy Ending' is about as boring as its title."

Funny, but those two songs are among my favorites on the album.

For some reason, critics struggle with Stars' lyrics. Take the All Music Guide description of the song "Personal," a track about two people passing through the night via personal ads who never actually meet. It has one of the best lines on the album, sung by Amy Millan: "28 and bored, grieving over loss, sorry to be heavy, but heavy is the cost, heavy is the cost." The AMG review interpreted the line this way: "'Personal' is a character-driven melodramatic ditty that chronicles a protagonist who places a newspaper ad and is stood up because she is too obese."

Campbell's response when I asked him about AMG's interpretation: "That's what happens when a 16-year-old writes a review."

He wasn't as restrained with Pitchfork, however, which he lambasted on his Myspace page (the comments have since been removed though nothing ever really gets deleted on the Internet). He said "Barricade" is actually about two fascist soccer hooligans "who can only top a night of beating old people senseless by having rough anal sex and sniffing glue. I know, I know, figuring that out would require LISTENING to the lyrics..." Campbell went on to make some rather, um, unkind comments about Dombal, concluding with, "You know what a reviewer for Pitchfork makes? 40 bucks a review. You know what they should make? 38.50."

AOL Music picked up on Campbell's and Pitchfork's back-and-forth and asked about the controversy. "Pop music is the venue of the ridiculous," he said in the AOL article. "If it isn't ridiculous, it isn't pop music. It should be simultaneously beautiful and profound and ridiculous. If you're not amused by a piano ballad about fascist soccer hooligans, then you're not amused by it. But I think it's a good thing that people like us are around. I wish that journalists would write about what interests them instead of what doesn't interest them. It just doesn't seem to me to be very constructive."

Adding to this discourse only gives it more relevance, yet I couldn't help myself. I had to ask Campbell what impact the Pitchfork discussion has had on the band.

"I don't think it's had the slightest impact," he said. "Most people don't care what I think of Pitchfork and what Pitchfork thinks of me. Most people listen to music and go on with their lives. I think it's a pretty trivial detail that only interests other journalists."

Maybe, maybe... But in an age when the music industry seems to be in free-fall, and bands as big as Springsteen are struggling just to get noticed, is there such thing as a bad controversy? Or a bad review?

Twangy folkie Erin McKeown is playing at The Waiting Room tonight. McKeown is sort of this generation's Ani DiFranco with a touch of K.D. Lang thrown in for good measure. It's an early show -- 8 p.m. (with apparently no opening acts), $12.

<Got comments? Post 'em here.>

Stars interview, Capgun Boo; Bad Luck Charm, Virgasound on Halloween... – Oct. 31, 2007 –

Just placed online, a chat with Stars frontman Torquil Campbell. Torq talked about the new album, In Our Bedroom After the War, the rise of the Canadian music scene and how it reflects what happened in Omaha, and more. Read it here. Part of what didn't make it into the story was Torq's comments on the slow rise of Stars, how just a few years ago the band was virtually unknown beyond the its core underground fanbase. "We spent the first three years with the seven of us in a minivan, sharing a single hotel room and playing to nobody," he said. "We played in Chicago and Boston and New York and Philly six or seven times, and each time a few more people were there."

Campbell said it wasn't until last year that the band saw a jump in show attendance. Part of the reason -- opening for Death Cab for Cutie. "They helped us connect with an audience that hadn't heard us before," he said, adding that the connection with Death Cab came from mutual associates and the fact that DCFC were fans and wanted to make it happen. "It's not very often that you get a band who cares so much for the opener and would be so generous to an unknown band. Most of the time when you open you get a couple hundred dollars. They gave us a thousand. We got lucky, man."

Up until the DCFC show, however, there were some dark days for Stars, and Campbell said giving up was in the back of his mind. "We lived in a permanent state of doom through most of our careers," he said, "but on some very fundamental level we knew it would happen because we kept on doing it. There for sure were a lot of times when we asked ourselves why we were doing what we were doing. Sometimes you ask yourself if it's worth it, but the essence of it is if you can make music and find people who connect to it, it's incredibly rare and satisfying."

The other part of the interview that didn't make it into the story involves a recent review in Pitchfork and how Campbell responded. That's the topic of tomorrow's column: Is there really such thing as a bad review these days?

And speaking of bad reviews, Aversion posted their review of the Capgun Coup debut and it is hands-down the most negative review of an Omaha release that I've read in years (if not ever). Among the bombs dropped in critic Nick Loughery's one-star review: "Capgun Coup isn't just unbearable, it's obnoxious. It's the worst of the DIY underground -- the egotistic notion that your music doesn't have to conform to anyone's standards of listenability, structure or purpose. It's individualistic past the point of no return, an exercise in ego over artistic aesthetics. It's a train wreck from beginning to end." Yeah, but but did you like it, Nick? Read the entire review here. Despite Aversion's comments, live reviews for Capgun opening for Bright Eyes on his past tour have been glowing, some comparing the band to Desaparecidos -- quite a compliment.

For once, there are actually some solid shows happening on Halloween night. Too bad I'll be skipping all of them because I f**king hate all the costume bullsh*t. The best show of the bunch is at The Waiting Room: Bad Luck Charm, Brimstone Howl, The Bombardment Society and the new, improved Virgasound -- all for just $7. This is such a good line-up that I might pick through my old clothes and create my own hobo costume (always a favorite in my trick-or-treat days). Meanwhile, just down the street at Mick's, Kyle Harvey, Matt Whipkey, Sarah Benck and Korey Anderson will be playing a free show. Both shows start at 9. Happy Halloween.

<Got comments? Post 'em here.>

Looking for Cobain; Octopus/Kite Pilot/Keen tonight... – Oct. 30, 2007 –

Musicians (or non musicians) take note: Slowdown is looking for people to perform Nirvana songs as part of their Nirvana Tribute Night, an event being held in conjunction with Filmstreams' premier of the documentary "Kurt Cobain: About a Boy" Nov. 10. Choice of covers is being handed out on a first-come basis -- i.e., you'll need to contact Val at Slowdown ASAP to secure your favorite song before someone else does. There's no door charge that night, so you'll be working for free. Still, for anyone who's ever wanted to play Slowdown, it's a good intro (The show is slated for the "small stage" we call Slowdown Jr.). Go here for more info.

What else...

Tonight, Austin electronic pop band The Octopus Project is playing at The Waiting Room with Kite Pilot and Darren Keen (a.k.a. The Show Is the Rainbow). Will Kite Pilot pull out that Protoculture cover? We'll see... $7, 9 p.m.

Tomorrow, look for a feature/review/interview with Stars. It's Part 1 of a two-part piece. Part 2 is this week's column, which will be online Thursday.

<Got comments? Post 'em here.>

Live Review: Tartufi, The Stay Awake... – Oct. 29, 2007 –

Briefly, my only show this weekend was Friday night at O'Leaver's, featuring Tartufi and The Stay Awake. Tartufi was the big surprise. A two-piece featuring Brian Gorman on drums (and bullhorn) and Lynne Angel on guitar, bass, keyboards and vocals, the trick to their layered sound was the use of loop upon loop upon loop, which allowed Angel to do three-part harmony with herself, play guitar and bass, all at the same time. I've seen the loop-thing done a lot lately, but never as effectively. It worked kind of like this: Angel would loop a lead guitar, change to bass and rough up a second riff, add a vocal, loop it with a second vocal and then a third (there were three microphones set up). The music was proggy indie rock that bordered on Pixies punk. It looked like quite a workout. With all that sound equipment, pedals and other gear, it took Tartufi a long time to get set up, pushing their set past the midnight hour. The Stay Awake did all they could to hustle their gear on stage and get going. As a result, we were treated (or should I say cheated) to a shortened set. The Stay Awake's style is brittle, abrasive, angry and purposely confusing punk rock based on animal riffage and vocal squalls of frontman Steve Micek, and the rhythm power of bassist Robert Little and drummer/god Mario Alderfer. Frenzied, anxious, searing, jittery, heated and loud, The Stay Awake never fail to entertain (which is why they belonged on The Reader's top-band list). My only regret was forgetting to buy a copy of their new album, which was available for the first time at the show. Look for an official CD release show in the coming months.

<Got comments? Post 'em here.>

Column 147: 20 + 15 = Pissed; The Stay Awake tonight… – Oct. 26, 2007 –

So, the 20 best bands in Nebraska and the next 15 after that, according to The Reader, are:

The Top 20 (in no order):

Bright Eyes
The Good Life
Little Brazil
Simon Joyner and the Fallen Men
Brimstone Howl
Coyote Bones
Art in Manila
Outlaw Con Bandana
Tilly and the Wall
The Terminals
Go Motion
Maria Taylor
Sarah Benck
Capgun Coup
The Balance
Narcotic Self

The Next 15 (again, in no order):

Flowers Forever
Kris Lager Band
The Show is the Rainbow
Spring Gun
Baby Walrus
The Monroes
The Shanks
The Mezcal Brothers
A. Symbiont
Ideal Cleaners

Agree? Disagree? Add your voice to a thread on the topic that was started yesterday on the webboard or post your own list. My thoughts on this whole "list" business:

Column 147: It Still Doesn't Matter
Another list, another opportunity to piss people off.

So there I was Tuesday morning at 5 a.m., wracking my brain to come up with something profound to say about The Reader's annual "list of best bands," something that I didn't already say in last year's column. Then, like a bolt out of the blue, it struck me:

Why not just rerun last year's column?

After all, I'm not delusional or egotistical enough to believe that anyone actually read my column last year (or that anyone's reading it now, for that matter). And what could I possibly say differently from last year that wouldn't apply to this year's list? So like I said:

The core problem with creating a special "music issue" of The Reader that includes a "list" of the 20 "best bands" in the Omaha/Lincoln area is obvious. You're forced to answer the question: "What's the point?" Why place bands in a pecking order based on the (hopefully, though unlikely) well-informed opinion of a group of faceless critics who feel compelled to tell the public what is good and what isn't?

The argument against such a list gets down to one undeniable fact: When it comes to art, competition sucks. It serves no purpose. It makes friends enemies. It creates pride, envy and doubt in the heart of the artists. It discourages as much as it encourages new art, new ideas, risk-taking.

And yet, "best of" lists and the endless string of award shows have become an acknowledged method of recognizing art and music in our culture, even though the determination of what's good and what isn't ultimately rests solely in the eyes and ears of the beholder. You can tell me a thousand times that something is great or something sucks, but in the end, I'll decide for myself (Unless, of course, I'm a sheep).

So why do it? Why make a list of the best and a list of runners-up (and, by default, a list of those that didn't make the lists)? The most obvious reason: Because it's fun. It's controversial. And most importantly, because people love their lists and awards. They need to have their opinions validated, to affirm that they, indeed, have "good taste." So I guess it all comes down to ego, and doesn't ego fuel all art? Perhaps, perhaps…

What I can tell you with extreme confidence is that no matter how Editor Andy and the rest of the staff cut it, the list will piss people off. Hell, I don't even like the list. Where's Mal Madrigal and Outlaw Con Bandana? Where's Brimstone Howl? WHERE THE HELL IS THE MONROES?

Ah, those were the days. I can still hear publisher John Heaston whining about how the list was my idea in the first place and how I had some nerve bagging on it. John, you're right. You're always right. That's why you're the publisher!

Of course, this year Outlaw and Brimstone and even my beloved Monroes made the list. Mal Madrigal continues to be a no-show, but that'll change next year when Steve Bartolomei and his compadres finally get around to releasing that vinyl-only recording that we've been hearing about for, well, almost a year.

I could point out that this year's list is missing a number of bands that I suggested, including McCarthy Trenching, Matt Whipkey, The Third Men, The Family Radio, Cloven Path, The Filter Kings and The Stay Awake. But that would sound like I was complaining, and really, what's there to complain about?

Actually, this year anyone irritated by The Reader's list can wait a few short months for the Omaha Entertainment Awards to have their outrage vindicated. The OEAs depends on a public nomination process, a process that just happens to be going on right now at (Click on the banner at the top of the page to cast your vote).

If there's one thing that stands out about this year's list it's the plethora of new acts that were either under the radar or simply didn't exist a year ago. Among them, Art in Manila, Coyote Bones, Capgun Coup, Flowers Forever, Spring Gun, The Shanks and Baby Walrus. These are the bands that carry the hopes of Nebraska's music scene into the future, whether they like it or not. A few will be on this list next year and for years to come. A few will be conspicuously absent. And a few will be gone for good. Such is the nature of rock 'n' roll.

Anyway… like I said last year, if you think we got it wrong, don't get mad. Relax. It's all in good fun. You already know that your favorite band is good, whether the idiots at The Reader know it or not. (Sorry, John.)

* * *

The weekend is upon us again, dear readers and here's what happening:

Tonight' top choice: The Stay Awake at O'Leaver's with Tartufi, Barbara Trentalange (Ex- Crooked Fingers), and my all-time favorite, TBA! 9:30, $5.

Meanwhile, Cloven Path is down at Sokol Underground with The Beat Seekers and Poor Man's Opera. I'm told that CP recently lost their lead singer, so it'll be interesting to see how they pull that one off. $7, 9 p.m.

And the annual JazzWholes (oops, make that just The Wholes, they dropped the "jazz" part) Halloween show is going on at Slowdown with Haywood Yard. $12, 9 p.m..

Tomorrow's marquee public show is Little Brazil with Go Motion and Malpias at Slowdown. $7, 9 p.m. There's also a hot house party going on that's somewhat private -- I can't give out too many details other than the lineup, which includes the area's best punk bands: The Shanks, The Terminals, The Upsets, and Rick Rhythm and the Revengers. Some details about the show are available here, but you'll have to search out the rest on your own.

And then on Sunday it's Minus the Bear, Helio Sequence and Grand Archives at Slowdown. $15, 9 p.m.

<Got comments? Post 'em here.>

Live Review: Bright Eyes… – Oct. 25, 2007 –

You know, the great thing about Bright Eyes is that no two shows are alike. Sure, you generally hear the same songs you've heard all the other times, but there's always some slight change, something different that keeps things interesting.

What made last night's show at The Waiting Room one for the ages (other than the fact that it was 1 Percent Productions' 10-year anniversary -- seems like only yesterday that I watched Marc and Jim walk down that aisle…) was Conor's overall demeanor and the addition of guitarist David Rawlings. Oberst hasn't looked this "into" a show in years. Was it the smaller stage? Was it being surrounded by friends and family (his pops was standing just a few feet away)? Was it all the booze? I'll point to TWR's overall vibe -- it's got a big-room feel but still seems remarkably intimate. Really, when was the last time (other than last week's show at The Barley St.) that Oberst has been this close to a crowd? You could tell after the first few songs that he was letting it flow, at one point telling the audience that the play list had been thrown out the window.

Despite the fact that the place was crazy packed, something seemed oddly different right when I walked through the door. What's that smell? Is that fresh air? Did TWR purchase a multi-million dollar air purification system? No. By order of the band, smoking wasn't permitted at the show. I heard a few reasons for it, the most logical being that BE's traveling sound guy suffers from severe asthma. I can see where that wouldn't be a problem with the rest of the tour, as BE is playing mostly in theaters that don't allow smoking. Had they allowed smoking last night, Conor would have been down at the morgue this morning identifying his sound guy's body.

The other possible reason for the smoking ban -- the high-dollar sound equipment that BE hauled in for the show. Outside the venue, I heard a couple gearheads going ga-ga over the microphone set up -- "You know what those things cost?! That's the real reason we're out here smoking!" Well, maybe. There were a lot of microphones on stage, including a couple really fancy mics mounted to the cymbals on the drum set. I'm told the entire performance was recorded, which might have had something to do with it. Towers of equipment were stacked off to the side of stage right -- cables and cabinets and lights, it looked like a construction site. One giant board did nothing but control the sound out of the stage monitors. I'm told a generator had to be brought in to run it all. It looked like enough shit to power a show at The Qwest Center. The result was a damn fine-sounding show, on par with a typical show at TWR (translation: It probably would have sounded just as good had they used the house sound).

I showed up at around 10:30. Simon Joyner already was well into his set. In fact, he was almost finished. Still, I was just in time for one of the evening's highlights. Joyner's band had left the stage and he was joined by Oberst on keyboards for one song -- "Joy Division" off the landmark Joyner album The Cowardly Traveller Pays His Toll -- my favorite song from my favorite Joyner album. I was told last night that someone is reissuing Cowardly Traveller on vinyl in the coming months. Seek it out and buy a record player if you don't already have one. Oberst provided some vocal harmonies, then left the stage as the rest of Joyner's band came back for a final tune -- a roaring version of "Medicine Blues" off Skeleton Blues, my second favorite Joyner album. I felt like I was at a Country Joe and the Fish concert circa Woodstock. The crowd ate it up.

Bright Eyes came on at around 11. Forget the white suit for this tour. Instead, he was dressed in a black front-button long-underwear style shirt, his shoulder-length hair recently lopped off in a part-down-the-middle style reminiscent of Matthew Sweet circa 1994 (but done in black, of course).

I've seen Oberst perform maybe 20 times, probably more. Last night's show was a throwback to the old, more laid-back days when he still played clubs. He was more relaxed and in tune with his band than at any large hall/theater shows he's done around here over the past few years -- he actually looked like he was enjoying himself. The set, which lasted around 90 minutes, was heavier than normal, in part because of the band. Rawlings is a bad-ass guitarist who knows how rip up a solo and loosen the restraints on Oberst's more demure numbers, unlike Mogis, who instead generally adds delicate, colorful flourishes on guitar or pedal steel that never get in the way. Rawlings is just fine yanking the attention away from Conor, and that dynamic was a breath of fresh air.

As had been reported earlier, Mogis isn't on this part of the current Bright Eyes tour. The rest of the band consisted of permanent BE member Nate Walcott on keyboards (and keytar), Clay Leverett on drums, and a bass player who I recognized but don't know. Gillian Welch came on stage for a few songs, as did Simon. The first half of the set seemed somewhat scripted. It was the second half that obviously strayed, with Oberst dedicating most every song to someone in the audience. One example was a quick, half-ass take on a song from A Collection of Songs... (was it "Falling Out of Love at This Volume"?) played by request. You're not going to hear that one played live again. The rest of the set was the usual stuff, the best tunes off Cassadaga, Lifted, and Wide Awake, along with a few new songs that sounded like songs off those three albums.

The highlight was the encore. Joining the band in his trademark sweater and glasses was Mike Mogis, playing along on a Tom Petty cover ("Walls") and then joining the onslaught of guitar for the evening's final song, a blistering, angry, violent anti-war rocker that recalled Neil Young at his most metal. Given the choice between Bright Eyes backed with three guitarists and Bright Eyes backed with an orchestra, I'll take the three guitarists every time.

Want more details? Check out all the other reviews of the show online, including:

* * *

Since this entry already is over a 1,100 words, I'm going to wait 'til tomorrow for the column and top-20 list. You dying to read it now? Go out and pick up a copy of The Reader.

<Got comments? Post 'em here.>

Bright Eyes, Simon tonight; Omaha sound guys… – Oct. 24, 2007 –

Those of you fortunate enough to have snagged tickets to tonight's Bright Eyes concert at The Waiting Room, here's a sneak preview in the form of a review of Monday night's show at Milwaukee's Pabst Theater from (full review here). The writer was less than impressed with Simon Joyner: "Numbingly dull singer-songwriter Simon Joyner has a voice like moss and quickly lost the crowd's attention—which is saying something, since usually Pabst Theater audiences will politely sit through anything. 'Conor, where are you?' one woman in the balcony moaned after Joyner finished singing a particularly bland, flat song." Ouch. On the other hand he was impressed with Capgun Coup after he figured out who they were. "Their name was utterly indecipherable—Captain Goo? Cat Fondue?" Cat Fondue is a frickin' great name for a band, btw. "It's not too much of a surprise that Oberst has taken such a liking to them, since they sound a lot like he used to before he tried to reinvent himself as a serious singer-songwriter: spazzy, poppy, catchy, wonderful." He goes on to describe Capgun as sounding "like a young D.C. punk band doing an entire set of Clean covers." As reported earlier, Dave Rawlings is playing guitar with Bright Eyes on this tour, replacing Mike Mogis, who I'm told is busy in the studio. Sounds like we're in for a set list that's a "career-spanning grab bag, heavy on Oberst's louder, more charged material." Opening tonight is Simon Joyner and Flowers Forever. 9 p.m. and yeah, it's SOLD OUT.

Lazy-i content for the rest of the week is a real jumble. First, I plan on posting a review of tonight's show online tomorrow. Despite doing a ton of work for The Reader this week, I don't have much to show for it. This issue is the paper's annual "music issue" that includes the usual list of the area's top 20 bands (and the next 15). I wrote profiles of about six of them. This week's column talks about the list, but is essentially a rehash of last year's column. I'll probably throw it online tomorrow, along with the list. The Reader's cover story is a focus on Omaha sound guys. The photo was taken on stage at Slowdown last last week. Inside are profiles of at least 10 local sound guys. When I approached Editor Andy Norman with the idea, I originally wanted the profiles to resemble trading cards -- each with an action photo of a soundman at work, followed by key stats and comments. I have no idea how the final product will look. I interviewed seven sound engineers for the story: Jason Churchill, Dan Brennan, Jeremiah McIntyre, Brendan Greene-Walsh, Kevin Hiddleston, Jim Bogensberger and Jay Wilcher. Jeremy Buckley also interviewed a few sound guys in Lincoln. Neva Dinova's Jake Bellows wrote the article's introduction. I won't be posting the profiles here, so you'll have to pick up a copy of The Reader when it hits the stands tomorrow.

<Got comments? Post 'em here.>

Live Review: Domestica, The Monroes, Ideal Cleaners… – Oct. 22, 2007 –

My only show this weekend was the Speed! Nebraska showcase at O'Leaver's Saturday night. And as you might imagine, the house was utterly packed.

In many ways, it was a throwback to a better, simpler time, circa 1990-something, when Mercy Rule and Frontier Trust were among the top punk bands in the Omaha/Lincoln area. Now some 15 years later, here was the same primary talent at it again, doing their thing better than ever. I wonder if they knew they'd still be jumping on stages after all these years…

As you may or may not know (and surprisingly, a few people I talked to before the show, didn't) Domestica is two-thirds of Mercy Rule -- vocalist/bassist Heidi Ore and guitarist/vocalist Jon Taylor -- but instead of Ron Albertson, Boz Hicks is behind the drum set bringing a completely different style of drumming to their sound. Beyond that difference, it's pretty much business as usual. Domestica, as Mercy Rule before it, excels in punk-rock anthems -- loud, soft, loud, as Taylor put it, the only way to go. Listening to the band's new five-song EP, I'm reminded of Mercy Rule circa Providence. Heidi's voice has the same sweet coo, Taylor's guitar has the same guttural growl. The CD is a must-have for any Mercy Rule fan, astutely recorded by engineer Ian Aeillo at ARC Studios in Omaha (the Mogis compound).

Strangely, Domestica's mix Saturday night was muddy and somewhat restrained -- you can always use more Taylor guitar. On the other hand, The Monroes' set was dead-perfect all around, probably the best set I've heard from these guys (and I've seen them at least a dozen times). Yeah, O'Leaver's has a tiny PA, but the room is perfectly suited for certain bands, and The Monroes is definitely one of them. I'm listening to their new "Drillin' Daylight" 7-inch as I type this, recorded by Brooks Hitt at his Hittsville! U.S.A. studio in Havelock -- it's the best-sounding record they've ever released. Great sleeve and pressed on sexy ruby-colored vinyl. What more do you want? And in case you didn't know it, Lincoln Dickison is one of the best guitarists in Omaha. Beyond the music, the other highlight was the ongoing trivia contest, where fans were given Richard Petty Pez dispensers as prizes to questions like "How fast was I going when I got a ticket?" Answer: 47, a rather wimpy speed for a Plymouth. You can do better than that, Gary.

Ideal Cleaners played last to a crowd that only got bigger as the night rolled on. I was pinned against the wall by the door throughout the set, no way to move to the railing. Of the three bands, IC is the most straight-forward, and the most brutal. Their new full-length, Muchacho, is an orgy of pounding punk rock that never loses sight of the melodies. A few songs (like the title track, for instance) remind me of Criteria, while other tracks (like "You've Got the Prettiest Fingers") sport a dirtier, grittier groove. I would compare them to Ladyfinger, except that their music is a bit more accessible and less acidic. Nice stuff. Nice night.

<Got comments? Post 'em here.>

Electric Jellyfish tragedy; Live Review: The Family Radio; Scout Niblett tonight, Speed! Nebraska tomorrow… – Oct. 19, 2007 –

Musician/soundman/Lazy-i intern Brendan Greene-Walsh passed along some rather grim news last night about Melbourne Australia band Electric Jellyfish, who played at O'Leaver's last week. The gig was part of a cross-country tour that included Chicago, Detroit and then Brooklyn this weekend. They never made it.

Brendan got a call yesterday while driving around town from a reporter from the Cleveland Plain Dealer, asking about Electric Jellyfish. What the reporter told him caused Brendan to pull over to the side of the road. The band was in a fatal accident on the Ohio Turnpike yesterday morning; their 2001 Chevy Tahoe flipped, skidded and smashed into a concrete barrier after trying to avoid a deer in the road. Electric Jellyfish guitarist Hayden Rodney Sweeney, 23, and his wife, Bridget O'Brien, 26, died at the scene. Three other band members were taken to the hospital, but were not seriously injured, according to the Plain-Dealer article, here. Sad, scary stuff.

* * *

Very impressive crowd last night at The Waiting Room for The Family Radio/MC Chris show -- maybe 150? I can't tell you who was the primary draw, but there were a ton of faces there I've never seen before.

The Family Radio came out at around 10 with frontman Nik Fackler in full-on ghost warrior face paint. The four-piece blazed through a half-hour of proggy, indie rock that highlighted Chris Senseney's intricate guitar work and Fackler's sing/scream energy. I liken them to a Soviet version of King Crimson with a smattering of Arcade Fire thrown in for good measure. Since it began a few years ago, the band has constantly evolved, from a laid-back warm-hearted chamber-folk project to an intense, all-out prog-punk theater routine. I don't know if I was more mesmerized by the music, the band or the video of a Final Fantasy game that was projected on the screen behind them. Somehow, it all just seemed to fit. Fackler said last night's gig will be the last one for awhile as he's begun shooting his full-length motion picture, Lovely Still, which will keep him busy through spring.

* * *

The weekend is upon us.

Tonight at The Waiting Room it's former wig-wearing sensation Scout Niblett with Thunder Power!! and Alessi. $8, 9 p.m.

