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The Blog Archive -- Jan. 2, 2008 to June 2, 2008 -- Go to lazyhome for most-current entries

Live Review: Bent Scepters; no smoking on its way; Perry H. Matthews, Fromanhole tonight... – June 2, 2008 –

It was a hot, crowded night at O'Leaver's Saturday for Box Elders and Iowa City's Bent Scepters. I missed BE, but squeezed in just in time for the Scepters. The five-piece takes the garage rock stuff to a cleaner, more professional level. Translated: They sound like they practice, whether they do or not. Or maybe it's because they’ve been around the block longer than most local garage bands and they know these songs like the back of their hands. Some might call them "slick." I call it catchy and clean and right-on from the moment they launched into their set. There's no "warming up," just spot-on Zombies'-style punk-and-roll that gets the girls dancing from the first song forward (guys too). And you rarely see dancing at O'Leaver's.

It's been a few weeks since I stepped into Omaha's favorite stink-hole. Construction is most certainly under way. I didn't get any specifics, but it looks like they're creating a door that will connect to Mach's new sandwich shop next door. Part of the wall that divides the "stage" area from the bathrooms looked like it was gone, too. Outside, the concrete has been poured for the new beer garden and is waiting for fencing -- not just cyclone fencing, but apparently something a bit more… artistic. O'Leaver's must have foreseen the upcoming change in Omaha's public smoking laws announced last week, and should be ready to react when the (anticipated) hammer drops on smoking later this month. Can you imagine O'Leaver's smoke-free? I can't, either, though I talked to one person who said the ban will mark his return to the venue.

We'll now find out sooner rather than later if there's any truth to the old saw that a smoking ban will hurt -- if not kill -- tavern business. I'm skeptical that it will have any impact at all on music venues, as long as those venues have created an option that considers smoking -- such as an outdoor smoking area or a way for people to leave their drinks somewhere so they can smoke on the sidewalk outside (TWR comes to mind, as I don't know how they'll be able to create an outdoor beer garden). The only taverns who will be crippled by the ban are the so-called "regulars bars" that cater to those folks who come in every night for smokes and booze. With no place to go, they'll be staying home with a bottle and an ashtray heaped with dead butts -- now isn't that a lovely image?

* * *
What better way to kick off the week than with an evening of brain-frying punk by a handful of Omaha's best post-core rock bands? Tonight at The Waiting Room it's a last-minute show featuring the mind-fuck stylings of Perry H. Matthews, the intricate prog-math genius of Fromanhole and hot new act The Yuppies. 9 p.m., $7.

A quiet weekend... – May 30, 2008 –

Maybe it's the lull before the storm, but there aren't a lot of shows going on this weekend.

Tonight's highlight is undoubtedly Boston's Bang Camaro, a neu-pseudo hair metal band emulating a style made famous by KISS, Quiet Riot, Stryper, you get the deal, the usual bunch of '80s stomp rockers. I'm reminded of Rye Coalition, though Rye did it first and did it better. It's when BC gets away from the hair-metal clichés that things at least become interesting, but those are rare moments. Tonight at Slowdown Jr., $12, 9 p.m.

Tomorrow night's top show is Box Elders and Bent Scepters at O'Leaver's. $5, 9:30 p.m. Also, Saturday night, Satchel Grande is playing way out west, at Bar Fly. $5, 9 p.m.

Talkin' Mountain, Stolen Kisses at Barley; Cordial Spew at TWR tonight ... – May 29, 2008 –

I'm listening to a Stolen Kisses track right now. Very '60s Phil Spector low-fi VU garage fun. They're playing at The Barley St. Tavern tonight with monster mask marauders Talkin' Mountain and Lincoln's Pharmacy Spirits. 9 p.m., Free.

Meanwhile, over at The Waiting Room, it's the return of '80s hardcore punks Cordial Spew with The Upsets, Youth and Tear Gas, Officially Terminated and Richard Schultz. $5, 9 p.m.

And over at The Saddle Creek Bar, it's Naked and Shameless, the self-proclaimed "undisputed acoustic punk kings of kitsch rock." 9 p.m., Free.

Column 175: Cowardly Traveller Pt. 2; Joan of Arc tonight... – May 28, 2008 –

There's even more to the interview with Simon Joyner than made it into these columns, but most of it is below and in last week's installment. One detail that didn't make it in concerned the "Peel Incident." I asked Joyner what the other album was that Peel had played in its entirety. He said he heard that it was a Fall record, but that someone also told him it was a Bob Dylan record. I guess we'll never know for sure. One thing's for certain, with the advent of technology, no one will ever have the power Peel had to discover and focus attention to new talent.

Column 175: The Traveller Returns, Pt. 2
The second in a two-part look at Simon Joyner's just-reissued seminal recording.

Continuing last week's look at Simon Joyner's The Cowardly Traveller Pays His Toll, which has just been reissued on Team Love Records…

By 2003, Joyner already had made a name for himself as a journalistic lyricist who painted acoustic snapshots on his first two tape-only recordings, Umbilical Chords and Room Temperature. For his next -- and what he thought would be his last -- recording, Joyner dipped his toe into something more autobiographical.

"I had moved away from the sort of journalistic confessional songwriting," he said. "I was finding that the best approach to deal with things in my own life was by turning them into fictional stories, just like any other writer."

And just like any good literature, where the reality ends and the fiction begins is never known by the casual listener. Joyner's lyrics reflected the crossroads where he stood both professionally and personally. Born in New Orleans with parents from Alabama, Joyner was yanked from his southern roots as a child after his father was stationed at Offfutt Air Force Base. "I only saw my relatives once a year," he said. "I felt a little bit rootless in my early 20s, and I wanted to make sense of the history of my family, where I came from and what it meant to me."

As a result, a southern-gothic pall hangs over the album, along with plenty of death. The song "Montgomery" focuses on a military funeral, with lines "The mourning is for everyone / But the hole is for your papa / He's lying in his old uniform / His pockets full of mothballs."

"I wrote that song for my father about my grandfather, who had also been in the Air Force. It's about going to his funeral with my dad," Joyner said. Around that same time, Joyner's grandmother also passed away; her death was reflected in the song "Cole Porter": "And I should have known she wouldn't last / And I should have been there by her bed / Tonight I caught myself considering heaven/ 'cause today I realized she is dead."

Taken as a whole, Cowardly Traveller was sort of a concept album about coping with life in the face of uncertainty, consequence and inevitability. "In my mind, the theme of the record -- the title -- can be interpreted as a story about a cowardly traveler who pays his toll for being cowardly; or as a warning, like an Aesop fable," Joyner said. "Here you are and these are the things you're dealing with. If you're not courageous, life is going to be bleak. Dealing with it makes you a stronger person."

In that context, what many consider to be depressing actually is a message of hope. If there's a common misinterpretation about Joyner's music, it's that it reels in despair. "I've never been into music that is pathetic or wallows," he said. "Music that is 'Woe is me' is not interesting to me. There's always tension and conflict, and the characters don't always make the right decisions."

The entire album was recorded in the living room of a tiny house in Benson. Collaborating was Chris Deden, who supplied the drums and inspiration. "Chris was responsible for talking me into doing an electric record," Joyner said, "and for he and I recording it ourselves and playing all the instruments."

Joining them on "scratchy fiddle" was guitarist Alex McManus. "Alex wasn't a violin player," Joyner said. "So his approach was just what we wanted. I wasn't a guitar player but was playing guitar, Chris wasn't a drummer but was playing drums. The violin part on 'Cole Porter' is one of the best things I've heard in the last 20 years. Once he had done that, I knew this was going to be okay."

Deden and Joyner pressed 500 copies of the vinyl-only release on their own label, Sing, Eunichs! Joyner said some in Omaha "wrote it off" as an experiment, while others recognized it as a big leap forward. Those outside of Omaha considered it Joyner's debut. Especially in Europe, where famous DJ John Peel played the entire album on his widely respected radio show -- something he'd only done one other time. Much has been made of the so-called "Peel incident," but how much did it really impact Joyner's career?

"I didn't really take advantage of what it could have done for me," Joyner said. "(Peel) had done similar things for P.J. Harvey and other bands, telling listeners to check them out. He did that for me, but I didn't make it easy for people. It's hard to check out something when it's only on vinyl. Where are you going to get it? This was before Myspace and access to music downloads."

The first 500 copies of Cowardly Traveller sold out quickly. The label pressed another 500, which also quickly sold. But that was it. Joyner and Deden decided to press no more.

"We had moved on to recording (follow-up) Heaven's Gate and the label was just so nascent that we had to put all our funds into the next project," Joyner said. "Repressing it seemed wasteful when we could put money into something else."

Over time, not repressing Cowardly Traveller became "this symbolic thing for Chris and me. Chris always said that anyone who matters had it already."

That attitude would change after the album began to fetch high prices on eBay, and when Joyner turned to old pal Conor Oberst and Team Love Records to handle the digital rights to his catalog. When it came time to digitally master Cowardly Traveller, sound engineer Doug Van Sloun created a new master from the original 1-inch tape that would end up also being pressed on 180-gram vinyl.

Joyner won't be touring the album. In fact, its only performance was a one-off house show held a few weeks ago. "When it was originally released, I was playing these songs at house shows and Kilgore's and places like that," he said. "Anything beyond a house show would go from being a celebration to exploitation."

Still, expect to hear songs off the album dropped into his live sets from time to time. "I know when I've written a good song when I still want to play it," Joyner said. "And I still love playing those songs."

As I mentioned in a recent collection of CD reviews (here) Joan of Arc's new album, Boo Human, is the first thing in years that a Kinsella has been involved with that I could listen to more than a few times. It has its wonky moments; it also has some rather startlingly beautiful moments. Get a preview of it tonight at The Waiting Room when Joan of Arc plays with Future of the Ghost and Omaha's own Capgun Coup. $10, 9 p.m.

Live Reviews: TPC, Basia Bulat, Devotchka; Tally Hall tonight... – May 26, 2008 –

I think after they count the receipts from last week, Slowdown will have had one of its best week's ever, what with two sold-out Rilo Kiley shows and nearly (if not actually) sold out shows Friday and Saturday by Tokyo Police Club and Devotchka.

It should be pointed out for those of you who haven't been to Slowdown for awhile that shows there now start at the stroke of 9 or very shortly thereafter. It would be easy to blame the all-ages ordinance -- after all, the parents that signed those consent forms expect their kids to be home at a decent hour, and really, why push the show back an hour (or more) when there's no one buying drinks? Ah, but that's a cynic's point of view. This is really just a long-winded way of saying I showed up at Slowdown Friday night at around 10:45 and missed Criteria's entire set.

But I did manage to catch all of Tokyo Police Club. Alsop's comments about the band now traveling with a light show seems quaint considering what they had on stage that night (and considering what Devotchka would boast the following evening). The stage behind the band was decorated with vertical light strips made up of rows of small LEDs that would blink and switch colors during songs, while the band was lit from below by colored strobes that reminded me of early Mercy Rule shows. TPC will look back fondly on that lighting in the years to come.

Musically, their set was as expected, about 50 minutes of well-performed songs from their full length and their debut EP, each song rounding out at under three minutes -- short, sharp bursts of energy separated by brief pauses, all of which added up to a sort of fatigue after about 20 minutes of the set. I like Tokyo Police Club and I like their new full length, but their live set seems almost unstructured -- there was no ebb and flow, only one high-energy indie rocker after another, with very few people on the crowded floor dancing to the music. After all, aren't they supposed to be a dance-wave band?

TPC came out for a brief preprogrammed 2-song encore, and that was it, something of a surprise considering the show was the last one of this North American tour.

Seems like Omaha is becoming the stopping off point for tours. Basia Bulat announced that Saturday night's show was the last one on her and Devotchka's tour as well. We got there plenty early for this one, early enough to catch the opening set by rustic acoustic duo Born in the Flood. Seated main man Nathaniel Rateliff came off as an older, weathered version of Beck circa Sea Change, providing a world-weary view that matched his earthy yet down-and-out songwriting style.

He was quickly followed by Basia Bulat and her band, who actually were the folks we'd come to see. Devotchka is 2006, while Basia Bulat is 2009 or 2010 -- yet to be discovered, on the verge of national stardom. It doesn't hurt that she's cute as a button, looking like that 13-year-old uber-talented girl next door that you always see carrying an instrument case on her way to school. She opened with an a cappella number that got the crowd's attention before hoisting an autoharp for the next few songs, eventually opting for an acoustic guitar. Her voice is very reminiscent of Natalie Merchant (10,000 Maniacs) while her music is Dixie Chicks without the twang or cheese. Backed by a ukulele, viola, cello, bass and her brother on drums, she leans more toward the commercial than indie music realm, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. Judging by the crowd reaction, she's on her way.

Then along came Devotchka. By this time in the evening, we had moved from the pit in front of the stage all the way to the back of the room just to get some air and space. Despite supposedly not being sold out, this show seemed more crowded than the Rilo Kiley show from earlier in the week. Devotchka knows how to put on a stage show, combining striking lights and a small string section to create a festival atmosphere that would seem at home at The Orpheum or Holland. In fact, at times I thought I was watching a Trans-Siberian Orchestra concert. Everyone eats up the ethnic coleslaw that is their music, and in fact it is impressive on first glance, but a little goes a long way. We lasted about 20 minutes before calling it an evening.

Disturbing trend note: I think it should be pointed out by someone that hand-clapping is, well, getting out of hand. I don't mean clapping after a song, I mean bands that make theatrical efforts to include hand-claps into their music. The Spinto Band, TPC and Basia Bulat all featured a number of songs in their set that started with synchronized hand clapping. There was a time when that was cute and effective. That time is long gone. Spinto and TPC were much more annoying about it; Bulat can get away with it because, well, she's Bulat and everything she does is cute. But unless you're Sufjan Stevens, five guys shouldn't be standing around doing synchronized clapping to get their songs started. The only thing worse: I recently saw Carly Simon perform on one of the late-night chat shows -- her shtick: not hand-claps, but synchronized finger snapping. It looked and sounded as gaggy as you might imagine.

* * *
Tally Hall is a major-label (Atlantic Records) product of Ann Arbor, Michigan, a five-piece that flaunts its love for Queen-style harmonies sung over Ben Folds-flavored pop songs. At its best it scratches Guster territory, but only barely. They're playing Tuesday night at The Waiting Room with De Novo and Carolina Liar. $10, 9 p.m.

Tokyo Police Club tonight; Devotchka tomorrow... – May 23, 2008 –

Looks like it's going to be a Slowdown weekend. Tonight on Slowdown's big stage it's Saddle Creek's newest recruit, Tokyo Police Club, with one of Saddle Creek's older recruits, Criteria, and SF dream-pop band Minipop. $15, 9 p.m.

Meanwhile, tonight over at Mick's, it's Doug Kabourek (ex-Fizzle Like a Flood), Landon Hedges (Little Brazil) and Sleep Said the Monster playing as a three-piece. $5, 9 p.m.

Saturday night, Slowdown welcomes the ethnic-folk/polka-dance stylings of Devotchka with super-hot up-and-comer Basia Bulat and Born in the Flood. 9 p.m., $15.

Meanwhile, over at O'Leaver's, it's Fromanhole, Landing on the Moon and Self-Evident. $5, 9 p.m.
And at The Saddle Creek Bar, Portland indie shoegazer band Charm Particles plays with John Garcia. 9 p.m., Free.

Interview: Tokyo Police Club; Live Review: Spinto/Rilo Kiley; Swervedriver tonight... – May 22, 2008 –

Just posted, an interview with Tokyo Police Club's Greg Alsop, wherein Greg talks about how the band found Saddle Creek Records -- or more accurately, how Saddle Creek found them -- and why a bunch of Canada natives would sign with a label headquartered in Omaha Nebraska. Read it here.

The only question that didn't make it into the story: How does it feel to be the label's sole dance band now that The Faint have jumped ship? It was the first time Alsop had heard the news. "Really?" he asked. "I don't know if we're a dance band like The Faint were. I consider our music more pop with a groove. It's so weird that people want to peg the word 'dance' in front of every genre -- dance pop , dance punk. We're not really a dance band. We don't use stereotypical dance beats. But if people can move their body in rhythm to our music, that’s great."

I can see where Alsop is coming from -- TPC doesn't sound like a dance band to me, either. But that hasn't stopped a cadre of critics to proclaim them a "dance punk" band. The good news is that the rep comes as a result of the audience reaction at their live shows. TPC gets the kids jumping, and that's something any band would be proud of.

I'm told there are still plenty of tickets available for Friday night's TPC show at Slowdown, though you'll save a couple bucks if you pick them up today (instead of tomorrow).

* * *

Speaking of shows at Slowdown…

I arrived last night at around 9:35 and expected to find a queue draped around the corner to get inside, what with the new age-verification permission-slip policy in place. Figured there would be someone carefully making sure that the youngsters had their papers in order. But the line was only about a dozen people deep and moved quickly. The original plan was -- and is -- for Slowdown to have a computer set up for quick database verification. But a simple print-out is really all they need this early in the game. Permission slip numbers at Slowdown have gone from nine to 90 in the past couple of weeks, and will only continue to grow as the venue books more shows that attract an all-ages audience, like Rilo Kiley.

I got in last night on Nik Freitas' list, and ironically, missed almost his entire set, which I'm told began at the stroke of 9 o'clock. I did catch the last couple songs, and they were nice, mid-tempo songwriter-driven rock. I got a copy of Freitas' new Team Love album about a month ago, and initially didn't think much of it, but recently rediscovered it and it's grown on me. It's smart, catchy middle-of-the-road indie music.

The Spinto Band was next. How to describe them? Think back to the Charlie Brown Christmas Special, the one where the Peanuts gang puts on a Christmas play. Remember that scene where everyone's on stage, grooving to the Peanuts theme -- each character with his or her own specific dance move? That's exactly what Spinto Band looks like when they perform -- six guys each bouncing around to the music in his own unique style. Very energetic, very entertaining to watch. The music, well, not so interesting. The band consists of three guitars, a bass, keyboards and drums, and for one song -- which just happened to be their best song -- kazoos. That specific song opened with an up-tempo instrumental version of Tom Tom Club's "Genius of Love" before segueing into the kazoo-rock anthem. It was their best moment because the song held the strongest central melody (It would have been even better without the cheesy kazoos). For the most part, Spinto played wonky indie spazz rock that meandered like underage prog on too many Red Bulls. Some of the music kind of reminded me of Weezer, but not really. They also don't really sound Elvis Costello, but I'm becoming convinced that Elvis has become the most influential songwriter to this new generation of indie spazz rock bands. Certainly the melodies and the keyboard parts, as well as the intricate lyrics, sound influenced by early E and the Attractions.

After their set, I got a chance to focus on the capacity crowd. Rilo Kiley's fan base certainly has changed since seeing them down at Sokol Underground back when they were still on Saddle Creek Records. Gone is the preponderance of bad-haired hipsters and urban punks, replaced by clean-cut suburbanites and Creighton students. More than 75 percent of the crowd was women. Rilo apparently has defined itself as a female-friendly band that guys don't mind going to see (if only to gawk at Jenny Lewis).