Over at O'Leaver's, it's The Jack and Jim Show, Miracles of God and Brian Poloncic. $5, 9:30 p.m.

Saturday's big show is the big Speed! Nebraska showcase at O'Leaver's featuring The Monroes, Domestica, and Ideal Cleaners. All three bands will be celebrating the release of must-have new material. I guarantee this show will exceed O'Leaver's tiny capacity. Get there early. $5, 9:30 p.m.

Down at Slowdown Jr. it's Coyote Bones with touring bands Coupleskate and Belfrie. $7, 9 p.m.

Sunday at The Waiting Room it's Rogue Wave with Port O'Brien, $10/$12, 9 p.m. Meanwhile, over at O'Leaver's, it's The Stay Awake with Dim Light and Meneguar. $5, 9:30 p.m.

<Got comments? Post 'em here.>

Bright Eyes at Barley St.; One Percent Pt. II, Pinback tonight… – Oct. 18, 2007 –

Sounds like there was an impromptu Bright Eyes performance last night, in of all places, The Barley Street Tavern. Matt Whipkey (of The Matt Whipkey Three) was there. He even IM'd me on my cell phone, but by 11:30 I was busy counting sheep. According to Whipkey, it all went down like this:

Bright Eyes' drummer Clay Leverett quickly threw together a country band that included Mike Friedman on pedal steel, Josh Dunwoody (Filter Kings) on upright bass, and Dave Rawlings on electric guitar. The band, which had never played or practiced together before, played and sang country classics for about 90 minutes.

After that wrapped up, most people took off, but that's when Oberst decided to join in on the fun. He played a set of seven or eight new songs, backed by Rawlings, Leverett and Friedman.

"Then he started calling people to the stage," Whipkey said. "Dan McCarthy, then me, then I called Kyle (Harvey) up, Kyle to Justin Dilemma, etc. And we were all backed by Friedman, Rawlings and Dunwoody. Pretty fucking cool."

Whipkey said only about 20 people were in the crowd during the BE set. Oberst sat and listened while Whipkey and the others did their thing. Each performer played two songs. Whipkey did a couple new Whipkey Three tunes, "Free" and "Separation."

Overall, Whipkey said, it was a helluva night. "Great atmosphere. The Barley St. was the perfect place for that." He added that Rawlings may be playing guitar this week in Bright Eyes as Mogis is finishing a big recording project.

* * *

An addendum to yesterday's entry/column on One Percent Productions… Marc Leibowitz and Jim Johnson had a lot to say during our interview Sunday night that I didn't have room for in the story. Among the discussion, would Leibowitz recommend that anyone start up a promotion company today?

"Not in my market. I don't need any more competition," he said, joking. "This is not an easy business. There's a reason why they say bars and restaurants are risky businesses -- because it's true. We learned to make this into a real full-time business. You can have a profitable business doing what is artistically valid. We still bring in bands that we find entertaining. Sure, we joke about shitty bands doing better or selling more records, but that's more jaded than anything else. There is successful quality stuff out there, like Wilco."

Speaking of jaded, have these guys become a little jaded after 10 years of booking shows? "I was I excited to promote this last Built to Spill show as much as the first one," Leibowitz said. "This (job) is cooler than any computer day job or auto body job, but it's still work, it's still demanding and you can still get burned out. Before, we could quit (booking shows) at any time. Now we have a lease and a loan and employees."

Johnson said he was a little more concerned these days about how well shows draw. "I'm more nervous now because it is a full-time job and I don't have a paycheck coming in and I need to make money," he said. "It used to be if you made anything you were happy. It's definitely a job."

Over the years, bars like The 49'r and now O'Leaver's have established a regular clientele. As a result, they've dramatically cut down on live shows because they simply don't need them to draw a crowd. Leibowitz said The Waiting Room probably never would be in that position. "This place couldn't do that," he said. "I can't see the day when this place is packed with 200 people with no show. I don't see it. It's a big place. Our business is providing entertainment."

While they like being in Benson, neither said the location has been an advantage or disadvantage. "I don't think Benson's helped any," Johnson said. "I think we could have done this in any decent location."

"The coolest club in Chapel Hill was in a strip mall in suburbia," Leibowitz said. "We could have been anywhere. Benson's been good to us. As far as not having a parking lot, we've had no parking complaints."

Part of what drove the duo to begin booking shows in the first place was their love for indie music. Has indie seen better days? "When we started doing this we thought indie music was more viable than club owners thought it was," Leibowitz said. "The Ranch Bowl wasn't doing it. Ten years later, some of this indie music isn't as viable. There are still some really successful bands and great music, but it's sort of a dying genre. Some of the labels have adapted in terms of the music. I don't know how much The Arcade Fire and Superchunk have in common, but that's what Merge has done. The success of our company is seeing if we can pick the next genre, the next big thing."

With all the bands they could have asked to perform at their 10-year anniversary, why Bright Eyes? "Why not?" Leibowitz said. "It's the most successful artist out of Omaha that we ever worked with us. We did shows with him in every venue in the city, except for here. He came in and said he liked it. It's an honor to have him playing.

One Percent first booked Bright Eyes in 1997, as an opener for Built to Spill at Sokol Underground. "I remember he played with his back to crowd in the dark," Leibowitz said. "He brought in one of those three-fold blinds and played behind it.

"Almost all those guys -- The Faint, Bright Eyes, Cursive -- all are as cool to us now as at their first shows. That's why they're a success."

* * *

Perhaps I should be known as Pinhead, as I erroneously reported yesterday that Pinback was last night. It's tonight, at Slowdown, with Frightened Rabbit. $15, 9 p.m. Thanks to everyone for pointing out the error.

<Got comments? Post 'em here.>

Column 146 -- One Percent Then and Now; Hyannis, TSITR tonight… – Oct. 17, 2007 –

When I sat down to consider how to cover One Percent Production's 10-year anniversary, I initially drew a blank. I've already written the penultimate history of the company four years ago (You can read that here). Since then, I've written various columns about One Percent (including this one). And earlier this year I wrote a cover-length feature about The Waiting Room (here). What was left to discuss? Well it just so happens that in the last few weeks a few people have compared One Percent, and Marc Leibowitz in particular, to Matt Markel (who I wrote about earlier this year, here). Actually, every band that's had a run-in with Markel complained about that Ranch Bowl story, saying I treated him with kid gloves. Maybe I did. I certainly brought up his business dealings and let Markel defend himself. But at the end of the day, I'm not sure what Markel ever did wrong other than try to run a successful business. Did he treat some bands like shit? I have no doubt that he did. On the other hand, I'm not sure what those bands expected. Is Leibowitz the new Markel? Is that really such a bad thing?

Column 146: 10 Years Gone
One Percent Productions adjusts to the times.

As One Percent Productions celebrates 10 years of business Oct. 24 with Bright Eyes at The Waiting Room, the company is looking toward the future from a different perspective than when they began.

A brief history: Marc Leibowitz and Jim Johnson, a.k.a. One Percent (named after a Jane's Addiction song) booked Ani DiFranco and Indigenous at Sokol Auditorium Oct. 24, 1997. It was a success. Over the next decade, they booked more than a thousand shows at venues around Omaha and Council Bluffs. For the first seven years, Leibowitz said, it was a "break-even type business, a hobby."

These days, it's a full-time job. While their primary venue is the one they own -- The Waiting Room in Benson -- One Percent also continues to book shows all over town, including at Sokol, Slowdown, The Orpheum and the Mid America Center. One Percent is recognized as the only real promoter of indie music in a city known around the world for its indie music.

Their rise to prominence is reminiscent of another Omaha music mogul's rise -- Matt Markel. The impresario behind The Ranch Bowl, Markel was the Godfather of the Omaha music scene throughout the '90s up to 2002. In addition to The Bowl, Markel booked most of the larger venues in town and controlled his network of national promoters with an iron fist. Eventually, his business policies made him reviled by some local bands that felt they were getting screwed (whether they were or not).

Leibowitz refutes the Markel comparison. He said One Percent has never tried gimmicks like Markel's infamous pay-to-play scheme for local bands. "Matt ran a tight business, did arena shows and had good relationships with agents," Leibowitz said. "He ran a smart business. And in a sense, we're dealing with the same issues he did: How do you open a bar to new bands when you don't know how well they'll draw? They all say they'll draw 100. That's not possible."

But dealing with local bands is the least of One Percent's worries. Attendance at live shows is down, not only in Omaha, but across the country, Leibowitz said.

"It's interesting where we're at right now," he said. "We're getting too many shows and people can't afford to go to all of them because the economy sucks."

Consider the sheer volume that One Percent is booking. Last week, they hosted Wilco, Dr. Dog, White Rabbits, Pomeroy, The Good Life, Adam Franklin, Underoath, The Show Is the Rainbow and Pinback, with Blue October, Scout Niblett, Rogue Wave and Bright Eyes on the horizon. "How can people go to all those shows?" Leibowitz asked.

He said the problem is similar to what happened in Lawrence, Kansas, just a few years ago. That scene got overloaded with shows, drawing down attendance and forcing bands to look toward Omaha for relief.

Another reason for the high volume of shows is technology. "The irony is that downloads are killing the concert industry as well as the record industry," Leibowitz said. "Band managers and booking agents are insisting that bands go out two or three times a year because they can't make money off records anymore." In a normal market, last week's Wilco show would have sold out, "but there are too many shows going on, and people are still broke."

That business climate, as well as owning a club, has changed the duo's booking philosophy. Leibowitz said they started One Percent because bands they wanted to see weren't being booked in Omaha, specifically at places like The Ranch Bowl. Thirty days after opening The Waiting Room, however, and they began to understand why.

"I remember thinking 'The fucking Ranch Bowl won't book Pavement but they'll book Pomeroy.' I get it now," Leibowitz said. "Why take a risk on a flash-in-the-pan indie band that wants money versus a local metal show with no risk that does good bar business? When you can make easy money, why go after the difficult stuff? The Ranch Bowl didn't book Pavement until the last Pavement tour, because it was too expensive and too risky in this market."

"The market was a lot different 10 years ago," Johnson said. "We were successful with indie bands because it was cheap. But when indie became mainstream, it became more expensive."

The bottom line: "A mediocre touring show loses money," Leibowitz said. "A mediocre local show doesn't lose anything. It's disheartening, but it's part of the business."

Another part of the equation is owning -- rather than renting -- a venue. "We didn't care how the bar did when we first did shows. It wasn't about concessions," Leibowitz said. "At this bar, it is. We have overhead to cover.

"It's very different from 1997," he added. "We still bring in bands we like even if we think we'll lose money. If we pass on someone we really like because of the risk, we won't be doing this much longer."

What will the next 10 years bring? "I don't know," Leibowitz said. "The Waiting Room is still in its infancy. It was going to be a springboard to bigger stuff, like The Ranch Bowl was for Markel. We want to do shows with artists as they grow. Just like Markel had Pearl Jam and Smashing Pumpkins and Faith No More at The Ranch Bowl, we want to book that next band that becomes a huge success, and then hopefully be able to book them at an arena."

"I guess the goal is to become Markel," Johnson said, "to have a club and do festivals and shows at arenas and theaters."

There's a lot more to our interview, and I may lay it on you tomorrow, if I have time.

Tonight, two shows worth mentioning: At PS Collective, it's the Hyannis CD release show with Shiver Shiver and Beaucoup. $2, 8 p.m. At The Waiting Room, it's The Show Is the Rainbow with Baby Walrus and Talkin' Mountain. 9 p.m., $7.

<Got comments? Post 'em here.>

Adam Franklin tonight; Springsteen's Magic – Oct. 16, 2007 –

Very little to report today other than reiterating yesterday's post about tonight's show at The Waiting Room -- Adam Franklin of Swervedriver. Local heroes Kyle Harvey and Reagan Roeder are opening. Tickets are $10; show starts at 9 p.m. You should go.

And this: I've spent the last day or so listening to the new Springsteen album, Magic. I didn't want to like it. After the schmaltz that was The Rising, I figured "The Boss" had seen his better days. Then I saw that Rolling Stone gave the new album five stars, which is unheard of (I assume part of the rating has to do with politics at Rolling Stone and leveraging their position to get an interview with Springsteen -- just the opposite of what new bands have to deal with at the once-important music magazine. The cover of Stone is gold, but it's only going to happen if your music rates with Joe Levy. Springsteen, on the other hand, could give a shit, and it's Stone that needs him to give the publication credibility in an era when they're putting shit like Zac Efron on the cover). While five stars is unwarranted, I like this album more than I care to admit. It has a cohesive quality that I haven't heard from a new album in a long time. Someone I spoke with compared it to Darkness... It's not nearly as bleak or introspective. It also isn't as bubbly and back-slapping as Born in the USA or as cheesy as Born to Run. Yeah, you can hear when he's trying to sound like his older stuff (He should have let "Livin' in the Future" be a B-side somewhere), but even moreso I hear a modern-day Dylan influence, a return to simple songwriting. Definitely rates a "Yes."

Tomorrow's column: Happy Birthday One Percent...

<Got comments? Post 'em here.>

Back from South Bend; Swervedriver podcast… – Oct. 15, 2007 –

Based on the Omahype review (here) sounds like I missed a very special show by The Good Life -- Help Wanted Nights front-to-back in its entirety, that'll never happen again. Instead, I spent the evening staring at Touchdown Jesus from the endzone of The House That Knute Built, watching as The Fighting Irish got their asses handed to them by BC. No, I'm not a Notre Dame fan, but Teresa is. Sounds like I also missed a good Wilco show, too. Ah well, what can you do?

Tomorrow is Adam Franklin of shoegazer/dreampop band Swervedriver at The Waiting Room and to prep for the show, Dave Leibowitz has put together an episode of his Dark Stuff podcast featuring an interview with Franklin along with plenty of his music. Check it out here, then go to One Percent Productions website and buy a ticket to the show. Leibowitz says Swervedriver is one of the best bands of all time. I own not a single Swervedriver album (though I have my share of My Bloody Valentine and Chapterhouse CDs), so Leibs' podcast was indeed a good primer to catch up on the band's sound. Check it out.

<Got comments? Post 'em here.>

On Radiohead, the future of music, The OEA's and the weekend… – Oct. 12, 2007 –

That new Radiohead? -- not bad. Actually, pretty good, though like I said before, it's getting close to '90s-era U2 territory, not that that's necessarily a bad thing. So now I'm hearing Nine Inch Nails may be doing the same thing with Trent's next release. I've heard people complain that this devalues music. I've heard them say that it's nothing more than a publicity stunt that will come back and bite the band on the ass when the "real CD" comes out in December. I've heard from a lot of people how they didn't pay a pence for the download because they don't like Radiohead. I've heard people complain that the bit rate was too low.

Me, I think it was a brilliant idea. I think we'll never know how much money they actually pulled in through their website. I think the CD sales in December will, in fact, be rather limp -- I won't be buying the CD, though I'm inching closer to buying that vinyl box set. I think Radiohead will win over some new fans (all those people who didn't pay a pence). I think they'll have one of the more successful tours next year, but it was going to be successful with or without this online event. I'm a little less hopeful about the future of record labels than I was before. And record stores, well, they're just going to have to figure out a way to adapt in this new world. Maybe David Matysiak is right, maybe the CD is dead and maybe we'll see a new interest in vinyl -- but only purchased as a keepsake or a collectable, never as a dominant audio medium, never again. There's no question in my mind that technology will evolve in the next few years where downloading CD-sized files will be quick and easy. All this talk about "the CD being the ultimate back-up" will go away as technology will allow for easy online storage of entire music collections (Your iPod died and your hard-drive crashed? Really? Just go to where your files are stored online and upload your whole music collection again, and only in a few hours). And people will still pay for music, somehow…

* * *

The Omaha Entertainment Awards are up and running again for 2007, and I once again have been asked to be a member of "the academy," in spite of my comments about it last year. Now is the time that you can influence the outcome by voting for your favorite band online. Believe it or not, it makes a difference. If you don't have an opinion in areas like "best visual artist" or all the acting categories, then just skip 'em and go on to the subjects you know about. Or just fill in the music section. Whatever, it only takes five minutes, go here and vote.

* * *

So what are you doing this weekend?

Maybe going to see Minipop tonight at The Waiting Room, opening for White Rabbits? Well, why not. $8, 9 p.m.

Tomorrow night is The Good Life at Slowdown with Georgie James and Zookeeper. $10, 9 p.m. This is must-see stuff, so see it.

Me, I'll be out of town most of the weekend, so drop by the webboard and let me know how it went.

<Got comments? Post 'em here.>

Cover story: The Good Life, Tim Kasher and Help Wanted Nights; Team Love still allows downloading; Wilco tonight… – Oct. 11, 2007 –

Just posted, a rather long interview with Tim Kasher of The Good Life, where Tim talks about his screenplay called Help Wanted Nights, the script that the CD of the same name is sort of based on. In fact, most of the story is about the script (if you want to read a review of the album, go here) as well as life in Los Angeles, the movie industry, the Good Life and Cursive. Read the story/interview here.

Will this script ever be produced? After this interview, I'm convinced it will be, eventually. But it could take a long time, maybe even years. By then, Kasher already may have had a different script produced -- he wrote three before he wrote Help Wanted Nights, and finished a new one over the summer. Anyway, go read the story, then come back and read the rest of this blog entry… we'll wait.

Dum-de-dum-de-dum *looks down at his watch*….

Ah, you're done. Thanks for coming back. In my opinion, Kasher should shoot some exteriors in California and then come back to Omaha and shoot the entire film in O'Leaver's -- that's the lounge that was in my mind's eye while reading the script.

Moving on…

You might have noticed that I added a strikethrough in yesterday's column. It was pointed out to me by a reader and by Team Love executive Matt Maginn that I erred in saying that you can't download Tilly and the Wall's Wild Like Children in its entirety at anymore. You can, just like you can download some of the other Team Love releases -- not all, but most. Well, a few, anyway. I screwed up by going to the site, looking at the releases pages and not finding any links to download the tracks. They're there, you just have to search for them (and don't bother going to the "downloads" page). Apologies to Team Love for my screw-up, and thanks to those who pointed it out. Now go to and start downloading!

Tonight at The Orpheum Theater -- Wilco. Unbelievably, as of noon, the show was still not sold out (according to the One Percent Productions website). Get your tickets now ($29). Andrew Bird opens the show at 8 p.m.

<Got comments? Post 'em here.>

Column 145 -- The new indie model? Lincoln Calling recap… – Oct. 10, 2007 –

I'm listening to the new Radiohead as I type this, specifically track "Bodysnatchers." Is it me or is Radiohead turning into U2?

Column 145: Paging Blanche DuBois
Radiohead's free download scheme.

Last week, Thom Yorke and the rest of his cronies in Radiohead had the clever idea of making their new album, In Rainbows, available to download for the price of, well, whatever you feel like paying.

As most of you know, music critics usually don't pay for music, anyway. It just shows up in their mailboxes in manila-colored bubble-wrap envelopes. But not this time. Radiohead's publicist, Nasty Little Man, sent an e-mail to the lowly critics saying there will be no advances, promo copies, digital streams, media sites, etc. of In Rainbows. "Everyone in the world will be getting the music at the same time: Oct. 10. That includes us," the e-mail said. "Sorry."

So I went online to and placed my order. After registering on the site (which includes entering a credit card number) I was met with a blank entry field presumably to enter a price. Click on the question mark next to the field and up pops a message saying, "It's up to you," followed by another question. Click the ? again and it says, "No really. It's up to you."

You have to enter something. You could enter 0.00 pounds. Look, I'll be honest with you, while I think OK Computer is one of the seminal albums of the 1990s, Radiohead's music just hasn't done it for me since. Kid A and all the rest, while sporting some interesting electronic noises, were essentially retreads of the same dark stuff I've heard before, sung in Yorke's yawning, half-awake vocal style. Unless I was knocked out by some early tracks or singles, I wasn't going to pick up In Rainbows anyway. On the other hand, if I liked the download, there's a chance I'll buy the box set for 40 pounds, which includes something of actual value -- vinyl copies of the recordings.

I entered 1.00 pound, and proceeded to complete my order. I was told I'll be receiving a link to the download on Oct. 10.

On the surface, except for all the publicity, the idea looks like an unprofitable gimmick. How many people will simply enter 1 pence or nothing at all? But giving away music is hardly a new concept.

Back before Myspace became a monster, Conor Oberst's record label, Team Love, allowed visitors to their website to download entire albums for free, including TL-01, Tilly and the Wall's Wild Like Children. The idea, which also was well-publicized at the time (including a story in Business Week), was that if someone downloaded the disc and liked it, chances were pretty good that they'd own up and buy a copy of the CD. It was sort of an artistic honor system. Over the years, I've heard a broad range of the number of downloads for that album, most in the hundreds of thousands. Conversely, I've been told the CD sold in the 10s of thousands -- that the downloads outnumbered sales by multiples ranging in the double digits.

Foolish loss? Hardly. Tilly and the Wall went on tour to support that download/disc to sizable crowds of folks who never purchased the CD but who had downloaded the tracks and dug what they heard. Maybe the band was out the price of the disc, but they got a little back from the price of the ticket.

These days, you can no longer download Wild Like Children or any other complete album from So much for the honor system.

Tilly actually isn't a good example of the power of free downloads. After all, Wild was the first release by The New Dylan's record label. The band had a built-in hype machine fueling it by the time it hit the road. But the idea was a sound one, at least from an indie perspective. If you're a band headed out on tour that's virtually unknown outside of your hometown -- and you don't want to play to a roomful of crickets -- you better get your music heard somehow. You certainly can't depend on radio these days. Your only solution: give away your music. Today, that's done through Myspace (but even then, they still have to find you among the 3 million other bands online).

As a result of, pundits again are forecasting the downfall of record labels, record stores and the recording industry altogether. Is it really the end of the world? Hardly.

Yes, everyone will be a surprised at the success of Radiohead's pay-whatever-you-want music folly. But don't expect label-manufactured acts like Justin Timberlake or Kelly Clarkson or Kanye West to follow suit -- though 50 Cent already has declared himself a "free agent" after his Interscope contract expires. Radiohead was in the same boat as Fitty -- the band's contract with Capitol expired after their last album, leaving them to become an indie band once again.

We could be seeing the creation of a new career arc for musicians. Bands start off as indies, hoping to can get signed by a reputable indie label with distribution. The goal: To someday graduate to a major label where, with help from a team of marketing wonks, they can blow up into a million seller. If they make it through the flesh machine all the way to the end of their contract -- and still have a semblance of their dignity in tact -- they can again become indie bands, this time in the truest sense of the word, and like Radiohead, come to depend on the kindness of strangers for their pay-off.

* * *

The numbers are in for last weekend's Lincoln Calling festival and they're pretty good, but still missed organizer Jeremy Buckley's target of 1,500 paid patrons. Buckley estimated total attendance for all four days at 1,250. "In hindsight, I think 1,500 was a pretty high hope," he said, "that would have been 100 per show regardless of the show."

He said no show drew fewer than 40 people. The top attendance was for Maria Taylor, Head of Femur and The Balance -- all drew around 130 per show. On the other hand, Box Awesome's opening night DJ show and The Song Remains the Same drew about 40, while the early-evening Zoo shows drew only 50, as did the Domestica/Capgun Coup show at Duffy's.

So, will there be a 5th Annual Lincoln Calling next year? "So far, that's the plan," Buckley said. Here are the numbers by venue:

Thursday (Domestica/Capgun Coup) - 50
Friday (The Song Remains the Same) - 40
Saturday (Ideal Cleaners/Gito Gito Hustler) - 80
Sunday (Head of Femur) - 130

Zoo Bar
Thursday - (early-Tijuana Gigolos/Cory Kibler) - 50; late (Cornerstone Dub) - 70
Friday - (early - Charlie Burton) - 50 (late - Matt Whipkey) - 75
Saturday - (Killigans) - 90

Thursday (Maria Taylor) - 135
Friday - (The Balance) - 130
Saturday - (Eagle*Seagull/Little Brazil) - 100

Box Awesome
Thursday (DJ night) - 40
Friday - (Bear Country/Flowers Forever) - 100
Saturday - (Somosphere/Flobots) - 100

* * *

Tomorrow, Tim Kasher talks about Help Wanted Nights. See you then.

<Got comments? Post 'em here.>

Late Columbus Day update… – Oct. 8, 2007 –

That's right, if you're wondering why you didn't get any mail today, now you know. I'm running a bit behind, and just have time to tell you to head down to Slowdown Jr. tonight. In addition to Head of Femur and the return of Son, Ambulance, you'll also get a gander at Joe Knapp's other project, Cherry Papers. All for a mere $7. Such a deal. Starts at 9.

<Got comments? Post 'em here.>

Live Review: Regina Spektor; UO/Tilly, Ketchup and Mustard Gas tonight… – Oct. 6, 2007 –

Well, Regina Spektor was upstairs at Sokol (sorry OWH, but you got it wrong…again), and it was sold out. Where did all these people come from? Where can one hear Regina Spektor on the radio? In Omaha, the answer is nowhere. I figured she might be played on one of the many women-directed light-rock stations that litter the FM dial, but Teresa, who listens to those stations faithfully, has never heard Regina on any of them. The question came up with a couple of people who were working the show -- one said that Spektor had been featured on CBS Sunday Morning, and that her mom was a huge fan. And I've seen the video for "Fidelity" a few times on MTV2's Subterranean, which is the only bit of sanity left on MTV these days. So, CBS Sunday Morning and MTV2 are the reasons behind Regina Spektor's sell-out of Sokol Auditorium? No…no. I'm sure there's a better reason...

We strolled in at 9 p.m. after watching our Yankees blow it due to a plague of bugs invading Cleveland, we got a beer and walked to the back of the crowd and just then, the houselights dimmed and out came Spektor carrying a microphone. She opened the show singing an a cappella number, tapping her mic in rhythm -- a touching intro. Too bad it got marred by some chick talking in full-voice to her friends, completely ignoring what was going on on stage. The chick, who desperately was trying to look like Britney Spears, just kept right on yacking throughout the whole show. If it were any other rock concert, it wouldn't have mattered because the noise level would have drowned out her big, gaping cake hole. But this was a Regina Spektor show, which featured only Regina and a grand piano. It was the kind of concert that would have been terrific held in The Orpheum or The Scottish Rite or, best of all, The Holland Center. Not in the cow barn we call Sokol Auditorium stuffed with 1,400-plus eager young fans and one Britney wannabe pacing the back of the room, barking like an obnoxious poodle. When she wasn't yelling to her friends, she was yelling into a cell phone. The crowd kept turning around, a few yelled "shut up" but this one wasn't going to stop for anyone. Had I paid $20 for tickets, I would have been pissed. Instead, I moved to the side of the auditorium by the merch area, away from Britney and the masses.