The band took the stage a little after 11 and proceeded to get all the new, geeky dance stuff from their last album out of the way. It wasn't until later in the set -- when the focus shifted to older material -- that the crowd really came alive. Lewis and ex-boyfriend Blake Sennett make an interesting pair. They could be this generation's Buckingham Nicks, and certainly Sennett's songs emulate Lindsey's (right down to the hushed vocals and guitar tone). With their television background, they could also be the new Sonny & Cher. The common thread that runs between both examples is how the woman dominated the team -- Stevie and Cher were the show, Lindsey and Sonny were the sidemen. That holds true for Rilo Kiley as well. They sound good together, but it's really Lewis that people come to see. In the end, it probably won't matter. One guy I talked to last night said he thought Under the Blacklight was Rilo's swan song. After this tour, Lewis will focus on the follow-up to Rabbit Fur Coat, while Sennett will go back to The Elected, and eventually Rilo Kiley will fade away much like Azure Ray did years ago…

Overall, it was a better show than their last concert at Sokol Auditorium. With Slowdown's stage going right up to the audience, Lewis was able to feed off the crowd of adoring female fans, many of whom sang along with her all night.

* * *

Tonight at The Waiting Room, Swervedriver with The Life and Times and Mr. Gnome. Blogger and radio host Dave Leibowitz is a huge Swervedriver fan, and recently did a podcast with frontman Adam Franklin, which is a good primer before heading down to the show. Check it out here. $15, 9 p.m.

Column 174: A Coward's Return; Live Review: Heavenly States, Head of Femur; More Rilo Kiley tonight… – May 21, 2008 –

When I found out that Team Love was rereleasing Simon Joyner's The Cowardly Traveller Pays His Toll I knew I had to interview Joyner about the record. It's been a decade since our last interview. Our talk focused almost solely on the album, and I got so much stuff over that hour on the phone that I knew I would need two columns to get all the best parts in print. So here is part one of my first two-part column. Look for part two next Wednesday.

Column 174: The Traveller Returns
The first in a two-part look at Simon Joyner's just-reissued seminal recording.

The date was sometime in 1994. Omaha singer songwriter Simon Joyner was opening a show for a band who I've long ago forgotten down at the original Howard St. Tavern, the one that was right next to the Old Market Homer's. Sitting at the table looking up at the stage, I noticed a couple things different straight away. First, behind Joyner -- who had always been a solitary performer -- was a guy sitting behind a small trap set. Second, the acoustic guitar that had always been strapped around Joyner's fragile frame had been replaced by one with a chord running from its hind end.

Joyner was about to go electric, and none of us knew what to think. The occasion was the release of his then new vinyl album, The Cowardly Traveller Pays His Toll, a record that would prove to be a departure both for him and for the rest of us who had known Joyner as merely a solo acoustic folk-punk musician. Cowardly Traveller would change all that.

On the occasion of its long-awaited rerelease on Conor Oberst's Team Love Records -- the album's only re-pressing since its second run sold out more than a decade ago -- Joyner talked about how Cowardly Traveller happened, and what it meant to him all those years ago, and today.

But first, let me tell you what it meant to me. Cowardly Traveller was Joyner's third formal release. Over the prior years, Dave Sink's One Hour Records had put out two cassette-only releases -- Umbilical Chords and Room Temperature. It was the latter that had caught the ear of iconic UK DJ John Peel, who played a song from the cassette on his famous radio show (which was shades of things to come). Those two cassettes were filled with Joyner's jangling coffee-shop folk, sort of like early Dylan, but edgy with a fractured punk attitude. Joyner's knack for writing confessional journalistic lyrics carried the day, more so than the songs' melodies, which suffered from a simplistic sameness from track to track, both in composition and musicianship. One marveled at the lyrics and little else.

Then along came Cowardly Traveller, a completely realized album from side to side, probably the first record I had heard released by an Omaha musician that artistically could hold its own with anything released anywhere. The glare of Joyner's distorted guitar chords married with Chris Deden's flat, tribal drumming on opening track "747" was a salvo shot over the bow of anyone who expected another dip of frenetic sidewalk folk. Its cold, hard sonic stare would only be equaled by the album's final track, "Joy Division," a song that closed with the distortion pedal firmly pressed to the floor while Joyner caterwauled in his infamous off-key warble, "Papa, everything falls apart."

Sandwiched between those two songs were 10 more, some of them bracing and electric, others mournful and acoustic, each haunting in its own way. Cowardly Traveller was Joyner's first masterpiece. It would influence a generation of Omaha songwriters, and earn a place as one of my all-time favorite records.

Joyner, who turns 37 in August, was 22 when he recorded Cowardly Traveller, and was staring down what he thought would be the end of a brief musical career, one that he had never expected. "At the time, I didn't know what I wanted to do with myself," he said. "I hadn't considered becoming a professional musician. Music was what I did as a creative outlet. It was something that was fun before I went on to do something else."

But before he left music behind, he had one more record left in him. "I was in a bit of a rut both in my personal and professional life," he recalled. "I felt a little bit restricted in how I had become thought of as this solo acoustic singer songwriter bard of Omaha. I had really expansive musical interests, but up to that point it had been all solo acoustic, which I felt was a proper way of going about beginning a career as a songwriter, just like Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Buckley and Leonard Cohen had."

And like those artists, Joyner was ready to branch out beyond the solo acoustic realm of those first two cassettes, but there were those around him who felt that solo acoustic was all that he would ever be good for. "There are people who are excited about a certain thing you've done, and want you to do it again and again. That's definitely artistic death.

"(The record) was my own small version of a Dylan-going-electric moment," Joyner said. "I didn't know how people would react, but I knew that I definitely wouldn't be making music much longer if it was all going to be acoustic. I thought (Cowardly Traveller) might be the last thing that I would ever do, and it would have made me happy to end like that. Instead, it turned out to be a springboard that kept me challenging myself."

Next week: The recording, the musicians, the story behind the songs and the reaction both here and abroad.

* * *

I've seen a number of different incarnations of Head of Femur over the years, but my favorite is still when the band played as a trio at Sokol Underground back in 2003. Femur ballooned to around eight musicians when they returned to Sokol a couple years later, opening for Rogue Wave. Last night they whittled that number down to five. But it was as a trio that the band was at its edgiest. Back then, they had a wind-blown, organic freedom that felt hand-made and improvised. Maybe it was just the newness of Femur that was showing through their set. Last night's ensemble, on the other hand, was the most competent -- every musician effortlessly hitting their mark, playing with a matter-of-fact confidence as if they'd been on the road nonstop for the past year. They sounded good, professional, an expert band playing indie prog that at times glowed with an Elvis Costello hangover, thanks to a few of the songs' intricate, clever lyrics -- good songs, but Femur is at its best on the ones with the bigger choruses, simpler hooks and fewer words.

There clearly was a comfort level coming off the stage, probably because the crowd of around 60 or 70 consisted of a lot of family and friends, who frontman Matt Focht acknowledged throughout the evening. They came on rather late, around 11:30 after a jumping set by The Heavenly States, who played somewhat pedestrian indie rock that had enough ummph at times to get a few of the folks in front of the stage dancing. "They don't have a drummer, they have a cymbal player," remarked a guy standing next to me. Afterward, of course, it was impossible to ignore how their drummer did seem to have the drum set reversed, playing mainly on the cymbals and using the rest of the set as an accouterment. The result, as you might imagine, was rather bright and brashy. Still, I like the band's singer, whose voice reminded me Trip Shakespeare's Matt Wilson, and I liked most of their songs, though their set fell flat a few times.

Playing the role of audience clowns were members of Poison Control Center, who left the stage before I got there. All bands need this kind of crowd fluffers to stand in front of the stage and interact both with the band and the audience, making people feel more at ease and willing to loosen up. All's they needed was an applause sign…

* * *

Tonight at Slowdown, night two of Rilo Kiley. The line-up is the same as last night, with Nik Freitas and The Spinto Band opening, and also like last night, the show is sold out.

Another missed Cursive show; Head of Femur tonight… – May 20, 2008 –

Somehow I've managed to miss both instances when Cursive has played music from their upcoming recording live. That's a first for me. When Happy Hollow was in its incubation stage, Cursive played a rough pre-studio version at O'Leaver's that was easily the best Cursive concert I've seen. So it was with great misgiving that I had to miss last night's Cursive show at The Waiting Room. I had no choice; I was working on this week's column - part one of two parts dedicated to Simon Joyner's The Cowardly Traveller Pays His Toll, which was reissued on Team Love earlier this month. Part 1 will be online here tomorrow. Part 2 goes online next week. So, sacrifices had to be made, and it looks like I'll have to wait to hear those new Cursive songs. Anybody go last night? Let us know how it went, here.

Tonight, two shows worth blowing a deadline for. Over at The Waiting Room it's the return of Head of Femur, who's out touring what I consider to be their best album, Great Plains. Opening is touring band The Heavenly States and Iowa City freak-out masters Poison Control Center, who I figured I'd never see on the Waiting Room stage as they were supposedly banned from Sokol Underground by the One Percent guys after a series of equipment abuse episodes. Why would One Percent want them to destroy the equipment at the club that they own? PCC usually plays at O'Leaver's and always puts on an entertaining, summersault-fueled rock show. $8, 9 p.m.

Meanwhile, downtown at Slowdown, it's night one of two sold-out nights for Rilo Kiley. Opening is The Spinto Band, and Team Love recording artist Nik Freitas. Like I said, it's sold out, so don't even bother going down there if you don’t have a ticket.

Cursive's Sound Opinions, tonight at TWR … – May 19, 2008 –

A special treat for everyone but us poor folks who work for a living, Cursive is the guest for a live recording of NPR talk show Sound Opinions hosted by Jim DeRogatis and Greg Kot this afternoon (at 3 p.m.) at The Waiting Room. The event will include both interviews and a live performance by Cursive, and best of all, it's free. You may want to get there right when the doors open at 2:30. For us working folk, Cursive will play a show tonight at TWR with The Stay Awake and Landing on the Moon. Tickets are still available (as of this writing (noon)) for $12. Get them while you can. Show starts at 9.

Midwest Dilemma, Dariofest tomorrow… – May 16, 2008 –

Maybe it's because all the streets in downtown Omaha are torn up these days or the fact that I haven't been there in over a year, but Sokol Underground seems like a million miles away anymore. I guess I'm spoiled by the proximity of the Benson clubs and Slowdown (which is really just a straight shot down Cuming St. for me). Going to Sokol last night for the Joe "Madder" Kenny benefit seemed like a trek -- a trek that I'm not sorry that I rarely make anymore. Sokol Underground hasn't changed a bit, except for the quality of the show posters next to the staircase. Gone are the artistic screen-print posters used for One Percent shows, replaced with cheap Xerox fliers in a rainbow of colors.

There was probably 60 people at the show when I arrived at around 10:30. The Filthy Few were on stage ripping through a set of shirtless tattoo punk. The Filter Kings were up after that, but for some reason, I just wasn't in the mood for any of it, maybe because of the reason we were there. I barely knew Joe Kenny. We'd corresponded a few times via e-mail. We'd only talked face-to-face twice, but I remember often seeing him at shows at O'Leaver's. When you go to shows by yourself (as I almost always do) the first thing you do when you walk through the door is to look for a familiar face. Joe was one of those faces, and I still subconsciously find myself looking for Madder when I go to O'Leaver's, before realizing that I'm never going to see him there again.

* * *

So what's going on this weekend?

Well, tonight two bands on Kansas City's Anodyne label are playing at Slowdown, Jr. -- The Bellrays and The Architects. $8, 9 p.m.

Tomorrow night's main attraction is Midwest Dilemma on Slowdown's big stage. The band is celebrating the release of their long-player Timelines & Tragedies. I'm still trying to get my mind wrapped around the disc. Its folk orchestra approach featuring more than a dozen musicians is unquestionably impressive. Opening is McCarthy Trenching, Thunder Power!!! and Black Squirrels. 9 p.m., $8.

But before you head down there, head to Benson for Dariofest, part of this weekend's Dundee Spring Fling celebration. That little area right next to Blue Line will be roped off and turned into a beer garden/performance space with performances by Box Elders, Shiver Shiver and Outlaw Con Bandana. I'm told that Brent Crampton will be DJing starting at 3. The bands will start at 5:30. I went to this last year and got blotto on Dario's fancy-schmancy beers (that's what I get for drinking Rolling Rock all the time).

OMG, where's Slam? Madder tribute tonight… – May 15, 2008 –

Across the city, web-connected musicians, bored office deadbeats and the hard-wired unemployed are moaning collectively over the apparent temporary capsizing of Omaha music social hub SLAM Omaha, which has been down since early last night. The site says that it's suffering from "database problems." But what does that really mean? Those of you suffering from SLAM withdrawals who are desperate for a place to vent your spleen (about a music-related topic) feel free to post away on the Lazy-i webboard. It's little solace, I know, but something tells me that SLAM will be back shortly, and better than ever.

Of course tonight's big show is the Joe "Madder" Kenny tribute concert down at Sokol Underground. As I mentioned yesterday, the showcase features some of the city's finest punk acts, including The Deformities, The Upsets, The Shanks, Filthy Few, The Filter Kings and Brimstone Howl. Cost is $7, with all money going to the Kenny family. Doors open at 7, bands are at 8. Get down there and rock for a good cause.

Column 173: A Faint imprint; Madder tribute tomorrow… – May 14, 2008 –

Monday's announcement that The Faint are leaving Saddle Creek ends a two-year saga that, for me, began with this column. I never heard from my trusty "deep throat" source again after that story ran, maybe because things got a little hot (a number of people were asking (nay demanding) to know who s/he was. I, of course, never gave up my source). Today, that old column seems rather harmless, though its aftermath has had a long-term negative impact on my ability to write about a certain band…

Column 173 -- Fasciinatiion Street
The Faint finally leave Saddle Creek.

Yesterday afternoon (which as I write this, was Monday) posted a story on its website announcing that The Faint -- the band that taught Omaha how to dance -- was splitting with its long-time label, Omaha’s own Saddle Creek Records.

The news, which arrived by way of my Google news search tool, caused me to audibly gasp. We all knew it was coming. We had known it for years. Yet, here it was, right in front of my eyes, finally.

The Faint (the article said) is launching its own imprint called "blank.wav," and its first release will be the band’s fifth album, Fasciinatiion (and no, that isn’t a typo), due out Aug. 5. The story went on to quote sales stats from the band’s past two albums – 2004's Wet From Birth, 117,000 copies; and 2001’s Danse Macabre, 143,000 units, perhaps implying that the downturn in sales had something to do with the band's decision to go out on its own.

The Faint’s defection comes only a few weeks after Saddle Creek's first-born son, Conor Oberst, announced that he was releasing a non-Bright Eyes solo album, but that it also would not be on Saddle Creek. Instead, the record is coming out on leading indie label Merge Records, the home to such acts as The Arcade Fire, Spoon and Oberst's buddy M. Ward. That news seemed like a body blow to Creek, even though Bright Eyes still seems to be comfortably held in the label's nurturing arms.

Oberst's news was a surprise. The Faint's, well, not so much. It was two years ago last March when the idea of The Faint leaving Saddle Creek was first openly discussed by label chief Robb Nansel in this very column. Back then, the rumor was that The Faint was headed to American Recordings to work with über producer Rick Rubin. Nansel confirmed that Rubin had indeed expressed interest in working with The Faint, but said that no deal had been made with anyone.

"The possibility of a band leaving has always been there," Nansel said back then. "The bands will ultimately make a well-informed decision about what is in their best interest. We will support their decision regardless of what it is, and hope that all parties are satisfied at the end of the day. Certainly (we) would not be pissed.”

Fellow label executive Jason Kulbel said those comments still apply two years later, as the rumored split becomes a reality. "This announcement does not come as a surprise, and we wish the band continued success," Kulbel said, confirming that Saddle Creek will have no involvement in the release of Fasciinatiion. "They are still friends and we support their decision to do what they, as a band, feel is best for them."

Kulbel said the label has been aware of The Faint's intentions since the release of Wet From Birth. Asked what kind of an impact The Faint leaving would have on Saddle Creek, Kulbel said they "don't see any immediate impact since we have been aware of the likelihood for years."

Despite the loss of The Faint and Oberst sniffing around other labels, the future of Saddle Creek as a business entity seems less in question than it did two years ago when the Faint rumor first surfaced. Since then, Saddle Creek has signed a number of acts including Georgie James, Eric Bachmann, Neva Dinova, Art in Manila and most impressive of all, Tokyo Police Club, whose new album, Elephant Shell, has the potential of being the label’s all-time biggest seller.

Two years ago construction hadn't even begun on Saddle Creek's Slowdown complex. Now after being open for nearly a year, Slowdown is recognized as Omaha's premier music venue, recently honored by Esquire Magazine as the “club of the year” (though I’m not sure how that translates to revenue). And in the past few months, the last remaining empty commercial stall in the Slowdown properties -- originally earmarked for a restaurant -- has been taken by edgy underwear store American Apparel.

The fact is that it's been four years since The Faint released an album. If Saddle Creek hasn't become used to not having them around by now, then they never will.

A more interesting question is how the move will impact The Faint. The band never did record an album with Rubin, instead spending the last few years creating their own Enamel studios, where they recorded the 10 tracks that will make up Fasciinatiion. And they've never really quit touring, thanks to the strength of their rather limited catalog of music. The Faint could probably continue selling-out large venues for the next few years without releasing anything new, thanks to their reputation for putting on events rather than mere concerts.

And then there's blank.wav. Time will tell what exactly this "imprint" will be. What's its distribution model? Will it be an Internet-only venture. And will The Faint be the only band on the blank.wav roster? Maybe it'll follow the same model as Oberst's Team Love label, providing an outlet for local artists such as McCarthy Trenching, Flowers Forever, Tilly and the Wall and Simon Joyner to get their music heard by a larger audience. If so, Saddle Creek's loss will be the Omaha music scene's gain.

Someone asked what was meant by the word "imprint" rather than "label." The word "imprint" has been used to identify boutique labels that are connected to major labels. For example, Rilo Kiley's Brute/Beaute was an imprint under the Warner Bros. umbrella. In the publishing industry, an imprint is a brand name under which a work is published. One single publishing company may have multiple imprints; the different imprints are used by the publisher to market the work to different demographic consumer segments. The Faint's use of the term "imprint" would imply that blank.wav is part of something larger, maybe the organization that will house The Faint, Enamel studio, blank.wav and other Faint-related business endeavors. Who knows? Maybe the band's publicist simply is misusing the term.

I was told yesterday that blank.wav will, in fact, be its own independent label and not a so-called "imprint" or subsidiary of a larger label. We'll see as August rolls around…

* * *

This is an early heads-up about the Joe "Madder" Kenny memorial rock show being held tomorrow night at Sokol Underground. This tribute to one of Omaha's biggest rock fans and local music supporters showcases the city's finest punk acts including The Deformities, The Upsets, The Shanks, Filthy Few, The Filter Kings and Brimstone Howl.
Cost is $7, with all money going to the Kenny family. Doors open at 7, bands at 8. See you there.

Son Ambulance's Deja Vu in July; Brad Hoshaw's deja vu tonight at O'Leaver's… – May 13, 2008 –

As per usual on a Tuesday, not a lot of time for an update. My take on The Faint leaving Saddle Creek will be online tomorrow as this week's column. You can catch up on the story here.

The Faint aren't the only ones announcing their first new album in four years. Son Ambulance today announced that Someone Else's Déjà Vu, the followup to 2004's Key, will be released on Saddle Creek July 8. The 13-track album will be available digitally, on CD or as a super-sweet double-vinyl collection. CMJ has all the highlights here. Looks like the official album release show will be at Slowdown July 11.

Speaking of deja vu, Brad Hoshaw is repeating last week's triumphant full-ensemble performance tonight at O'Leaver's. Also on the bill are Cedarwell and JP05. Show starts at 9:30, and will cost you $5. Do not miss this.

Weekend wrap-up (or the lack of one); Girl Drink Drunk (karaoke) tonight; all-ages update… – May 12, 2008 –

Allergies kept me out of the clubs this weekend. If you saw something that was particularly hot and want to expound upon it, let your feelings be known on the webboard.

* * *

Girl Drink Drunk -- The Waiting Room's answer to Lincoln's Shithook Karaoke -- is tonight. If you've been dying to stand up and belt out one of your favorite songs alongside one of the city's best rock bands, well this is your chance. And it may be your last chance for awhile, as GDD will be going on a short hiatus.

* * *

Chatting online last week with a Slowdown staffer, I was told that a total of nine youths have had their parents sign and submit a notarized authorization that allows them to get into all-ages shows at Slowdown. Not exactly a land rush of consent forms, especially after all the hoo-ha surrounding it, but I have no doubt that the numbers will grow as we get closer to Rilo Kiley and Tokyo Police Club, and after the next serious under-age-drawing band gets announced (Tilly and the Wall, perhaps?). I've also been told that a third venue -- The Saddle Creek Bar -- has submitted paperwork to host all-ages shows. Any other clubs out there getting into the all-ages fray?

Tomato a Day, Spring Gun tonight; Whipkey Three tomorrow… – May 9, 2008 –

Welcome to another weekend, and another list of shows worth pondering, starting tonight:

-- Top of the list (for me, anyway) is at Benson Grind where Brian Poloncic's Tomato a Day is celebrating the release of a disc three years in the making -- The Moon Is Green, released on local art-noise label, Public Eyesore, recorded by Alex McManus at Fried From Sound studio, featuring musicians Dave Nordin, David Downing and Allen Hug. As I said in yesterday's review, there's something lost and lonely about Poloncic's acoustic folk confessions, which plow the same stark territory as, say, Husker Du's Candy Apple Grey or sad Replacements or Todd Grant's yearning solo album. Also on the bill are Dave Nordin (doing a solo set), A. Boardman and Psychic Campfire. The show is free and starts at 8 p.m.

-- Also tonight, down at Slowdown Jr., it's the return of Spring Gun with Hyannis and Honeybee. $5, 9 p.m.

-- At old favorite O'Leaver's, it's garage-rock wonders Brimstone Howl with The Monocles. $5, 9:30 p.m.

-- And over at The Waiting Room, it's night one of two nights of U2 tribute band Me2. $10, 9 p.m.

On top of the marquee Saturday night is The Whipkey Three CD EP release show at Mick's. Joining Whipkey and Co. are Corey and Chris Weber. $5, 9 p.m.

-- Over at The 49'r, Reagan and the Rayguns perform with Bazooka Shootout and Michael Wunder. $3-$5, 9:30 p.m.

-- And finally, down at Slowdown V2 recording artist Josh Ritter plays with Dawn Landes. $12, 9 p.m.

Column 172: CD Roundup; Live Review: American Music Club, Brad Hoshow band; VHS or Beta tonight… – May 8, 2008 –

Before we get to a recap of last night's festivities, here's this week's column wherein I tell you what I've been listening to lately...

Column 172: First Quarter Report
A glance at some recent releases

Whenever people start asking me what I'm listening to, I figure it's time for another CD reviews round-up. These are not full, detailed reviews, rather they're impressions after listening to these albums on and off on my stereo and iPhone over the past few weeks/months. All get the Lazy-i seal of approval.

Aimee Mann, @#&*! Smilers (SuperEgo) -- Faithful Aimee Mann fans stood beside this So Cal (by way of Boston) girl back in her 'Til Tuesday days, did an I-told-you-so when her genius was revealed on the Magnolia soundtrack, and held her hand during all the follow-ups when no one else was around. Here's their reward: Her best album since Bachelor No. 2.

Black Kids, Wizard of Ahhhs (self released) -- Available for free (the trend continues) from their website late last year, the sound is pure '80s new romantic, and at its finest moments emulates The Cure's Kiss Me album right down to the Robert Smith groan vocals. Columbia figured it out and gobbled them up for a formal debut slated for July. Black Kids are on the precipice, staring over the edge where bands like Arcade Fire and Modest Mouse stood a few years ago.

The Breeders, Mountain Battles (4AD) -- Remember when Kim and Kelley were considered edgy and subversive (and The Pixies were still debonair)? The band never recovered after the burnout suffered at the hands of "Cannonball" way back in '93, back when MTV still played videos, especially that one, over and over again. There are no Cannonballs hidden here, nor anything as shocking (and grand) as their cover of "Happiness Is a Warm Gun" (from Pod). Still, serviceable; but just barely.

Joan of Arc, Boo! Human (Polyvinyl) -- Too often, Tim Kinsella tries to sound weird and unapproachable, so imagine my surprise at the simple acoustic pop of opening track "Shown and Told," as well as the tumbling "A Tell-Tale Penis" and the back-beat rocker (yes, rocker) "The Surrender #2." There are still plenty of atonal nightmares, like screamer "9/11 2" and startle-noised "Everywhere I Go." Download discriminately.

The Long Blondes, Couples (Rough Trade) -- Their thump-thump-thump New Wave dance rave-ups, like disco opener "Century" and porn-guitar fueled "Guilt," remind me of another band named after its frontwoman's hair color. All right, you youngsters, I'm talking about Blondie. And though vocalist Kate Jackson is no Debra Harry, her music and her band have the same upbeat, heart-of-glass style.

Neil Diamond, Home Before Dark (Columbia) -- Note to Rick Rubin: Neil Diamond is famous for his bombastic, over-the-top arrangements that boast enough orchestration to launch a space shuttle. The stripped-down arrangements that worked so well for Johnny Cash may be the wrong approach here. I mean, do his fans really want an evening of intimate, acoustic folk songs? No, they want to stand up and punch the sky along with everyone else during "Sweet Caroline." That said, there's more to these tracks than 2005's 12 Songs. Still, I yearn for the day when Rubin and Diamond finally break down and do an album with the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

She & Him, Volume One (Merge) -- One of the best moments from the 2003 Will Ferrell break-out film "Elf" was the impromptu duet between Ferrell and a showering Zooey Deschanel. I remember thinking, "Jeeze, she sings as great as she looks." M Ward (the Him) must have thought the same thing. Deschanel is at her best when she croons her own twangy rocking material, sounding like a cuter version of Jenny Lewis. The charm wears thin in the latter half of the album, thanks to Patsy-styled torch ballads ("Take It Back), cheesy doo-wop ("I Was Made for You") and too many uninspired covers (Smokey's "You Really Got Me," a flawed take on The Beatles' "I Should Have Known Better"). Now if we can only coax her back into that shower.

The Teenagers, Reality Check (XL) -- Sorta funny French synthpop is funnier because of the odd, spoken-word vocal approach, which combines Pepé Le Pew with a Valley Girl. It's so well-recorded, however, that you can't help but get into the clean Weezer-meets-The Cars synthpop. Irony was never so catchy.

Tokyo Police Club, Elephant Shell (Saddle Creek) -- I've been told that a local music mogul predicted this will be the biggest selling Creek release ever, bigger even than Bright Eyes. Early criticism, however, complained that it pales compared to the band's noisy debut EP. I say it's far more listenable, like an upbeat Death Cab (a band terminally lost in ennui). They're young and hip and will look good on TV. Maybe that mogul is right.

A Tomato a Day (helps keep the tornado away), The Moon Is Green (Public Eyesore) -- There's something lost and lonely about Brian Poloncic's acoustic folk confessions, which plow the same stark territory as, say, Husker Du's Candy Apple Grey or sad Replacements or Todd Grant's yearning solo album. Three years in the making, it's time that they're finally heard. Check them out at the CD release show Friday night at Benson Grind.

The Whipkey Three, 26 (self release) -- It's the best recording Matt Whipkey ever produced with any band. As one person put it who hasn't cared for any of Whipkey's past projects: "I guess persistence pays off. I actually like this." I like it, too. And it's about as DIY as you're going to get -- Whipkey burned the CDRs and hand rubber-stamped the discs and sleeves. Pick one up at the CD-release show Saturday night at Mick's.

* * *

Despite everything, American Music Club sounded terrific last night at The Waiting Room. Too bad only 50 or so people were there to see it. The band played a short set, maybe 35 or 40 minutes. Frontman Mark Eitzel said thanks and goodnight before starting into their last song. After its climax, they left the stage without comment, leaving the crowd wondering if they were coming back for an encore. The mystery lasted about 20 seconds before the house music came up and people started heading for the door. The usually chatty Eitzel only graced the audience with one story, about how the band formed as the result of members being fired from Celine Dion's Las Vegas act because they refused to sleep with her (Eitzel said he slept with Celine's husband). Someone asked me afterward if Eitzel was kidding when he said he wrote a Celine song used on the Titanic soundtrack. I said as far as I knew, he was. It was that kind of evening.

The highlight (for me) was the openers. The Third Men did their usual rollicking set of originals with a few covers sprinkled in. Their high-energy rock seemed like a strange lead-in to AMC's usually dour, introspective music. Brad Hoshaw, on the other hand, fit right in, and for the first time, a crowd got to see how Hoshaw's acoustic numbers would sound backed by a full band, put together specially for this gig. The result left me wondering why Hoshaw doesn't work with a band all the time. Though as many as seven people were on stage, the arrangements were kept simple, never getting in the way of the songs' core elements. A tune like "Powdernose," which is powerful enough as a solo acoustic piece, was transformed into a dark rock anthem, while simple songs like "Blue Bicycle" were only slightly accented by additional players. Hoshaw said he recorded the performance, which I'd love to hear. Maybe we all will someday (His remarkable Mick's acoustic set from this past January is now available on CD). Someone came up to me afterward and said, "This guy is New West / Lost Highway material." Yeah, he is. Actually, his approachable style of songwriting is broader than what those two labels could offer, but you have to start somewhere. Hoshaw is in the very top tier of Omaha singer/songwriters and deserves to be heard by a national audience. Someone needs to make this happen.

* * *

Tonight at The Waiting Room, it's the return of the electro-dance-rock stylings of VHS or Beta, along with Tigercity and Omaha's own masked crusaders Talkin' Mountain. $10, 9 p.m.

American Music Club, Brad Hoshow band tonight… – May 7, 2008 –

American Music Club is tonight at The Waiting Room. It's a show that people should be excited about, but if it's like last time they came through town, back in Nov. 15, 2004, the turnout will again be light despite the fact that AMC is a legacy indie band that records on indie super-label Merge (who released The Golden Age this past February). For the record, let's step back in time and see what I said about that 2004 show:

The promoters of last night's American Music Club show have every reason to be disappointed with the turnout. Heck, I'm disappointed. There were maybe 70 or 80 people there total, very much below anyone's expectations. Maybe it was because it was a Monday night and Ryan Adams is tomorrow, though I doubt that Ryan Adams draws the same type of crowd as AMC. Add last night to the poor turnout for Matthew Sweet and Vic Chestnutt and you begin to see an unfortunate trend in terms of shows that target an older "heritage" crowd. Side note: AMC was officially One Percent Production's 300th show.

AMC fans who stayed home last night because they couldn't get a sitter or had to work this morning missed out on what could be the last AMC show they'll ever get to see. I overheard Eitzel talking to a fan while he was signing a couple albums. He said that touring was getting too expensive, too hard to do, and that this might be it. And though he sounded great last night, he looked a bit agitated on stage. He was in perfect voice, opening with a couple classics off Everclear before segueing into material from his amazing new album, Love Songs for Patriots. The mix, however, was poor -- too bassy, and there seemed to be a problem with the monitors. Eitzel fiddled with earplugs and looked exasperated. During one song, the bass rumbled like a bomb going off, some sort of weird effect that was distorted and strange. As the set wore on, Eitzel quit talking to the crowd and looked like he wanted to just get off stage, especially toward the end when his vocals seemed to fade and get lost in the ruckus. Still, it was a good set that at times transcended the technical glitches, especially when the band got to stretch out, and Vudi, looking like a indie version of Leonard Nimoy, leaned into a feedback-laden guitar solo.

I remember that show as if it were yesterday. If Eitzel could struggle through all the technical problems that night at Sokol and still manage to entertain the crowd, just imagine how he'll sound on TWR's premium stage. It will be different, though, as everyone who played that night is gone except for Eitzel and Vudi the mad vulcan.

Opening the show is the always entertaining Third Men, and Brad Hoshaw, backed by an entire band. Usually the only one on stage with Hoshaw is his guitar, and it's more than enough. Tonight he'll be joined by Adam Hawkins (It's True), Craig Balderston (The 9s, Acoustic Groove), Jason Ferguson (Sarah Benck & the Robbers), John Klemmensen (Landing on the Moon, Satchel Grande), Karl Houfek (Sleep Said the Monster, Coyote Bones), Liz Webb (Midwest Dilemma), Matt Whipkey (Anonymous American, The Whipkey Three) and Scott Gaeta (Music Factory Productions). Hoshaw says they're playing first, so get there early. $10, 9 p.m.

Also tonight at Slowdown Jr. it's Syracuse, New York band Ra-Ra-Riot with The Little Ones and The Fourth of July. $10, 9 p.m.

Dios Malos tonight… – May 6, 2008 –

I have only the briefest of moments to tell you to go see Dios Malos tonight at The Waiting Room. No, they're not the headliner (Vagrant band Murder by Death is), but they should be. Last time they were here, way back in October 2005 at O'Leaver's, they blew the place away. Here's the review from way back then:

I had zero preconceived notions about Dios (Malos). Like I mentioned yesterday, I got lost on their website and never found any music files online. After last night, I don't think I've been turned on by a band as much since maybe The Smithereens' first album. No, Dios doesn't sound anything like The Smithereens. They do have a similar aesthetic regarding traditional song structure. But the comparison ends there. Dios also has a relationship with My Morning Jacket in that giant-sized singer/guitarist/keyboardist Joel Morales uses a huge amount of reverb and delay in his vocals, which make them sound -- appropriately -- big and haunting. You knew it was going to be special when, during the pre-set sound check, Morales improvised piano fills to New Order's "Temptation" which was playing on the juke box. Their first song played off the opening organ chords of Led Zeppelin's "All of My Love" before turning into a Dios original, sort of (I think it was merely a warm-up exercise). Whereas everything seemed lost and confused with (opener) Swords' mix, the sound couldn't have been any better for Dios -- they did have an unfair advantage in that drummer Jackie Monzon would make my top-five "best of" list for drummers seen and heard at O'Leaver's -- unbelievable stuff. So were the songs, whose So Cal sensibilities and nod to retro supersede any indie rock labels, though they certainly are an indie band. Uber-engineer Phil Ek produced their just-released eponymous CD on Star Time that captures the band's crisp take on laid-back rock. A pleasant surprise.

Other than an iTunes-only 5-song EP, I don't think Dios has released anything since that O'Leaver's show. No matter. If they merely repeated that show, it would be worth the $10. Also opening is Gasoline Heart. Show starts at 9.

Weekend in review; Cut Copy at TWR; Manner gets old before our eyes… – May 5, 2008 –

The Shanks. A punk band. A spectacle. A throw-back to an era of anger as theater. A form of entertainment that makes you rethink your definition of what entertainment is. To the uninitiated, The Shanks are nothing more than a bunch of drunk guys with their amps turned up too loud screaming at each other and the crowd. To the rest of it, each show is an example of entropy and schism and human frailty.

There were a few shows at O'Leaver's over the past month where I thought The Shanks were beginning to, well, mellow. Sure, their music was just as abrasive and shrill, but they appeared almost professional on stage. That wasn't the case Friday night at The Saddle Creek Bar, a venue whose own strange DIY sound system makes it almost tailor-made for The Shanks. I caught only the last couple songs by The Terminals, their lack of a bass player (usually no prob as Dave handles it well on the keyboards) was accented by SCB's odd midrange-heavy acoustics. You could not escape the midrange.

Then along came the Shanks in a cloud of painful, whistling feedback that never went away. Their set began in a blaze of white noise/heat, and before long, off came their shirts -- as good an excuse as any for a couple of the guys in the band to make out with each other on stage. I'm told this is not new to their act, though I've never noticed it before. If this were, say, Pansy Division, the effect would be different, and the crowd would likely be even more shocked. Instead, everyone wrote it off as typical punk hi-jinx.

The show began to devolve halfway through, as the band argued with the crowd and itself, starting and stopping songs, stepping into chaos, and then just as quick, they got their shit together and began playing in earnest, like a phoenix from the ashes. It's best not to over-think The Shanks. Just watch and listen. It turned out being one of the best Shanks shows I've seen, albeit without blood. Then, a few moments after the set ended, while I was chatting with a fellow music writer, a fight ensued between the drummer and the guitarist, people holding each of them back as threats of "The end of the Shanks" were being yelled across clinched forearms. Blame the booze. Blame the violent music. As far as I know, The Shanks are alive and well…

I spent Saturday night down at Slowdown Jr. As I warned, the show sold out and no one was getting in without a ticket. I asked the door guy why they didn't just open the big room. He said you could have a half-empty big room or a capacity small room. The vibe, he said, would be better with a serious crowd, and he was right. At capacity, with the tables pushed out of the way, Slowdown really does seem like a rock club instead of candle-lit lounge. I got there in time to see The Cops rip through their set of angsty punk, harder than I remember it. Then at around a quarter to 12, Criteria took the stage, looking and sounding exactly like they looked and sounded two years ago. It was as if time had stood still. I and everyone there had missed the band and its music, and it was a trip to get to see and hear it again. The new songs sounded as epic and regal as the old songs. It seems the band hasn't skipped a beat in spite of its hiatus. Frontman Stephen Pedersen announced that Criteria will be opening for Tokyo Police Club at Slowdown at the end of the month, so if you missed them Saturday night, you'll get another chance to see them in a few short weeks.

* * *

Two noteworthy shows going on tonight: At The Waiting Room it's the dance stylings of Australian trio Cut Copy. You like pretty dance pop? You'll love these guys. Opening is the band that has been designated as "the next big thing," Jacksonville's Black Kids. See them before they explode. Also opening is Mobius Band. $15, 9 p.m.