Regina Spektor is an amazing singer/songwriter, there's no arguing it. She writes flamboyant, theatrical songs that sound like modern-day Russian lullabies -- beautiful and charming. Unfortunately, after about 15 minutes of watching her sit behind a piano, it gets rather boring. At one point she got up and played guitar, but for the most part, it was pretty dull. I can imagine her playing larger rooms, arenas where big screens are on either side of the stage, showing live video of the performance -- that would certainly be more interesting, but not much, not really.

* * *

So what's going on tonight? Well, there's that free concert down at Slowdown (Tilly and the Wall, Baby Walrus, and Bear Country) starting at 9. I have a feeling there could be a long line of kids fashionably dressed in Urban Outfitter gear waiting to get into that gig.

Instead, I'll likely be at O'Leaver's for Ketchup & Mustard Gas, Theodore and Bad Folk. According to a post on Slam Omaha, K&MG is "Andy of Cap Gun Coup, Dustin of Paria and Mark of Dance Me Pregnant." Sounds good to me. $5, 9:30 p.m.

Also tonight, down at The Saddle Creek Bar, Denver indie band Light Travels Faster with Birds and Batteries. $5, 9 p.m.

And don't forget Lincoln Calling.

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Where's Regina Spektor? Lincoln Calling weekend… – Oct. 5, 2007 –

So where is that Regina Spektor show tonight? The redesigned Sokol website, along with Regina's own site and Ticketmaster say it's upstairs at Sokol Auditorium. The Omaha World Herald, however, says it's down in Sokol Underground. Any other time I'd just ask One Percent Productions, but they're not putting on this show. I guess I'll find out when I arrive. Spektor has a cute, quirky piano-driven sound reminiscent of Tori Amos but without Amos' bullshit melodrama and pretension. There's an honesty to Spektor's music that Amos could never have. I wouldn't be surprised if this one was moved downstairs. Spektor might be a Subterranean darling, but she's unknown around these parts. As of noon today, this show is SOLD OUT, 8 p.m.

Elsewhere tonight, The Waiting Room is hosting twang-mistress singer/songwriter Pieta Brown with Minneapolis folkies The Pines and Omaha's own Paper Owls. $10, 9 p.m.

Tomorrow night is the big Urban Outfitters "Grand Opening Celebration" down at Slowdown with Tilly and the Wall, Baby Walrus and Bear Country all for free and starting at 9 p.m. O'Leaver's is hosting a show by two bands I've never heard of -- Theodore and Bad Folk. $5, 9:30 p.m. O'Leaver's shows sadly are becoming rarer and rarer these days.

Sunday at O'Leaver's it's The Lepers with Ferocious Eagle ($5, 9:30 p.m.), while The Waiting Room is hosting Jake Bellows and Friends -- who could these "friends" be? $7, 9 p.m.

Of course, don't forget Lincoln Calling, going on all weekend. Check out the Lincoln Calling website for all the latest schedules.

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What's not Goo; Urban Outfitters opens; art and music at The Bemis… – Oct. 4, 2007 –

First, in Lincoln Calling news, I'm told that Saturday's late-night music offering at Box Awesome isn't Goo, it's Derek Pressnall's Flowers Forever DJ extravaganza. I haven't been to Goo yet, so I don't know what it entails. Goo obviously is thematic, and I'm told Pressnall and his posse painstakingly select the material to match specific Goo themes, and I'm sure there's even more to it than that. Regardless, Jeremy Buckley contacted me asking if I could clarify that Saturday ain't Goo, so there you go. That said, "Booty Goo" is tonight at Slowdown, and Lincoln Calling also launches this evening.

Also today is the "soft" opening of Urban Outfitters down at the Slowdown compound. Looking out my office window, I didn't see any banners or balloons or clowns giving out free Pepsi. I guess we'll see the big stuff on Saturday for the official "Grand Opening," which will feature DJs Brent Crampton and Derek Pressnall spinning at the store from noon to 4 p.m. (and, no, that ain't Goo, either), then a free concert at Slowdown at 8 p.m. featuring Tilly and the Wall, Baby Walrus and Bear Country. And Urban will be donating 10 percent of their sales from their opening weekend to the Nebraska AIDS project. Right on.

The real event is the store itself, which almost didn't happen at all. The OWH printed a story on the store in yesterday's issue (here) where they describe it as some sort of industrial high-design concept. It sounds cool, but at the end of the day, Urban Outfitters is the home of the $28 T-shirt (that can go up as high as $48), hoodies that range from $34 to $198, and jeans that range from $49 to $220. The catalog is online here.

I think it's probably a good fit for the Slowdown project, though American Apparel is sort of the new "cool" shop for kids these days. The fact that they're selling a lot of Saddle Creek merch is smart. When it wasn't looking like UO was going to open down at Slowdown, I suggested to the Creek guys that they open their own shop that featured clothing and music from their warehouse and Ink Tank -- after all, plenty of people will make pilgrimages to Slowdown if only because it's operated by Saddle Creek. They didn't like the idea, saying that Sub Pop tried a similar thing and it bombed. Now it appears they have the best of both worlds.

With UO opening, there are only three pieces of the Slowdown puzzle yet to be placed. First, that Blue Line coffee shop/bistro. I'm told that it's slated to open "this fall" -- well, it's fall now, folks, and it ain't open. I suspect you won't see it until this winter (or later).

Then there's the empty restaurant space originally dedicated to Yia Yia's. If I were the Creek guys, I wouldn't let go of that idea -- just like they didn't let go of Urban Outfitters. Yia Yia's is a perfect fit, whether Yia Yia's agrees or not. Finally, there's those vacant artist living spaces/galleries that run along Webster St. Yet another great idea, if they can only find some artists with enough jack to move in.

And speaking of artists… Coyote Bones is putting on a special performance tonight at 6 p.m. at The Bemis, followed by something called "Slide Jam," where 16 regional artists will present five minutes of their art one-after-another. David Matysiak and The Family Radio's Nik Fackler will be among them, with Nik playing guitar for both shows -- not your typical night out.

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Column 144 -- Lincoln Calling this weekend; Sound of Urchin tonight… – Oct. 3, 2007 –

The burning question I had about Lincoln Calling that isn't addressed in the column below deals with motivation. I've seen most of the bands on the schedule before, or will likely be able to see them sometime soon at an Omaha venue. Why would someone like me want to drive Lincoln to see them during the festival? Event organizer Jeremy Buckley said that he's not really targeting "someone like me." Sure, he'd love to see all the usual music goers at the shows this weekend, but he's really after the folks who -- for whatever reason -- rarely go to shows (but always want to). Buckley said that the typical Maria Taylor or Capgun Coup show doesn't get covered in all the media the way Lincoln Calling does. The event raises public awareness and gets people to get off their lazy asses and head out to the venues.

Can Buckley reach his goal of drawing 1,500 patrons this year? Let's look at the event from a day-by-day perspective:

Thursday: Duffy's show looks like a sell-out -- you can't beat Domestica, and there's a lot of buzz about Team Love's Capgun Coup. Knickerbockers could sell out, too -- Buckley says there's a lot of Saddle Creek fans in Lincoln who have been waiting for a show like this.

Friday is the wild card. Will people go to Duffy's to see Zeppelin tribute band extraordinaire The Song Remains the Same? Buckley's concerned. He said Duffy's patrons have a history of shunning "tribute or cover bands." He insists that The Balance (a band I haven't seen before) has a large fanbase and will draw at least a couple hundred people to Knicks. The show at Box Awesome would do very well in Omaha -- people come out for Flowers Forever and Bear Country. But as Buckley said, in the past Omaha stalwarts like Little Brazil have drawn as few as 30 people in Lincoln. The sleeper event could be the Lincoln version of Goo. Buckley said he talked Derek Pressnall into hosting the event since he'll be playing earlier that evening anyway. Goo is huge in Omaha, and Buckley said he knows a lot of people who make the pilgrimage to Omaha for the "dance party" whenever it's held at Slowdown (there's one going on Thursday night, actually). This could be the biggest night of the festival.

Saturday's highlight (for me, anyway) is Eagle*Seagull and Little Brazil at Knicks. That said, I would probably pass on this show since E*S plays here almost monthly, as does LB. Buckley points to the Killigans show at the Zoo as a lock. The cold, hard fact is that all these shows will be competing with Nebraska V. Missouri, a game with an 8:15 kick-off that will run well past 11.

Finally, Sunday's back for Lincoln Calling, but only out of convenience. Head of Femur was slated to play Duffy's anyway. Buckley asked the band if they'd want the extra promotion that comes with Lincoln Calling. Why not?

So, to pull off 1,500, Buckley will have to do at least 500 on Thursday, 500 on Friday, 300 on Saturday and 200 on Sunday -- a tall order indeed.

Column 144: Labor of Love
Lincoln Calling enters year four.

First, this disclaimer made in the interest of full disclosure: Jeremy Buckley, the earnest, young entrepreneur, journalist and music expert who organizes the Lincoln Calling music festival is a contributing writer at The Reader, the paper you hold in your hands. No bias or favoritism was tolerated in the creation of this column (at least, not that much).

That said, Buckley is sort of a hero. This is the fourth year that he's put together Lincoln Calling, and the only reward for all of his hard work has been a few nights of terrific music. He certainly hasn't reaped any financial rewards, nor has he ever expected to.

"I've always wanted it to be something that the bands care about," said the soft-spoken Buckley. "The goal is help bands get to know each other better, and build a sense of community."

Past Lincoln Calling participants have included Neva Dinova, Tilly and the Wall, Criteria, The Prids, The Show is the Rainbow, For Against and dozens more. This year's festival, which runs from Oct. 4-7, includes Maria Taylor, Head of Femur, Eagle*Seagull, Little Brazil, Charlie Burton & the Dorothy Lynch Mob, Capgun Coup and Flowers Forever. It is arguably the strongest line-up in the festival's history.

"There's more emphasis on Omaha and Lincoln bands this year," Buckley said. "Of the 38 bands, only five or six are from out of state. We didn't need to try to recruit from outside of Omaha and Lincoln because we have so many good bands here already."

Buckley said another change this year was to reduce participating venues down to Lincoln's "Big Four" -- The Zoo Bar, Duffy's Tavern, Knickerbockers and Box Awesome (formerly The Chatterbox). Two of the venues recently underwent serious cosmetic surgery. Box Awesome was dramatically remodeled by its new owners, who moved the stage from beneath the windows at the front of the 175-capacity venue all the way to the back of the long, narrow room.
"The sound is better, and there are no distractions from things going by outside the windows," Buckley said.

Changes at Duffy's, however, have been less well-received. Buckley said the owners recently built an elevator shaft that takes up a corner of the legendary venue's stage. "Where it's been placed is kind of unfortunate," he said, explaining that the elevator allows access to stores on the building's second floor. "From a money standpoint, it made sense. From a show-goers' standpoint, it's a frustration."

Another frustration for Lincoln music-lovers has been a steady decrease in the number of big-name indie shows. Buckley said One Percent Productions -- a major promoter of indie shows in Omaha -- is booking fewer Lincoln shows these days. And Buckley doesn't blame them.

"What do they have to gain by bringing anything to Lincoln?" he said. "Lincoln people will drive to Omaha for shows, but not as many Omaha people will drive here."

For the record, Marc Leibowitz, who runs One Percent with business partner Jim Johnson, denies they're booking fewer shows in the star city. "We've never done a ton of shows in Lincoln," he said. "We've done a few each year." Leibowitz said part of the reason Lincoln is overlooked is because the primary venues don't allow all-ages shows. "Minors have to be out by 9 p.m., so most of our shows have to be 18+." By contrast, Omaha venues can host all-ages shows with the proper policing of alcohol sales.

Buckley also admitted that the sheer number of quality venues in Omaha has made Lincoln a secondary market for touring bands. "Sadly, I go to a lot more shows in Omaha than Lincoln," he said. "Lincoln doesn't have anything like Slowdown and never will."

Still, Buckley thinks Lincoln's "big four" could easily draw as well as Omaha venues. "If you took the show schedule for The Waiting Room and slapped it onto Knickerbockers or Box Awesome, they would do well day in and day out," he said.

Buckley hopes to prove that theory this weekend. Last year the three-day festival drew 1,350 attendees. This year's Lincoln Calling has been expanded to four days, and Buckley hopes to draw at least 1,500. "The Saturday night Husker game should make things interesting," he said. "We almost had to compete with a White Stripes concert on Thursday. It's too bad that got canceled, but it's also a blessing in disguise."

Here's the skinny: All shows are $5 except Maria Taylor ($8) and Head of Femur ($7) and the Thursday DJ session at Box Awesome, which is $3 for 18-20 and free for 21+. Early shows are labeled with times; late shows start around 9 p.m.

The Zoo Bar (136 No. 14th St.) Age 21+
10/4 The Tijuana Gigolos w/ Cory Kibler (6 p.m. show)
10/4 Cornerstone Dub w/ Executive Steel Band
10/5 Charlie Burton and the Dorothy Lynch Mob w/ The Bellflowers (5 p.m. show)
10/5 Matt Whipkey Three w/ Son of 76 and Sarah Benck
10/6 The Killigans w/ The Vandon Arms and Tenth Horse

Duffy's Tavern (1412 O. St.) Age 21+
10/4 Domestica w/ Capgun Coup and Pharmacy Spirits
10/5 The Song Remains the Same
10/6 Ideal Cleaners w/ Gito Gito Hustler and Paper People
10/7 Head of Femur w/ Sit In Wait

Box Awesome (815 O St.) Age 18+
10/4 DJ Blac w/ Miss Knotty and Mattman
10/5 Bear Country w/ Flowers Forever, Goo Dance Party and Natalie Illeana
10/6 Somasphere w/ Flobots and Blue Martian Tribe

Knickerbockers (901 O. St.) Age 18+
10/4 Maria Taylor w/ Spring Gun and Good With Guns
10/5 The Balance w/ Tsumi
10/6 Eagle Seagull w/ Little Brazil and 1090 Club

Tonight at The Waiting Room, Sound of Urchin with Life After Laserdisque. $8, 9 p.m.

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Black Lips tonight… – Oct. 2, 2007 –

One thing I didn't have room for in last week's column about David Matysiak and the Bemis (here) was that David planned to christen the new Bemis recording studio with his old friends The Black Lips while they are in town for tonight's show at The Waiting Room. From what I saw a week ago, the session would merely be a test of how well the room sounds, as there was a lot of work left to do, including constructing a window through the wall that separates the actual recording studio from the mixing room. Still, not a bad way to get the studio off the ground. Matysiak and the rest of Coyote Bones opens for Black Lips tonight, along with The Selmanaires. $10, 9 p.m. -- and still not sold out, as of lunchtime. Maybe it's not sold out because everyone's going downtown to Sokol Auditorium for One Percent Production's very special Mandy Moore concert, which also features Ben Lee and Chris Stills. Just $23, 8 p.m.

It's amusing to go to the One Percent website these days and notice that every date on their online calendar is filled. I don't remember that ever happening before. Business must indeed be booming.

Tomorrow, look here for this week's column, an interview with Jeremy Buckley, the instigator behind the annual Lincoln Calling music festival, which kicks off this Thursday.

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Bright Eyes goes Hollywood; Black Mountain/Cave Singers, Far Beyond Frail tonight… – Oct. 1, 2007 –

My weekend plans were stymied by a bad hotdog acquired at a Fort Calhoun high school football game Friday night. I'm not kidding. Always be wary of hand-consumed food prepared at crowded gatherings in farm communities, brought to you from a "back room" by your former typing teacher. I didn't see much hand-washing going on by the food-prep kids, most of whom looked like VICA volunteers. I should have known better.

A couple headlines to start off your week, specifically reviews of Bright Eyes' performance with the Los Angeles Philharmonic at the Hollywood Bowl Saturday night. The Los Angeles Times review (read it here) makes it sound like the orchestra didn't add much to the festivities: "Mostly, however, he (Oberst) remained unengaged with the talented troupe behind him. He turned around at one point and shouted, 'You still awake up there?' Then after they had departed, he made a comment about their 'lemon-sucking faces.'" Huh? The Orange County Register review was even more critical (read it here): "Saturday's hit-and-miss stab had as much to do with Oberst's players as himself. Keysman Nate Walcott, for instance, had the task of arranging this material, primarily from the group's latest disc... More than Oberst, Walcott deserves credit for both the marvelous moments and the misfires, while the less-than-dynamic, sometimes lead-footed band should shoulder some of the blame for the spotty bits." While playing with the LA Philharmonic is something of an achievement for Bright Eyes (or for any pop band, for that matter), it's time that Conor gets rid of all the choirs and orchestras and dual drummers and gets back to fronting a plain ol' folk-rock band.

I've been listening to the new Cave Singers disc off and on for about a month now. Not reading the one sheet, I thought the lead singer was a woman doing a Stevie Nicks impersonation. In fact, it's a guy doing a Stevie Nicks impersonation. The Seattle trio is sort of Matador's answer to Two Gallants, but with a more varied folk-rock style (and shorter songs). Black Mountain is Stephen McBean's primary experimental psychedelic freak-out indie rock project (he came through here last year as Pink Mountaintops, remember?). The music is sort of Black Sabbath meets Syd-era Pink Floyd. Their last album -- their groovy debut on Jagjaguwar -- came out two years ago, which means it's time for something new, which I assume we'll be treated to tonight at The Waiting Room. $8, 9 p.m.

Also tonight, just down the street at PS Collective, Kansas City duo Far Beyond Frail plays their style of Lillith Fair female-fronted adult contemporary pop. Opening is Omaha keyboard-and-drums duo Shiver Shiver. $5, 9 p.m.

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Two Gallants tonight, Oakley Hall tomorrow… – Sept. 28, 2007 –

First, there's an interesting story on Bright Eyes' trip to Anchorage in this week's Anchorage Press (read it here), where Oberst compares the level of desolation between Alaska and Nebraska. "We come from a pretty desolate place too." Well, not that desolate, Conor. Wonder when Bright Eyes is going to play Hawaii (maybe they already have).

Moving on to the weekend...

Tonight at Slowdown, it's the return of Two Gallants, who were just there in August. Opener Blitzen Trapper sounds like a psychedelic indie alt country freak-out, at least on their recordings. $8, 9 p.m., with Songs for Moms.

Meanwhile, over at The Waiting Room, the Box Elders open for Holly Golightly and the Brokeoffs. Dave and them thar McIntyre boys are always entertaining. $8, 9 p.m., also with Ric Rhythm and the Revengers.

Tomorrow night it's Merge band Oakley Hall at The Waiting Room with The 1900's and Omaha's own The Third Men. Oakley Hall plays twangy indie rock influenced by bands like Wilco. $8, 9 p.m. (scenester alert).

Meanwhile, over at The Saddle Creek Bar, Israeli experimental noise rock band Lebanon (myspace here) plays with Prize Country. $5, 9 p.m., while Kyle Harvey and Scott Severin play at The Barley St. 9 p.m./free.

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Column 143 -- Coyote Bones goes Bemis (and the death of CDs?); Bright Eyes on Leno; Mathematicians/Satchel Grande tonight… – Sept. 27, 2007 –

The original plan was to feature both David Matysiak's residency at the Bemis AND his record label, Coco Art, but there wasn't enough room for both.

Coco Art is an interesting story by itself. Essentially a co-op label, Matysiak said the idea was to create a way to get his and his friends' bands heard by a larger audience, kinda like how another label around here got started a decade ago.

Originally launched with Coyote Bones, Flowers Forever (who are now on Team Love) and Dereck Higgins, the label recently added Hyannis and Baby Walrus, and will be releasing the debut by The Family Radio, Ghost Blood Stories, in the near future.

It's a strong stable, but Matysiak says he can't imagine making any money off the venture, nor was that ever his intention. "It would be nice (to make some cash), but I would just reinvest it right back into the label, anyway," he said. "If we had money, we would press the new Baby Walrus record on vinyl. But not having money shouldn't limit or stop us. We're trying to put out records and do shows and other cool things. If we can sell a few records, that's great, but the main focus is getting people to hear our music."

Nice, but it sounds like his long-term vision is for Coco Art to become a true vinyl label. "CDs are dead, people need to get used to it," Matysiak said. "Vinyl will be there, and digital will be there, too, to download. But if you want to hold it, you'll hold vinyl. CD is an extinct format."

If that's true, than why bother putting the Coyote Bones' Gentleman on the Rocks out on CD? "It was a question of money," Matysiak said. "We have a publicist, we bought a van, we toured a bunch of times, we made shirts, we've gone as far as we could with the money we had. It came down to 'Do we buy a van or put our record out on vinyl?' We wanted to hit the road and make enough money to get the vinyl out as soon as we could. The CD artwork was made for vinyl. It had to be shrunk for the CD, and I hate it. "

Matysiak was so sure that Gentleman on the Rocks would eventually come out on vinyl that he had 500 copies of the CD burned without the jewel cases so that they can be given away with the vinyl. "We will give you the CD if you buy the vinyl," he said. "You'll have both, and also get the nice handmade artwork. And the vinyl will be there forever whether you play it or not."

I think Matysiak's approach of giving a CD with the vinyl (or giving the vinyl with the CD, depending on how you look at it) is better than what Merge and Saddle Creek are doing with their digital download program -- where vinyl buyers get free downloads of the albums to use in their iPods. But it's also more expensive.

Now, the column:

Column 143: Bemis Calling
The arts organization welcomes Coyote Bones' David Matysiak.

The last time we spoke to Coyote Bones' David Matysiak (here) he was yacking about how he managed to get his pals from the Saddle Creek Records stable to help record his band's debut, Gentleman on the Rocks. Now four months later, Matysiak is moving his studio out of one basement into another -- this one located beneath the hip, prestigious Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts.

A walking, talking ball of red-bearded energy, Matysiak begins a residency with the Bemis' music program Oct. 1, joining the ranks of former resident musicians Tilly and the Wall, Simon Joyner and Orenda Fink. He says it's a chance to grow creatively, while musically retooling an idea borne out of the playground. At the same time, he'll be working on a separate project that will outlive his three-month residency.

But first, the music residency itself: I've been reading about it for years, but never really understood the point. Aren't residencies designed to give starving artists a place to live -- a creative domicile -- while they craft artwork which may or may not be commercially viable? That's not the case with Bemis' music program. Tilly, Joyner, Fink and Matysiak already have a place to lay their heads in River City.

Matysiak explained it all while pushing a candy-apple green Schwinn 10-speed through the entrance of Bemis Underground -- the program's basement headquarters.

"This is a place of creation," he said, still sweating after riding from his apartment on 40th and Harney. "Unlike an apartment or house, I can come here at four in the morning and freak out and go ripping down the hallway. When you're wandering around at 2 a.m., you run into other artists who can't sleep. We share ideas; we're all in this together."

No, living quarters aren't provided, but the residency offers more than just a practice space. It's a place where musicians can try ideas that are off rock 'n' roll's beaten path. Their projects -- all reviewed and approved by a committee -- are more like research projects, with little commercial appeal. Fink, Matysiak said, worked with found sounds recorded in Haiti. Joyner collaborated with avant-garde cellist-composer Fred Lonberg-Holm. And Matysiak has his "telephone project."

Remember that playground game where you whisper a message into your playmate's ear, who then told another, who told another, who told another, who then told you? The returning message never resembled the original. "I'll be trying that with music on a worldwide basis," Matysiak said. "I'll send a recording to someone in Japan who will do his thing, than pass it onto someone in Australia and then South America and so on until it gets back to me. The idea is to see what can happen when you collaborate with people who can't communicate without music."

Matysiak already has set up equipment in Bemis' "Studio B," a messy white-walled artist space dedicated to the music program. It's a windowless room where bits of creative residue hang from the walls or lie stacked on the floor, including a half-finished mural painted by the Tilly kids, still waiting for someone to fill in the lines.

Bemis' music residency isn't a "formal program," said Residency Program Director Cary Tobin. "It all started when Tilly and the Wall was in need of a space and we happened to have a space in the Underground available," Tobin said. "We invited them to use the space and it seemed to balance well with the other programs we have happening here."

Tilly's used their residency to develop demos used for their Bottoms of Barrels album, a project with obvious commercial potential, but the Bemis isn't interested in making money off record sales. "The BCCA is not entitled to any revenue generated by any material that is produced in the studio. We receive no money from Tilly and the Wall or Simon Joyner on any of the sales of the record or material produced," Tobin said.

Musicians have given back to the program through benefit concerts. Matysiak will give back in a different way. Across from Studio B, in what was once a large storage closet, Matysiak is building a permanent recording studio for the Bemis program using his and his friends' equipment. "In the mean time, I'm asking the music community to donate equipment -- instruments, microphones, guitars and trumpets, functional stuff that someone could actually use that you'd feel good about donating," he said. "If someone has a nice vintage amp in their basement that's collecting dust, why not donate it to help start this program?"

Residents will be able to use the studio to record their projects. Matysiak said it could also become like Daytrotter -- the Rock Island, Ill. studio where touring indie bands such as The Rentals, Dave Dondero, Low and David Bazan, can drop in for two-hour sessions that become available for free download from Right now, though, it's just an empty room with a stack of egg cartons lying on the ground, waiting to be nailed to the walls.

"This will be more of a low-fi atmosphere," Matysiak said. "If nothing else, it's a place to write music and a place for collaboration. There are so many things you can do. That's why I like the Bemis. They're open-minded. They're always looking for new ideas and trying to find a way to make them work."

* * *

Speaking of Matysiak, he's playing a solo set at Mick's tonight with Jamie Weime. 9 p.m., $5. Go!

* * *

Bright Eyes made yet another appearance on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno last night. If you missed it, I'm sure it's available somewhere in the Interweb. The band performed "Four Winds," with Leno introducing them holding a vinyl copy of Cassadaga (and commenting how he liked the fact that it was a record). Missing from the band was violinist Anton Patzner. Without him and his distinctive violin intro, the song sounded only half there. That violin line is central to the song, which made me wonder why they chose to perform it without him. Overall, a nice if not uneventful performance that looked and sounded great in HD.

* * *

Tonight at The Waiting Room, geek dance band The Mathematicians perform with opening band, the amazing Satchel Grande (worth the price of admission by themselves) and Microphone Jones. $7, 9 p.m. Also, completely unbeknownst to me, The Donnas are playing at Sokol Underground. I once saw them play a somewhat boring set at Emo's in Austin years and years ago. 8:30, $17.

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CD Review: Two Gallants… – Sept. 26, 2007 –

The Reader is asking more and more these days for feature-length CD reviews as a prelude to upcoming shows. Such was the case with Two Gallants, who I just interviewed about a month ago (here) when they played Slowdown. Well, they're coming back to Slowdown this Friday, this time to support their new self-titled album:

Rustic Charm
Review: Two Gallants, Two Gallants (Saddle Creek)

If there's a knock on Two Gallants, it's that all their music sounds the same.