Meanwhile, down at The Barley St., local celebrity and all-around man-about-town Marq Manner is celebrating his birthday with an evening of music by singer-songwriters Kyle Harvey, Scott Severin, Matt Whipkey, Brad Hoshaw, Adam Hawkins, Justin Lamoureaux, and more. The show is free and begins at 8. Drop by and buy Marq a celebratory cup of coffee.

Destroyer/Mal Madrigal, Monroes/Domestica, Shanks/Terminals tonight; Cops/Criteria tomorrow… – May 2, 2008 –

I tried to interview Destroyer. I sent the request in a month ago with the publicist. After a few weeks of back and forth, she said she just couldn't work it out with Destroyer main guy Dan Bejar, but that he would be willing to do an e-mail interview. I hate e-mail interviews because there's no chance for follow-up or clarification of answers, and you never know who really is answering the questions (On the internet, nobody knows you’re a dog, etc.). But I figured an e-mail interview was better than nothing, so I wrote a list of questions and sent them off. Time passed. I nudged the publicist. She nudged Bejar. He remained unresponsive. A day after the deadline I was told Dan didn't have time to do an e-mail interview after all. It happens, it happens...

I love the new Destroyer album, Trouble in Dreams, on mighty Merge Records. The music is a combination of Bowie, Jarvis Cocker, and Bejar's other project, New Pornographers. Repeated listenings reap glorious psychedelic benefits. And so, I have to wonder how he's going to make it sound on The Waiting Room stage tonight, where he performs along with Andre Ethier and Mal Madrigal.

And speaking of Mal Madrigal, I got an e-mail from MM's Steve Bartolomei saying that both of his simultaneously released vinyl-only recordings -- The Road Is Glue and Life Among the Animals -- are back in stock and available at The Antiquarium, the Saddle Creek online record store and (one assumes) at tonight's show. They are worth your hard-earned rubles. Steve also mentioned that Mal is beginning to record the follow-up, and you might get a sneak-peek at those songs tonight. $12, 9 p.m.

Also tonight, the return of The Monroes and Domestica to Slowdown, this time on the small stage with Lincoln band The Sleepover Show. Will there be Hot Wheels races at this one, too? Is it possible for Jon Taylor to make his guitar sound louder than it did last time? Find out at 9 p.m., $6.

And finally, over at the notorious Saddle Creek Bar it's a night of garage punk madness featuring The Terminals, The Shanks and Mosquito Bandito. I'm trying to imagine what The Shanks -- a squall-punk maelstrom-noise nightmare when they play at O'Leaver's, will sound like on SCB's hole-in-the-wall (literally) stage powered by 4,000 pounds of assorted antiquated PA amps. Earplugs are a necessity. Put a "Nice Price" sticker on this one -- Free. Starts at 9.

And, don't forget O'Leaver's. Booker/soundman/intern Brendan Walsh's favorite touring band -- The Voodoo Organist -- is playing along with scatter-punk phenoms Bazooka Shootout. 9:30, $5.

What's going on Saturday?

The marquee event is, of course, at Slowdown Jr. (they still haven't moved it to the big stage) featuring The Cops, Little Brazil and Race for Titles, with special guest, Criteria. Even without Criteria this would have been sweet on the "big stage." As it is, I suspect it will sell out sometime tomorrow. Get your $8 ticket today before it's too late. The rock starts at 9 sharp.

And now, the show that's flying beneath everyone's radar: The Night Marchers at The Waiting Room. Who are the Night Marchers? It’s a new punk band featuring John Reis a.k.a. Speedo a.k.a. The Swami -- a seminal member of Rocket from the Crypt, Drive Like Jehu and Hot Snakes fame. I'm told if you liked any of Reis' old bands you're gonna love this one. Opening is Muslims and Omaha's own Bombardment Society. $12, 9 p.m.

Also Saturday night, over at The 49'r it's Greg Loftis' rock odyssey Malpais, with Beat Seekers. Probably $5, probably around 10. Over at O'Leaver's it's Cheap Hookers (the band, not the, uh, hookers) and Radio Moscow. $5, 9:30 p.m.
Also of note, West Omaha lounge The Bar Fly is featuring some very un-loungy music in the form of grit-rock cowboys The Filter Kings and Lincoln knee-to-the-groin bad asses Forty-Twenty. I have visions of baseball-cap-backwards-wearing geeks running for the doors when these guys start smashing beer bottles against amps. Fun! $7, 9 p.m.

Column 171: Here come The Cops; Indian Jewelry is tonight… – May 1, 2008 –

Ever have one of those days when your internal clock was set one day ahead? That was me yesterday. For some reason I kept thinking it was Thursday instead of Wednesday. As a result, I got a couple shows wrong on da ol' blog. Indian Jewelry is tonight at The Slowdown Jr., not last night. So if you're bummed because you thought you missed it, well, here's your second chance (and if you went down there thinking it was last night, well, all's I can do is apologize). More details after the column.

During my interview with Mike Jaworski, he off-handedly mentioned that Criteria is the "special guest" playing at The Cops show Saturday at Slowdown Jr. with Little Brazil and Race for Titles. But, Jaws added, the info was to be kept on the down low as Criteria frontman Stephen Pederesen wanted it to stay a secret for reasons even Jaws didn't know. So I contacted Pedersen and asked if I could mention Criteria in the column, and he said he'd been strong-armed by the fine folks at Slowdown to make the information public on Thursday, and that, yes indeed, it would be fine to mention it in the column. Well, by Wednesday, everyone I talked to already knew that Criteria was playing, and the data had been posted on a couple local webboards. It'll be the first time Criteria has played in Omaha in a couple years, so I suspect this show will quickly sell out Slowdown Jr. Get your tickets today... Maybe we'll get lucky and the Slowdown folks will move the show to the "big room."

Column 171: Convo with a Cop
Jaws talks Cops and Mt. Fuji.

This week we're catching up with Mike Jaworski -- a.k.a. "Jaws" -- former Omahan, frontman of Seattle rock band The Cops and major domo of Mt. Fuji Records, a label whose roster includes Little Brazil, Slender Means, and his own band.

Jaworski chatted via cell from the Fort Green Laundromat in Brooklyn the day after The Cops played at Union Pool in Williamsburg. Just down the street at The Vanderbilt Auto Service, the band's '96 Econovan was getting a much-needed tune-up -- its first after well over 200,000 miles of road duty. Jaworski hoped that new plugs not only would fix that rough, chugging sound coming from beneath the hood, but would boost the van's 12-miles-per-gallon fuel performance. They've got a long way to drive before rolling into The Slowdown this Saturday night for a show with Race For Titles, Little Brazil and special guests Criteria (That's right, Stephen Pedersen and Co. will make their return after a long absence from stage).

For touring bands, life on the road is getting tougher these days, Jaworski said. "We're not pulling in guarantees like Cursive. We're a break-even band who gets by on merch sales. How else can you do this when gas is so expensive?"

Expensive as in $3.80 a gallon in New York City. That ol' Econoline has a 30-gallon tank. You do the math. Jaworski said the answer to holding down tour costs could involve finding bands in different areas of the country, flying in, and hooking up for a tour.

"You share equipment and rent a mini-van," he said. "We could fly into Omaha and do 10 days with Little Brazil, for example. Bands do this already, but it may become common practice. It makes a lot more sense, especially if you're from Seattle, which is many miles from every place else." Unlike Omaha, which Jaworski pointed out, is in close proximity to a lot of large cities.

The Cops are on the road supporting their latest release, Free Electricity, a further refinement of the band's abrasive, slightly inebriated angry punk-rock sound that's equal parts Bad Religion, Hot Snakes, The Clash and Jaworski's own Midwestern songwriting flair. It's a high-water mark for an act that's been kicking around since '04.

But despite such a strong album, Jaworski said the band's trajectory seems to have "flattened over the past year and half." His band mates are having babies, getting mortgages and finding fulltime jobs with no vacation time for touring. As a result, he's lost his guitarist and is playing with a touring drummer. "We're guys in our mid-30s and we're not paying bills with this band," he said. "Our schedule and the amount of work we can do are dictated by things people can do in their lives."

And that includes Jaworski, who says he's probably the Cop who likes being on the road the most. His job booking a 250-capacity club in Seattle called The Sunset affords him the opportunity to tour since he can keep track of business from the road via laptop, Blackberry and cell phone. That's not the case with the rest of the band.

As a result, Jaworski will probably do what just about every musician in Omaha does these days -- play in multiple bands and schedule tours between them. "Unless you're in a band that's busy all the time, I don't see any reason not to," he said. "You don't have to be married to the same project; it's okay not to be monogamous."

Jaworski said The Cops isn't his only venture that isn't making money these days. Though it's been a struggle, Mt. Fuji Records continues to survive despite a future that's in flux. Roster acts Wintergreen and Lillydale no longer are associated with the label. Slender Means, one of the label's best sellers, is finishing a record but is shopping it around to different labels. "If they find a bigger, better label with more resources, I would be happy for them," Jaworski said.

The same is true for Little Brazil, "although they are permanently indentured to me," he joked. "They have a life-long contract with Mt. Fuji. They just don't know it."

Fact is, Jaworski said Little Brazil has never had a formal contract with Mt. Fuji. "They don't owe me any records, but if they look deep down in their souls, they'll want to put their next one out on Fuji."

Even The Cops' last album was released jointly with another label -- Seattle's The Control Group. Jaworski explained that at the time of the release, Mt. Fuji was ending its distribution deal with Redeye. A relationship with someone at Control Group forged the way for the joint release that provides distribution of Free Electricity via powerhouse indie distributor ADA.

In the meantime, Mt. Fuji has taken on a business partner and just signed a distribution deal with Lumberjack Mordam Music Group, whose label roster includes Thick, Lookout, and Asian Man Records. Jaworski said he's looking closer to his Seattle home for future Mt. Fuji acts, and currently is working out a deal with garage punk band The Whore Moans to release their new CD this August.

Overall, things are looking up for Jaworski, but "I wish I wasn't so goddamn poor," he said. "I'm rich with friends and experiences and wouldn't trade that for anything."

So, like I said yesterday, tonight at Slowdown Jr., it's Houston drone-masters Indian Jewelry. According to Wikipedia, the band "is known for its droning vision music and seizure-inducing stage show." The few tracks I've heard were indeed dark, throbbing and psychedelic, yet… strangely catchy. Opening is Lymbyc Systym and Dim Light. $7, 9 p.m. Meanwhile, over at The Waiting Room, bluesy folk master William Elliott Whitmore plays with Triggertown and Lincoln Dickison (The Monroes, Bombardment Society, Techlepathy). $8, 9 p.m. Really. I mean it this time.

Live Review: Reagan and the Rayguns… – April 30, 2008 –

Every table was filled in the "performance room" of the Barley St. Tavern last night, filled with people there to welcome back Reagan Roeder to the world of live rock and roll music. And Reagan did not disappoint.

To inaugurate the return, the Rayguns made some line-up changes, the most dramatic of which was the shift of Mike Friedman from keyboards to electric guitar. The keyboards always seemed out of place to me, anyway, and Friedman is one of the best axe men in town. He showed it last night, torturing his guitar to submission on a set of songs that made me think that The Rayguns could become Omaha's own version of Crazy Horse. New drummer Landon Hedges did his usual arm-swinging Animal-from-the-Muppets good job, while bassist Kyle Harvey tried to kill us all with low-end feedback. As one patron said afterward, "They sound like a rock band." That they do, my son. The Rayguns is a bar-owner's wet dream. Their thick, growling turbulence coaxes listeners to want to drink and drink more. They're a drinkers' band, a bar band, the last band you'll want to hear as the fog of alcohol sweeps over your consciousness, and the last thing you'll remember upon waking in a pool of your own sweat, piss and vomit, squinting in pain, blocking out the cursed sunlight with the back of your hand.

Reagan, by the way, sounded as good as he possibly could over what arguably is one of the worst vocal PA's I've ever heard. I've been to a number of Barley St. shows and the PA usually was adequate. Not last night. Reagan's vocals sounded like they were being sung into a $10 condenser microphone, and then blasted over a pair of $20 Radioshack 6x9 car speakers. I suspect he'll sound somewhat better when the band plays at The 49'r on May 10.

* * *

May 10 also is the date for The Whipkey Three's EP release show at Mick's. I've already received my copy of the EP, and can say without reservation that it's the best recording that Whipkey has ever produced with any band. As one person put it who hasn't cared for any of Whipkey's past projects: "I guess persistence pays off. I actually like this." I like it, too. The EP is about as DIY as you're going to get -- Whipkey burned the CDRs and hand rubber-stamped the discs and sleeves. I'm not sure where you can find a copy, but I know they'll be available at Mick's on the tenth.

* * *

The OWH has a story today on the "live music" ordinance (here), reiterating Slowdown's and The Waiting Room's open house events (TWR's is later today). Kids, get your paperwork together. The article doesn't mention if any other venues have applied for an all-ages permit. Will there be only two?

* * *

Tonight at Slowdown Jr., it's Houston drone-masters Indian Jewelry. According to Wikipedia, the band "is known for its droning vision music and seizure-inducing stage show." The few tracks I've heard were indeed dark, throbbing and psychedelic, yet… strangely catchy. Opening is Lymbyc Systym and Dim Light. $7, 9 p.m.

Meanwhile, over at The Waiting Room, bluesy folk master William Elliott Whitmore plays with Triggertown and Lincoln Dickison (The Monroes, Bombardment Society, Techlepathy). $8, 9 p.m.; while over at Mick's, Brad Hoshaw is playing with Cami Rawlings and Boston to Austin. $5, 9 p.m.

Reagan's return tonight; TWR's open house... – April 29, 2008 –

Singer/songwriter Kyle Harvey writes to say that a last-minute show is going down tonight featuring the Reagan Roeder's return to the stage after recovering from a debilitating car accident a couple months ago. The show is taking place at The Barley St. Tavern and features a whole new line-up for Reagan and The Rayguns: Harvey on bass, Mike Friedman on guitar, Landon Hedges (Little Brazil) on drums, and Roeder out front with guitar. Let's give Reagan a hero's welcome back.

* * *

Like Slowdown, The Waiting Room is hosting an open house inviting parents to drop by, check out the place and get their childrens' permission slip notarized and on file. As mentioned yesterday, the new "music venue" ordinance goes into effect this week that requires all those 17 and younger to have a notarized permission slip on file with the club befoer allowing admittance into all-ages shows. The open house is tomorrow evening, April 30, from 6:30 to 10 p.m.

An O'Leaver's weekend (again); ordinance to take effect; American Princes tonight... – April 28, 2008 –

It was a weekend of contrasts at O'Leaver's. Friday night the bar hosted Sarah Benck and the Robbers and Landing on the Moon featuring new guitarist Matt Carroll, who replaced Shawn Cox last month. Cox, who was at Friday's show, said musical and personal commitments were piling up and something had to give, adding that Carroll's guitar skills were going to blow people away. Carroll, who looks like he just turned 21, was impressive, though for whatever reason, his guitar sounded secondary (volume-wise) in the mix. Maybe it was because the band was playing louder -- and looser -- than usual. Because of their songs' arrangements and style, LotM can sound somewhat tight on stage -- that wasn't the case Friday night at the jam-packed show. They seemed determined to let it all hang out -- and did, to grand effect. The band currently is recording new material with Carroll. More to come…

Call it The O'Leaver's Effect, but Sarah Benck and her posse also sounded more relaxed than I've ever heard them, ripping through a set of their bluesy tunes with laid-back panache. O'Leaver's usual crowd of drunk, unshaven neighborhood regulars, musicians and vagrants was replaced by a covey of well-dressed female Benck followers including a few choice cougars with their cubs in tow. Purrrrrr….

By Saturday night, the usual O'Leaver's crowd was back for a night of heavy-hard noise rock/punk. Much to my chagrin I missed the World Premiere of Techlepathy, who I thought was playing later in the evening. Instead, they were first. The buzz afterward: Techlepathy plays epic Midwestern punk rock and are "awesome." Guess I'll have to wait to see for myself. I caught the last couple death-hammer songs by Sirhan Sirhan -- way too loud for little ol' O'Leaver's. Prize Country, on the other hand, was just right -- aggressive punk rock by way of Helmet or Bad Religion or Fugazi -- super clean, super good, probably the best touring band I've heard at O'Leaver's so far this year. Last up was Omaha's own Fromanhole, playing injured. Bassist Doug Kiser had accidentally drilled a hole in his index finger prior to the gig. He filled the divot with Krazy Glue to numb the pain, and had to stop halfway through the set to apply a second coating. Despite the disability, it was the usual mathy/angular/chaotic set from the trio, who had spent the day recording new material for an upcoming release.

* * *

Val Nelson from Slowdown e-mailed to say that the new "music venue" ordinance that allows those under 21 to be admitted to shows at Slowdown (and other licensed music venues) goes into effect April 30. The biggest change is that those under 18 must have a notarized permission slip from their parent or legal guardian. Slowdown doesn't have a notary on staff, but will have an open house with a notary present this Saturday, May 3, from 2 to 5 p.m. They're encouraging parents with children 17 and under to come down, check out the club and get that permission slip filed.

The consent form can be downloaded online here.

All right, so where the hell else are you supposed to find a notary (and what the hell makes one qualified to be a notary in the first place?)? Well, most First National Bank branch offices have a notary on staff, and if you've got an account there, it's free (or at least it used to be). Check with your bank before you head out.

The new protocol for entry at Slowdown calls for those 18-20 years old to present a valid driver's license, state ID or passport to get in. For anyone under 21, admission will not be granted until one hour before show time, and they must leave immediately after the performance (and buying some merch). Find out more details at The Slowdown website.

Marc Leibowitz at The Waiting Room said the same permission requirements will apply to his club starting April 30.

* * *

Speaking of Slowdown, there's an interesting show in the front room tonight featuring Little Rock five-piece American Princes. Their new album, Other People (on Yep Roc), is a quantum step forward from their last album. At times (like on opening track "Auditorium") the band sounds Paul McCartney fronting Spoon. Local acts Manna and Icares open. 9 p.m., $7.

Live Review: Neva Dinova; Benck/Robbers tonight; Back When tomorrow… – April 25, 2008 –

I thought it was a nice-sized crowd last night at The Waiting Room for Neva Dinova (I'm guessing 150?), but there were still a few people complaining that the gate seemed a little light. The band didn't do itself any favors by playing a show just a couple weeks ago at Slowdown Jr. (I'm told it was supposed to be a "secret show," though there wasn't anything secret about it.). On top of that, Jake Bellows plays solo acoustic/electric quite often, and even though those sets are different than Neva sets, it's still Jake up there. If Neva wants to sell out TWR, they have to play less frequently around here (say once every six months?) and make the show an event.

While the Neva set at Slowdown two weeks ago was good, last night's set was arena-rock quality. The band never sounded bigger or better as they ripped through songs off the new CD. Neva has evolved from being a fun-lovin' bar band whose performances more resembled band practices than concerts, to a highly honed, highly professional rock act that belongs on any stage. There's really nothing holding these guys back except luck or lack of it. They just need to get that one break that'll push them over the hump into the next level. Maybe their move to Saddle Creek will be that extra push. I suspect I'll be seeing them perform on the Kimmel/Daly/Letterman/Conan/Leno circuit sometime in the near future…

If you missed the show last night, you've got a chance to catch the rerun tonight in Lincoln when Neva Dinova plays at Box Awesome with tourmate Ladyhawk and local heroes Outlaw Con Bandana. $8, 9 p.m.