It's an easy, lazy statement to make. It's also easy to prove. Take someone who's never heard the band before and play a typical track from The Throes, their 2004 debut on Alive Records. Follow that with a song from Where the Toll Tells, their 2006 Saddle Creek Records debut, and one from this, their new eponymously titled follow-up. Now ask your test subject how the three vary musically and lyrically. First, they'll assume they all came from the same album; next they'll ask (eagerly) if all their songs sound like this. The answer, of course, is yes.

Like I said, it's an easy knock, and it's not fair, really. Two Gallants, the San Francisco duo of singer/guitarist Adam Stephens and drummer Tyson Vogel, have crafted a unique sound that feels like a cross between '60s blues-rock, "The House of the Rising Sun" and modern-day pirate songs. Stephens' craggy voice and rolling, picking' electric guitar bend the music over Vogel's bright, almost militaristic syncopated marching-band percussion. The result is a slice of turn-of-the-(20th)-Century Americana merged with Delta blues and indie rock.

At the center of it all is Stephens' travelin' I-miss-my-woman lyrics that sound just as comfortable sung on the Slowdown stage as on the deck of a storm-battered clipper or behind the reigns of a covered wagon. A typical verse from opener "The Deader" sums it up nicely:

Oh now the raging sea she laps upon my door
I'll round a thousand horns just to drown upon her shore
Blood red roses go down Moses oh billowing sails
Those so weak-willed guts all sea-filled throw them o'er the rails

Aye, matey! Their style hasn't budged from day one, but that said, of the three albums, this is the one to own. Gone are the 8- and 9-minute ballads heard on early releases that seemed to go on forever. None of these nine tracks reach the 6-minute mark. That effort to economize, and the shift from rousing ballads to dark, ominous death tales, like "Fly Low Carrion Crow," make this the most varied and sonically broad record of their career. Within one song, the closer "My Baby's Gone," the music travels from deep, underwater, slow motion to emerge with a strut on dry land, Stephens testifying, "I go where cold winds don't blow / I go where nobody goes," before pulling back down to elegy pace for a repeated, pained whisper of "My baby's gone," that turns into an inspiring battle cry.

So maybe they have been singing the same song for years. I guess that would be a problem if that song weren't so damn good.

Rating: Yes

Tomorrow, this week's column featuring David Matysiak and the Bemis music residency project, and some words about the Coco Art collective.

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Live Review: The Good Life; Gore Gore Girls, MWT tonight … – Sept. 25, 2007 –

First and foremost -- it was the smokiest show I've been to since the ol' Smokel Underground days. It was the first show where my eyes hurt from the smoke afterward, as smokey as the famous Sokol Built to Spill show from seven or eight years ago. Smokier than The Brothers and O'Leaver's combined. It was weirdly smokey.

Part of the reason was the size of the crowd. One of the folks who runs The Waiting Room insisted that it wasn't sold out, yet it was the biggest crowd I've seen there, ever. You could not approach the stage. I ended up sandwiched against the wall behind the soundboard for the evening. It was especially crowded during Outlaw Con Bandana's set, probably because people were milling around instead of crowding the stage room. Outlaw put on the best performance that I've ever heard from them. Playing as a trio, Brendan Hagberg sounded like a cross between John Hiatt and Vic Chestnutt ripping through a set of short, moving Woody-esque folk songs. Gorgeous stuff.

The Good Life followed shortly after. I don't have a lot of time to go into detail, other than to say that Help Wanted Nights works as well live as it does on CD. After listening to it for the past few weeks, I have to conclude that it may be the best thing Kasher has done since Domestica (I know, I said that about Happy Hollow, but this is better than that). Roger Lewis' usual rat-a-tat-tatting was replaced with good, solid, throaty drum action (drums always sound good at TWR). The set was a mix of new stuff and old, as you'd expect. He also threw in a cover of Tom Petty's "You Got Lucky," which seemed out of place and out of sync. That said, I guarantee if he plays it on tour that every reviewer will go out of his/her way to mention it. That's one of the problems with covers...

Tonight at The Waiting Room, it's Gore Gore Girls with The Goddamn Rights and The Matt Whipkey Three. $8, 9 p.m.

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Capgun Coup in Crawdaddy; The Good Life tonight… – Sept. 24, 2007 –

For those of you who may have missed it, Crawdaddy did an interesting feature on Capgun Coup last week that talks about Omaha's houseparty culture (Read it here). Writer Brenda Paro talks about Hotel Frank, formerly known as Gunboat and The Jerk Store. A good read.

Tonight it's The Good Life at The Waiting Room. The band will be playing songs off their new album, Help Wanted Nights. Will Kasher and Co. do as they've done in the past and perform the entire album in sequence? Find out tonight. As of this writing, the show had yet to sell out. $8, 9 p.m., with Outlaw Con Bandana and Thunder Power!!!

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Live Review: For Against, Pharmacy Spirits; David Bazan, Qui tonight… – Sept. 23, 2007 –

Well, it looked like the same 60 people were on hand last night at The Waiting Room that were at The Howard St. Tavern 14 years ago. I have to admit I was a little bummed at the turnout, but after all, there were a lot of shows going on last night. Actually, that's no excuse. The real reason why this show didn't draw is because people 'round these parts just don't get/understand/like this style of music. It has nothing to do with the quality of the band, it has to everything to do with the style of music they play -- straight-on '80s-flavored post-ambient bleak-rock a la Joy Division. For Against (in one form or another) have been playing this style of music for more than 20 years, and have always drawn the same few but loyal fans. The average age last night had to be in the 30s, though there were a few youngsters there, including For Against's new drummer, Spring Gun's Nick Buller, who was nothing less than stellar, having only practiced with the band three times (ever) before taking the stage. Buller is a powerhouse, with the huge, booming chops that this style of music needs -- nay, demands -- to be effective. Buller, who's young enough to be Runnings' or Dingman's son, was flawless, as if he'd been playing with the band since the '80s. This music is quite a contrast to the Explosions in the Sky-style post-rock that Spring Gun is known for. It is, in fact, much more intricate and unforgiving -- there is no second drummer (as in Spring Gun) to smooth over the rough spots, just Butler sitting alone on the riser giving one of the most impressive performances from a drummer I've seen this year. Hope he has his passport in order, because it sounds like he'll be joining the band for its upcoming shows to Spain this year and a European tour early next year.

It's a good thing he had it all going last night, as Runnings and Dingman were in prime form. I spoke to a few folks who have seen For Against over the years -- they told me it was the best this band sounded since the original line-up days in the late '80s. Runnings' voice has not aged, it has the same high, childlike tone heard on those early recordings, the perfect, almost ironic counterpoint to the band's bleak, lonely, lost music. Runnings of course played his upside-down bass for lefties and doubled on keyboards, while Dingman soared on electric guitar (including a 12-string Ovation), occasionally kneeling in front of his amp, praying to the god of feedback.

For Against played favorites from the reissued early discs, including "Echelons," "December," "Autocrat," and Euro dance hit "Amen Yves." But other highlights included a number of new songs that carry on the same For Against style but with a heavier, more chopped guitar sound. I'm looking forward to that new disc in early '08.

By the end of the set, the crowd had moved in front of the stage, and the scene looked like a rock show. After their set, people yelled out requests, begging for an encore and getting it -- one song because that's all they had prepared. That'll have to change as they get ready for Europe and crowds that won't take no for an answer. Here's hoping they blow up across the water, and people here begin to wonder why they can't get another For Against show. Maybe in another 14 years.

Opening band Pharmacy Spirits also put on a good show. I wondered why I had never heard of them before, until someone explained that the band is two-thirds of Lincoln's Bad Sects (with a different bass player). It was the guitarist/frontman who made it work, showing off some impressive skills on the ol' ax. Sounds like they have a new album coming out soon as well.

* * *

Tonight at The Waiting Room, it's Qui, featuring David Yow of The Jesus Lizard and Scratch Acid. Will Yow show off his trademark gonzo stage antics? Pay your $10 and find out. In fact, get there early for The Stay Awake and The Lepers.

If you're not up for the crazy shit, head on down to Slowdown Jr. for Pedro the Lion's David Bazan, with The Winston Jazz Routine. $10, 8 p.m.

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Live Review: Honey & Darling; Kite Pilot tonight; For Against tomorrow; the weekend… – Sept. 21, 2007 –

All critics get accused of playing favorites once in a while. Who can blame people for thinking that? But the fact is, there are subtle ways you can tell when a critic is trying to avoid panning a band. Here are a few telltale comments to look for in a review that indicate that the critic is "being nice":

-- "These guys really showed a lot of potential…"
-- "The band looked confident on stage…"
-- "Their drummer never sounded better…"
-- "You'd never know that this was only their eighth gig…"
-- "The lead singer really knows how to please a crowd…"
--"They certainly brought their fans tonight…"

The trick is to sidestep any real description of how the music actually sounds -- that is, if you don't want to lie. These days, I avoid all of this simply by not writing about bands that suck, unless they're national acts, which deserve whatever they get. That said, sometimes it can't be avoided, and that's when you piss people off. A band may tell you "Seriously, I want to know what you think," right up to the point where you tell them what you really think. When this happens, I usually follow it with something like, 'Look, it doesn't matter what I think anyway as long as you're doing what you want to do' or 'I'm really not very knowledgeable about the type of music you guys play' or 'Regardless of what I think, I've talked to a half-dozen people here who loved it.' And so on…

I lead with this lengthy preamble because I went to see Honey & Darling last night and I know Sara, the cute little lead singer, from her work with One Percent Productions. Anyone who's met her will tell you she's just too sweet to say anything negative about. Well, I'm not "being nice" when I say Sara and her sideman (I don't know his name) have "it," whatever "it" is. She's got a great voice, knows her way around a guitar and writes terrific songs with interesting chord progressions and lyrics that are obviously personal and genuine. I'd compare her to a clean version of Girly Sound-era Liz Phair or early Suzanne Vega. She's as good or better than most of the stuff I've heard on K Records for the past couple years. Keep in mind this was only her second performance in front of a crowd, and there were a few problems (She blew a guitar solo; she could work on her stage presence). The important thing is her songs, which stand on their own, played only with a couple guitars. As the guy standing next to me said, "Imagine how she'd sound with a full band." That'll have to wait as Sara continues to search for a drummer and bass player. Stay tuned.

Also playing last night was Alina Simone, the "out of town" performer who played at The Waiting Room just a few months ago. It was typical singer/songwriter stuff, accompanied by a drummer, but with an edge, thanks to her soaring voice and edgy guitarwork (She played a guitar-stick-like device for part of her set that was pretty cool). Unfortunately, there were only 30 or so people on hand to hear it. She's coming back later this year, opening for McCarthy Trenching, where I'm sure the crowd will be a bit larger.

Tonight in the Old Market, Kite Pilot plays with Satchel Grande and Steve Rabine at a free concert held on 12th St. between Howard and Harney. I'm told Kite Pilot will be performing a cover of a Protoculture song, which by itself makes it worth the hassle of trying to find a place to park. Show starts at 6.

Tomorrow night is the big For Against show at The Waiting Room (read about them here). It's the first time these guys have played in Omaha for more than a decade. Still no idea who will be playing drums for this gig, but it should be special, as the band will perform both old and new material. Opening the show is Pharmacy Spirits. $7, 9 p.m.

Also tomorrow night, indie pop-masters The Brunettes play at Slowdown Jr. with Ferraby Lionheart. $10, 9 p.m. Over at O'Leaver's it's a four-band punk rock bill with Dim Lights (I'm told they have a shoe-gazer appeal), Across Tundras, The Shanks (someone call the cops!) and Mosquito Bandito. $5, 9:30.

Finally, Sunday at Slowdown Jr., it's the return of David Bazan of Pedro the Lion fame, with The Winston Jazz Routine. I saw Bazan do a set at The Saddle Creek earlier this year and it was spectacular. $10, 8 p.m. Meanwhile, over at The Waiting Room, The Stay Awake and The Lepers open for Qui. $10, 9 p.m.

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Live Review: The National/St. Vincent; Help Wanted Nights reviewed; Honey & Darling/Jake Bellows tonight… – Sept. 20, 2007 –

St. Vincent's Annie Clark performed alone last night at Slowdown with just her electric guitars, her duo microphones, her cabinet of sampled beats and noises, and no, it wasn't as stellar as her July show at The Waiting Room when she was backed by a real band, but it was still pretty durn good, and at times, downright great. Is she the next Polly Jean Harvey? No, she's too clean for that, too nice, too cute, too sweet. Still, she knows how to play that guitar, how to grind out the noise when she wants to create a ghostly pop sound while keeping afloat the delicate melodies heard on Marry Me, which might be the best female-voiced indie album of '07.

I was less enthusiastic about The National, but that's probably because I wasn't in the mood for their brooding, dense sound. Though all six members were busy doing what they do, I wondered how they'd sound as a four piece, with their music stripped to the bare essentials. After the first few songs, you pretty much got the gist of what they were about. Missing was the dynamic depth heard on their records, as everything came at you at the same speed and intensity. The sold-out crowd, however, loved it.

* * *

I was told last night that first week sales for the new Good Life album exceeded the first week for Album of the Year, and that the CD even entered the Billboard charts -- an achievement. So what's my take on the album? Well, since you asked:

Beautiful Loser
Review: The Good Life, Help Wanted Nights (Saddle Creek)

Forget the fact that this is supposed to be the soundtrack to a film penned by singer/songwriter renaissance frontman Tim Kasher. You and I haven't seen the movie, which may or may not ever get made.

The fact is, all of The Good Life's music is theatrical at its very core. Their last record, 2004's Album of the Year, could have been used in a moody, off-off-Broadway musical, each song telling a boy-meets-girl, boy-loses-girl story of love and betrayal, all with a single broken heart. In Kasher's world, the loser protagonist always is well-written and clearly defined. It's the antagonist (presumably a composite of every woman who Kasher ever slept with) that could use a little more character development. They can't all be heartless bitches, can they Tim? Maybe they can.

Help Wanted Nights tells that same lonely story all over again, but simpler, easier and with more clarity. Our hero once again is the slouching, insecure, slightly damaged loser we've all come to love -- the antithesis of every horny fuck-and-run cocksman you remember from your favorite '80s hair-band.

Kasher's men are rarely in control in any relationship, having either just been dumped or are about to be, but never destined for happiness except for that short-lived moment of a one-night stand that precedes a cold-light-of-day reality that it won't be anything more than that. In Kasher's world, it's the women who are the cocksman, always in a hurry to leave that familiar so-so gigolo the next morning.

Take the soft-shoe opener, where Kasher pines, "Either you love me or you leave me but don't you leave me on this picket fence," or the bouncy, bass-driven "Heartbroke," where our hero suffers Joe Jackson-inspired frustration when he realizes his ex is already getting some. "I see you've found a way to pass the time," he says. Her reply: "I like him, he's a lot like you." Ouch.

Musically, Kasher and Co. take the simpler-is-better route, stripping songs to the very basics of melody, counter-melody and rhythm (with a guitar solo thrown in for good measure). Each shortish tune ends simply, concisely, without any over-the-top flourishes. Good thing, too, because too much drama would have pushed these lyrics into rather maudlin territory.

Taken as a whole, the CD is the least cluttered of anything Kasher has ever recorded, either with this band or Cursive, revealing a level of song craft that all-too-often can get lost in the din. Its very simplicity is a lesson that his pal and label mate Conor Oberst could benefit from.

In some ways, the collection is a throwback to simpler, better times, when songs were three minutes or less and recorded to be heard on your FM radio instead of a computer. All of them, that is, except for the 10-minute-plus closer, where Kasher asks yet another potential lover, "What are you really after? / What are you hoping to gain?" Chances are, it's not you, pal, or your droning feedback that buzzes for three minutes after the last organ tones fade, presumably to allow for all the end credits to scroll across the screen.

Help Wanted Nights is a thinking man's (and woman's) pop album, a collection of tragic love stories where the hero doesn't get the girl because, well, he's just no damn good, and in Tim Kasher's world, there are no happy endings. But I could be wrong. After all, I haven't seen the movie.

Rating: Yes

* * *

Any band that writes a song called "Tony Wilson" is all right in my book. Such is the case with Honey & Darling, who opens tonight for Jake Bellows and Alina Simone at The Waiting Room. H&D's music is sweet and sassy and a little sad, and if you go to a lot of Sokol Underground shows, you very well may recognize the wee frontwoman as the person who either took your money or handed you that flyer after the show. Check out their quaint acoustic ditties at their MySpace page. $7, 9 p.m.

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Column 142 -- For Against returns; The National, St. Vincent tonight… – Sept. 19, 2007 –

This isn't the first time I interviewed For Against. The first time was actually back in August 1993 for an article for the Lawrence music monthly, The Note. The story lead with a description of a For Against show, and went something like: "Only 60 people. That's all who showed up for a night of music from Lincoln's For Against July 13 at the Howard St. Tavern. 'The show went real well,' said dejected-sounding lead singer/bassist Jeff Runnings. 'It just wasn't well attended.'" From there, Runnings goes on to describe the new For Against line-up that included Steve "Mave" Hinrichs on guitar and Paul Engelhard on drums. Even then, the band's prospects seemed headed skyward. For Against had just signed a deal with Dutch East India Trading in New York to release Aperture and there was talk about touring. Ah, it seems like only yesterday. Now 14 years later, here they are again, poised this time not to conquer America, but the rest of the world, starting with The Waiting Room Saturday night. Let's make sure more than 60 people show up this time.

Column 142: For Against Again
The seminal Lincoln band is reborn.

There's a lot of For Against information to get to, but I don't want to bury the most important piece of data, which is that the seminal Lincoln band will be playing at The Waiting Room this Saturday night -- their first Omaha performance in over a decade.

It dawned on me while as I was driving to Lincoln Sunday afternoon to interview the two core members of the band -- singer and chief songwriter Jeff Runnings and guitarist/keyboardist Harry Dingman III -- that most people who read this column may not be familiar with For Against. After all, their (first) heyday was back in the late '80s and early '90s. And even then, For Against didn't exactly fit into a Lincoln scene that included bands like Mercy Rule and Sideshow.

"I don't think For Against in the '80s felt like a part of the Lincoln scene at all," Dingman said. "We played benefit shows and shows with other bands, but we did our own thing and had our own audience, and they had their audiences."

The separation makes sense considering that while SST-style punk was all the rage in Omaha and Lincoln, For Against was making 4AD/Factory Records-style Euro-pop that bordered on today's version of electronic dance music. Their sound was directly influenced by '80s and '90s-era European post-punk from bands like Durutti Column, Joy Division, Gang of Four and Kitchens of Distinction. The trio, which included drummer Gregory Hill, combined droning, chiming guitars, buzzing synths, and machine-precise percussion with Runnings' hollow, ghostly voice. The result was both bleak and intensely danceable, and can be heard echoed in modern bands like Interpol, Editors and The Faint (who, if they ever get their new album recorded, would be wise to bring them along on tour).

A brief history: The trio began performing in Lincoln in 1985. After self-releasing a 7-inch, the band signed with Independent Projects Records (IPR) and released its debut full-length, Echelons, in 1987. They went on a brief US tour, then recorded their follow-up, December, in 1988, and afterward, unceremoniously broke up, just as things were getting interesting.

"Capitol was interested in the band," Dingman said. "I started thinking that maybe something could happen. I wasn't planning on leaving. Greg had already left, and I wasn't sure of my role in the band, and really… I don't know." He paused for a moment. "It's hard to say why people do what they do. That was almost 20 years ago."

Dingman went on to join The Millions with Hill before he and his wife eventually moved to Ft. Collins, Colorado. Runnings continued For Against with new personnel, releasing four more records before the project petered out in 2002.

Then in 2003, Dingman and his wife returned to Lincoln. "I called Jeff a couple of times and he didn't return my calls. We hadn't said more than 'Hi' to each other in 16 years."

"I wasn't sure I wanted to do it again," Runnings said.

"And Jeff probably felt burned," Dingman added.

Runnings nodded his head. "We were young, back then," he said, reflecting on the break-up. "Harry and I had ideas and I was being very headstrong. So was Greg." Eventually, Dingman found himself in Runnings' living room, and the two decided that For Against should live again.

"I think we both realized we had grown up," Runnings said.

But a funny thing happened in their absence. For Against had quietly become big… in Europe. "We have this song called 'Amen Yves' that only came out on vinyl, but that DJs throughout Europe have been playing for years," Dingman said. "We thought the Internet was fueling the resurgence in our popularity, but it was actually coming from the dance clubs."

Since reforming, both Echelons and December have been reissued by Minneapolis-based indie label Words on Music, who also just rereleased In the Marshes, a recording originally released as a 10-inch by IPR in 1990 that includes that dance hit, "Amen Yves." And, early next year, Words on Music will release Shade Side, Sunny Side, For Against's 7th studio album, and the first one to feature Dingman since December.

Until then, the band will continue touring. They've already toured Greece last spring, and are headed to Spain for the Tanned Tin Festival in Castelló this November, thanks in part to Spanish label Acuarela Discos, who will be releasing a new For Against EP next year. A full European tour is slated for early '08. "Europe is simply where our fan base is," Runnings said. "We've had offers to play in Rome, Berlin, Amsterdam, Athens and all points in between."

The U.S., it seems, will have to wait. Fortunately, both have lives that bend easily to tour schedules. Runnings works at Lincoln's Homer's, while Dingman stays home with his 18-month-old daughter and teaches guitar. At 45 and 43 respectively, Runnings and Dingman aren't letting their age slow them down.

"I don't see being older as being an issue," Runnings said. "You look at a lot of groups our age right now, and they don't seem to be getting shit heaped on them. Bands like REM and Guided by Voices, even though they're older, they're still relevant. That's all that matters."

Tonight at Slowdown, one of the more long-awaited shows of the year: The National. If you missed my early interview with the band's frontman, Matt Berninger, read it (or reread it) before you head on down. Tickets are still available from The Slowdown website for $15. And I suggest you get there at the stroke of 9 p.m. to catch opener St. Vincent, who stunned a crowd at The Waiting Room back in July with her amazing music. Here's my review of that show, where I call her the next PJ Harvey (she really is). See you there.

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A last-minute reminder: Bill (Smog) Callahan tonight… – Sept. 17, 2007 –

...for those of you who have some free time tonight, check out Bill Callahan (ex-Smog) at Slowdown Jr. The 2001 Smog show at Sokol Underground, seen by about 75 people, was one of the best shows of the year that year. He brings a whole different intensity to his live shows than you get from his discs. $12, 9 p.m., with Sir Richard Bishop opening. Alas, I'll have to miss it as I'll be working on a column/profile of For Against, which will be online Wednesday or Thursday, along with a review of the new Good Life disc.

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Live Review: Okkervil River; free Kings/Black Rebel tonight… – Sept. 15, 2007 –

It was crazy madhouse packed at The Waiting Room last night for Okkervil River. So packed, in fact, it was hard to enjoy the show. The band was plenty loud enough, and played a fine collection of songs, but I couldn't focus on the show. Too many people. In fact, it was too packed to stand in the stage room, though I tried for a short time until someone lifted their girlfriend onto the wall that juts out by the merch table, blocking my view completely. It wasn't as if I could just move somewhere else, so I escaped to watch the rest of the show from the back of the bar, where two local musicians waved me over and asked what I thought of the band.

Uh, well what do you guys think of the band? They immediately went into a list of descriptions that included words and phrases like "derivative" and "I've heard this before" and "I can't even hear the guitar" and "One Conor is more than enough," and so on. I said, "Well, I've been covering this band for five or six years and they're one of my all-time favorites. I'm serious." I think they thought I was kidding. Fact was, neither of them had ever heard of Okkervil River (more solid evidence of Lazy-i's all-encompassing readership) and didn't understand what they had that was so special; special enough to sell out The Waiting Room.

Which got me to wondering just how Okkervil River did generate such a large following in Omaha, a town where their music has never been heard broadcast on any radio station or television (They don't even have videos on Subterranean on MTV2). Sure, they've played in Omaha at least four times in the past, but I was at all of those shows, beginning with the 10-person draw at The Junction all the way to the Sokol Underground show last year that drew maybe 150. Yet here was a crowd much larger than that (caution prevents me from giving you an actual crowd estimate), consisting of people actively singing along with most of the songs throughout their hour-long set. There were even a couple frat guys screaming "I love you Will" from the back of the bar. This couldn't have been the result of being on Conan O'Brien a couple weeks ago. Very strange indeed.

The show itself was hit and miss. The sound was muddy both from in front of the stage and back by the bar (probably hindered by the wall of humanity that acted as a natural sound buffer). Frontman Will Sheff seemed thrilled to be playing to such a large, loving audience, as did the rest of the band. The crowd went ga-ga over the opening chords of "For Real" and "Westfall" and even a couple songs from their new album. Sheff looked out of control at times, presumably lost in the moment, his voice characteristically falling off pitch as he pushed himself above the rest of the band. The best moments were the quieter, more controlled ballads, including a couple he played solo to start off his encore. If this is any indication of how Okkervil River is greeted for the rest of this tour, their days of riding in a van instead of a tour bus are numbered.

A reminder about tonight's shows...

Over at The Waiting Room it's the broken beer-bottle rock of The Filter Kings opening for The Mercurys. $7, 9 p.m. Down at Slowdown Jr. its Besnard Lakes (not Besnard Snakes as I accidentally reported yesterday, though my version of their name sounds better) with Starvin' Hungry and Baby Walrus (get there early to catch these guys). $10, 9 p.m.

Finally, I got an e-mail from Mick at SLAM Omaha telling me that Harrah's is desperately giving away tickets to tonight's Kings of Leon/Black Rebel Motorcycle Club show at Stir's Concert Cove in Council Bluffs. Tickets originally were going for $25. A link to the coupon page is available at

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Live Reviews: Rilo Kiley, Cursive; Okkervil River tonight… – Sept. 14, 2007 –

A crowd of around 1,000 were on hand last night at Sokol Aud to see Jenny Lewis and Rilo Kiley. I went into the concert having heard nary of a note of their new record, which I was told sucks by everyone I ran into last night. Strangely, for a tour that's supposed to be supporting the new material, the band played very little of it. Instead, they busted out their war chest of old chestnuts going all the way back to Take-Offs and Landings and including a retooling of a Jenny Lewis solo number (an unfortunate trip-hop version of "Rise Up with Fists!!").

It was impossible to miss the new songs thanks to a number of cues that prefaced the material -- introductions that seemed more like warnings (or apologies), use of glaring floor-mounted strobe lights and the requisite, massive bass and boom-chuck percussion. As soon as a new song was over, off went the strobes, and it was back to business as usual (i.e., back to normal). Again, I haven't heard their new record, but I've read that it's a sort-of tribute to dance/disco pop. My take: If you're going to roll with something like that, do it all the way. Shut off the stage lights completely when the strobes are on, turn the auditorium into a dance club. Don't play three old songs and then drop in a new one, then go back to the old stuff. Do 30 to 45 minutes of straight-out hot dance music, then let the crowd cool down with the old stuff. As they presented it, the new music came off half-hearted, tentative, unsure.

Based on all the trash talk, I expected the new material to be really lame, but it wasn't that awful. The band is reported to have said Tom Tom Club was a big influence on the new album (in fact, the first Tom Tom Club album was the pre-show music). RK's music, however, had none of the inventiveness or soul that made TTC such a great band. Instead, the new music felt like droll retread of hip-hop-beat music sung by a housewife. Those RK melodies were still there hidden beneath the massive thump-thump-thump that, if anything, got in the way. If this was supposed to be dance music, the crowd wasn't buying it. They mostly stood and stared instead of moved and grooved. That's never a good sign. Still, the music wasn't painful, just disappointingly cliché and, well, boring. It's no surprise that RK got the best crowd response from their older material, which dominated the set.

Sound and performance-wise, this was the best RK show I've seen, though nowhere as good as the Jenny Lewis and the Watson Twins Scottish Rite show last year. The band was tight, relaxed, and the crowd was having a good time. That said, I had my fill after about an hour and took off before the encore.

RK wasn't the only show going on last night. Lazy-i intern Brendan Greene-Walsh drove down to Lincoln to see Cursive the day after seeing the band at Slowdown. Here's his report:

I don't go to Lincoln often. Hell, I don't really go to Lincoln at all, but last night offered a good excuse: Cursive (part 2). The show at Slowdown was great. It was nice to see the band play in that beautiful room with the immaculate sound system. But having the opportunity to see them again the following night, a mere hour away at Knickerbockers, was too much to pass up. The night started on a good note -- running into Ted Stevens on the corner before the show, he told me that the band would be playing four new songs during their set (as opposed to only one played in Omaha). Four? Apparently, the band learned eight songs last week that could potentially be on the next album.

Their set started feverishly and kept the momentum all the way through. The band sounded more relaxed and muscular than they had the previous night. The crowd was eager and attentive, which kept the new songs from falling on deaf ears (the second of which is going to be stellar when finished, by the way). Frontman Tim Kasher maintained his between-song antics with a story about his current body odor, something to the effect of "anus sweat" due to "pumping iron."

All in all, I was able to witness two stellar shows back to back by the best band to come from Omaha. As I drove back to town, I made a few observations: First, Kasher's voice has never sounded better. One would think that after years of screaming night after night on tour his vocal chords would be shot. Not the case at all. Second, Cursive is a band that thrives in smaller venues. They can sell to capacity at big venues and put on a hell of show doing it, but there is nothing like seeing them in a room that is arm-to-arm, hot as hell and full of energy. And last, the next album (whenever it happens) is going to keep the tradition of being another amazing release. -- Brendan Greene-Walsh


So what's in store for tonight? Well, Okkervil River at The Waiting Room, of course, with Damien Jurado. $10, 9 p.m. This is the marquee show of the weekend for me.

As for the rest of the weekend, Saturday, it's the always volatile (and entertaining) Filter Kings opening for The Mercurys at The Waiting Room. $7, 9 p.m. Over at Slowdown Jr. its Besnard Lakes with Starvin' Hungry and Baby Walrus (get there early to catch these guys). $10, 9 p.m.

Sunday, Margot and the Nuclear So and So's plays at The Waiting Room with The Family Radio and Sad Sailor. I have it on good authority that this may be the last time you'll get to see The Family Radio for a long time, as frontman Nik Fackler begins his film project in the coming weeks.

Also Sunday night, at O'Leaver's, it's Shiver, Shiver, Sleep Said the Monster, Via Audio and Landing on the Moon. 9:30, $5.

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The National interviewed; Live Review: Cursive; Rilo Kiley tonight… – Sept. 13, 2007 –

First, here's this week's feature story on The National (read it here). The story's hook is my having just discovered this band though they actually broke through years ago with their previous album. Go, read, then go to and buy your tickets to their show next Wednesday at Slowdown, which also features the amazing St. Vincent.

* * *

Quite a packed house last night at Slowdown for Cursive. I didn't arrive until just before they went on stage. The floor was filled, as were the sides all the way back to the bar, a big house indeed for the band's debut on the Slowdown stage. In response, Cursive ran through a solid albeit rather brief set that drew heavily from Happy Hollow, but also included a song or two from Ugly Organ, Domestica, the Burst and Bloom EP (that wonky "Mothership" song), etc. The horn section that's been in tow throughout the past year has been whittled down to just one lonely guy who switches between tenor and bari sax and also plays keyboards. As you can imagine, the loss of horn power had an obvious impact on over-the-top numbers like "Big Bang," which rely on brassy explosions to push them along. Most of the time, the sax guy backed-in songs with jazzy fills. The keyboards were a nice, subtle touch, and provided background music for the two times Tim Kasher addressed the audience in a sort of free-verse beat poet fashion. Kasher's where's-he-going-with-this stage rants have been known to go on and on (and on), and are one of the things I enjoy most about his live performances. He kept them to a minimum last night, however.

One of the fine folks at One Percent invited me up to the "VIP area" for the performance -- essentially, it's the gated-off catwalk that connects the balcony to the back stage area. From there, it's quite a view (though the sound sucks), looking down at a crowd of mostly college-age (and younger) kids pushed up against the stage, all trying to sing along with the hits. Toward the end of the set, there was even a pseudo-mosh pit going on, which came down to one brutish dude in a black ball cap violently shoving people in all directions. He quickly became neutralized when someone knocked his ball cap off, revealing his old-guy bald spot. He spent the next few minutes looking for the ball cap on the floor, found it, then proceeded to shove people around again… until someone swiped his cap altogether, forcing him to retreat from the floor. Look, I like watching a good moshing as much as the next guy, but, really, Cursive doesn't play straight-four hardcore. Their music is more suited for screaming and crying, not fighting.

Maybe it was the separation from the masses up on that catwalk, but last night's set felt rushed and slightly uneven. Some songs, like "The Martyr" and "Dorothy at Forty" and the epic encore closer had all the power you'd expect from any Cursive show. At other times, however, it felt like the band was mailing it in, going through the motions, unlike the Cursive gig a couple months ago at The Waiting Room which was heated and reckless and a lot more fun. There is no question that Slowdown has the finest sound system and stage of any club in Omaha, however I'm beginning to wonder if the set-up isolates the bands too much from the audience, similar to Sokol Auditorium's stage. Or maybe I'm just getting spoiled after seeing Cursive at places like O'Leaver's and Sokol Underground and TWR, where they seem to be standing right in the crowd…

* * *

Tonight is Rilo Kiley at Sokol Auditorium. I intended to write a feature on the band -- I've been doing interviews with them since they joined Saddle Creek in '02. But I guess an interview wasn't in the cards. I've been going back and forth with their publicist since the end of August with no luck. Part of the problem is that I can't do interviews during business hours (only after 6 p.m. and on weekends -- I have a "real job," remember?). Another problem is the band's hectic schedule. I'm actually glad we didn't get anything lined up because I still haven't received a copy of Under the Blacklight, their new CD, which the publicist promised to send me in August. Just an oversight? Probably, but after reading coverage like this in Now Toronto (here). I get the feeling the band could be a bit skittish about having to answer questions about "selling out" and bringing in hit-maker producers like Mike Elizondo to sweeten their sound.

There's nothing wrong with dragging yourself out of the indie ghetto as long as you maintain your vision (For an example of how NOT to do this, see the last two Liz Phair albums). It's very possible that Lewis and Sennett are taking a route familiar with the best actors in Hollywood -- do the goofy, shitty, commercial projects to rake in the big bucks, then spend the off time working on your "real projects" -- the quality indie films, the a-list-director epics. Lewis has her solo work (which, in my opinion, is better than anything she's done with RK) to give her credibility; while Sennett has The Elected. Why not make Rilo Kiley a fun, money-making endeavor and say 'f*** you' to the critics? I guess it all depends on if Blacklight is a piece of shit or not. I'll reserve judgment until I hear it (if I ever do). I have a feeling that I'll get a good idea of where they're headed when I go to the show tonight. According to the publicist, the set times are: Doors at 7; Grand Ole Party @8; Johnathan Rice @ 8:45; and Rilo @ 10. One Percent lists Art in Manila on the bill as well, so it may go later than that. Tickets are still available for $17.

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Column 141 -- Okkervil River's Will Sheff; Devendra, Cursive tonight… – Sept. 12, 2007 –

I usually run the column on Thursdays, but since the Okkervil River show is this Friday, I figured I'd change things around and run my interview with The National tomorrow (that show isn't until a week from today). Frontman Will Sheff's anxieties are nothing new. I've heard similar comments from other musicians in their 30s. The fact is, after spending 10 years bouncing around in a van, you're bound to ask yourself if you've made the right decisions in life. Sheff's career appears to be headed in the right direction, and he and his band should be making that inevitable leap from a van to a tourbus in the near future. However, appearing on Conan doesn't guarantee anything, and Sheff knows it. "Some bands go from playing The Junction to suddenly becoming huge overnight," he said. "I've seen it happen. And I've seen bands fizzle out and die painfully. There are bands that stay at the same level for what seems like forever, just puttering along." As he says below, not every band takes the same path, there is no set trajectory.

Column 141: An Uncertain Trajectory
The fantasy life of Will Sheff.

For Okkervil River's Will Sheff, the life of a rock star is a fantasy world that he's trying to avoid.

I've been covering Sheff and his band since they first rolled into Omaha in 2002 to play a poorly attended show at the long-defunct Junction on 14th & Farnam. Virtually unknown, Okkervil River had just released Don't Fall in Love with Everyone You See on respected indie label Jagjaguwar. It was a break-out album filled with literate, intelligent, moving folk-rock songs in the vein of Will Oldham, Bill Callahan (of Smog) and Conor Oberst that has become one of my all-time favorites. Three years later, Sheff and his band played at O'Leaver's, this time supporting Black Sheep Boy, a critically lauded follow-up featured in The New York Times, Rolling Stone and the cover of The Austin Chronicle.

Now Sheff and Co. are back again, this time playing at The Waiting Room Friday night with Damien Jurado in support of the just-released The Stage Names, yet another collection headed straight for my year-end top-10 list. Last month, the band reached a sort of indie pinnacle, performing on Late Night with Conan O'Brien. Onward and upward, right?

In reality, little has changed since that night at The Junction. Oh sure, these days Okkervil River is considered an A-list indie band with a devoted following, name-checked by the likes of Lou Reed, but the band is still making its way cross country in a van instead of a tour bus.

"I'd be lying if I said things weren't better than the last time we talked," Sheff said through cell-phone static somewhere on the road. "But I'd also be lying if I said we're living high on the hog. I'm less scared than I used to be about going totally broke or about what's going to happen to me in the next six months. But it's not like I'm sitting back on a pile of money.

"Looking back at what's happened to us, it's been a slow rise. If I thought we'd be playing Letterman or selling 100,000 copies of our CD, I'd be happy. It may happen and it may not. The fact is, there is no trajectory. Everything's uncertain, and we're not talking about a story, we're talking about my life. It's sort of frightening."

That's not the only thing Sheff is frightened about. He's also afraid of getting lost in the one-dimensional world found only on the road. "I'm trying hard not to identify myself too much with what I do," he said. "If I let myself think that I'm a rock star and I'm the reason why the band is successful, I not only become an insufferable asshole, I open myself to a lot of weakness. The most important thing is friends and family and being anchored in life in an everyday way."

But as everyone knows, life on the road is anything but "everyday."

"It's killed many, many relationships I've had," Sheff said of the constant touring. "It's hard to build up a stable life. This is a fantasy world, and the longer you live in it, the more you develop skills to deal with the fantasy world that don't relate to the real world, which is what's left when the fantasy goes away."

In that fantasy rock star world, Sheff said, life has a militaristic simplicity. "Your concerns are, 'Are we going to get to the club on time?' 'When will I get to eat?' 'What will I get to eat?' 'When can I put my stuff in the van?' These are my possessions. This is my routine. It's really soothing."

But when the tour is over, Sheff describes a let-down similar to that suffered by newly paroled convicts who don't know what to do with their newfound freedom. "Oftentimes when I get home, I get extremely depressed," he said. "I either go hide in my house or room of wherever I'm staying with the door closed for three or four days straight, or I get into a fight with whoever I'm in a relationship with. Life on the road is nothing like an ordinary life. Ordinary life seems so weightless."

OK, I know what you're thinking. No, Sheff isn't a basket case or a whiner. He was quick to clarify that yes, he's having a great time, that he loves his life playing music. But at the same time, he struggles with security issues. "I don't want to sound ungrateful," he said, "but the uncertainty of it all will really do a number on your brain."

At 31, Sheff said he's openly jealous of his friends back home in Austin who he feels live more satisfying lives. "I think they're more run-of-the-mill, but there's a depth to their lives that my life doesn't have," he said. "They're not traveling around the world, but they get to have deep relationships with their friends and family.

"I know lots of older musicians who are great at being charming and cool, but aren't good at being functioning, happy people who know how to live a normal life."

But sometimes just living a normal life may be too much to ask for, especially from the back of a van.

Tonight's Devendra Banhart show was originally scheduled for Sokol Auditorium. It's been moved downstairs. Here's a good example of where I'm completely out of the musical loop. I know Banhart has his fans, but didn't realize he was popular enough to even consider Sokol Aud for his show. Opening is Rio En Medio. $20, 8 p.m.

Meanwhile, tonight is the big-stage debut of Cursive at Slowdown -- a club that, as One Percent Productions points out, is basically named after them (or at least their former self). Surprisingly, this has yet to sell out. Opening is Coyote Bones and Capgun Coup. $14, 9 p.m.

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Pre-hype on tomorrow's Good Life drop; Dondero/Black Moth Super Rainbow tonight… – Sept. 10, 2007 –

Tomorrow is the official drop date for the new Good Life album, Help Wanted Nights, but already there have been quite a few reviews published on the interweb about the disc, as well as interviews with Good Life frontman Tim Kasher. Here's just a few of the more interesting pieces:

-- AV Club's "Random Rules" featured Kasher's take on a handful of songs that I assume were selected randomly from his iPod (read it here). Among them, The Nation of Ulysses' "S.S. Exploder," Elvis Costello's "Senior Service" and The Cure's "Let's Go to Bed," which prompted a discussion on how The Cure influenced (or failed to influence) Kasher's music. "I first started The Good Life because I couldn't get away from the Robert Smith comparison all the time," Kasher said, "but anything I've done that people consider blatantly Cure-ish hasn't been that blatant at all from my end."

-- has a nice Q&A with Kasher (it's right here) where he briefly talks about the screenplay (that the album sort of acts as a soundtrack for), living in Southern California ("Having moved to LA, if anything, has compelled me to want to move to Alaska more than ever. I just wanna detach myself from this excessive populace and this excessive economy."), his writing process (for both music and screen) and perceptions that his music can be too dour ("I'm not like a Trent Reznor person; I'm not some weird goth thing. I actually try to maintain a very positive vibe overall, and I've always been that way. I think that manages to find its way into the records that I write. It usually comes up around the end of the album [laughs]."). Good stuff.

-- The always-anticipated Pitchfork review (here) gave the disc a 7.0 rating, summing it up with: "Help Wanted Nights finally finds him (Kasher) challenging himself again, imposing constraints and seeing how well he can work within them." Overall, a rather tepid (and not terribly informative) review.

I suspect we'll be seeing lots more Kasher/Good Life interviews and reviews in the coming days. .

As I mentioned last Friday, this is going to be a busy week. It starts tonight with Dave Dondero, Mal Madrigal and Brad Hoshaw at The Slowdown. Show starts at 9 p.m. and costs $8. Meanwhile, over at The Waiting Room, it's Spring Gun opening for Black Moth Super Rainbow, a band that's been opening for Flaming Lips and will soon be warming up the stage for Aesop Rock. $7, 9 p.m.

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The calm before the storm… – Sept. 7, 2007 –

All in all, it looks like a relatively quiet weekend for shows. Tonight, Scott Severin opens for Matt's Rocket Collection (AC/DC-style freedom rock) at The Waiting Room. $7, 9 p.m. Meanwhile, down at Sokol Underground, Cloven Path is sandwiched within a five-band bill that starts at 8 p.m. and costs $8. Tomorrow, Eagle*Seagull plays at The Waiting Room again (seems like they play weekly these days), this time with The Show Is the Rainbow and Columbia Vs. Challenger. $7, 9 p.m. Over at The Saddle Creek Bar, Los Angeles synth-pop band The Start (who sounds like Gwen Stefani/Madonna fronting a disco porn band) plays with TBA (again). $5, 9 p.m.

That's actually not a bad line-up of shows, but I say "calm before the storm" in the headline because there literally are good shows every night of the week next week (Monday: David Dondero/Mal Madrigal @ Slowdown Jr.; Tuesday: Cure tribute night at TWR; Wednesday: Cursive @ Slowdown and Devandra Banhart @ Sokol Aud; Thursday: Rilo Kiley @ Sokol Aud; Friday: Okkervil River @ TWR; Saturday: The Filter Kings @ TWR; Sunday: Margot and the Nuclear So and So's @ TWR). Better go out and buy that Red Bull right now because it's going to be a rough week of "next mornings."

If you think about it, check in over the weekend. I might have an update or two...

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Column 140 -- Football Music; Song Remains the Same, Harptallica tonight… – Sept. 6, 2007 –

This column came out of nowhere. The sports genius behind blogsite Husker Mike's Blasphemy is a colleague and a friend of mine and easily the best football mind I've ever encountered. If you're a Husker fan, you're already reading this site regularly. It's a no-bullshit perspective on that program in Lincoln by someone who knows better than to drink the Kool-Aid but still loves his team. As I say below, I'm not a huge Husker fan. I graduated at UNO and that's where my loyalty lies. Still, it's impossible not to get caught up in Husker-mania if you grew up in Omaha during the Johnny Rodgers era.

Column 140: Taken Too Sirius-ly?
A tradition with a backbeat

There is a cathartic reality to the Nebraska Cornhusker tunnel walk. Even I, a dyed-in-the-wool UNO Mavericks fan with little interest in that "other team" in Lincoln, have experienced watching the legendary ceremony where Husker football players get all pumped up, bouncing their fists off each other's shoulder pads within the tunnel while the low-end throb of Alan Parson Project's "Sirius" blares over the stadium's PA. Fans watch on their feet, staring at the team on the massive HuskerVision jumbo-tron, like watching popcorn simmer in a pan about to explode.

It's rousing, there is no question. It's one of the few things I remember about going to a game at Memorial Stadium -- even more memorable than the game itself. It is a special spectacle, a Midwestern tribal group hug that more often than not (though not as often these days) ends four quarters later with the mighty Huskers holding the still-beating hearts of their unfortunate victims in their bloody fists.

The tunnel walk's formula is simple but effective, its power based on fan adulation and the balls-out "I-want-to-kill-someone" impact of Alan Parsons' music. APP is considered sort of a quaint joke these days by most music fans. Their songs, from the earnest "Games People Play" to the bell-bottomed strut of "I Wouldn't Want to Be Like You" epitomize a '70s-'80s smooth FM culture that's best left forgotten. It was the kind of music that you'd hear blaring from Malibu's and Novas while cruising Dodge St. on a Saturday night, chasing a Pinto-load of high school girls into the Golden Spike Drive-In.

As dorky as APP's catalog sounds today, there's no denying that "Sirius" is a powerful, though somewhat cheesy, piece of instrumental music made-to-order for just such an event as a Husker tunnel walk. I knew this the first time I heard it, when I bought my copy of App'sEye in the Sky way back in '82. It became a pseudo test track for both my Panasonic home stereo and for every car stereo I owned throughout my high school years. You played it loud, but you always made sure to turn it down before the album's prim, prissy title track began.

The Huskers have been using "Sirius" for 13 years. Fans know when they hear that familiar low-end synth chord what's about to happen. So it came as a surprise when I read on the fan blog "Husker Mike's Blasphemy" that the university had decided it was time to change the formula. As an aghast Husker Mike so poignantly put it: "'Sirius' is the key to making this work. Yes, it's been used over and over again by countless sports teams. It's not unique to Nebraska. But what made 'Sirius' so successful is that simple deep bassline that reverberates through the stadium, and it's been used in every tunnel walk, including the walks by three national champions."

Word, brother. Why fix it when it ain't broke? Here's what I think probably happened: The university's marketing or recruiting "geniuses" put their heads together weeks prior to the season opener to discuss what to do about the "tunnel walk situation." Their concern: How can we possibly recruit bright young students (and players) with that relic of a song as the centerpiece for the most exciting experience leading up to a Husker game? Heck, that song was released before those kids were even born. Kids these days want something hip and now, something that speaks to their generation. Something with hip-hop flair.

It's hard to argue against their logic. Think about the possibilities of replacing "Sirius" with something as grim and angry as Nine Inch Nails or urban-lethal as a bullet-ridden Fitty Cent fantasy, or with, say, an indie anthem by Built to Spill. (I had to throw that in because I've always dreamt of hearing the instrumental break in the middle of Built to Spill's "Temporarily Blind" used as intro music for the UNO Mavs basketball team, instead of the always-lame "Thunderstruck").

Enter hayseed DJ, Mikey Bo, the whitest guy to lay down a hip-hop beat since Vanilla Ice. Before long, the Husker chat boards were ablaze with links to Mikey Bo's website for hints of what would replace "Sirius." Husker fans quivered in anger -- and anticipation -- before Saturday's game to see and hear what surely would be disappointing.

In the end, they had nothing to fear. You can see the new version of the tunnel walk on YouTube, recorded by some industrious cornhead. It starts with an ultra-cheesy video where a bunch of slouching Huskers dressed in shirts and ties jump out of a C52 transport plane, presumably on a military mission. The video is nonsensical and reeks of one of those death-fantasy videogame-style TV commercials used to recruit Marines. The only thing worse than the video is the boom-clap early-2000-era hip-hop soundtrack that sounds more dated and cliché than anything Alan Parsons ever produced.

As the video rolled on, our old friend re-emerged. There was "Sirius," gussied up for this century with poorly executed trip-hop beats. Was it possible to make a song as cheesy as "Sirius" any cheesier? The answer, it seemed was a resounding yes. Though the tunnel walk was deemed "the worst one ever" by Husker Mike, it's only a matter of time before it becomes ingrained in Husker culture, with an update scheduled for sometime around 2020.

Here's another chance to see if my live music reviews are full of ca-ca. The Song Remains the Same -- the Zeppelin tribute band that I wrote about here and here, are playing tonight at Murphy's Lounge 4737 So. 96th St. See for yourself if they can pull it off as well as I say they can. I haven't been to Murphy's in years and years. I certainly have never seen a band perform there before, so I can't vouch for their PA. It's doubtful that it's as good as The Waiting Room's massive sound system. If you would rather wait and see this band on a primo stage, TSRTS is playing at TWR on Thanksgiving weekend with one of Matt Whipkey's bands. Tonight it's Murphy's, though, 9:30, $5 (And -- get this -- it's "ladies night" so the ladies get in free. Woo-hoooo!).

A tribute of another stripe is going on at The Saddle Creek Bar tonight. It's called Harptallica. According to the Saddle Creek Bar site, Harptallica consists of "two hot chicks playing a Metallica tribute on harps." What in hell? $5, 9 p.m. The opening band is that famous act we've all seen before called TBA.

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Eagle*Seagull still unsigned (for now); where's Adam Weaver?; Bastard Sons of Johnny Cash tonight; Peter Longbough… – Sept. 5, 2007 –

Out of the blue, Eagle-Seagull showed up in yesterday's CMJ Blast (an e-mail based newsletter written by College Music Journal that's distributed daily by subscription). The story (located here) was essentially a rehash of what we all already know (They just finished recording their second album with producer Ryan Hadlock, The Year Of The How-To Book, tentatively set for release in early 2008. The band will hit the road briefly in September). Still, CMJ is mighty big exposure. Has the band lined up a label yet, or are they just going to self-release it?

"No, we're definitely not (going to self release it)," said Eagle*Seagull frontman Eli Mardock. "The level of interest in the album is really exciting but it's best to keep our mouths shut for now and not name any names. We're just not rushing into anything, and we're in no rush to release the album, either. We want to make sure we do things right. That said, I wouldn't be surprised if we make an announcement within a month or two."

It's no surprise that there's label interest. Their new music is catchy and fun and, at times, downright uplifting. Find out for yourself when they play at The Waiting Room this Saturday with The Show is the Rainbow & Columbia vs Challenger.

* * *

The last time we heard from Adam Weaver, he was stirring things up with a new album and his comments about the local indie scene (See Column 105, here). That was way back in December '06. Weaver dropped me a line yesterday, saying that he and his band, The Ghosts, are about to come out of a self-imposed hiatus that they entered after their last gig in April. "The timing (of the hiatus) is kind of a shame because I think we were actually starting to establish a bit of a following," Weaver said, "but due to a couple of us moving, a couple of us getting married, and much day-job insanity, we decided to take a break for awhile."

Well, the break is over and Weaver and his band are now working on a new record. "We're currently doing pre-production in our practice space, and hope to get into the studio mid-October -- hope to," he said. "We'll be working with Andy (Koeneke) from Spring Gun and J.J. (Idt) from Eagle*Seagull down in the old Presto! space in Lincoln. This will be much more of a band effort, and much less of my sad-bastard singer/songwriter stuff. There may be a band name change as well."

Don't look for them to play anywhere in the near future. "If someone asks us to open for them, we might do it if it seems like a good fit," Weaver said, "but the record is number one priority."

* * *

It'll be a veritable hoedown tonight at The Waiting Room with The Bastard Sons of Johnny Cash and the Southpaw Bluegrass Band. $10, 9 p.m.

* * *

Cold Call...

Peter Longbough, Commander Comatose (Wilderhood) -- Sometimes almost purposely wonky, you could call it low-fi except that the recording sounds too good. So do most of the songs. If I had to compare him to anyone it would probably be Sebadoh or early, folkie, Loser-era Beck (especially on the slacker mantra "Swimming in My Mind" and jangle-noise epic "Brodawg Deal" and actually, just about all the tracks). It feels homemade and made up, and Longbough figures out a way to bring new ideas and misdirection to a typical indie-folk dinner party. Did I mention he's from Anchorage, Alaska? Does it matter? Rating: Yes.