Meanwhile, back here in the Big Oh, Sarah Benck and the Robbers are slummin' it at everyone's (well, at least my) favorite stinkhole, O'Leaver's, with Landing on the Moon (tonight featuring a new guitarist). $5, 9:30 p.m.

Down at Slowdown it's the YWCA Benefit Concert featuring The Wholes, Goodbye Sunday and Eustace. $10 or $7 with student ID. 9 p.m.

Tomorrow night's marquee attraction is Back When at Slowdown (on the big stage) with Lincoln's Ideal Cleaners, Noah's Ark Was a Spaceship and The Show Is the Rainbow. I haven't seen Back When since, well, way back when a couple years ago. Guess it's about time. $7, 9 p.m.

Also Saturday night, Sokol Underground is hosting a good show (a rarity since One Percent quit booking the room) with Thunder Power!!!, Dan McCarthy and AM Revival. $7, 9 p.m.

Finally, O'Leaver's wraps up the weekend with an evening of beautiful noise featuring art math metal maniacs Fromanhole, Oregon's Prize Country, California's Sirhan Sirhan (featuring former members of KC's Molly McGuire) and the world debut of Techlepathy, featuring members of Sound of Rails, Putrescine and The Monroes. $5, 9:30 p.m.

Column 170: Know your enemy; Neva Dinova tonight... – April 24, 2008 –

This week's column is an extension of the portion of Monday's blog entry concerning Saddle Creek Bar's Mike Coldewey, recently made notorious by his role in the all-ages/music venue controversy that led to last week's historic City Council stripper discussion.

Column 170: Public Enemy
Hate for the right reasons.

Last Saturday night, I high-tailed it over to what is widely believed to be a den of pure evil -- The Saddle Creek Bar. There, I consorted with The Dark Lord accused of high crimes and misdemeanors to the Omaha music scene, and retrieved my winnings. As I mentioned in last week's column, I had a bet riding on the outcome of last Tuesday's City Council meeting, a bet I won. I played Randolph Duke to Mike Coldewey's Mortimer Duke, and he paid up: one dollar.

It was then that I realized that these days, people are hating Coldewey for all the wrong reasons.

If there's a back story to the City Council vote that allows minors into bars for all-ages rock shows, it's the demonization of Coldewey. But the fact is, before this whole thing got stirred up, few people who I know in the indie music scene liked the owner/operator of The Saddle Creek Bar or his brash, straight-forward approach.

Musicians already were avoiding SCB either because of its sound system, the lack of free booze for performers or Coldewey's abrasive tell-it-like-it-is personality that refuses to suffer fools lightly. That he pushed the all-ages issue to the forefront by asking Omaha's Finest what he can and can't do all-ages-wise at his bar only made him more of a pariah to people who never went to his bar in the first place.

The story goes back to October of last year when Coldewey e-mailed me a copy of Omaha Municipal Code 15-41. Actually, it goes back even further than that, to the opening of The Slowdown almost a year ago. It was in a cover story I wrote for The Reader in June 2007 where the issue of all-ages shows was first discussed. There, Slowdown owner/operator Robb Nansel said his new club would allow clearly identified minors into shows. "Being all-ages is an important part of our business plan," Nansel said in the story. "People under 21 go to shows. I was under 21 once and I went to shows, and I was really frustrated when I couldn't get in because of my age." I concluded by saying that conceivably, you could see 12 year olds walking around Slowdown on show nights.

This statement, like much of The Reader (unfortunately) must have gone unread by our city's law enforcement personnel who clearly know that minors aren't allowed in bars when alcohol is being served. We must assume that they didn't read it, because the alternative is that they did read it and ignored it or decided to turn their eyes away from an obvious violation of city code.

But the statement didn't go unnoticed by Coldewey, who (after a heated discussion a few evenings before at SCB) sent me a copy of the ordinance, highlighting all the juicy parts. Who knows who else received a similar e-mail from Coldewey, but I know that he did ask the city attorney to clarify the ordinance, which helped get this whole thing rolling.

A week after the April 1 Omaha City Council meeting where Councilman Jim Suttle introduced the so-called "music venue" ordinance, Coldewey outed his role in the controversy in a thread on the SLAM Omaha chatboard that accused him of having a vendetta against Slowdown and/or The Waiting Room.

Those accusations may or may not be true, but either way they're laughable. SCB has never been (and never will be) a competitive threat to those businesses, and had nothing to gain by seeing them ticketed or lose their all-ages shows. Coldewey did have something to lose, however, if cops had busted him with minors in his bar -- a bar that unlike Slowdown or The Waiting Room, is not being lauded by the City of Omaha as a cornerstone of neighborhood development. Considering the police presence in the SCB neighborhood, there's little doubt that Coldewey would have been busted had he hosted an all-ages show, and we all would have ended up in the City Council chambers discussing a "live music" ordinance anyway. The only difference, of course, is that Coldewey would have been ticketed and/or lost his license and maybe his business. But who cares, right?

Well, I do, and it has nothing to do with Coldewey. My reasons are purely selfish -- the Saddle Creek Bar is only a few blocks from my house. It's convenient, and the Rolling Rock is cold and cheap. Fact is, I only swing by SCB for shows once every two or three months. Indie music doesn't work well there probably because of its weird box-like stage and its step-back-in-time sound system. I've suggested that they forget about hosting indie music altogether. Coldewey will never be able to book (or afford) the top-flight touring indie bands handled by One Percent Productions, and all the local indie bands I know hate his guts, even moreso after all of this.

In fact, shortly after the SLAM thread, bands who never stepped foot in the Saddle Creek Bar before were calling for a boycott. And even a week after the book had been closed on the controversy, musicians were still telling me how they'd never go to SCB again.

People can boycott whomever or whatever they want. It's a free country, but do it for the right reasons. Coldewey didn't write the original ordinance. He merely asked a question that led to other questions that led to a new law. So if you're going to hate Mike Coldewey, do it because you think he's an asshole or because he said your band sucks or because he blames you instead of his sound system for the ear-piercing feedback on stage. Hate him because he made you buy drinks instead of giving you unlimited reign over his bar taps. Hate him because he can be a stubborn son of a bitch. But don't hate him because he called out people for violating an ordinance that the city would never allow him to violate, an ordinance that, partially due to his actions, has been changed for the better.

Tonight at The Waiting Room it's Neva Dinova's sort of official CD release show for You May Already Be Dreaming (Read about the band and the CD here). Neva actually played a last-minute show at Slowdown Jr. a few weeks ago on the CD's drop day, but this is the one that the band has been planning on for months. Opening is No Blood Orphan and Jagjaguwar recording artist Ladyhawk, who's touring with Neva through June 1. $8, 9 p.m.

Also tonight, Slowdown Jr. is hosting a fund-raising concert for Democratic senate candidate Scott Kleeb featuring performances by The Night Gallery, Hyannis, Honeybee and Thunder Power!!! Suggested donation is $5; show starts at 8 p.m.

Also starting at 8 p.m., the Oscillations fund-raiser at PS Collective, mentioned in yesterday's blog entry.

And finally, over at The Barley St. Tavern, it's Sarah Benck and Matt Cox for a free show that starts at 9.

Oscillations, Kyle Harvey tomorrow… – April 23, 2008 –

Here's an early heads-up about an event tomorrow at PS Collective. It's a screening of the short film Oscillations by Evan Blakley featuring music by Kyle Harvey. I saw a screening of the film at the Omaha Film Festival a month or so ago as part of the festival's "short film block," the quality of which was, well, gratingly bad -- except for Oscillations, which was something of a mind-fuck. Don't ask me what the movie's about, I don't know. It's essentially a smear of iconic visuals and sharp, nested images that echo with isolation and unease. It's weird in a David Lynch sort of way, but without Lynch's dark irony. In that context, it probably has more in common with the work of another David -- David Fincher. There's no dialogue, just music and atmospheric tonescapes. Not surprisingly, Oscillations didn't take home any honors at OFF, but that's not stopping Blakley from entering the film into other festivals around the country. The PS Collective screening and concert is a fund-raiser to gather money to pay for entry fees and other associated costs. Harvey will start off the evening playing a set, then the film, then if you're not already creeped out enough, there's a performance by FATHR^, a project headed by visionary noise/performance artist Dustin Bushon. It all starts at 8 p.m. and will probably be over in time to walk to The Waiting Room to catch Neva Dinova. Recommended donation is $10.

Conor signs to Merge; appears on the cover of Rolling Stone (sort of); New Waiting Room website... – April 22, 2008 –

Lots of Conor Oberst news today:

Billboard reported this morning that Oberst signed a deal with Merge to release his first solo record since '96's Soundtrack to My Movie. According to Billboard: "The self-titled set is due Aug. 4 and was recorded in January and February in Tepoztlan, Mexico. Oberst is backed on the project by the Mystic Valley Band, the members of whom have not been named. Longtime collaborator Andy LeMaster assisted with the recording, which Oberst produced." The full story is here.

The CD is a departure for Oberst on many levels -- it wasn't recorded at ARC, it wasn't produced by Mike Mogis and it won't come out on Saddle Creek. It'll be interesting to hear how those differences impact the music, and what it means to the future of Bright Eyes, which in most people's minds, was a Conor Oberst solo project (with side players) to begin with. There are going to be those who ask, "How could he put something out on a label other than Creek and his own Team Love?" Hey, we're talking Merge Records here, which over the past two or three years has emerged as the leader among indies. I have a feeling that the record ended up on Merge much the same way Jenny Lewis' solo record ended on Team Love -- the result of a conversation. Conor probably was talking to Mac McCaughan or Laura Ballance and one of them suggested that, hey, you should do a solo record and put it out on Merge. And Conor said "Why not?" followed by "Who's gonna tell Robb."

On top of that, I got my new issue of Rolling Stone yesterday and on the cover, sharing space with a dozen or so others, was Oberst. It's Stone's annual "best of" issue, and Oberst was named "Best Songwriter." Among the comments from the story: "The quality and breadth of Oberst's songwriting have provoked comparisons to Bob Dylan - an IED of a compliment that exploded the careers of many promising artists before him. Oberst is flattered but not fazed. Now twenty-eight, he pauses for a full ten seconds when asked how his songwriting has changed since adolescence. 'It's strange how similar it is,'he says with a laugh. 'It's still mysterious to me.'" Read the whole story (written by Anthony Decurtis) here.

I was reading this and thinking that despite the honor, Oberst continues to be flying under the general-public radar. He still hasn't done a "musical guest" spot on Saturday Night Live (My Morning Jacket is next in the barrel; can Matt Ward be far behind?); and he's never been given a solo Rolling Stone cover. Is it a scheduling issue? Could be. Probably. Or it could be that he doesn't want that limelight, though the last person to care about such things is probably Oberst himself.

* * *

The Waiting Room launched a new website this morning that's a lot easier to navigate (and works better on my iPhone). Check it out at

Weekend review; consorting with 'the enemy'; Half-Handed Cloud tonight... – April 21, 2008 –

I didn't go to any shows on Friday night, while I went to three shows on Saturday, sort of. I dropped by at the Earth Day festivities at Elmwood Park Saturday afternoon and caught part of The Pendrakes' set. Very nice. The crowd was larger than last year's, probably because of the fine weather (or maybe it was the addition of a beer garden?).

Saturday night I swung by O'Leaver's. They had just poured their new beer garden patio earlier that day -- not huge but big enough, running along the north side of the building just outside the front door, which now will become a patio exit only. The new front door will be the current exit/entrance to the "pool table room." That means the doorman no longer will be able to watch the shows (Hey, he's not getting paid to watch them anyway, right?). So, I arrived just in time to see El Diablos Blancos' five-minute noise-rhythm set squelchingly played to about 15 people. I guess he wasn't feeling it.

Since it was only around 11:30, I high-tailed it over to what is widely believed to be a den of pure evil -- The Saddle Creek Bar. There, I consorted with The Dark Lord accused of high crimes and misdemeanors to the Omaha music scene, and retrieved my winnings. As I mentioned last week, I had a bet riding on the outcome of last Tuesday's City Council meeting. I played Randolph Duke to Mike Coldewey's Mortimer Duke, and he paid up: one dollar.

If there's a back story to the all-ages music venue issue, it's the demonization of Coldewey. Fact is, few people who I know in the music scene liked him or his brash, straight-forward approach to begin with. Musicians already were avoiding The Saddle Creek Bar either because of the sound system, the lack of free booze for performers or Coldewey's abrasive tell-it-like-it-is personality that refuses to suffer fools lightly. The fact that he pushed the all-ages issue to the forefront by asking cops what he can and can't do all-ages-wise at his bar (and the meaning of an existing ordinance that's never been enforced) only made him more of a pariah to people who never went to his bar in the first place. Accusations that he had a vendetta against Slowdown or The Waiting Room may or may not be true, either way they're laughable. SCB has never been (and never will be) a competitive threat to those businesses, and had nothing to gain by seeing them ticketed or lose their all-ages shows. Coldewey did have something to lose, however, if cops had busted him with minors in his bar -- a bar that unlike Slowdown or The Waiting Room, is not being lauded by the City of Omaha as a cornerstone of neighborhood development. Considering the police presence in his neighborhood, I have little doubt that Coldewey would have been busted, and we all would have ended up in the City Council chambers discussing a "live music" ordinance anyway. The only difference would have been that he'd have been ticketed and/or lost his license and maybe his business. But who cares, right?

Well, I do, and it has nothing to do with Coldewey. My reasons are purely selfish -- the Saddle Creek Bar is only a few blocks from my house. It's convenient, and the Rolling Rock is cold and cheap. Fact is, I only swing by SCB for shows about once every two or three months. Indie music doesn't work well there probably because of its weird box-like stage and its step-back-in-time sound system. I've suggested to Coldewey to back away from indie music altogether. He'll never be able to book (or afford) the top-flight touring indie bands handled by One Percent, and the local indie bands all hate his guts.

What works well at The Saddle Creek Bar is heavy metal shows, as evidenced by last Saturday night's Big Al metal showcase. I got there about halfway through a set by an all-female heavy metal band called The Clincher. It didn't matter if there was a slight error in sibilance in the back of the room -- you could hear the roaring guitars and the roaring vocals just fine. Though I was weaned on heavy metal at good ol' Fat Jack's (where anyone could get in regardless of age if they were ballsy enough to show their ID), I'm not a metal expert and rarely listen to the genre. That said, The Clincher did what they did pretty well, and the crowd (consisting of a cross-section of bikers, metal dudes, chicks in halters and guys who wear their baseball caps backwards) loved it. They also loved The Big Al Band and its four-word metal epics ("It's war, you die," "Boycott The Wal-Mart" "Oregano" and so on…).

SCB should try to become a modern-day version of Fat Jacks. Gary, their sound guy, is a metal fan and knows how to make it sound great in that room. He also has connections in the metal circuit. But it's unlikely that they'll ever go all-metal. Coldewey likes the idea of hosting a wide variety of music styles, from blues and jazz to hard rock, metal and yeah, even indie if it attracts a crowd. For him, it's all about attracting a crowd so he can sell more booze, and isn't that what running a bar is all about?

* * *

Tonight at Slowdown Jr. it's Asthmatic Kitty recording artist Half-Handed Cloud. The project's singer/songwriter, John Ringhofer, has worked with a number of collaborators from the Asthmatic Kitty stable including Sufjan Stevens, and as a result, his music has the same childlike, whimsy quality. Opening is another Ringhofer collaborator, Lake. $7, 9 p.m.

Bad movie soundtrack tonight, Earth Day tomorrow... – April 18, 2008 –

It's been determined that I'm the only one on the face of this great mothership we call Earth who thought the movie Juno was a piece of shit. That critical overhang has caused me to be less than enthusiastic about tonight's premiere show, Kimya Dawson at The Waiting Room (with David Dondero, Angelo Spencer and L'Orchidee D'Hawai). I assume the show will attract avid fans of Juno (which happens to be everyone on the face of the Earth but me) dying to hear some songs from the soundtrack, a soundtrack that was unintentionally dumbed down by being associated with such a dopey film (a film that won an Academy Award for best screenplay, by the way, which is yet another reason why I don't write about film in Lazy-i). $14, 9 p.m. I'm surprised it isn't sold out yet.

Other than that, there's not a lot going on tonight. Kyle Harvey's doing a set at hole-in-the-wall Benson bar Incognito (with John Fino -- 9 p.m., free). Maybe it's time for a visit to The Brothers?

Tomorrow is Earth Day, which we celebrate in this country with day-long concerts interspersed with environmental testimony by people who are supposed to know more than you do about why it's important to recycle. That's what you're in for tomorrow afternoon in Elmwood Park. Highlight performances include Black Squirrels at 3:30, Bear Country at 4:20, Pendrakes at 5:10, Son Ambulance at 6:10 and Sarah Bench/Robbers at 7:10.

Also tomorrow afternoon, Homer's is celebrating "Record Store Day" with in-store performances at its Old Market location by Bear Country, Jake Bellows and Matt Whipkey starting at 1 p.m.

Tomorrow night it's El Diablos Blancos and Endometrium Cuntplow at O'Leaver's. I've never heard of either band, but it's at O'Leaver's so it has to be good, right? $5, 9:30 p.m.

Also tomorrow night, Talkin' Mountain is playing at PS Collective with Chow Nasty and Columbia Vs. Challenger. $5, 9 p.m.

And downtown at Slowdown it's fun-lovin' Philly angle-rockers Man Man (Anti Records) with Yeasayer (who were just here in February). $12, 9 p.m.

Cover story: The Life and Times of Neva Dinova; Ladyfinger/Dance Me Pregnant, Mike Friedman tonight... – April 17, 2008 –

The biggest surprise from people who got a sneak-peek of this just-posted, rather long Lazy-i feature on Neva Dinova (read it here) is how the band has been around for 15 years. That's a long time. In fact, as I mentioned in the first feature I wrote about the band more than six years ago (here), I first saw Neva when they opened for Commander Venus and Norman Bailer sometime around '95 at the Capital Bar and Grill.

This new story takes up where the last one left off. The band talks about their 2004 split EP with Bright Eyes, their relationship with Crank! Records, their slow decline due to endless booze-fueled tours, their near break-up and their sort-of rebirth, as well as overcoming a mountain of obstacles to make their new album. Take a look.

Among the stuff that didn't make it into the story was an update on Bo Anderson, the band's original drummer who was replaced by Roger Lewis in the summer of 2003. Lewis said Anderson left the band to practice law in Houston, Missouri, a small town nestled on the edge of the Ozarks about 100 miles east of Springfield. "The opportunity arose for him to take over his father's law practice and settle down with his wife and kids," Lewis said. "He took that path as opposed to being in a rock band and not making any money." Anderson also is either a city or county prosecutor, depending on which member of Neva you ask.

Neva Dinova's April 24 show at The Waiting Room (and their April 25 show at Box Awesome in Lincoln) is the front end of a tour with Ladyhawk that runs through June 1. Come out next week and wish the band well before they hit the road.

* * *

Speaking of shows, there's a hot one tonight at Slowdown Jr. featuring Ladyfinger and Dance Me Pregnant. The bands are celebrating the release of a split 7-inch on Belfast label No Dancing Records, whose roster includes Desert Hearts and the super-talented Robyn G Shiels. How this tiny Irish label managed to find Ladyfinger and DMP is anybody's guess. I'm told that there is an extremely limited number of copies of the split available, so get them while you can. This show is guaranteed to be crowded and brutal. Opening is out-of-town band His Mischief. $8, 9 p.m.

Also tonight, a super-rare solo performance at Mick's by Mike Friedman, one of the best guitarists in the area. Friedman plays with Simon Joyner as well as Reagan and the Rayguns (and was a member of The Movies). Also on the bill are Heather Wessling and Black Squirrels. $5, 9 p.m.

Column update/correction... – April 16, 2008 –

Despite what I (and every civilian I spoke with) thought I heard (and re-heard in the Cox broadcast), the amendment requiring one security person per 50 attendees (instead of one per 100) did not pass. Slowdown's Jason Kulbel e-mailed last night to say the amendment never got seconded. The column (below) has been updated to reflect the correction...

Column 169: A Confederacy of Dunces; Girl Drink Drunk at TWR... – April 15, 2008 –

The ordinance takes effect 15 days after it's signed by Mayor Fahey. I assume the venues can apply for this special license after that time. I talked to Slowdown's Jason Kulbel before the meeting. He said Councilman Brown's biggest concern with the ordinance was the lack of a "barrier" requirement -- i.e., demanding the construction of a barrier within a venue that would divide minors from the rest of the audience. Such a barrier would be prohibitive (and nearly impossible) in Slowdown, where it would have to run from the stage to the bathroom all the way to the front entrance. That wasn't going to happen, which meant Brown was never on board...

Column 169: No Poles, No Pasties
All ages shows become more legal.

It's been about 20 years since I've been to an Omaha City Council meeting, and in that time nothing has changed about the council chambers -- the paneled décor, the dirty upholstered chairs, the institutional florescent lighting. The place even smells the same, a mixture of dust, mildewed paper, Brylcreem, toilet bowl deodorant and bureaucracy.

Only the players have changed, but really, is Frank Brown that much different then say, Fred Conley? Is Garry Gernandt a big leap from Bernie Simon? No, not really. It certainly didn't seem that way at Tuesday's City Council meeting, which felt like stepping into a time machine, complete with all the usual inane discussions, dumb questions and stripper references that I remember from my days at J school.

At stake was the future of all-ages shows in Omaha bars. The council was voting on the so-called "music venue" ordinance introduced by Councilman Jim Suttle that would let bars allow minors onto their premises during live music events as long they were properly ID'd and identified as minors. The first reading of the ordinance was two weeks ago, and afterward no one thought it would pass. Certainly I didn't.

But over those two weeks, the folks at Slowdown and The Waiting Room tried to find a way to make the ordinance more palatable to a council that's stuck somewhere in the year 1972.

Among the compromises was an amendment that would call for those under the age of 18 to have a notarized parental consent form on file at the bar. I figured that could be a deal breaker -- who wants to bother with looking up forms and checking signatures when there's a line of people waiting to get into your venue?

But the Slowdown guys seemed fine with the amendment, especially considering that the alternative would mean only being able to allow access to those over 18, or worse, only those over 21. All-ages shows are a major staple to Slowdown's business plan and philosophy. In the face of losing that option, digging through a database for a consent form was no big deal.

Neither, apparently, was the inability to sell pitchers of beer -- not allowed under the ordinance. Neither could a patron buy more than two drinks at a time. Other new amendments included a more thorough definition of a live music venue -- it must have a permanent raised stage, fixed lighting and a house PA. That definition leaves O'Leaver's out of consideration, since it doesn't have a real stage.

But the amendments didn't stop there, and that's where the inane discussions began. Councilman Gernandt suggested that the $250 "music venue permit fee" just wasn't enough. How about $375? More "investment" would make the license owners more watchful, right?

And what about this part here that says there will be only one security person for up to 100 attendees, and another for each 100 additional attendees? Come on, how is one person supposed to watch 100 people? How about one security guy for every 50 attendees? Slowdown's Jason Kulbel argued that such an amendment could result in overstaffing. Do the math. It would mean 10 designated security personnel for a 500-capacity show. That's a lot of burly guys in "security" T-shirts. Between those two amendments, only the increase in the permit fees was adopted.

Then it was Councilman Brown's turn, and that's when things started to get out of hand.

Among Brown's concerns: What's to stop someone from dropping off their kids at Slowdown at 8 p.m. and using the bar as a trendy babysitting service? Nothing, of course, though as Kulbel said, it might be a lot cheaper and easier to drop your kids off at Denny's.

What about karaoke? According to the ordinance, a live music venue would be defined as a place where a "live instrumental and/or vocal musical performance is occurring." Well, isn't karaoke a live music performance? What's to stop a crappy karaoke bar from letting minors in?

And for God's sakes, what about exotic dancing? What's to stop a strip club that also has live music from allowing kids in the door? Hey, what about pole dancing? A shiver ran through the crowd. An amendment must be made that disqualified establishments that allow exotic dancing and pole dancing. It didn't matter that the city prosecutor said such an amendment would be meaningless, as he wasn't aware of any definitions for exotic or pole dancing in the city laws. "Without a specific definition, it's impossible to enforce," he said.

Still, the strip club amendment passed, bundled with the karaoke amendment.

But wait, what if someone stood on stage without an instrument and sang wearing nothing but pasties and didn't dance? Would that be allowed? I'm not kidding, that scenario was actually considered and discussed. Kudos to the crowd of more than 100 kids, musicians and other interested parties for not laughing their asses off during this discussion.

In the end, the City Council adopted the ordinance to amend section 15-41 of the Omaha Municipal Code by a vote of 5 to 2. Chuck Sigerson, who remained silent throughout the ordeal, and Frank Brown voted against the ordinance. Brown said he felt that that all of the discussion was proof that the ordinance needed more fine tuning. He was wrong, or at least his cohorts thought so.

Afterward, everyone seemed pleased that all-ages shows would again be permitted in Omaha, just like, well, they always were. Except from now on, you'll have to leave the pasties at home.

Wednesday night at The Waiting Room it's karaoke of a different nature -- Girl Drink Drunk, TWR's version of Lincoln's Shitook Karaoke featuring members of The Third Men and The Black Squirrels backing you on lead vocals. $5, 9 p.m. and by the way, it's all-ages...

It passed… – April 15, 2008 –

The Omaha City Council this afternoon passed the all-ages "music venue" ordinance with a vote of 5-2. Ah, but the amendments... No strippers! No pole dancing! No karaoke! More info later...

Last chance to be heard… – April 14, 2008 –

All right, the City Council meeting concerning the all-ages ordinance (read here) is tomorrow afternoon. Let's go through the list:

-- Have you signed the online petition yet? Do it now.

-- Have you written your City Councilman yet? Go here, click on your district listed on the left-hand side of the page, and e-mail your dude. Make it sound like you know what you're talking about.

Your other chance to be heard is in person at the City Council meeting tomorrow at 2 p.m. The ordinance is Item 20 on the agenda, which is fairly early in the meeting, so be on time. The address is 1819 Farnam St. Ask the information desk for directions. Do everyone a favor and don't dress like you're headed to a Metallica concert. That doesn't mean you have to wear a tie, just don't look like a stereotype.

While I have money riding on an amended version of this ordinance passing, the votes may not be there. This meeting could be a real circus, and your's truly will be there to capture all the action, so look for a late-afternoon Lazy-i update (though will probably break the news first).

Blitzen Trapper tonight; Minus Story, Zep Trib tomorrow; Malpais Sunday… – April 11, 2008 –

My streak of late nights was broken last night when I got word that Jay Reatard canceled (thank you, Omahype). I ended up skipping the show altogether, having already seen the Black Keys a few times, in favor of getting a few extra much-needed hours of sleep.

I doubt I'll get much sleep this weekend, though. Here's the rundown:

Tonight at Slowdown Jr. it's the return of Portland Sub Pop band Blitzen Trapper with fellow Sub Pop act Fleet Foxes and the free-wheelin' Tim Fite. $8, 9 p.m.

Over at The Saddle Creek Bar (yes, they're still doing shows) it's a line-up of bands I've never heard of, including NYC power-pop act The Crash Moderns, Melismatics, Sight Unsound and Pictures of Lilly. The best part: It's free. Starts at 9.

Over at The Waiting Room it's five more bands I'm not familiar with: Victory Records act The Audition, Hit the Lights, Every Avenue, The Morning Light and Kiros (Sounds kind of emo to me). The difference is this show costs $12. Starts at 8 p.m.

Down at Sokol Underground, it's more emo featuring Converge, The Red Chord, Baroness and Genghis Tron. $15, 8 p.m.

Saturday night at Slowdown Jr. it's the return of Lawrence band Minus Story (Jagjaguwar) with Denton TX band Tre Orsi and our very own Dim Light. $7, 9 p.m.

Zep tribute band The Song Remains the Same is playing at The Waiting Room with Matt's Rocket Collection doing an AC/DC trib. $7, 9 p.m.

O'Leaver's is hosting The Shanks, Mosquito Bandito and Perry H. Matthews. Big noise punk death and destruction vulgarity (and maybe a tribute to local music hero Madder. Check out Aponik's Reader story on Joe here). $5, 9:30 p.m.

The Whipkey 3 is doing a set at The Barley St. starting at 9. Barley shows are usually free, but there could be a cover.

Omaha avant-garde noise king and Public Eyesore label chief Bryan Day is putting on a show at Benson Grind with many experimental bands. Could be weird. Probably will be weird. Weird is good. 8 p.m., donation requested.

Finally, over at The 49'r, punk band The Deformities is playing its final show, which one assumes will likely get out of hand. Corpse Show Creeps also are on the bill. $5, 9 p.m.

Then comes Sunday and Malpais -- you know, that band fronted by Omaha man of mystery and walking urban legend Greg Loftis. Opening is the Son, Ambulance and Landing on the Moon. Quite a lineup for $7. Starts at 9.

Column 168: Minor Threat; Jay Reatard, Black Keys tonight… – April 10, 2008 –

This column was written Tuesday morning, before Slowdown began its online petition drive. Marc Leibowitz this morning sent out an insightful reason why you should sign it or send a letter to your councilman: "One of the main reasons we were able to bring so many shows to this market is that we were able to offer all-ages shows. And not just all-ages shows at venues like The Cog Factory that had no bar, but all-ages show at a venue that serves alcohol," Leibowitz said. If all-ages participation at rock shows is banned at our primary venues (Slowdown, The Waiting Room), we're going to see fewer shows coming through town.

Or Leibowitz will be forced to look elsewhere, to places like Sokol Hall and Sokol Auditorium -- venues that have seen almost all of their indie music shows dry up with the opening of Slowdown and The Waiting Room. The Sokol facilities, which are not classified as "a bar," would still be able to host all-ages shows and serve booze. Sokol would clearly have the most to gain if this ordinance fails to pass. Do you think that fact will impact how South Omaha Councilman Garry Gernandt will vote? Ah, but he's only one vote. There are six more available. But by my last count, only two of those six supported the revised ordinance as it was originally presented. There's still a lot of work to do.

Column 168: Minor Threat
Arguing for all-ages venues.

At issue is an ordinance introduced by City Councilman Jim Suttle a couple weeks ago that would create a new category of businesses called "music venues." The ordinance would allow these designated bars to admit minors as long as the bars followed security measures, including having wristbands for those 21 and older and serving alcoholic and nonalcoholic drinks in different glasses.

The ordinance was discussed at a City Council meeting two weeks ago. Among those speaking in favor were Matt Oberst (Conor Oberst's father), David Jacobson (the father of Film Stream's Rachel Jacobson, who also is an attorney representing Slowdown and the Waiting Room in the matter), Jason Kulbel (Saddle Creek Records executive and co-owner of Slowdown) and Marc Leibowitz (co-owner of One Percent Productions and The Waiting Room).

Their arguments are obvious to local music fans: Omaha's world-renowned music scene was created by a bunch of kids who grew up watching bands perform at all-ages shows. To prevent the next generation from seeing these shows because they take place in bars (rather than halls) would be a tragic blow to the continued growth of the local arts and music scene.

Among those speaking against the ordinance were members of Project Extra Mile (PEM), a group formed to fight underage drinking. Their chief concern: What would stop an adult from pouring alcohol into a minor's cup at one of these bars? That, and the notion that it would be wrong to allow minors to mingle with adults drinking in public.

At this point, the councilmen already have made up their minds. They either see the ordinance's obvious benefits, or see it as another wrong-headed opportunity for bars to get their hooks into the innocent minds of our youth. As one of the councilmen put it, surely if this music is as good as the proponents say it is, it can survive at venues that don't serve alcohol, right?

Councilman Suttle knew that the ordinance wouldn't pass in its original form, so he moved the vote -- originally slated for last Tuesday -- to this Tuesday in hopes of reaching a compromise that more councilmen could support. Maybe it's a change from "all ages" to 16- or 18-and-older. According to the Omaha World-Herald, Councilman Franklin Thompson "is concerned with how the city can keep businesses that aren't serious about music from qualifying under the new ordinance as a way to get minors in the door." In other words he's "worried that unscrupulous bar owners will attempt to turn their businesses into music venues as a way to skirt the existing law," the story said.

This is where we indie music fans are guilty of wearing blinders. We only think of Slowdown, The Waiting Room and Sokol when we think of this ordinance. We forget that it would apply to all the bars in Omaha, not just the ones we frequent. We know that the folks who run "our" bars are honest, trustworthy, ethical people who will enforce the ordinance's restrictions with an iron fist. In fact, we've already seen it. These bars have been hosting all-ages shows since they opened a year ago and have never been ticketed. For anyone who knows them, the idea of these owners allowing minors to drink in their establishments is, to say the least, amusing. Have you ever met a more paranoid bunch of people? I haven't.

Although I don't have any children (that I know of), I can say with confidence that I'm comfortable with any of my underage nieces and nephews seeing shows at these bars, and could recommend them to my friends and co-workers who have underage kids.

But, ironically, the bars that are pushing for the ordinance aren't the ones in question.

How would bars like Glacier, The Arena or Chrome Lounge be classified? They host live music in the form of cover bands on weekends, but are known more as pick-up joints than music venues. Suddenly parents wouldn't be as concerned about their underage daughters getting drunk as much as their daughters getting hit on by a 21-year-old horn-dog.

Still, I can't imagine a place like Glacier ever wanting to admit anyone under 21. Minors are bad for the bar business, even if they pay extra at the door. They don't get drunk, and bars make money off drunks.

The only solution to Thompson's concern would be for the City Council to grant "music venue" status on a case-by-case basis, similar to how they grant liquor licenses. I'm not sure how that would work.

Anyway, this is the part in the column where I tell you to Google "Omaha City Council" for the contact information and write your councilman and make your voice heard. Will it make a difference? It can't hurt.

You may want to point out that the current ordinance allows kids to go bowling or to hockey games at Qwest or Royals games at Rosenblatt -- all places that serve booze in the presence of minors in a far less restricted fashion than the new ordinance allows.

But they already know that.

Or you may want to point out that kids who really want to drink, are going to drink. They'll get their booze from somewhere. The only place they're likely not going to get it is, well, at Slowdown or The Waiting Room.

But they already know that, too.

Or you may want to point out that not passing the ordinance will take away one more thing for kids to do on a Friday and Saturday night, in a city that is painfully at a loss for things for kids to do.

They don't want to know that.

Like the folks who run Slowdown, Leibowitz also is calling for a show of support at Tuesday's City Council meeting, which starts at 2 p.m. Plan on going. For you kids, I can't think of a better civics lesson.

Tonight at Slowdown it's The Black Keys with Jay Reatard, and it's SOLD OUT.

Live Review: Neva Dinova; Creek/Slowdown prepare for ordinance battle; Feist in the park… – April 9, 2008 –

Jake Bellows is mighty busy these days. This weekend he's off to London for a video shoot with Alessi. Then starting on the 23rd, Neva hits the road with Ladyhawk for a tour that runs into June. In the meantime, the band figured out a way to do a last-minute show in support of the release of You May Already Be Dreaming, which dropped yesterday. People were walking around Slowdown Jr. last night with the vinyl version of the album, an impressive sleeve design that includes a dye-cut outer sleeve made to look like a shadow-box stage with the inner sleeve bearing the katydid-in-the-moonlight design. Scattered on the merch table in the back were prescription bottles, each apparently containing a download of the album (Was there a thumb drive in the vial? I didn't look to see). Those Saddle Creek designers sure know how to do packaging.

Neva opened their set of sweet, downcast folk lullabies at around 11, playing a couple older numbers before rifling into the new album, played in its entirety in track order. This is the first time I've seen the full band in a long while. Bellows plays solo all the time; Neva, not so often. Back in the old days, the band could be criticized for having three guitars that all seemingly played the same guitar line, leaving listeners wondering why not just use one guitar and turn it way up. They've moved well past that. Performing as a five-piece -- bass, drums and three guitars -- the songs on You May… are a foundation for the ensemble to push the songs into much denser territory than heard on the album, with each guitar moving in its own distinct direction. The result, on songs like "Apocalypse," are torrid Crazy Horse-inspired jams that wind in and out of a central chord progression, building to a feedback-bleeding conclusion. Roger Lewis' drumming style is both narrow and controlled, targeted and intense, laid-back or bombastic depending on the song's needs. Underlining everything is Bellows' warm, mewing voice gently coaxing out melodies as if he's trying to either lull a loved-one to sleep or quietly waken her from a coma. It gets as big as it needs to for the epic rockers, but never leaves its cradle-ready sweet spot. If there's a criticism about Neva's music these days it's that it can have a narcotic-laced quality. Bellows and Co. may be playing modern-day cowboy songs, but this lonely cowpoke is slouched-over half asleep as Old Paint slowly trots across a dusty prairie, a Stetson pulled down over his eyes, eager for the evening's campfire and a quiet night's sleep with his boots on, alone under the stars.

* * *

After the set, documentary film director and Slowdown employee Rob Walters passed out slips of paper that said the following:

SAVE ALL AGES SHOWS IN OMAHA. Email the Omaha City Council and sign our petition by Monday, April 14.
Info available at Please tell all your friends. Thanks.

Looks like Saddle Creek and Slowdown finally have reached full battle mode with less than a week before the City Council votes on the "music venue" ordinance. I received e-mail from both Val Nelson and Robb Nansel before last night's show with details about an online petition in support of all-ages shows in Omaha. The details and the petition are available here, along with a boilerplate letter that they're asking people to cut and paste into an e-mail and send to the council with the subject line I SUPPORT ALL AGES SHOWS IN OMAHA.