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Live Review: Kyle Harvey, Anders Parker; Dirty Projectors/Yacht tonight; *Sons… – Sept. 3, 2007 –

First off, I messed up the listing yesterday and, in fact, Dirty Projectors, Yacht and FTL Drive are playing tonight (Monday) at Slowdown, not last night as I incorrectly reported. $8, 9 p.m. I blame my insolence an on overdose of weekend sunshine.

Last night was a relaxed evening at The Waiting Room for the 20 or 30 on hand. The Third Men were finishing their set in their usual fine fashion just as I arrived. Are they Omaha's (and America's) new hope for the resurgence of pop-rock 'n' roll? Maybe, maybe... Singer/songwriter Kyle Harvey followed with an acoustic solo set. The last time I saw Harvey at The Waiting Room he had Reagan Roeder as his wingman, playing some sort of strange keyboard contraption that added a dense layer of atmosphere. This time it was just Kyle and his guitar, and the impact was just as striking. Kyle's currently working on music for the soundtrack of a short movie written and directed by Evan Blakley called Oscillations (you can view the trippy teaser trailer here). Finally, Anders Parker performed an inspired solo set, switching between multiple guitars, microphones and a variety of pedals to create a sum that was much greater than its parts. Gorgeous voice, gorgeous guitar.

Tuesday night (because I don't know if I'll be posting an update tomorrow or not), look for Paleo, Simon Joyner and Capgun Coup at The Waiting Room. I was told last night that Joyner is working with a few new musicians and might unveil his new lineup at this show. $7, 9 p.m. Meanwhile, over at O'Leaver's, it's Talking Mountain, Member Ship and Yes, Oh Yes. $5, 9:30 p.m. If the O'Leaver's Myspace page is correct, after this show there's nothing scheduled until Sept. 16, so you better get it while you can.

Cold Call...

*Sons, Viracochas (Fractured) -- Chapel Hill gang fancies themselves as a modernized version of Swervedriver, and for the most part, fit the bill, thanks to droning guitars, heavily delayed vocals and a drunken swagger that verges closely on psychedelic drug rock. It's hard to deny killer guitar riffs like those heard on wall-of-sound rave-ups "Kill the Culprit" and "White Noise." That said, I left these six tracks thinking Brian Jonestown Massacre meets Pink Mountaintops, and how wise they were to keep it at only six songs. Rating: Yes

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Mid-Holiday update… – Sept. 2, 2007 –

…Starting with Ladyfinger/STNNNG on Friday night, The STNNNG never fails to impress. Frontman lunatic Chris Besinger brought his usual leather-glove-fisted A-game, as did the rest of the band, who haven't sounded this good since that night at Sokol a year or so ago when they practically burned the place down. A patron mentioned Shannon Selberg and The Cows ("all they need to do is pull out a trumpet"), another legendary Minneapolis band who Besinger said he fashioned his stage persona after. I never saw The Cows except on YouTube (specifically, here). I'm more apt to compare STNNNG to Jesus Lizard, and Besinger to a cross between David Yow and Tre from The Brothers. Decide for yourself, there's plenty of live STNNNG on YouTube, including this Turf Club show from last April or this 7th St. Entry performance from last November. After about four songs, everything seemed to blur into a cloud of cacophonic noise, that is until their last song, the one where Besinger yells "Row!" over and over for about five minutes. I understand why they played it last. Nothing else could follow that.

And nothing else but something as disturbing as STNNNG could follow Ladyfinger, especially with Chris Machmuller and Co. honed after a week on the road. They felt empowered, I suppose, to play the songs any damn way they felt like it, which is why the set was something special. I assume a few of those numbers I didn't recognize will be on a new record. If so, Ladyfinger is headed to heavier, nastier territory than what was heard on their debut.

O'Leaver's 5-Year birthday party was as fun as I expected, but not nearly as well-attended as I hoped, at least not at 4:30 p.m. when we showed up and The Third Men came on stage. I blame a bad first half by The Huskers. The place was set-up with one of those portable tent-stages built in the east end of the parking lot, facing due west so the bands stared directly into the sun throughout their sets. It wasn't exactly hot out yesterday, but the sun was a bastard, and Teresa and I along with the 50 or so on hand escaped into the shadows of O'Leaver's, leaving the area in front of the stage and the tables dead empty.

Sound was an issue from the beginning of The Third Men's set -- all you could hear were the cymbals and anything else high-end -- piercing and bright. They got it adjusted by mid-set, and the band roared on. The highlight -- Mike Tulis doing his best Nick Gilder swagger for a cover of "Hot Child in the City." It was nothing less than impressive. Maybe if you're lucky you'll get a chance to hear it when The Third Men open for Anders Parker tonight at The Waiting Room.

The sound got better for Coyote Bones and Life After Laserdisque. It was pretty loud, and I had to wonder if the neighbors were getting irritated. In fact, cops apparently did show up a couple times, following up on noise complaints. The show went on anyway. We left at 7:30 when Ted Stevens was on stage (and after a couple otherworldly delicious Italian sausages). By then, more people had trickled in.

As mentioned earlier, tonight at The Waiting Room it's Anders Parker, with The Third Men and Kyle Harvey opening ($8, 9 p.m.), while O'Leaver's hosts Outlaw Con Bandana, Or Does It Explode and Darren Hanlon ($5, 9:30 p.m.). Happy Labor Day...

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An O'Leaver's Saturday; STNNNG, Ladyfinger tonight; Cormac O. Caoimh… – Aug. 31, 2007 –

What was your favorite show at O'Leaver's? Join in on the discussion on the webboard (here), where I've already added my two cents. I think there'll be a lot of this kind of reminiscing and hand-holding going on -- maybe even a few tears shed -- as we celebrate O'Leaver's birthday on Saturday.

But before we begin the debauchery, there's tonight's entertainment, not at O'Leaver's, but at The Waiting Room, where STNNNG plays with Ladyfinger and Red Eyed Legends. (I was a bit surprised that Ladyfinger wasn't on the O'Leaver's schedule tomorrow (Chris Machmuller, after all, is a bartender there), but the band will sadly be out of town on tour.). STNNNG puts on a, well, "stunning" show. $7, 9 p.m.

There will be some pre-festival entertainment going on at O'Leaver's tonight, where Reagan and the Ray Guns perform with She Swings, She Sways, $5, 9:30 p.m.

Saturday, of course, is O'Leaver's anniversary show. I wouldn't be surprised if they delay the start time to compensate for the rescheduled start of the Nebraska v. Nevada game. Bands are now slated to start at 2:30, cost is $8. The line-up, again: Ric Rhythm & the Revengers, Dance Me Pregnant, The Third Men, Sarah Benck and The Robbers, Coyote Bones, Life After Laserdisque, Ted Stevens, McCarthy Trenching, Neva Dinova and Little Brazil. Mello tells me there will be burgers and Italian sausages and so forth available if you plan on eating something with your booze. I forgot to mention in yesterday's write-up that DJ's Double Trouble w/ MC Candlepants will be spinning it inside after the bands finish at 11.

Also Saturday night, Harvey Sid Fisher plays at The Waiting Room with Miracles of God, Alex McManus and Simon Joyner. The stars should align as the king of rock astrology, Harvey Sid Fisher, plays his sing-songy Sesame Street-style ballads dedicated to the 12 signs of the zodiac, which became a staple on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart as well as the Midwest indie music circuit. Fisher brings the stars to life with lyrics that even doped-up followers of astrology will understand. For example: "Talkin 'bout the Taurus, talkin' bout the bully bull bull..." Moo. $7, 9 p.m.

Sunday it's all about the hair of the dog with three hot shows. (Hey, we all have Monday off, remember?).

At The Waiting Room, Kyle Harvey opens for Anders Parker. $8, 9 p.m.

At O'Leaver's, it's Outlaw Con Bandana with Or Does It Explode and Darren Hanlon. 9:30, $5.

Monday at Slowdown, it's Brooklyn 4-piece Dirty Projectors with Yacht and FTL Drive. $8, 9 p.m.

Cold Call...

Cormac O. Caoimh, Start a Spark (self released) -- I really wanted to like this one. I mean, the guy's from Cork, Ireland, for god's sake. Unfortunately, there wasn't enough here to make the disc memorable. Caoimh sounds like Paul Simon during the slower, quieter numbers, then turns into Chris Stamey or Tommy Keene on the power-pop ballads -- all very admirable, too bad the music is so simplistic (and isn't helped by a mix that puts Caoimh's voice too far out front). Still, he throws in a few zingers, like the line, "No one's gonna notice your tears if they fall into the sea" (from "Deep Sea Diving"), or when he pulls it back and brings it up on keeper "Running from the Raincloud." Still… Rating: No.

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Column 139 -- Ode to O'Leaver's; The Forecast, LotM tonight; Daniel G. Harmann… – Aug. 30, 2007 –

One aspect of O'Leaver's business plan that I kept out of the story due to lack of space -- O'Leaver's always has had a policy of giving bands free beer all night. Mello and Conway said they just figured it was standard policy at any venue (They're wrong, of course). The only time that policy has become a financial risk is when Bloodcow plays at O'Leaver's. "Every time they play, they cash a keg," Mello said. "They had 49 pints one night between the four or five of them." Conway said that's about $250 in lost beer sales -- serious money for a place like O'Leaver's. On the other hand, there are nights when bands don't drink at all because they have to drive to Denver or Minneapolis right after the show, so it all evens out in the end. Probably.

The birthday bash Saturday should be a real hoot. Performing out on the tarmac next to the volleyball courts (in this order) are Ric Rhythm & the Revengers, Dance Me Pregnant, The Third Men, Sarah Benck and The Robbers, Coyote Bones, Life After Laserdisque, Ted Stevens, McCarthy Trenching, Neva Dinova and Little Brazil. Food shall be available. Rumplemintz shall flow like wine. The event already has been thrown one curve ball with the Nebraska game being rescheduled to start at 1 p.m. That could really screw things up for the first couple of bands. But we're talking Nevada here. The game should be decided in the first quarter, right?

Column 139: Word to the Totally
O'Leaver's turns 5

Five years ago it was only a dirty, smelly, drunken dream. Today, it’s a dirty, smelly, drunken reality.

That's right, O'Leaver's turns five years old this Saturday, and you're all invited to the birthday party -- a day-long drunkfest featuring 10 of Omaha's finest bands playing in the parking lot.

No one thought the little tyke would ever grow old enough to walk, let alone crawl. And now here it is at its furious fives, a beer in one hand and a cigarette in the other, filled to the gills every weekend with near-deaf drunks stumbling out of their vinyl-covered bar stools, blindly looking for the john while pointing at a pint glass for the bartender to "do it again."

In those five years, O'Leaver's, located at 1322 So. Saddle Creek Rd., has managed to place itself alongside such legends as Kilgore's, the downtown Music Box, the original Howard St. Tavern, the Capitol Bar and Grill and The Cog Factory as one of the city's important venues, forever etched in the history of Omaha music.

No one is more surprised than owners/operators Chris Mello and Sean Conway. "I never thought we'd be a music bar," Mello says, recalling the first show featuring Shawn Cox's band, Microphone Jones. "I thought it was gonna bust. I thought it was too small. I didn't know."

There was never any intention of making O'Leaver's a music venue when the duo "lost their first dollar" on Sept. 7, 2002. "Volleyball was the bread-and-butter for the previous owner," Conway said. "The bar was just a place to serve the regulars. It was a Nascar bar back then."

After a series of the usual gimmicks -- karaoke, cheap beer specials, etc., -- Mello and Conway decided to host a Wednesday acoustic night. When musician Matt Whipkey set up his PA and left it there, the duo figured why not use it. At the time, The 49'r was slowing down on shows. "We picked up what they didn't want anymore," Mello said.

The tone changed, however, when Simon Joyner and Tim Kasher (Cursive, The Good Life) decided to do a show there. "That was the first time Marc Leibowitz stepped into the bar," Conway said. Leibowitz and Jim Johnson, operators of One Percent Productions, saw O'Leaver's as a place to book bands that were too small for Sokol Underground, and before long, One Percent and fellow promoter Someday Never began bringing in a higher quality product.

It was a strange time for the music scene. In '02-'03, Omaha was under the microscope of the national music press, hailed as the "New Seattle," thanks to the success of Saddle Creek Records acts like Bright Eyes, Cursive and The Faint. But at the same time, clubs were closing their doors, and none were opening in their place.

"There was nowhere else to play," Conway said. "It was weird. The Music Box closed, the Howard St. closed downtown, no one wanted to play at The Ranch Bowl. There was no Slowdown or Waiting Room. The scene was getting all this buzz and there was nowhere for the bands to play."

Nowhere, that is, but O'Leaver's. Then as now, the place didn't have much to offer. There is no real stage or stage lights, and only a sub-par, though functional, PA. Bands play in a corner in front of a big screen TV surrounded by the owners' tattered record collection staple-gunned to the wall as if it was a teenagers' bedroom.

Still, it was good enough to host some of the best touring indie bands in the country, including Har Mar Superstar, Cursive, Bettie Seveert, The Rosebuds, Two Gallants, U.S.E., NOMO, The Silos, Oakley Hall, The Like Young, Okkervil River, Criteria, Ladyfinger, Voxtrot, The Willowz, System & Station, David Dondero, Tristeza, The Ex-Models, The Forecast, Dios Malos, Will Whitmore, Scout Niblett, Matson Jones, Tilly and the Wall, as well as local legends like Brimstone Howl, The Terminals, Little Brazil, Todd Grant, Cloven Path and The Monroes.

"I can only imagine what cats think when they enter the parking lot," Conway said. "They stop in and say, 'What the fuck? Is this it?' They're lucky it's this big." Bands quickly forget all that when they walk through the place before showtime and discover a rowdy crowd of discriminating -- albeit drunk -- music lovers. "You get 30 people in here and it seems crowded," Conway said. "Especially if they're hootin' and hollerin'."

O'Leaver's quickly built a reputation as a port in the storm for touring bands crossing the country, looking for a place to land for the evening. Some of the venue's best shows were last-minute additions. "If you're gonna have any sort of scene, there has to be a place for a band to play that's on its first or second tour," Conway said, adding that the venue has done more than 500 shows and has no intention of ever stopping.

They have, however slowed down. "We've cut way back," Mello said. "We have just as good a crowd or better without bands. And now there are 10 other places that have music."

"The other venues have big sound systems," Conway said. "It's a spectacle to play at those places. Bands can come here and get hammered and play for their friends. That's the appeal."

And though rumors continue to circulate that the bar is for sale, nothing is in the works. Looks like Conway and Mello are stuck with it. They don't seem to mind.

"It can be a grind," Mello said.

"But it's been a good time," Conway added, "all things considered."

Tonight, Peoria band The Forecast returns to O'Leaver's for the fourth or fifth time -- they must really love the place. Landing on the Moon opens for a show that's as good as a preview of Saturday's action as anything. $5, 9:30 p.m.

Cold Call (CD review) -- Daniel G. Harmann, Anthems from the Gentle War (Hello Tower Media) -- The problem is getting past the first impressions -- the plodding monotonous rhythms (a la Red House Painters), the mossy falsetto that becomes easy to ignore after the first few songs, the chiming, echo-filled guitars that show an adoration for shoe-gazers. It'd be easy to discard it as not tuneful enough, but downbeat hey-look-at-me anthems like "Beer from a Bottle", "Last Swim of the Year" and "I've Turned to a Life of Crime," (which ends with Harmann "beggin you to stay") catch your gaze and holds it. Produced by Graig Markel of New Sweet Breath (remember those guys?), taken as a whole, it soars more than plods. Rating: Yes

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Speed! Nebraska update; cleaning out the CD review attic… – Aug. 29, 2007 –

The fine folks at Speed! Nebraska sent out their summer/fall update last week. It's an aggressive schedule that rivals the output of any other Nebraska label. Among the releases:

--The Third Men's long-awaited debut, Boost, is slated for release next month. I've been hearing about it for what seems like forever. I'm sure we'll be getting a sneak peak at some of the new songs when The Third Men perform at O'Leaver's anniversary show Saturday afternoon.

--The Monroes' new 7-inch "Drillin' Daylight" is happening in September or early October (on red vinyl, no less). It was recorded at the world-famous Hitt studios in beautiful Havelock.

--Ideal Cleaners' new long-player, Muchacho, is slated for a mid-September release.

--Bombardment Society is finishing up tracks for Pistons, which will be out in early fall.

--Last but not least, Domestica have been recording at ARC Studios (that's the Mogis compound) for a Speed! release with a street date TBD.

In addition, rumor has it that Speed! Nebraska will have new apparel available in the near future. Half my rock-shirt wardrobe is taken up by Speed! Nebraska gear (including very rare D is for Dragster and Mercy Rule T-shirts that we all know would fetch hundreds on e-bay). Check out for more info.

* * *

You may have noticed that the Reviews Matrix was finally updated Monday night. While logging 70-some discs into the table, I got an idea for a new blog feature called "Cold Call," wherein I randomly pick a CD off the stack every day and review it. I figure, at the pace of a review a day, I'll get through all the CDs on the Matrix sometime in 2010. If the disc is a real stinker, there may only be a "No" rating and a summary of what they were trying for. Some reviews will be more detailed. Look for the first one (probably) tomorrow.

Hopefully, I'll get some help burrowing through the stack of discs from my trusty intern, Brendan Greene-Walsh, who owes me a shit-ton of reviews (Where the f*** are they, Brendan?). Here are some leftover Brendan reviews that I've been sitting on:

Yip Yip, In the Reptile House (Safrecords) -- Beep bloop beep beep blop click boop click click? That's about all I took away from listening to something that's about as appealing as reading binary coding on a computer screen. The vocals are sparse and the majority of the album depends on speeding up and slowing down the tempo of the techno-electronica-industrial dribble. Rating: No -- Brendan Greene-Walsh
Tim Sez -- Give them credit for creativity. Unfortunately, that doesn't make it any more listenable. Sorry Darren. Rating: No

Matt & Kim - self-titled (I Heart Comix) -- This debut is pure fun, and by that, I mean that you can tell that this duo truly had a good time making their music. They combine layers of synths and drums, and the result is both catchy and dance-y (hence the "fun" aspect). It's straightforward, and that by itself is to be applauded. Running slightly under 30 minutes, it never wears thin. The third track, "Yea Yeah," is a standout, with a chorus that forces you to sing along. Rating: Yes -- Brendan Greene-Walsh
Tim Sez: One of the better releases of '06, it's still a bit too quirky for my taste, but the Brooklyn duo more than make up for it with their tunefulness. Rating: Yes

Minmae - 835 (Greyday) -- I really struggled with this review. Portland's Minmae combines a ton of talent and musical background, coupled with too much of an artistic attempt at making a record. The product is disjointed, and lacks continuity. The first, rather long track relies on drone-heavy guitar, white noise and random static. The rest of the album rarely strays from that formula. The disc is basically a compilation of 14 "ideas" that the band attempted to translate into songs instead of actually writing a song. Rating: No -- Brendan Greene-Walsh
Tim Sez: Rating: No.

Mutemath - Mute Math (Teleprompt/Warner Bros.) -- Jeesh. When I first listened to this CD, I thought I was in for a treat. The intro was captivating -- a minute-plus change that rested on a strong beat. Then the actual album began. What I had experienced on the first track was washed away by weak chord progressions and horrible pop-influenced vocals. The production is slick and well-recorded, as you'd expect from a band with huge financial backing. Aside from that, it's a watered down, mainstream attempt that came out as garbage -- wet, smelly garbage. Rating: No -- Brendan Greene-Walsh
Tim Sez: One of the reasons why I have an intern. Rating: No.

Sothen - Lookatchurself Reggie Measuresworth (self released) -- If you can remember the early '90s, then you already have a good grasp on what this album sounds like. Jangling and often inappropriate guitar riffs over root-rock bass with trash drums. Add raspy vocals that follow the same melody for every song. These guys remind me of a rehash of Bush. Ugh. Rating: No -- Brendan Greene-Walsh
Tim Sez: Oh it's not that bad (except for maybe "Surprise," which features some creepy spoken lines). Frontman Jonathan Townes sounds like he grew up with Pearl Jam, Bob Mould, Foo Fighters and a slew of grunge and post-grunge bands. Yeah, there are obvious '90s overtones throughout the whole disc, which is good or bad depending on your memories of that era. I don't hate it, but there's not enough here creatively to recommend it. Rating: No.

This week's column (online tomorrow) is a brief history of O'Leaver's in celebration of five years of vice and debauchery. See you then.

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Box Elders, Times New Viking tonight... – Aug. 28, 2007 –

Time only to tell you that Dave Goldberg and the McIntyre brothers' band, Box Elders, are opening tonight along with Dim Light for touring post-punk band Times New Viking at The Waiting Room. $7, 9 p.m. Go!

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The Weekend in Review (Whipkey 3, Dereck Higgins, Dario Days); Go Motion tonight... – Aug. 27, 2007 –

What's not to love about Benson these days? Friday night I parked my car along Maple St., strolled down and chatted with the guys that run The Waiting Room who were outside getting some fresh air, then walked down to Mick's (passing Espana along the way, which was jumping with some sort of event) to catch The Matt Whipkey Three before high-tailing it at 11:30 to The Barley St. Tavern for Dereck Higgins' set. The only thing missing from Benson/Maple St. is a place you can duck into (or that has a window that opens to the sidewalk) that sells pizza by the slice (like they have on 6th St. in Austin). That would be pure Nirvana and a no-brainer business for some ingenious entrepreneur.

Back to our story. I can say with all certainty that the line-up surrounding Matt Whipkey Friday night was clearly the best since The Movies. The trio format forces Whipkey to strip the arrangements to the bare essentials and refocus melodies in a way that edits out the excesses of Anonymous American while going beyond the simple acoustic strumming heard in his solo sets. It's more subtle, more direct, more dynamic. As a result, the rocking parts rock more, the ballad-y moments are more ballad-y. With Benck adding backing vocal touches and Zip's perfect, simple drumming, this could be the configuration that pushes Whipkey to the next level if he can pen some memorable songs and get all of them out on the road.

My take after stepping inside The Barley St. for the first time: O'Leaver's has a rival for the crown of dumpiest, smelliest music venue in Omaha. That said, the bar does have a vibe (and odor) all its own. The music room is located in a separate chamber behind the bar. Like O'Leaver's, there's an overall rec-room appeal to Barley St., with assorted junk tacked to the walls and a capacity that I would guess-timate at around 40. Also like O'Leaver's, there's no question that the people who first built the tavern never intended to host live music there, but somehow it works, and works fairly well. It was SRO Friday night for Dereck Higgins and his band that included Gary Foster on drums and Bill Eustice on bass. Like Whipkey, the trio configuration really complimented Higgins' performance and breathed new life into a set that featured a number of songs off his last two CDs. A tiny crowd of groovy hippies danced in front of the faux stage throughout the set, while Higgins introduced songs with lines like, "We're going to space on this next one." Charming and appropriate. Barley St. obviously doesn't need much in the form of a PA to pump out rock music with the crowd mere feet from the performers (and with Foster's crisp, cracking, precise drumming style). With the right booking, the club could become an important venue for acoustic and just-getting-started touring indie bands that are too small even for O'Leaver's.

Onto Saturday... We walked up to Dundee Days late Saturday afternoon, past the fenced-in staging area where Oxygen was busy playing their version of alternative rock. We intended to at least pick up a hamburger or Italian sausage in the beer garden, but noticed that one of the burly security guys was taking money. I wasn't going to spend $3 for the opportunity to spend another $5 for a cheeseburger (Subway, here we come). I'm curious at how an event sponsored by my neighborhood association and the surrounding local businesses can charge a cover when it's being held on the streets that are maintained by my hard-earned tax dollars. Why wasn't admission free?

It also costs $3 to get into Dario Days, but that event was held on private property and wasn't funded by any association money. Dario was putting this on all by himself, and one assumes the $3 per head was being used to pay the bands.

When we got to Dario's there was maybe 30 people sitting behind tables in the pseudo beer garden parking lot. A variety of Belgian beers was being served at $5 to $7 per draw. At first this sounded like an extreme rip-off, considering the cups were so small. I realized after drinking two of them, however, that this beer was a lot more potent than my Rolling Rock, and a lot tastier. Foreign Elfest -- another in an endless series of drum-and-electric guitar duos -- came on at around 7 and played a set of rather minimal indie rock. A few of the melodies were sort of pretty, though the mix was too muddy to understand anything being sung. Considering the simplicity of the songs' chords, I wondered why the lead guy didn't just play an acoustic instead of his electric guitar. I blame The White Stripes for this ongoing disdain for bass players. Bands like the Stripes, Black Keys and Two Gallants can pull it off because their guitar players are performing aural gymnastics. Most other duos, however, don't have that luxury and the result is a sound that's half-finished.

After Elfest, Jake Bellows performed a surprise solo set (Dave Goldberg joined in on drums for a few numbers). Jake's forlorn, king-of-the-road laid-back style perfectly augmented the down-low feel of the whole event and made me wonder what's going on with that Neva Dinova disc. We left and grabbed our sandwiches at Subway. When we got back, Jake was still playing. Quite a long set. It was starting to get dark when Outlaw Con Bandana came on -- they were playing entirely in silhouette, back-lit by fluorescent lights blaring from the open garage door behind them. The only lighting in the crowd were the floods from the beer trailer and a single flood light mounted on the side of the Blue Line building. Outlaw -- performing as a trio with no drummer -- did their usual set of woody, Folkway's style old-time music made all the more haunting by the lack of light. By the time we left at around 9:30, the entire beer garden area was filled -- a sizable crowd, but nothing like the rowdy nightmare taking place outside Trovato's that we avoided on our way home.

Tonight at Slowdown Jr., Omaha touring band Go! Motion (see live review) plays with Louisville rockers People Noise. $6, 9 p.m.

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Tonight, Dereck Higgins, Whipkey Three; tomorrow, Dario Days, Scott Severin; Sunday, Magnolia Electric Co., Baby Walrus; Column 138: Tributes... – Aug. 24, 2007 –

Lots of shows going on this weekend. Here's what's on my radar:

Tonight at The Barley St. Tavern in Benson, it's legendary Omaha bassist/singer/songwriter/guitarist Dereck Higgins (The Family Radio, ex-Digital Sex) with Space Age Polymers. I've never been to the Barley St., which is located at 2735 No. 62nd St. (just south of The Waiting Room). 9 p.m., FREE.

Just down the street at Mick's it's The Whipkey Three, featuring Matt Whipkey, Sarah Benck and Scott "Zip" Zimmerman. Sarah Benck opens the show, starting a 9 p.m. $5.

Tomorrow's big event is Dundee Days, specifically the stage located next to The Blue Line, sponsored by Dario's. The line-up as of right now is Box Elders, Bear Country, Foreign Elfest, Outlaw Con Bandana and The Lepers. The show begins at 5 p.m. and admission will probably run around $3. Expect plenty of Belgian beer available on tap. At around the same time, Dundee Days also will be hosting a long list of bands on a stage across from Trovato's.

Tomorrow night, Scott Severin and The Milton Burlesque headlines at The Waiting Room with Oliver Future & The Black Squirrels. $7, 9 p.m.

Sunday night is Magnolia Electric Co. at The Waiting Room with Golden Boots and No Blood Orphan. Expect to hear a broad selection of songs from Jason Molina's career, as well as tracks off the new Sojourner box set. $8, 9 p.m.

Also Sunday night, Baby Walrus is playing at O'Leaver's with Maps and Atlases, and Nurses. $5, 9 p.m. The new Baby Walrus CD is a real head trip and deserves further study by everyone reading this.

* * *

This week's column is a rehash of last week's review of Song Remains the Same at The Waiting Room, along with some commentary regarding cover bands, etc. No idea when these guys are playing again, but I'll likely be in the audience…

Column 138: Dancing Days
A tribute to covers…

There always has been an overriding disdain for cover bands.

For those who hate them, the reasoning is simple: Cover bands don't seem to have an original idea in their heads (they argue), they're merely mimicking the work of other, more creative musicians who had the cojones to put it all on the line with their own music. Fact is, if you really wanted to hear "What I Like About You," you'd go to a wedding reception or buy a copy of The Romantics debut album.

It's hard to argue against their points. I've heard them recited as recently as the past two weeks by earnest musicians who take their craft a bit too seriously. What they forgot to consider was that maybe, just maybe, the folks who go see cover bands don't want to have a life-changing experience listening to someone confess their private, personal feelings in front of total strangers. Maybe they just want to have fun and have a few laughs. Does anybody remember laughter?

The '80s was the era of serious cover bands (see The Ranch Bowl story). Still, cover bands remain with us today, playing at clubs like Chrome, The Ozone and The Arena, bars that hold high the banner of the '80s-style meat-market (God bless 'em). Look, no one goes to those bars on weekends for the music, just like no one goes to indie rock shows to get laid.

A whole different spin was put on cover bands last week at The Waiting Room, a club that in less than a year has developed a rep as one of the city's best stages for live, original music. So it was something of a surprise when TWR hosted its first "cover band night."

First up was The Third Men, a five-piece that features a number of Omaha music legends, including Matt Rutledge (ex-Compost), Mike Tulis (The Monroes), and new drummer Matt Bowen (ex-Magic Kiss (the precursor to Tilly and the Wall, where that tap dancing was first introduced)). The Third Men are renowned locally for original power-pop rock tunes that hover somewhere between Matthew Sweet and The James Gang. Dressed in suits and neckties, they blew through a set of obscure covers by Wings, Richard and Linda Thompson, Bowie, Soft Boys, The Necessaries, Status Quo and The Knack, among others. Yeah, they were covers, but they sounded more like The Third Men playing other people's music rather than a band trying to emulate another band's sound. That would come next.

The Song Remains the Same isn't so much a cover band as a tribute to what arguably was the world's greatest rock band. I'm not talking about The Beatles or The Stones or The Who or even Bright Eyes (just kidding). I'm talking about Led Zeppelin, a band that I was literally weaned on. Zeppelin and Pink Floyd were the only things I or any of my friends listened to growing up in Fort Calhoun. For any band to try to recreate the power and glory of Zeppelin, well, it's the height of idiocy. Can't be done. You go see something like this only to ridicule, to laugh at the geeks on stage tripping over Page and Plant's effortless miracles.

What I heard instead was a sort of miracle unto itself. Musically, The Song Remains the Same was the next best thing to being there. Consisting of drummer Javier Ochoa (Goodbye, Sunday), bassist Bunny Geist (Dark Town House Band), guitarist Corey Weber (Anonymous American) and singer Jason Pollard, the band was a dead-on sonic replica of Led Zeppelin -- in fact, a few people who've seen the real Zeppelin said they might sound even better. Sacrilege? Believe me, I've heard more than my share of lousy covers of "Rock 'n' Roll" over the years. These guys were eerily good, almost too good for their own careers, unless their goal in life is to be in the best Zeppelin tribute band in the world.

They knew every lick of every song, but were smart enough to avoid trying to duplicate them. In other words, they captured the essence of Zeppelin instead of the impossible chore of trying to replicate it. Still, any Zeppelin fan would have marveled at Ochoa's muscular, Bohnam-esque drumming, or Geist's bass playing that made me rethink John Paul Jones' role in the band.

Weber was no Jimmy Page, but there can be only one Jimmy Page, and Weber knows it. These weren't note-for-note dupes of Jimmy's solos, instead Weber's solos worked hard enough to push the songs forward. More importantly, he nailed the Page riffs that defined the band's sound. Unbelievable guitar tone. Powerful. Accurate. Groovy.

Finally, Pollard. The story I was told was that he was discovered by Geist singing karaoke at Grandmother's. Pollard is a freak. He even physically resembled Plant (with a little Kenny G thrown in). I marveled at his vocal prowess. He had the full range of a Robert Plant at age 20 and knew every nuance, every vocal riff, every little touch that any Zeppelin fan would recognize.

The tell-tale sign that they were that good: A small group of biker chicks grooved in front of the stage, doing a hippy dance to "The Ocean" and "What Is and What Should Never Be" and all the rest. They were having a good time -- as was the band -- which is the whole point of cover bands. Ain't nothing wrong with that.

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Remembering The Ranch Bowl: The Markel Years... – Aug. 23, 2007 –

The interviews for the Matt Markel/Ranch Bowl story (which I placed online this morning, here) were conducted on two separate occasions -- once in June 2006, and a second time last week. The No. 1 question that people ask when I tell them that I talked to Markel: How's he doing? People know about his stroke, but few have actually spoken with him in a long time. My personal non-medical assessment is that Markel was much more alert and fluent last week than he was a year ago, when his speech was still choppy and hesitant. The improvement, Markel said, was the result of speech therapy, which he received at Lakeside, along with other therapy as part of his recovery. He said Lakeside is only a temporary home, and that he eventually will be returning to his house.

The story covers Markel's history with The Ranch Bowl, from its purchase through its glory years, the radio station, the studio, and finally his stroke and the venue's eventual sale to Mike Brannan and Dan Crowell. The plan was for Wayne Brekke to pick up the story from there, with interviews with Brannan and Crowell, but Wayne didn't have any luck getting in touch with them. That being the case, you can get a glimpse at what happened next by reading this interview with Brannan from back in 2002, and this follow-up column I wrote few years later, when it was announced that the property had been sold for development by Wal-Mart. Did Brannan ever really intend to fix the place up and make it into a first-class venue? We may never know, though I've always had my doubts.

It's fun to speculate what would have happened if someone else had bought The Ranch Bowl. Would it still be open today? Depending on the owners, probably. Had Brannan actually followed-through on his original intentions, I think it would have been a huge success. The location was absolutely prime. And now it's going to be just another Wal-Mart, a store that I refuse to shop at. What a waste, what a shame.

FYI... the photo used at the top of my story was taken from behind the Ranch Bowl property looking east. You can sort of make out where the sand volleyball courts used to be (to the left).

* * *

An update on yesterday's item regarding Dundee (Dario) Days, I'm now told that Capgun Coup will not be performing at the outdoor event. I'll pass on more details as I get them.

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Magnolia Electric Co.'s Jason Molina; early head's up on Dario Days; Filter Kings tonight... – Aug. 22, 2007 –

Just placed online, an interview with Magnolia Electric Co.'s Jason Molina (read it here). It's brief. The reason: The publicist sent me a link to Molina's Pitchfork interview, which couldn't have been more comprehensive. I read it and thought, 'What more is there to ask?' So my few questions, delivered via e-mail, focus on Molina's Nebraska connections, Mike Mogis and Roy Orbison. Check it out, and check out the show this Sunday at The Waiting Room with No Blood Orphan.

Here's an early head's up about an impressive outdoor show this Saturday as part of Dundee Days. The gig, which will be performed in the parking lot next to Blue Line Coffee, has a line-up that includes:

Box Elders
Bear Country
Foreign Elfest
Capgun Coup
Outlaw Con Bandana
The Lepers

I'm told Dario's is one of the event's sponsors, so expect a beer garden with a good selection of Belgian brews. When does it begin and what's it cost? I don't know. The band lineup has been posted on the Foreign Elfest myspace page. In fact, that's the only place online that I've seen this show mentioned. If it takes place at the same time as Dundee Days' always-lame rock show, there could be some sound-quality issues, as Dundee Days' stage is super-loud (and located right across from Trovato's). I'll post more when I find out more.

Speaking of shows, tonight at The Waiting Room the always-entertaining Filter Kings are taking the stage, along with glam punkers The Designer Drugs, The Deformities and The Goddamn Rights. $7, 9 p.m.

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Updates; Or, the Whale tonight... – Aug. 21, 2007 –

I'm not avoiding blog updates, I'm just buried under writing assignments, all of which will appear on this site throughout the rest of the week. The main event is a story focused on The Ranch Bowl -- specifically the Matt Markel years -- based on an interview with Markel that took place last Thursday, the same day Markel went out to the site and watched his old club get torn down. It's part of a cover story in this week's issue of The Reader, but I'll have my portion online here Thursday. Also this week (tomorrow, to be exact), a brief interview with Magnolia Electric Co.'s Jason Molina. This week's column is a rehash of last week's The Song Remains the Same live review, with some additional comments about the virtues of cover bands. Look for it Friday.

A couple noteworthy shows are going on tonight. Down at Slowdown Jr., it's Capgun Coup with Or, the Whale. By now, we all know about Capgun. Or, the Whale plays music in the same vein as Okkervil River, a band that seems to be riding a well-deserved wave of hype based on their new album. $6, 8 p.m. Meanwhile, over at The Waiting Room, Hydra Head recording artist Pelicans (from Chicago) plays with Clouds and Your Black Star. $10, 9 p.m.

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Yardbirds, Fromanhole tonight... – Aug. 18, 2007 –

I thinking of going to this Yardbirds show down at Lewis & Clark landing (also featuring Matt Whipkey and Anonymous American and two other opening bands). Here's what I could dig up on how the event works: Admission to the show is free, however, fans are encouraged to donate a few dollars to the Omaha Food Bank. Volunteers will be on-hand during each show to collect donations. Gates will open at 4 p.m. and music begins at 5:15 p.m. Vendors will be available to sell food and beverages (outside food, drink or pets are not allowed). You are allowed to bring lawn chairs or blankets. Visitors can park in a limited number of free spaces or take a retro Metro Area Transit bus from downtown city parking garages to the landing. You can also park and ride for free at the Gallup Campus located 1.25 miles north of the concert site. The "landing" is located directly next to Rick's Cafe Boatyard and across from the Heartland of America park.

Also tonight, an evening of artsy indie noise rock with Fromanhole (myspace) at O'Leaver's with Minneapolis band Self Evident (myspace) and Life After Laserdisque. $5, 9:30 p.m.

Thunder Power!!! plays at The Saddle Creek Bar with New Jersey indie band Fairmont (myspace) and Sight Unsound. $5, 9 p.m.

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Live Review: The Song Remains the Same; Terminals, Eagle*Seagull tonight... – Aug. 17, 2007 –

Non-Led Zeppelin fans, please skip to the * * *

I'm not someone who is prone to hyperbole (that means "extravagant exaggeration" for all you word-power wonks out there). In fact, I'm often accused of going the other way -- of being too negative, too nit-picky. That said, last night's performance by The Song Remains the Same was a freak-of-nature quality thing of extreme beauty. I say this having literally been raised by Led Zeppelin -- John Paul Jones used to help me pick out my clothes for school in the morning while John Bonham made me waffles and Robert Plant helped me brush my teeth. Jimmy Page was the lazy dad who always ran downstairs with a newspaper in one hand, a cup of coffee in the other while struggling to put on his suit jacket as he kissed my mother goodbye.

You get the picture. I know Led Zeppelin. It's just about all I listened to in high school. That said, The Song Remains the Same is the next best thing to being there. Consisting of drummer Javier Ochoa, bassist Bunny Geist, guitarist Corey Weber and singer Jason Pollard, the band is a dead-on sonic replica of Led Zeppelin -- in fact, a few people who've seen Zeppelin in person said they might be even better. Believe me, I've seen more than my share of lousy covers of "Rock 'n' Roll" over the years. These guys are eerily good, almost too good for their own careers, unless their goal in life is to be in the best Zeppelin tribute band in the world.

It's all there. They know every lick of every song, but are smart enough to avoid trying to duplicate it. In other words, they capture the essence of Zeppelin instead of providing an exact replica. Still, any Zeppelin fan would marvel at what I heard at The Waiting Room last night. Ochoa's muscular style and technical process is impeccable, as evidenced by their cover of "When the Levee Breaks" and Bonham solo tool "Moby Dick." Geist's bass playing made me rethink John Paul Jones' role in the band -- absolutely integral (The only thing missing was a keyboard).

Which brings me to Weber and Pollard. Weber is no Jimmy Page, but there can be only one Jimmy Page, and Weber knows it. He doesn't do a note-for-note dupe of Jimmy's solos, instead he makes his solos work enough to push the songs forward. More importantly, he nails the Page riffs that defined the band's sound. Unbelievable guitar tone. Powerful. Accurate. Groovy.

Finally, Pollard. The story I was told last night is that he was discovered by Geist singing karaoke at Grandmother's. Pollard is a freak. He even physically resembles Plant (with a little Kenny G thrown in). I promise if you see this band you will marvel at his vocal prowess. He has the full range of a Robert Plant at age 20. He knows every nuance, every vocal riff, every little touch that any Zeppelin fan would recognize. You expect him to disappoint you during the high notes on the classic songs off I and II, but he never does. It left me shaking my head with my mouth wide open. He even does some the telltale gestures that we all know from hours of live Zeppelin footage that we've all seen in the movie the band is named after. The pointing hand, the side slouch, the mic-chord wrist whip. He prances, he preens.

Look, I'm not overselling here. People around me, people I talked to afterward, were agog. Yes, they're that good. In fact, I'm certain they could tour the country doing this if Pollard's voice could handle singing like that every night (and I don't know how it could).

You could criticize them for their stage presence -- Weber was wearing an untucked western-cut shirt, Bunny wore a Thin Lizzy T-shirt. On the other hand, if they wore ruffled velvet suits or if Pollard was shirtless and wearing a vest, it might push the whole thing into campy/kitsch territory… that is, until they started playing. Once you heard them, you wouldn't care what they were wearing.

Wisely, they selected mostly songs from the early albums (Pollard said II is his favorite). The high point was "The Ocean," the low point was "Dazed and Confused" (but even that sounded respectable). Between sets (that's right, they did two long sets), Weber asked for requests and I said anything off III, but specifically "Tangerine." They didn't have that one ready, but instead did "Out on the Tiles." Awesome.

Yes, I know I'm going on and on about a tribute/cover band. I don't care. I haven't had that much fun at a show in long, long time.

* * *

Now back to our regularly scheduled programming, already in progress. But wait, before we do, I can't forget The Third Men, who played a set of covers before TSRTS with new drummer Matt Bowen. Pretty awesome stuff. I've heard a number of these songs performed by them before, specifically Wings' "Jet" and Richard and Linda Thompson's "Wall of Death." Both better than ever. The set also included some Bowie, Soft Boys, The Necessaries, Status Quo and The Knack, among others.

OK, on to tonight's marquee shows: First, Eagle*Seagull and Kite Pilot at Slowdown Jr. E*S's new stuff is top-drawer indie dance rock that's irresistibly catchy. It'll be interesting to see how well it goes over with the Slowdown crowd. This will be one of the last times you'll get to see Kite Pilot with guitarist/vocalist Austin Britton before he heads back to the left coast. $5, 9 p.m.


The Terminals and The Shanks at The 49'r. You could argue that these bands play too often, except for the fact that you never know what'll happen at one of their shows. Terminals are always easing in new material. This being at The Niner, I suspect that someone will probably get hurt during The Shanks' set (and boy, will it hurt so good). Shanks will be hawking a new 5-song limited edition (only 50) CD EP, unpleasantly titled Urine Heaven. I assume (and you know what happens when you assume) that it's out-takes from same sessions that produced their new "Big Feelin" 7-inch, which is a violent and abrasive joyride. Translated: A must have.

Over at O'Leaver's, it's Noah's Ark Was a Spaceship w/ The King Hen. $5, 9:30 p.m.

Finally, over at The Saddle Creek Bar (they've been busy lately), it's The Screens, Paper Owls, Seymore Saves Saves The World, and Shiver Shiver. $5, 9 p.m.

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Cloven Path vs. The Third Men; Ali Harter... – Aug. 16, 2007 –

Cloven Path return to O'Leaver's (their roost, their stomping grounds) for a show tonight with Nymph and Demon Attack. It could (will) get messy. $5, 9:30 p.m. Meanwhile, over at The Waiting Room, it's the unveiling of the The Third Men, V 2.0 with Matt Bowen (ex-Magic Kiss, ex-The Faint) on drums. We won't get a chance to see how Matt does with Third Men music, however, since the band will be playing a set consisting entirely of covers (exactly which covers, I don't know). It's part of an evening of cover bands at TWR that features The Song Remains the Same -- a Zeppelin tribute band -- in the headlining position. To say I'm well-versed in all things Zeppelin is an understatement, so I'll be approaching their set with a critical ear (if I go). There was originally supposed to be a Van Halen tribute band on the bill tonight as well, but I'm told they weren't ready for prime time. $7, 9 p.m. Finally, over at the Saddle Creek Bar, Oklahoma City singer songwriter Ali Harter takes the stage with fellow Oklahomans The Non. Harter has a vocal and songwriting style that's sometimes reminiscent of Feist (her myspace). The Non plays indie rock instrumentals (or so I assumed based on their myspace page). Both bands will also be playing at The Zoo Bar in Lincoln tomorrow night. $5, 9 p.m.

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Column 137 -- A Missed Opportunity? Sick Eyes... – Aug. 15, 2007 –

This week's column is a conglomeration of a number of blog entries from last week centered around Sunday's Memorial Park Concert, with a few new touches added. The point: the Memorial Park Concerts could become an important series that not only brings the city together for a music event but could also attract out-of-towners, if only more thought went into the event itself.

Column 137: Park Life
Sweating to the youngies.

I knew I wasn't going to go to the Plain White T's concert in Memorial Park Sunday night long before the king-hell thunderstorm rolled in from the west, knocking out the power to my house, leaving me covered in a thin layer of sweat until 2 a.m. the next morning when the linesmen from OPPD finally switched the blown transformer back on.

The event had been promoted as a kids' concert, part of the City of Omaha's outreach program to impress high school age (and younger) youth that Omaha really is a cool place to live. Were adults even invited?

The series began two years ago with once-Omaha-now-Van Nuys band 311 celebrating the city's 150th anniversary with a concert in Memorial Park. By most accounts, there were in excess of 25,000 people at that concert, so many people that it was crowded even on the south side of the hill.

So pleased with the concert's success, the City tried it again last year with Bright Eyes, a less-than-household name even in Omaha. Still, people came out to see the local boy that all the misguided, jaded rock journalists were calling "the next Bob Dylan." The crowd count varied from a reported 10,000-plus to my eyeball estimate of about half that. By the end of the concert, Conor Oberst's new neighbors found themselves soaked to the skin in a sudden summer downpour.

Now this year comes Plain White T's. There was once a time when a band that had a No. 1 song on the Billboard Hot 100 was unavoidable -- you couldn't turn on a radio without hearing it spin in heavy rotation. Somehow, though, the T's single, "Hey There Delilah," had topped the chart and become the top dowloaded song on iTunes without being heard by anyone over the age of 14.

I dropped in on the Memorial Park concert at around 4:30 and already the storm clouds were beginning to form in the north. The brutal heat had been somewhat abated by overcast skies, but it was still muggy and uncomfortable. On stage was Pomoroy, a bland KC band that once-upon-a-time had a following in Omaha. It was by far the loudest concert I've ever heard in the park -- painfully loud, earplug loud. Maybe it was so loud because there were so few sweaty bodies to muffle the noise.

I talked to a cop cooling off over by the water station at the top of the hill. "What do you think? Is there a 1,000 people here?" I asked, looking down at a smattering of people baking on sun-faded blankets in front of the stage.

"Oh sure, at least 1,000. Well, probably 1,000," he said, taking a long swig of water. "A lot of people are hidden under the trees."

The following day, the Omaha World-Herald reported that an unnamed city official estimated the pre-storm crowd at 10,000. No idea who this mysterious head-counter was or how he pulled that number out of his ass. Perhaps he was also counting every passenger in every car that drove by on Underwood Ave.

The cop said he and his crew had been "briefed" on the oncoming storm, and expected it to hit at around 6 p.m. Glancing at the gray sky, it looked like it could start pouring at any moment. I rode my bike home before the monsoon struck like a mini hurricane. After the storm passed, I was surprised to hear that the show had gone on, based on the muffled echoes of the band heard from my house at around 7 p.m. I figured they'd cancel, but I suppose the City figured they might as well play on since they were going to pay The T's whether anyone was there to see them or not.

According to OWH: "(Mayor) Fahey spokesman Joe Gudenrath said he was pleased with the turnout, especially with the storm. 'It's really a testament to how popular the Plain White T's are, that so many people would come back,' Gudenrath said."

Spoken like a man who's spent the last few weeks explaining the decision to book a band that, before their single exploded, would have been hard-pressed to draw a decent crowd at Sokol Underground.

There are a couple lessons to be learned from the event. First, it's time for the City to hire a real promoter to book these park shows. I have no idea how much the sponsors shelled out for The T's, but one assumes that for the same cash they could have booked a band with broader appeal, someone like Wilco or Beck or The Arcade Fire, a quality band that not only would attract local crowds, but also people from Kansas City, Des Moines, even Minneapolis, out-of-towners who could be discovering Omaha for the first time.

But I guess the city figured it already had its one "adult" park concert this year -- the 4th of July extravaganza. Unfortunately, their idea of "adult music" involves bands that haven't released a record in more than 30 years. County-fair circuit acts like KC and the Sunshine Band or REO Speedwagon, has-beens that your grandparents would recognize.

Second, don't host concerts in the park in the middle of August, when there's always a good likelihood that the heat index will soar past 110. Why not hold these concerts in early October or late spring when it's cooler outside? Fact is, if the weather's good, two guys farting into a paper bag on stage will draw 2,000 people to Memorial Park for a free concert. In a town with few options, families are starving for something -- anything -- to do.

It's a shame to see such a great opportunity go to waste. A Memorial Park concert series could become an entertainment cornerstone in Omaha -- for people of all ages -- instead of just another sweaty afternoon in the hot August sun.

Just about every online indie publication (and Saddle Creek Records) has reported that Bright Eyes has canceled its upcoming European dates (Aug. 15-19, including V Fest) due to "illness." What kind of illness, no one is saying. The fine folks over at Omahype reported that Bright Eyes' core member Nate Walcott performed with Dave Rawlings last night at The Waiting Room (and something tells me he'll be playing with Gillian again tonight in Lincoln). Is this a classic case of Amy Winehouse-style "exhaustion"?

Tonight, Lawrence indie band Baby Birds Don't Drink Milk (myspace) plays at The Saddle Creek Bar with Bears. $5, 9 p.m. .

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Park report; RIP Tony Wilson... – Aug. 13, 2007 –

I dropped in on the Memorial Park concert yesterday at around 4 p.m. and already the storm clouds were beginning to form in the west. The brutal heat had been somewhat abated by the overcast skies, but it was still muggy and uncomfortable. On stage was Pomoroy, a band no better or worse than Plain White T's; they just happened to have gone unnoticed with their bleatings. It was by far the loudest concert I've ever heard in the park -- painfully loud, earplug loud. Maybe it was so loud because there were no warm bodies to muffle the noise. The place looked empty. I talked to a cop at the top of the hill, who estimated the crowd at just over 1,000 and at its zenith up to that point in the afternoon. He said they'd all been informed of the oncoming storm, and expected it to hit at around 6 p.m., but even then it looked like it could start raining at any moment. I rode back home and battened down the hatches. By 5:30 our house had lost power and we fumbled around in the dark until 2:30 in the morning before the lights came back on. Apparently after the initial storm passed, the show went on, or at least that's what I assumed based on the muffled echoes of the band heard from my house at around 7 p.m. I figured they'd cancel the show, but I suppose the city was going to pay The T's whether anyone was there to see them or not, so why not make them play anyway?

The moral to this story: Don't host concerts in the park in the middle of August when the heat index is over 100. Why not have these concerts in early October or late spring when it's cooler outside? There must be a reason...

Sad news from Europe: Tony Wilson, the father of Factory Records and the Hacienda in Manchester died of a heart attack Friday. Wilson was a visionary who signed such bands as Joy Division, Durutti Column, Section 25, A Certain Ratio, New Order and Happy Mondays. In some ways, Saddle Creek Records seems to be paralleling Factory Records, right down to the opening of Slowdown. A BBC report on Wilson, complete with interviews, is on YouTube here: Pt. 1 and Pt. 2.

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Live Review: The Rentals, Copeland, Goldenboy... – Aug. 11, 2007 –

The draw for The Rentals at Slowdown last night was disappointing, or as it was described by one of the venue owners, the place was half empty… or half-full, depending on how you looked at it. The management decided to close the balcony in an effort to make the crowd look larger and more compact. "You don't like seeing bands play to an empty room, do you?" I don't mind, as long as I'm not sitting on the floor, which was where I sat most of the evening between bands because there were no seats available (except up in that closed balcony area). I guess sitting on the floor makes it more like a "real concert experience" circa the 1970s and the days of festival seating. I suppose.

Goldenboy came on at 8:30 playing a somewhat vanilla set of adult-alternative rock. I wish I could tell you more about their sound, but the band left virtually no mark on my memory other than the fact that all the members wore hats. Apparently a number of people came to the show to see Coldplay…er, Copeland, judging by people walking around with Copeland T-shirts. Frontman Aaron Marsh mostly played keyboards, sometimes switched to acoustic guitar, and had a voice reminiscent of Bryan (not Ryan) Adams. They played the kind of unadventurous smooth-indie rock that compliments bland TV shows like Grey's Anatomy and Scrubs. Bands like The Fray come to mind. Kudos to their drummer, who was a fill-in guy playing only his second show with the band. He was phenomenal. I can only imagine how their full-time drummer must sound in comparison.