In addition to all that, there was discussion as to how to get those impacted by the ordinance -- specifically school-age kids -- to the City Council meeting next Tuesday afternoon to provide a massive show of force/support. Should a large number of kids skip school to attend the meeting, this whole thing could become national news in sort of a "Footloose" kind of way. Will any of this do any good? It certainly can't hurt. Take a sec and go to the site and sign the petition, and if you haven't already, write your councilman.

This week's column is focused on the ordinance, and will go online tomorrow morning.

* * *

Our esteemed Mayor, Mike Fahey, announced yesterday that Feist will be the headliner for this year's Memorial Park Concert July 12. This is the fourth year for this so-called "youth-oriented" concert (The old-fogey Bank of the West concert is July 27). It started in 2005 with 311, Bright Eyes in '06 and Plain White T's last year. I think the city went with the T's because someone in the mayor's office thought that such a commercial-flavored band would attract a huge youth audience. That didn't work (despite the city's overblown crowd estimates). This year they've gone the complete opposite direction. Feist is well-known by all of us indie music folks. And people who follow Apple computer commercials may recognize her marketing tune (though they probably don't know who sings it). That's where any familiarity ends, however. Don't get me wrong, I think Feist is a huge leap forward, but I've got a feeling the crowd will again be somewhat measly. All's that means is that I'll be able to get closer to the stage. Start praying for good weather.

'Music Venue' vote held over; Speed! in the OWH; Nora Jones in Team Love; Help Wanted Nights to be produced; Neva Dinova tomorrow night… – April 7, 2008 –

Lot's of news over the weekend. Let's get to it:

The Omaha World-Herald reported Saturday that the vote for a "music venue" ordinance originally slated for tomorrow's Omaha City Council meeting is being held-over for a week. The ordinance would let bars designated as "music venues" allow minors in during live music shows.

According to the OWH article, councilman Franklin Thompson "is concerned with how the city can keep businesses that aren't serious about music from qualifying under the new ordinance as a way to get minors in the door." In other words he's "worried that unscrupulous bar owners will attempt to turn their businesses into music venues as a way to skirt the existing law," according to the article, here. This could make things rather complicated. How would you classify a bar like Glacier or Chrome, clubs that host cover bands on weekends and are known more as pick-up joints than music venues? Suddenly parents won't be as concerned about their daughters getting drunk as much as their daughters getting hit on by some 21-year-old horn-dog.

Fact is, I can't imagine a place like Chrome wanting to let anyone in under 21. So who exactly is Thompson worried about? He seems to want the City Council to grant "music venue" designation on a case-by-case basis. Actually, that's the only way it could possibly work considering how many bars host live music on weekends. Very complicated indeed.

I figured if a compromise was being sought, it would be concerning the age limit -- a 16+ or 18+ limit vs. all-ages. Even with that change, however, someone like Chuck Sigerson isn't going to change his position.

The venue with the most to lose (in my opinion) is Slowdown. Although the Waiting Room does host all-ages shows, I rarely see anyone who looks like a minor wandering around in there. Slowdown, on the other hand, always seems to have minors at shows. Should the ordinance fail to pass, promoters like One Percent Productions would have no choice but to again look at the Sokol properties (or other halls) for all-ages shows, which could impact how councilman Garry Gernandt -- who represents Sokol's district -- votes on the ordinance. Think about that a minute: If the ordinance doesn't pass, it would mean that minors would have to go a couple miles down the street to Sokol Aud or Sokol Underground instead of Slowdown to see all-ages shows. Does that make sense to you?

The vote's delay means you've got another week to write your city councilman and voice your support for the ordinance. Go here, click on your district listed on the left-hand side of the page, and e-mail your dude. Don't wait a week. Do it need now.

* * *

The OWH has been all about music coverage lately. The front of this Sunday's ETA section was dedicated to a huge feature on Gary Dean Davis, one of the operators of Speed! Nebraska Records and frontman to punk band The Monroes. Super-nice story by Niz. Take a sec and check it out.

* * *

I number of you e-mailed me a link to last week's Pitchfork story (here) about El Madmo, the new Norah Jones rock band that signed to Team Love. Look for their self-titled debut May 20. So when are they coming to Omaha?

* * *

The L.A. Times is reporting that Tim Kasher's screenplay "Help Wanted Nights" has found money for filming. "We're working with Lars Knudsen, who owns the indie production company Parts & Labor; Mira Shin, who's an assistant to Scott Rudin, though this is an independent project for her; and Nicholas Shumaker of White Buffalo Entertainment. It's coming along well enough. All the financing is arranged," Kasher said in the LA Times Music Blog entry (here). Casting already is being kicked around. "We have interested parties, but I can't talk about it quite yet," he said in the item. "You always have a wish list, though. For the female lead, I imagine a Mary-Louise Parker or Jennifer Jason Leigh, someone like that." Read the whole interview here, and while you're at it, read my interview with Kasher from last October, where he talks about the script and The Good Life album of the same name.

* * *

Roger Lewis, drummer for Neva Dinova, e-mailed to say that Neva is putting on a special last-minute show tomorrow night at Slowdown with Outlaw Con Bandana. To make it even more special, the band is performing their new album, You May Already Be Dreaming, in its entirety in track order as a celebration of its official Saddle Creek release. Should be quite a bash. $5. 9 p.m.

Live Review: Talkin' Mountain, Honey & Darling, Grand Ole Party; 'Music venue' ordinance trouble; Grand Buffet tonight… – April 4, 2008 –

Talkin' Mountain is a cool indie/slacker-rock trio that's sort of known for playing shows wearing colorful, furry, Muppet-looking masks. When I got to Slowdown last night, they were onstage doing a sound check without their masks, and I thought maybe they gave them up. But a half-hour later, they were on stage, with their monster masks. Maybe the funniest thing about them is that they obviously annoy the band, and that annoyance is part of the show. One of the lead guys constantly pulled on the mouth-hole, trying to get clearance for his vocals. They must be hotter than hell, but they're funny. Especially funny when the band chats with the crowd between songs, telling stories about how the brakes went out on their new van ("Looks like I've got a weekend project") or how the bass player burned the roof of his mouth eating a chicken pot pie ("I didn't know it was going to be that hot.") Remember, they're casually saying all this wearing those fucking masks. Funny, funny shit.

But does wearing the masks automatically put the band in the "novelty" category and/or distract from their music? Not really, no (although the vocals were muffled a few times). Talkin' Mountain plays light-hearted indie pop songs heavy with hooks and attitude -- party songs with party beats. It's the kind of band you'd want to play in your backyard or block party. They're fun. And their music is good. Their "Abdominal Snowman" song is the best winter surf tune I've ever heard. Their new stuff is just as good. I suppose if you had to compare them to someone, it would be Atom and His Package (though these guys actually play instruments). I picked up a copy of their 4-song $3 cassette (with awesome hand-stitched tape-sock) and rocked it in the Tracker all the way home.

Next up was Honey and Darling, featuring a full band. Well, almost a full band. Pint-sized frontwoman/guitarist Sara was joined by another guitarist and a drummer for a set that "electrified" some of the material that I've heard performed solo acoustic. The new personnal are a great add, though she could use a bass player -- the arrangements were way too bright. And most of the songs -- which resemble Girly Sound-era Liz Phair -- were too long. The best song of the set was the shortest -- a rocker that Sara said was written while the drummer was on a smoke break ("It took two minutes to write and two minutes to play."). Ironically, the band's weakest link is Sara's vocals, which could be somewhat pitchy and flat as she tried to be heard above a full band. Sara's got a good voice that'll only get better over time. She's already got the hard part -- writing good songs -- covered.

Surprisingly (or not so surprisingly) the least interesting band of the evening was the headliner. Grand Ole Party, a San Diego trio that features vocalist Kristin Gundred on drums (wearing a headset), played a set of simple, mid-tempo garage rock songs that were too neat and tidy to be mistaken for garage rock. Gundred is a good little drummer, but the music was run-of-the-mill backbeat swing rock with simple, repeated guitar lines sung by a Chrissie Hynde voice replicant. I asked a guy sitting nearby who he thought they sounded like -- he said Chrissie Hynde fronting Creedance Clearwater Revival (also pointing to the simple guitar riffs). Great band, boring music, especially after six songs played at the exact same tempo. What would these guys sound like if they trashed up their sound a little bit? Yeah Yeah Yeahs' saving grace is Nick Zinner's freak-out guitar work that can transform anything into something special. There's nothing that interesting here, but there could be. Regardless, the nice-sized Slowdown crowd (maybe 60 people) seemed to dig it.

* * *

Speaking of Slowdown crowds, I have it from a very reliable source that the "music venue ordinance" currently in front of the Omaha City Council (that I wrote about Tuesday, here) does not have enough votes to pass, and likely won't pass in its current "all-ages" format.

The vote on the ordinance is on Tuesday's City Council agenda (notice the O'Leaver's beer garden item? Interesting.), but I'm told there's a good chance that the vote could be held over until next week's meeting due to the expected absence of one of the council members. Every vote will be necessary to get this passed. The local politics surrounding this ordinance are unfortunate, and not surprising. I plan on writing about it in detail in next week's column, but the message will be the same -- you really need to take five minutes out of your hectic day and write a letter to your councilman urging him to pass the ordinance.

* * *

Tonight, it's back down to Slowdown Jr., this time for Grand Buffet -- a hip-hop duo whose sound borders on good club/dance music, but with trippy, funny rhymes. I dare you to go to their myspace page and listen to "Creamcheese Money" and tell me that this show isn't worth the $8 cover. Bonus: Talkin' Mountain has been added as the opener. Starts at 9 p.m.

* * *

The hottest show Saturday night also is at Slowdown Jr.: The Paper Chase with Fromanhole and Shiny Around the Edges. $8, 9 p.m. Also Saturday night, Satchel Grande and Sleep Said the Monster play at Bar Fly. But maybe the best show Saturday is the State Theater Spring Fashion Show in Lincoln featuring The Show Is the Rainbow, Columbia Vs. Challenger, Black Hundreds, Domestica and Strawberry Burns. The show integrates live music performances with a fashion show from downtown Lincoln boutiques. $5, 8 p.m. The State Theater is located at 1415 "O" St.

Column 167 -- New York Minuet; Grand Ole Party tonight … – April 3, 2008 –

More New York stories...

Column 167: New York Minuet
Searching for sound in the city.

I spent last week in New York, and had intended to write a column about the vast, exciting world of music swaddled within the dark nightclubs of a city that never sleeps.

Unfortunately, I never made it to any clubs, which kind of puts a damper on the whole column idea. What happened?

There are dozens and dozens of music venues in New York. The best ones all seem to be located in the once-seedy area called the Lower East Side (LES), just a handful of subway stops below the Empire State Building. When I visited New York a few years ago (on the exact day of the infamous eastern seaboard blackout) I took the 6 train from the glimmering clean streets north of Times Square and south of Central Park down to LES in search of a club called Sin-é.

I emerged from the urine-scented subway surrounded by high-rise housing projects and people angrily pushing shopping carts loaded with empty aluminum cans. The cart pushers glared at me with suspicion as I unfolded a subway map, vainly trying to locate Attorney St., their heads encrusted in dried sweat under wool stocking caps, out of place in the August heat.

I never found Sin-é. I did find the Mercury Lounge and Katz's Deli before heading back underground to the 6 Train uptown and the embrace of a thousand street vendors selling knock-off Fendi hand bags and Rolex watches.

Five years later and the Lower East Side has changed. The army of bent-over street people has been replaced with sunglasses-wearing urban hipsters, their hair mussed and tussed just so, faces framed by colorful knotted scarves tied over jet-black pea coats. There were urban hipsters on the LES years earlier, but I never really noticed them. Last week's walk along Houston St. was like a runway show for American Apparel's fall/winter collection, with all the girls dressed either as tortured '80s art school punks or Holly Golightly stand-ins. If I looked like a tourist five years ago it was because I was dressed too well in my jeans and hoodie. If I looked like a tourist last week it was because I was dressed too slovenly in my jeans and hoodie.

In an effort to find something musical to write about (this is a music column, after all), I mapped out all the records stores in Manhattan. Other than Virgin and Barnes and Noble, there aren't many north of 14th St.

But a quick walk through Other Music on 4th St. and I realized there was nothing here that I hadn't seen in Omaha -- bins of CDs and a small selection of used vinyl. There was no way I was going to buy anything and haul it back on the plane, so I looked to see how well Omaha was being stocked in the bins. I found a single copy of Cursive's Happy Hollow and a copy of The Faint's Danse Macabre (I didn't bother looking for Bright Eyes). No Ladyfinger, no Little Brazil, no Tilly and the Wall.

That scene was repeated at a couple other stores, most of them tiny with limited stock. It took me a half-hour to find The Sound Library way down on Orchard St., and when I did, the shop was shuttered on a Friday afternoon.

For music, that left live shows, but a glance through Time Out New York (which along with the Village Voice is the best guide to what's happening) revealed nothing worth risking a late-night ride alone on a subway. The Heavenly States, a jangly, fun indie band from Oakland, was doing a three-night stand at Pianos on Ludlow St. But the States are slated to play at The Waiting Room in May with Head of Femur.

It reminded me why I don't go to the South by Southwest Festival in Austin. Every year around March, SXSW comes along, and every year I'm offered a free all-access pass by The Reader. But when I see the list of bands, I'm always compelled to just stay home. All the best acts either have been to Omaha or soon would be. Why spend a thousand dollars in air and lodging to wait in line for bands I can see in the comfort of The Waiting Room or Slowdown, venues with better sound and sight lines, and that are certainly bound to be less crowded?

The same holds true for New York and Lower East Side clubs. I could take a subway and wander the streets with a map looking for the venue (or take a $20 cab to the club) just to see a band that will be in Omaha in a few weeks. After a day of walking, it just didn't seem worth it.

Instead, I spent last week watching the Knicks at The Garden, "Spring Awakening" at Eugene O'Neill Theatre, "Cool School" at Cinema Village and eating, eating, eating.

There were, however, two musical memories that stood out: The continued deification of Sinatra and swing, heard in almost every bar and restaurant like a desperate attempt to hold onto a stereotype of a city that passed away 50 years ago. And the ubiquitous subway and street buskers playing for your spare change -- everything from a small stringed symphony to a guy with a guitar -- it's an ever-present soundtrack trying to be heard above the traffic and train brakes.

I love New York, its streets, parks, buildings and subways, and I'll be going back again, probably this fall. But not for the music.

Tonight, San Diego indie trio Grand Ole Party plays at Slowdown Jr. with local sensations Honey & Darling and Talkin' Mountain. GOP sounds kinda/sorta like Chrissie Hynde or Grace Slick fronting a very mild garage band. They're too laid-back to be compared to Yeah, Yeah, Yeahs (though vocalist/drummer Kristin Gundred does bear a striking resemblance to Karen O). GOP spent the last part of '07 opening for Rilo Kiley (Blake Sennett produced their debut, Humanimals, on DH Records). $8, 9 p.m.

Escape from New York; 'music venue' ordinance; Kasher interview; Neva review; Nada Surf, Little Brazil tonight… – April 2, 2008 –

First off, thanks to everyone who sent suggestions for my trip to Manhattan last week. Most revolved around dining, and resulted in a trip to Thai Me Up on East 14th St. and the Doughnut Plant at 379 Grand St in the Lower East Side. I'll recap the trip tomorrow in this week's column.

A few newsy notes from my inbox:

There's a story in today's OWH about yesterday's Omaha City Council meeting where a proposed ordinance was introduced by Councilman Jim Suttle that would create a new category of businesses called "music venues." The ordinance would allow these designated bars to admit minors as long as they followed security measures including having wristbands for those 21 and older and serving alcoholic and nonalcoholic drinks in different glasses, according to the OWH. Among those speaking for the ordinance were Matt Oberst (Mr. Oberst), David Jacobson (Film Stream's Rachel's dad), Jason Kulbel (Slowdown) and Marc Leibowitz (The Waiting Room). Speaking against it were members of Project Extra Mile (PEM), a group formed to fight underage drinking.

The story implies that without the ordinance, The Waiting Room and Slowdown wouldn't be allowed to host all-ages shows. Kulbel said it would be "pretty devastating" if the Slowdown could no longer allow minors in to see bands. "The amount of shows that would come to Omaha would dwindle," he said in the OWH report. Read the whole story here.

I don't need to tell anyone who reads this site how important this ordinance is to our music scene. Most of us grew up going to all-ages shows. I understand PEM's concerns, but these folks need to realize that if their kids want booze, there are easier ways to get it than going to a rock show and risking getting booted and banned from the facility. If anything, TWR and Slowdown are ultra-vigilant about this sort of thing because they don't want to risk both getting ticketed and getting a reputation among parents as a place where kids can acquire alcohol. You can voice your support of the ordinance by contacting your City Council representative. Do it now. The vote is next Tuesday.

* * *

Interesting new interview with Tim Kasher in The Maneater (here). Kasher talks about the process of making a new Cursive album, his screen-writing efforts and living in L.A. Inspirational quote: "We joked a lot on Happy Hollow about how we were trying to do a new brand of folk metal, but it didn't turn out. It was brought up at practice the other day that maybe this is getting closer to folk metal. Like, I say that, and it's not going to sound anything like folk metal." Sounds like multi-instrumentalist Nate Lepine is a permanent addition to the line-up.

* * *

One of the first reviews of the new Neva Dinova disc landed at (here). They give the disc three stars and compare it to Bright Eyes, for which they say the band is so "closely intertwined," calling the disc "a little bit predictable for anyone who'd hope the band (would) break free of its Omaha-folk roots." Somewhat luke-warm. The album comes out next Tuesday.

* * *

Tonight at The Waiting Room it's Nada Surf, who's on the road supporting Lucky, their latest album on Barsuk/City Slang (Rough Trade). Opening is LA band Sea Wolf (Dangerbird Records) and Omaha's own Little Brazil. $14, 9 p.m.

Column 166 -- Punk Rock Revival; what I'm missing… – March 26, 2008 –

I could easily have written 3,000 words based on interviews conducted for this week's column and still not have scratched the surface of what was the Omaha punk rock scene circa '85-'88. It's history begs to be recorded, and hopefully will be moving forward. Tim Cox tells me that Saturday's show could be the first of an annual event -- certainly there's enough interest -- and enough surviving bands -- to do it for years to come. The specifics: The show is Saturday night at The Waiting Room. It starts at 7 p.m. and will cost you a measly $5. There's no excuse not to go. Well, almost no excuse....

Column 166: More Punk Than You
Omaha's original punk legends gather again.

The idea of the Omaha 'My Generation' Punk Rock Reunion Show (this Saturday night at The Waiting Room) began with a couple former neighbors talking about the good ol' days.

Those neighbors were Tim Cox, drummer for '80s-era punk rock band R.A.F., and the girls that lived next door, Dee Shelton and Meghan Smith. They lived in an apartment building that came to be known as The Farnam House, a place notorious for its ad hoc punk rock shows.

Here's the funny part -- The Farnam House was located right across the street from The Brothers at 38th and Farnam, a building that today is known as Hotel Frank, home of the best house shows in town hosting bands like Capgun Coup and Baby Walrus.