Finally, there was The Rentals, all seven of them tumbling out onto the stage, taking their various positions that they'd switch throughout the evening. It wasn't until they started roaring into their hits that it dawned on me what a flat, monotone voice Matt Sharp actually has. Think about it. Those songs off their first album had a natural charm to them because they seemed to be sung by a droning nerd. Actually, come to think of it, that's also the charm of Weezer's first album, too (There's not a lot of vocal range on "Undone (The Sweater Song)"). The monotone drone is less noticeable and actually somewhat likable on The Rentals recordings, but live, Sharp just sounds like he can't sing. To dress it up, he backs himself with three women, two of which really can sing, especially original Rentals member Rachel Haden, whose vocals glowed above everyone else's. Not surprisingly, the new material off their EP sounded better than the old stuff reinvented (which, at times, was unrecognizable). Sharp has said in a number of interviews (including one with me) that crowd response on this tour has been rousing, with people dancing and pogo-ing and singing along with the hits. Last night's audience, on the other hand, while respectful, hardly moved despite Sharp's aerobic efforts (along with viola/vocalist youngster Laura Chipman) to get them into the set. It just wasn't happening.

A brief note about Slowdown's sound system: This was the first national band that I've seen on their big stage, and as expected, the sound was impressive. It's the first concert I've been to that was really loud without hurting my ears (In fact, hearing protection wasn't needed). Sightlines are impeccable. As Teresa said afterward, this is the place to go to see a band you really like.

Tonight's recap is below (or here). I'm still leaning toward The Stay Awake/Bombardment Society at The Saddle Creek Bar. Whatever you do, try to stay cool.

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The Rentals tonight; the hot, sweaty weekend ahead… – Aug. 10, 2007 –

If you combine all the OWH press and TV airtime dedicated to covering the Omaha music scene over the past 10 years it wouldn't equal the amount of ink spilled and airtime squandered by local media this past week toward American Idol auditions at the Qwest Center. Looking for yet another angle to cover the whore-ish event, today's OWH put together this comparison of "Indies to Idols," looking at things like hair styles, drinks and songwriting. Funny. Somehow during their comparison they left out what motivates the Idols and the Indies. But I guess that wouldn't be very funny, would it? So are people taking this whole Idol thing too seriously? Probably not. It is, after all, the highest rated show on television and has launched a handful of untalented mega-stars.

Moving on…

It's a busy weekend of shows, starting tonight with The Rentals, Copeland and Goldenboy at Slowdown. Rentals mastermind Matt Sharp (who was genuinely concerned about the Idol auditions -- he thought Slowdown was located right across the street from the entrance to the Qwest Center and was worried that lines of people would be clogging up the works.) said their set will blend songs off the first two Rentals albums along with tracks from the new EP. Last time I checked, the show wasn't sold out. $18, 8 p.m.

Meanwhile, over at The Waiting Room, it's the twangified rock of Forty Twenty with Lonesome Lloyd and the Hard Acres. You could go to The Rentals show and still catch the tail end of this one. I've never seen Forty Twenty, but from what I hear from the guys who run TWR, they put on a helluva show. $7, 9 p.m.

Electric Needle Room and The Fucken Snakes are hosting an "American Idol Rejects Show" at Shea Riley's tonight. The hook: People who don't make it onto the show (which will be everyone who auditions) will get in for $2 instead of $5. It's a cute idea, unfortunately, the kind of people who would audition for AI would never go to a show at Shea Riley's or any other club that hosts original live music.

Also tonight down at The Saddle Creek Bar it's Christians & Lions, One for the Team, Foreign Elfest and Johnny Nobody. $5, 9 p.m.

Saturday night is just as packed show-wise. I will likely be down at The Saddle Creek Bar for The Big Al Band -- that's right, Al Hatfield, the guy behind the Killing Diva film has put together a two-piece metal act that's debuting Saturday night. Opening is maybe the city's best noise rock band, The Stay Awake (featuring Steve Micek), Panang (who are these guys?) and maybe the city's best loud noise band, Bombardment Society. That's a power-packed punch for just $5. Starts at 9 p.m.

Over at PS Collective, Paper Owls is hosting a CD Release Party for their new EP, Leaves, Trees & Galaxies. Six dollars will get you into the all-ages event along with a free copy of the CD. Opening is Pictures of Lily. 9 p.m.

Also Saturday night, metal animals Bloodcow play at O'Leaver's ($5, 9:30 p.m.) and Chicago-based indie band Lacona plays at Slowdown Jr. with High Places and Soft Circle. $7, 8 p.m.

Finally, there's Sunday and the concert in the park. Uh, who's idea was it to book the Plain White T's?

Going back in time, all the way to the '70s, there were rock bands whose claim to fame wasn't the bread-and-butter power chord extravaganzas that they hoped would make them famous, but instead, insipid acoustic heart-on-your-sleeve ballads that would plague their live shows for the rest of their careers.

The first one that comes to mind: "Beth" by KISS, a Grammy Award winning song that even your mother could enjoy. Forget the fact that it was sandwiched between crotch-kick rock ballads like "Detroit Rock City" "Flaming Youth" and "Do You Love Me." "Beth" was the song that KISS was famous for, at least by the Johnny Lunchbucket crowd that could give a shit about heavy metal.

"Only Women Bleed," by Alice Cooper, "Stairway to Heaven" by Zeppelin, moving into the modern era, "More than Words" by Extreme, "Name" and "Iris" by The Goo Goo Dolls, the painfully awful "Time of Our Lives" by Green Day, the list goes on and on. All million sellers, all not indicative of the band's usual pumped-up sound. In the worse case scenario, people would spend $50 to see these bands, thinking they were going to get a night of warm, doe-eyed guitar strumming but instead got a bleeding earful of their lousy rock antics. They patiently waited to hear that one acoustic hit and then bulleted for the doors.

Methinks that's the case with Plain White T's. It dawned on me the other day that this was a band that had a No. 1 song on the Billboard Hot 100 with "Hey There Delilah" -- the top dowloaded song on iTunes -- and I never heard it before. Remember the days when you absolutely could not escape a No.1 Hit Record? Everyone had either bought it or quickly sickened of hearing it played in heavy rotation on every radio station in the city.

No more. What station plays the Plain White T's hit single? Not the plethora of retro stations. Not The Z. Not the urban stations. The River? Maybe. It wouldn't surprise me. Surely someone is playing it on the radio somewhere. Right? Right?

Further research was needed on my part, and it involved Napster. Turns out the Plain White T's hit is another one of those acoustic ballads we were just talking about. The band, according to, is characterized as a "Pop Punk" or "Emo" in the style of Jimmy Eat World, Saves the Day and Jets to Brazil. Their sound actually runs closer to Avril Lavigne. So, translated: 10,000 hot, sweaty, angry people impatiently waiting to hear the hit song, and they'll have to suffer to the end to get it.

Did I say 10,000? Let's take into account all the factors here:

-- A band that's virtually unknown except for its one hit song, who before the single exploded would have been hard-pressed to draw in a sizable crowd at Sokol Underground.

-- A forecast heat index of around 110 during the concert's zenith.

-- A 1 p.m. start time, with a wrap-up of around 6 p.m. (no fireworks).

-- A strong opening line-up that includes Little Brazil, McCarthy Trenching, Sarah Benck and Matt Whipkey -- all fine performers that are unknown beyond the 300 or so people who listen to local indie bands.

It all adds up to a draw of, what, maybe 2,000? Look, if the weather's good, two guys farting into a paper bag on stage will draw 2,000 people to Memorial Park for a free concert. Families are starving for something to do these days. Two years ago, 311 was a natural draw, pulling in more than 20,000 people. Last year's Bright Eyes show had a curiosity factor for those who've heard of the band but never actually heard their music. Oberst is a local boy, by god, and deserves our support whether the music sucks or not. Maybe 10,000 were there (though I doubt it was that high). Now here's the Plain White T's -- no local connection whatsoever, and yes, a No. 1 hit, but it's not played on radio or TV. Ultimately, decisions must be made. Who wants to push a stroller to the park in 100-degree heat and humidity for a band they've (luckily) never heard before?

I will be there long enough to gauge the size and tenure of the crowd, then I'm heading back home. Look for me as you traverse the throngs of humanity back to your car. I'll be the guy sitting on his porch with a shotgun cradled in his lap, yelling warm, neighborly phrases like, "Don't put that THERE! Pick it up! Now!" or "Leave it alone. Just. Leave. It. Alone."

Look for weekend updates. I'll try to review the Rentals show tomorrow...

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Live Review: Ladyfinger; Column 136 -- Matt Sharp and the industry; Noah's Ark was a Spaceship tonight… – Aug. 9, 2007 –

Before we get to this weeks column, a brief comment about last night's show:

Funny how the only remaining band from Saddle Creek Records that can raise welts on your backside by its sheer ball-bleeding power has been all but forgotten by its own label whenever it plays live on a local stage. Or so it seems.

Ladyfinger (forget about that friggin' NE, everyone else has) played at The Waiting Room last night to the same bunch of hard-rock enthusiasts that they play to every time they hit a local stage. If you've been to a rock show at TWR, O'Leaver's or Sokol Underground (and I don't mean one of those brain-dead local metal shows where guys dress up in bondage costumes and act like out-of-work professional wrestlers) in the past six months (or for that matter, The Brothers) you've seen this crowd before. It's a knowledgeable-though-inebriated bunch that is as well-versed in Slayer as they are in The Germs or The Replacements or the last Arcade Fire CD. They don't look like the guy that sold you your last set of tires, they look like the guy that mounted and balanced them, the guy sweltering out in the off-limits area of the garage that the sales guy said not to bother. Don't let their just-got-off-work-parking-cars appearance fool you, they know good music, and they love Ladyfinger, just as they should.

While those guys were standing in front of TWR's enormous stage last night like an angry pack of Dobermans poised in front of an air-conditioning vent after a hard day of guard duty in the local scrap yard, the folks at Ladyfinger's label were somewhere else, probably enjoying $8 cocktails down at their glass-and-waxed concrete bunker. Too busy to make that 10-minute drive up to Benson to see a band they eagerly signed a year ago, whose debut shriveled to a dry husk on their marketing vine. Who knows if there's ever been a post mortem for Heavy Hands or some sort of focus group meeting that tried to figure out what went wrong. The sales numbers are a mystery to everyone but the band, the accountants, and the warehouse guys who pass by the unopened cases of the CD every day while picking orders of Jenny Lewis and Maria Taylor discs. Early rumors were that it didn't just tank, it sunk to the very bottom of the ocean weighed down with enormous boat-anchor chains. The Creek online store posted a free promo for the first 100 buyers of the disc online -- that promo stayed there for months, who knows if it was just an oversight (though Creek Webmaster Jadon Ulrich isn't only one of the most talented artists and designers in the area, he's also one of the most diligent web guys around -- it's unlikely that he'd forget to take the promo down after the first 100 crawled out of the warehouse).

Ladyfinger certainly did their share of touring, so why didn't the CD make it into the CMJ top-20? These thoughts crossed my mind last night as I watched the band rip through one track after another from the CD in their usual threatening, monotonous pace. Listening to Ladyfinger is like driving a muscle car with only one gear -- once you get it started you can press down on the gas pedal as much as you want, but it ain't going any faster no matter how loud the engine revs. It's relentless and ruthlessly unyeilding in its white heat noise, always on the verge of throwing a rod. There's plenty of good material on Heavy Hands that has gone unheard by the record-buying public, and that still could be heard if somehow someone figured out a way to pump life back into the marketing stream. A mini tour by the band at the end of the month won't be enough. Looks like we'll have to wait until the follow-up gets recorded and released by Saddle Creek -- that's right, Creek is still very much behind this band, based on the interview I did with Nansel and Kulbel for the Slowdown opening. A better question might be is Ladyfinger still very much behind Creek? Even if they only sold 500 copies of Heavy Hands, they both could do much worse.

* * *

More Matt Sharp. By the way, I asked Sharp if he really had a chance to get back with Weezer as all the online press seems to indicate. He said the window of opportunity was only open for a brief moment in time, maybe two weeks. Rivers had a wild idea that the reunion would be good for everyone involved. But just as quickly as the window opened, it closed again.

  • Column 136: Let It Burn
    Matt Sharp talks videos, industry wreckage.

    Here are some leftover thoughts from my interview with Matt Sharp that I hate to see go to waste.

    While doing research for the interview, I stumbled across a brief bio of Weezer at, written by Stephen Thomas Erlewine and Greg Prato. It said videos -- or the lack of them -- were part of the reason Weezer's critically lauded Pinkerton album never caught on with the general public the way the band's debut did. "The album failed to become a hit, partially because (Rivers) Cuomo did not want the band to record another series of clever videos," the bio said.

    Sharp, a founding member of Weezer who was still with the band during that period, disagreed. "We did do videos for Pinkerton," he said. "They were horrible."

    The reason: Weezer was in a state of disarray after the mind-blowing success of their debut, which peaked at No. 4 on the Billboard 200.

    "We weren't in a very good state as a group," Sharp said. "We were dealing with the hangover of the success of 'the Blue Album' (the debut), and weren't very in synch at the end of (Pinkerton). We didn't have a unified sense of what we should be doing visually, except that Rivers had some ideas for the album art."

    It was Sharp who formed a relationship with maverick filmmaker Spike Jonze, who directed the band's first video, "Undone (the Sweater Song)," and went on to direct the ubiquitous Happy Days-inspired video for "Buddy Holly" that dominated MTV in the mid-'90s.

    "I had a connection with Spike. He was a good friend of mine," Sharp said. "We talked about the first video, and he conveyed some ideas for the 'Buddy Holly' video that I conveyed to the rest of the group. The connection was strong, and we had a lot of admiration for him."

    By the time Pinkerton rolled around, Sharp said everyone in the band was off in their own worlds. Videos were the last thing on their minds. "We weren't into it, but the pressure was on," he said. "The directors who did our worst two videos had a history of making one great video after another. When they got to our dysfunctional situation, there was nothing to glue it together."

    Funny how the industry has changed in a mere decade. Back in '94, videos were still an essential part of music marketing. Today, you're lucky to find a channel on basic cable that still plays videos at all. MTV has become a ghetto of vapid teen reality shows and sketchy bio-docs obsessed with the greed of the wealthy (or the offspring of the wealthy). Even VH-1 rarely shows videos any more, which only leaves web-based media like YouTube, hardly a cinematic experience.

    Sharp said he recently watched the just-finished first "proper video" by his pals Tegan and Sara, shot entirely on 35 mm. "It seemed funny to see it all compressed on YouTube," he said. "You just don't think of (videos) as being a main component anymore." Despite that, he said The Rentals are considering shooting a video for their new EP's hallmark track, "Last Romantic Day."

    The decline of videos is another reflection of an ever-changing industry that Sharp said is "essentially disintegrating," while a whole new version is growing up in its place.

    "I see us in this bus that's driving through an industry that's crashing all around us," he said. "There's something exciting about that idea that doesn't leave me with a sense of depression. Part of me says, 'Let it burn. Let it go. Let's start rebuilding it from the bottom up.'"

    Sharp said he used to be skeptical when people warned him that the industry was crashing down. "I could always draw a parallel with something that happened 10 years ago," he said. "Now you can see the bigger shifts going on. It's strange to think of a time when a label would approach a group and say, 'You have a sound we like. We want to support you and get your music heard by as many people as possible.' And the group would say, 'We would, too,' and they'd shake on it, and then sign a contract to make a partnership for seven albums that would last a minimum of 14 years.

    "I can't for the life of me imagine signing a 14-year contract in today's world. Things can change in just six months."

    But what will never change, Sharp said is bands like The Rentals going out and performing on tour every night. "That connection with the audience -- that experience and electricity -- will always be there."

Tonight at The Waiting Room, Noah's Ark was a Spaceship with Perry H. Matthews & Bazooka Shootout. $7, 9 p.m.

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The Rentals re-return; Ladyfinger, Spring Gun, The Terminals tonight… – Aug. 8, 2007 –

Just posted, an interview with Matt Sharp of The Rentals (read it here). Matt talks about how juggling between Weezer and The Rentals drove him to a solo career, the reinvention of The Rentals, and the band's new EP, The Last Little Life. Sharp was such a good interview that I got enough to do an entire column beyond this feature, which will go online tomorrow.

Four, count 'em four shows are (probably) going on tonight, each worthy of your presence.

At The Waiting Room, Ladyfinger and Ideal Cleaners open for Philly band Mountain High, yet another rock band that sports two drummers. Ladyfinger is said to be unveiling some new songs and a new cover, while Ideal Cleaners is always strong. This being a Wednesday night, I'm afraid that Mountain High could get Omaha'd after these two fine bands. $7, 9 p.m.

Meanwhile, down at Slowdown Jr., it's another two-drummer band, Spring Gun, opening for Page Francis and Bishop Allen. $8, 8 p.m.

Over at O'Leaver's, The Terminals are opening for Ames Iowa grooversters Radio Moscow (Alive Records). $5, 9:30 p.m.

Finally, according to the SlamOmaha music calendar, No Blood Orphan is opening for Penang at The 49'r tonight. I was unable to confirm this show at either the Niner's or NBO's myspace pages. Go at your own risk.

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Quiet Tuesday, Van Halen news… – Aug. 7, 2007 –

CNN just reported that the Van Halen reunion tour is on again, featuring David Lee Roth, Eddie and Alex Van Halen. They've ditched Michael Anthony, which is sheer madness. I don't think people realize how much Anthony contributes to the band's overall sound through his harmonies. They'll find out when they hear Eddie's son Wolfgang croaking along to "Jamie's Cryin'." Despite that, I will be in attendance at this show if it comes to the Qwest Center. Whoops. Looks like Reuters has the story now, here.

Other than that, nothing to report. The Waiting Room is hosting a show this evening with a band called The Steed that I've never heard of. Paper Owls is opening, but they also have their CD release show this weekend at PS Collective. Also on the bill is Ric Rhythm and the Revengers. $7, 9 p.m.

This week you'll get a double-dip of The Rentals' Matt Sharp -- a feature story about the band online tomorrow, followed by a column of leftover interview material on Thursday. The show is this Friday night at Slowdown, by the way. Get an early head start by checking out Dave Liebowitz's The Dark Stuff podcast. The special edition is dedicated to The Rentals and includes an interview with Matt Sharp along with lots of music. A great listen, indeed. You can listen to it here.

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Weekend recap (Dance Me Pregnant, Cloven Path, Spring Gun, Eagle*Seagull, Two Gallants); Malpais tonight… – Aug. 6, 2007 –

I recently quit doing site updates during the weekend, but based on the extreme length of this entry, I might have to start up again. Below is a recap of last weekend's live shows I attended. Busy, busy, busy…

Friday night

Pulling into the Sokol lot, it was just like old times. I hadn't been down there in probably six months, maybe a year. Not with all the other venues going full-bore these days. The Waiting Room has been eating up all the good One Percent shows. And now Slowdown is taking whatever's left on the plate. (O'Leaver's has been delegated to being a drunk shack used to house half-crazy alcohol-fueled local shows that go all-but-unheard by an audience numb and deaf after multiple shots of whatever the bartender feels like pouring that evening -- further building on its already legendary status).

Sokol Underground has become the prime site for all the crank-fueled metal shows and half-ass Jesus-loves-you Christian rock spectacles -- a shadow of what it was just a year ago, but that's not One Percent's fault or anyone's fault for that matter. One Percent has to protect its own, which in this case, is The Waiting Room, a club that, even after the opening of Slowdown, continues to shoulder itself ahead as the main event of Omaha rock clubs.

But I digress…

It'd been a long while since I stepped foot in Sokol -- I missed that dark, musty tomb. I pulled right into the parking lot at around 10:30 -- a bad sign in the old days that still is. If there's space in the lot, that means there's probably no one inside. There was, however, plenty of the usual riff-raff outside enjoying a smoke along with the evening's weather. While walking toward the entrance, up zoomed Denver Dalley in a chopped dune buggy, the chrome exhaust pipe sticking out the back like a giant shiny erection. Smokers gawked from the doorway. I haven't seen a dune buggy in years, and figured the DMV had long made them illegal, but Denver said otherwise, and if it wasn't street legal he'd have been busted long before making it to the Sokol lot.

Anyway… inside Sokol it was business as usual, as if I had just been down there the night before. The crowd of (what looked like) around 70 was mulling around after a set by The Shanks. Next up was Dance Me Pregnant, a gutter punk band that also includes members of The Shanks. Within a few minutes, the band cranked into their first song. Jeff, the hulking frontman (I don't know his last name, though I've talked to him a number of times at O'Leaver's) was onstage screaming, wrapping himself in microphone chord. Behind the drum kit was super-drummer Corey Broman, who later that evening would be performing at The Waiting Room as part of Art in Manila. But first, he'd have to get through this set, and that wouldn't be easy.

On stage, Jeff carries himself with the same demented panache as a late-'70s So. Cal punker -- guys like The Dickies, The Germs, The Weirdos, maybe even Fear, half-bent dudes who looked like they were about to explode from eating handfuls of amphetamines, snarling at an audience hungry for abuse. Early in the set, Jeff had apparently smashed one of Sokol's microphones, telling the crowd, "You know who's paying for that? I am." He made it through the rest of the set without destroying a second mic, but not without doing himself and someone in the crowd bodily harm.

I don't know exactly what happened. One moment Jeff was on stage bellowing out another trash-punk song, the next he was on the floor in front of the stage, lost in the crowd, before boomeranging back up on stage again, complaining about being kicked in the nuts.

He focused his attention on one guy -- just a shadow with a pony tail from where I stood leaning against one of Sokol's famous always-in-the-way poles. Then (and I can't remember if the band was playing or not), Jeff dived from the stage and (apparently) kicked the guy in the chest or face, breaking a bottle and then falling onto the floor. By the time he got back on stage, blood was rolling down his right forearm from elbow-to-wrist. The scuffle continued on the floor before the guy was either ejected or left (though I thought I saw him walking around in the back moments later). The show continued with Jeff reveling in his own blood, a perfect stage prop.

I've always thought The Shanks and Dance Me Pregnant could both become this town's feature spectacle punk bands if they wanted to. With each passing show, they get closer and closer to that level of unrestrained violence, that unpredictable chaos that characterized punk bands in the '70s, bands that I never got to see in action other than on grainy, poorly lit, porn-quality video tape. For some reason, I have a sense of nostalgia for that time and those bands, and look to Jeff and his band of drunken, angry cronies to bring it all back to life. Someone asked me if the Shanks/DMP spectacle is all premeditated or rehearsed. I think the intent is there, but what happens when these guys take the stage is always unknown to them, and us.

Jeff was back to his lively, happy self afterward, back behind the merch table, where I bought a copy of the new Shanks 7-inch. His face was bruised, and his clothes and skin were still covered in blood, blood that he'd wiped from his gashed forearm and rubbed all over his face while on stage (the gashes and bruises to his forehead, I was told, were self-inflicted and involved crushing a beer can with his face).

Headliner Cloven Path wasn't going to be outdone in the blood department. Moments after the trio's second song -- after the guitarist had taken off his shirt -- the guy standing next to me yelled, "Jesus, look at his chest!" Blood, again, was everywhere, but these cuts were self-inflicted. Cloven Path doesn't need the theatrics, not with their hot new lead singer dressed in short-shorts and biker boots. It'd been six months since I last saw this band, before they got "SinKat" (according to their Myspace page) to handle the vocals -- a much-needed addition if only to have something to look at other than the two bleach-white guys' naked bellies. Take aways from the performance: 1) SinKat sings like a young Debra Harry, a spooky-sweet, almost atonal voice that's a good fit for the band's metal-meets-club-beat sound. 2) It's time to throttle down on the programming. Their drummer handles himself just fine without electronic embellishments. 3) As much as I like trios, these guys still need a bass player -- the programmed bass just doesn't cut it. Too bad SinKat can't handle a bass -- how sexy would that be? Set highlights included a cover of a Cure song ("The Hanging Garden," I think) and the over-the-top closer that got the crowd into a frenzy.

Saturday night

Having had my fill of assault-punk at Sokol the night before, I skipped The Shanks at O'Leaver's and headed over to The Waiting Room for Spring Gun and Eagle*Seagull.

I realize that most bands are in a constant state of evolution, but Spring Gun takes it to the extreme. When I saw them at The Saddle Creek Bar in May, they were a wall-of-sound four-piece heavy on power and light on melody. Saturday night they grew into a 6-piece, sporting three guitars (one guy doubles on keyboards), a bass and two drummers -- enormous sound. But even more impressive was how the lead singer has grown into his frontman role, really capturing the essence of the songs' melodies, belting them out over the din. It left me wondering where I put that copy of their new album, which I didn't remember sounding this good. The guy next to me -- a local music power broker -- said if he had a record label, he'd put out these guys' CD -- he called them Nebraska's version of The Sea and Cake. Not bad, though these guys have an even bigger sound. Somehow, Spring Gun has emerged as one of the more important indie rock bands on the Omaha/Lincoln music landscape. There is an enormous buzz about these guys right now. Check them out when they open for Bishop Allen Wednesday night at Slowdown Jr.

Eagle*Seagull played last and gave their usual superb performance. Their set consisted almost entirely of new material, which I've seen them play three or four times now, and which they announced would be coming out early next year as The Year of the How-to Book (though they didn't say what label was releasing the CD). Two songs always stand out and I don't know the name of either, though one might be called, "We Came to Dance" and the other, "You're the Reason Why." If I had a label I'd put out this record just for its sheer commercial potential, but these days even that doesn't matter if no one discovers the music in the first place (just ask Little Brazil). Yes, Eagle*Seagull could be the next big thing out of Nebraska, but in this era when there are a thousand indie bands releasing new CDs every week, they're going to have to find some way to get their music noticed. Touring, it seems, just ain't enough any more.

Sunday Night

Briefly, I rolled down to Slowdown at about 9:45, a few songs into Two Gallants' set. Nice crowd, though not a sell-out. The band obviously didn't need to worry how they'd be received opening for Against Me! in Omaha. A large portion of the crowd was clearly there to see them, and the duo didn't disappoint. I like their electric stuff, though I would have liked to have heard the acoustic stuff from their new EP.

I took off right after they finished, at around 10:15. I would have stayed longer, but I had a deadline the following morning (for a Rentals article, that will be online Wednesday) (Actually, if I didn't have a deadline, I probably would have high-tailed it over to O'Leaver's for The 4th of July).

* * *

Tonight at The Waiting Room it's Malpais (formerly known as An Iris Pattern) featuring Omaha's own urban legend, Greg Loftis. Malpais opens for The Cliks. $7, 9 p.m.

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