Somehow, Cox and those neighbor girls got in touch with each other 23 years after the fact. "We got to talking about James Widmark, a local artist who was in the Sleez Kangs who had passed away a few years ago," said Cox from his current home in a much quieter neighborhood just off West Blondo. "Meghan mentioned we should get everyone together before we all die. We're all getting older, and we've lived wild lives."

Their small talk spawned the idea of hosting a gathering of survivors of Omaha's '80s punk scene at The Brothers. Cox thought that maybe R.A.F. could play a reunion show. After all, everyone else in the band -- guitarist Paul Moerke, bassist Dereck Higgins, and vocalist Matt Miller -- was still alive.

To help find people they knew from the old scene, Shelton and Smith put together a Myspace page. That's when things really began to pick up speed.

Through a fluke conversation, Cox discovered that one of his co-workers at Fedex/Kinko's was related Jack Hawk, a guitarist for peace-punk thrash-core band Cordial Spew along with Kevin McClay. "Kevin's an insurance salesman now, a big-wig regional guy," Cox said. Before long, McClay, Hawk and the rest of the original Cordial Spew line-up -- frontman Jay Bacon, drummer Conrad Hinz and bassist Bryan Gumm -- were added to the reunion show.

So were local punk legends Apathy and Double-You. Cox decided to push the idea even further by including current-day punk bands The Deformities, The Upsets, Pornhuskers and J.J. Pearson (ex Toxic Reasons) and His Weapons of Ass Destruction.

"The show became a chance to show the kids who never got to see us what these original bands were all about, while letting the old-schoolers see the new stuff," Cox said.

Such a large lineup called for a larger venue. Other than halls and house shows, the only other gathering spot for punk rock in the mid- to late-'80s was The Lift Ticket Lounge (remember, this was years before The Cog Factory). "From '86 to '89, The Lift Ticket became a constant place to play," Cox said. "It was almost a punk club." Where better to host the reunion show than at the very site where The Lift Ticket used to be?

It all sounded great except for one thing: Remembering how to play all those old songs. Cox said Apathy's Mike Homan had to buy a bass for the show -- he literally hadn't picked one up since his grad school days.

"We haven't played together in 20 years," said Apathy guitarist Jim Homan, who along with vocalist Seth "Deth" Kirshman (Snakey Billy), and drummer Mark Blackman (Bad Luck Charm) -- make up Apathy's original lineup

Cox said no one in Cordial Spew even owned any instruments. "Conrad stopped playing drums 15 years ago," said Spew vocalist Jay Bacon. "Tim (Cox) gave us a basement for our first practice, and it was awful."

Fortunately, Jim Homan, who also happens to be one of the city's best recording engineers at Ware House Studios, made a copy of Spew's old cassette tapes, which helped Bacon and the band remember the songs.

The show has all the makings of historical event. Fact is, the history of Omaha's early punk scene and its influence on what came after is impossible to capture in a 900-word column. At its very center is a story of a bunch of misfits who didn't seem to belong in a Cold War, Reaganomics-driven world spiraling out of control.

"It was a time when everyone hung out together -- the straight-edge and party kids, the peace punks and skinheads," Cox said. "We all got along."

Eventually, they all grew up, got married, went to college or got jobs. "For a lot of them, the scene was just a phase of life," Cox said. "But we all still love the music and have fond memories of those days."

Bacon agreed. "The music and the words still mean a lot to me," he said. "I think the kids are ready to hear it. They haven't heard thrash hardcore the way we do it." For Cordial Spew, the reunion could be the beginning of a second life. The band already is slated to play a River Concert Series gig May 7 and will be distributing copies of a new CD at Saturday's show.

"We're all adults with kids and responsibilities," Bacon said. "We're not touring; we're just trying to share the music again."

He said that while times have changed, the music and its angry message are as relevant as ever. There's just one problem: "When I'm doing the songs, I feel the anger, but there I am, standing in a room surrounded by people I love. It's hard to get mad. I have to go to a different place when I sing and remember the things that pissed me off."

Too bad I won't be there to see it. I'll be in New York City through the weekend on R&R (if anyone has any NYC suggestions, I've got the daylight hours on Thursday and Friday to kill and I'll be hanging around the Gramercy Park area). Among the shows I'll miss are Darren Keen Wednesday at The Waiting Room; Felice Brothers, Justin Townes Earle and McCarthy Trenching Thursday at TWR; Headlights Friday at TWR; and Jens Lekman Friday at Slowdown. If anything musicwise happens in NYC, I'll post it on here. Have a good week.

Live Review: Doug Kabourek; Beach House, Landing on the Moon tonight… – March 24, 2008 –

One of the main reasons I dropped in at O'Leaver's Saturday night was to see Doug Kabourek perform again. Doug, who used to go by the name Fizzle Like a Flood, hasn't played a solo show in a couple years. As 10 p.m. rolled around, there sat Doug cradling a guitar, just like he did a few years ago. It was as if time had stood still. Kabourek sounded just like he used to, in good voice singing good little story songs like an Omaha version of John Darnielle. He said he has no plans to revisit the 40-track recording style of Golden Sand, but will continue to play live. Here's hoping he records those new songs somewhere. She Swings She Sways did a nice set, and so did a three-piece version of Black Squirrels. All-in-all, a laid-back night at O'Leaver's.

Baltimore's Beach House plays at Slowdown Jr. tonight with Papercuts and Our Fox. Beach House's new record, Devotion, was released on Carpark last month. What I've heard from their website is pretty trippy stuff -- tonal, slow groove, moody. Opener Papercuts' new record, Can't Go Back, got a whopping 8.3 from Pitchfork. That must mean something. $10, 9 p.m.

Meanwhile, over at The Waiting Room, it's Landing on the Moon with Seattle indie-pop band Smile Brigade and Paper Owls. $7, 9 p.m.

Live Review: For Against; Little Brazil tonight, the return of Doug Kabourek tomorrow… – March 21, 2008 –

I will wax only the briefest of sonnets about last night's For Against show at The Waiting Room. Almost no one was there, maybe 30 people at its apex, which dwindled to around a dozen by the end of their nearly 2-hour set. I don't know what -- if anything -- will get people to come out and see/hear this band. It's their loss. If you like Factory Records, if you like Joy Division and that style of music, you're doing yourself a great disservice by not seeing these guys whenever you get a chance (and if you live in Lincoln, that means tonight as they're playing an early show (6 p.m.) at Box Awesome). I've seen them a half-dozen times over the past 15 years and last night's set was easily, simply their best. It's rare (nay impossible) for just about any band to keep my attention after, say, 45 minutes. These guys kept me entranced for an hour and forty-five minutes, a distance I wasn't prepared or expecting to travel, as Spring Gun also was slated to play this show, but apparently canceled (though the band was there). Certainly Spring Gun's drummer, Nick Buller, who also is now a core member of For Against, was in the house and performed as if undergoing some sort of tribal rite of passage. Yes, the rhythm section is their backbone, but For Against really is the product of all its parts; a honed, efficient trio that takes advantage of every moment. There are no wasted efforts. The new songs from their new album, Shade Side Sunny Side, held up to any of their earlier material, in fact, the evening's highlight was a song from that CD, called "Why Are You So Angry?" -- which provided a perfect dynamic counterbalance to the band's usual throbbing sound. Now they're off to Italy, where I'm told they'll be performing 2-hour sets on tour "because it's expected." Those lucky Italians.

Tonight at The Waiting Room, something a bit less cerebral -- Little Brazil with The Photo Atlas, 1090 Club and Valley Arena. $7, 9 p.m.

Tomorrow, it's the return of Doug Kabourek (who no longer goes by Fizzle Like a Flood) at O'Leaver's. Doug will be playing a few songs as part of a show that headlines She Swings She Sways and The Black Squirrels. An historic event? You be the judge. 9:30, $5.

Watch for updates over the weekend...

Live Review: Colourmusic, British Sea Power; For Against, José González tonight… – March 20, 2008 –

The irony of Colourmusic -- other than they aren't British, as the spelling of "colour" would imply (they're from Stillwater, Oklahoma) -- is their use of white -- all-white clothes, white guitars, white amps, white everything. No colour at all! Except the music, which was somewhat colorful. I had a hard time getting a handle on what they were trying to do. There was a lot of Flaming Lips going on, as well as typical indie rock. Fact is, the mix was so bad that all I could hear was the bass and the lead guy's distortion pedals.

Bad sound also hampered British Sea Power's set. Here was a six-piece that included a trumpet and violin player, neither of which could be heard past the bass in the muddy mix. Other than terrible sound, their set was pretty much as expected -- a sort of homage to '80s UK rock. Not bad, but not terribly inspiring and after awhile, somewhat boring, with every song played at the same pace, with the same dynamics, and the same fuzzy bass. Good-sized crowd (150?).

Hopefully, just as large of a crowd will be on hand for tonight's show at The Waiting Room: For Against with Spring Gun and Richard Schultz and the Miracle Men. This show is being promoted by their label -- Minneapolis' Words on Music -- as For Against's CD-release show for Shade Side Sunny Side, their seventh full-length and first studio album since 2002. The album will officially be released on April 8.

I profiled the band last year before they headed out on a tour of Spain (read the story here). In the coming weeks, the band, which includes new drummer Nick Buller (of Spring Gun) will be headed to Italy for a tour that takes them to Rome, Salerno and Savona, with a Northern European tour planned for later in this year. Here's your chance to see them on their home court (well, close to home anyway, as they're actually from Lincoln). $8, 9 p.m.

A few weeks ago when I interviewed Jim Johnson for the Waiting Room anniversary story, he tipped me to another show that's going on tonight: José González at Sokol Underground. It's another in a series of shows by Hunt Industry, a Lawrence-based promotion company that seems to have taken Sokol Underground under its wing. Anyway, González is an Argentinean singer-songwriter with a unique style who has released music on a handful of labels including Parasol and Mute. He's played on most of the late-night chat shows, including Conan and Kimmel. Opening the 7 p.m. show is Mia Doi. Tickets are $15. Would it be possible to hit this show, then For Against? Maybe...

St. Patty's redux; British Sea Power tonight… – March 19, 2008 –

A brief comment on Monday's St. Patrick's Day festivities: We turned our backs on the glorious, stench-filled Dubliner as the bar continues to insist on hosting the same crappy band every year -- a band that prefers to play John Denver and Willie Nelson covers instead of Irish ballads. Instead, we headed to The Brazen Head for a true Irish band -- The Turfmen. We walked in at 3 and I had my first Guinness at 3:01 -- far quicker than the Dubliner ever served me on the holiest of drinking days. Still, it just wasn't the same. The Raisin Head essentially is a restaurant located in a strip mall next to a World Market. Its only ties to the emerald isle are a few Irish motifs and a Guinness sign. It's like celebrating St. Patrick's Day at a Village Inn. Even the poor Turfman had been relegated to a corner in the back of the bar, surrounded by empty tables so that no one could get close to the band (or dance an Irish jig). We lasted two hours and then high-tailed it home. Next year, it's back to the Dubliner, even with the John Denver tribute band. Fact is, I just can't get enough of that Dubliner stink!

Tonight at The Waiting Room, it's the Brighton England combo British Sea Power. The 4-piece epitomizes the soaring UK pop sound that I remember from the early days of MTV, complete with chiming guitars and breathy, gasping vocals. They remind me of Welsh band The Alarm (a lot) and early upbeat U2 (a little). Wikipedia says they've been compared to The Cure and Joy Division, which I can't hear at all. Opening are Colourmusic and Who Shot Hollywood -- two bands I'm not familiar with. Still, you probably don't want to miss this one, unless you're torn between this show and For Against tomorrow night (also at The Waiting Room). Why not man-up and go to both? $10, 9 p.m.

Happy St. Paddy's Day; Hoshaw and Co. tonight… – March 17, 2008 –

I had intended to skip the Brad Hoshaw St. Patty's Day Birthday Bash at The 49'r this evening. After all, St. Patrick's Day is somewhat sacred to Teresa and I. We usually spend the afternoon imbibing of Guinness at The Dubliner, and I wind up in bed and fast asleep by 8 p.m. I already told Brad that I wasn't going. But now it seems that Teresa has come down with a cold, and I'm also a bit under the weather due to allergies and we will likely skip the usual revelry. Which means if I'm feeling up to it, I might go to the Niner after all, though there's nothing terribly "Irish" about the the evening's music.

Starting at 7:30, the lineup includes Adam Hawkins, Jake Bellows, Landon Hedges, Matt Cox, Sarah Benck and, of course, Brad Hoshaw. That'll be followed by The Black Squirrels at 9:15, Midwest Dilemma at 10:30 and The Whipkey Three at 11:30, if anyone is still conscious. $5.

Strangely, The Waiting Room has nothing booked in observation of this holy drinking day. One would think that TWR and the rest of the Benson would organize a St. Patrick's Day pub crawl down Maple, with Irish music at all the clubs and bars. Instead, nothing. Maybe next year...

<Got comments? Post 'em here.>

Live Review: Springsteen… – March 15, 2008 –

As I drove aimlessly through the clusterfucked streets looking for a place to park, I took solace in the fact that this, the third concert I've attended at The Qwest Center, would also be my last.

I guess it's impossible to get good seats at Qwest. For Fleetwood Mac, we sat lower bowl center, straight back from the stage and couldn't see shit. For The Who, I joined a Who fan club just to try to get good seats. We got first tier, but too close to the floor and too far back on the side, so we couldn't see shit. Like every other dumbshit who thought the concert would sell out in two minutes, I was online right when the tickets were made available and was surprised that I even got through. Hence, I took the first "best seats" offered, figuring if I didn't take them, I'd never make it through the queue and would lose any chance of getting tickets. When I looked at the seating chart online, I thought they were pretty good -- section 223 Row N. Heck, second tier right off the stage -- I'll be looking right down on The Boss' bad haircut!

Wrong. The seats were, in fact, off stage right, but I misjudged just how far up they would be. Nosebleed, and as a result, I couldn't see shit. I couldn't even really see the Jumbo-trons set up on the sides of the stage. The irony that everyone knows who goes to Qwest shows is that all the seats are bad, and as a result, most of the audience spends the show watching the screens instead of the stage.

All right, enough of my endless whining about the Qwest's shitty sightlines. Once we got our $26 dinner (hamburger, fries, chicken tenders, two beers), we climbed to our stratospheric seats, and proceeded to wait 90 minutes for the concert to start. The crowd consisted mostly of retired school teachers, grandfathers, extras from a production of The Sopranos, and lots of older women who thought that a Springsteen concerts was the right place to show their abundant cleavage. Omaha is fat city, we all know this. It's also bust city, and from my seat on top of the world, I got plenty of views "downtown," views I could have done without.

Strangely, no one seemed to mind that the tickets said the show was supposed to start at 7:30 and it was 8:30 and nothing was going on. To keep the crowd on the edge of their seats, a roadie would run out on stage every five minutes and do something. Here comes a microphone stand. There goes Clarence's saxophone holder. Better tape another set list to the ground. Meanwhile, all around me, people were calling each other on their cell phones and then frantically waving. "We're sitting over here! Over here! Look how bad our seats are!" Everyone was brimming with excitement. It was The Boss, after all! The Boss!

The band finally arrived at around a quarter to nine. As with the last two concerts at the Qwest, the sound was pure shit. Look, I know that small club shows have spoiled me forever for auditorium shows. There's no way The Qwest will ever match the sound of The Waiting Room or Slowdown or, uh, O'Leaver's. Muddy, flat high end, extreme bounce off the far wall. But you don't go to a Springsteen show for good acoustics. You go for the performance. Springsteen is a modern marvel. He's 58 but he runs around on stage like he's in his 20s. Off he would run to stage left right up to the barrier, then lean back and throw his hands in the air like a circus performer, as if to say "Stand up, fuckers!" Then run to the other side and do the same thing. Over and over, all night. The only thing I could see on the jumbo screens were tight close-ups of Springsteen's face, odd pained facial contortions. In his advancing years, he's starting to look like a dark-haired Joe Cocker (or the Belushi version of Cocker).

His voice is phenomenal. Just a terrific voice that never seems to age. And the band was amazing, especially the rhythm section. Weinberg is just a great, functional drummer. He doesn't do anything particularly flashy, he just keeps it all together, as does the bass player. I don't know what he'd do without them. While Springsteen and Lofgren stumbled through their yawn-inducing solos, the rhythm section and keyboardists kept all the wandering on track.

I've already read a few reviews that highlighted Lofgren's solos. I don't like his style, his touch technique that makes every note sound rounded. It sounds like he's played the same boring solos for 20 years, because he has. Again, Springsteen and his band aren't really known for their guitar solos. They are known for Clemons' sax solos, which sounded just like they do on the records. I expected more interaction between Springsteen and Clemons. Aren't they supposed to be pals like on the cover of Born to Run? The Boss barely acknowledged him all night. Where was the love?

Early in the set, Springsteen dedicated a song to Conor Oberst ("Living in the Future"). I figured Oberst was in Austin for SXSW, seeing as his label has a showcase there. Later, Springsteen name-checked "Matt and Nancy," Oberst's parents. Then out of nowhere, here came Conor. Springsteen trotted him out to sing along with "Thunder Road." Oberst either didn't know the words or was nervous or both. You could barely hear him when it was his turn to sing. It was awkward, only made more awkward by the fact that no one in the audience probably knew who this "hometown hero" was. The 54-year-old lady next to us asked us and when we told her, looked disinterested or confused.

The night's musical highlight was probably "The Rising," one of those songs that you forget how good it is until you hear it again. Or maybe "Jungleland," which was marred by a portly drunken woman a few rows away who insisted on cackling in an irritating Tickle Me Elmo voice "Yeah-a-heah-heah!" over and over. Funny the first time, not so much the fourth or fifth time. You begin to realize after about two hours that Springsteen has a lot of classics, and that a lot of them sound the same. The crowd, of course, ate it all up. Clocking in at over two-and-a-half hours, there's no arguing that Springsteen shows are a good value for your concert-going dollar (especially at a $57-$97 price point). Too bad it had to take place at The Qwest, but where else are you going to hold it? Goodbye white elephant!

Live Review: Richard Thompson; Springsteen tonight; Sheehan Sunday and the rest of the weekend … – March 14, 2008 –

Richard Thompson's 100-minute set (including two encores) last night at Scottish Rite Hall ranked right up there with the last time I saw him play back in '94. It was the same sort of set-up: Thompson came out to a nearly empty stage, surrounded by the flora and fauna that is the Scottish Rite's Bambi-esque stage backdrop. Thompson (black shirt, black jeans, black beret) stood behind two monitors, a panel of pedals at his feet next to a faux tree stump that held a towel, a cup of water and what looked like a container of Johnson's Baby Powder. With no introduction, he rifled into a set of music that stretched back to '74's I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight (the title song and "Down Where the Drunkards Roll") as well as an encore that included "Shoot Out the Lights." Between all that were a handful of songs from last year's Sweet Warrior (which I intend to download today), a cheeky number about how he loves brainy women, and maybe his most-loved ballad, "1952 Vincent Black Lightning."

Anyone who's seen him before knows that Thompson is the king of witty between-song patter; i.e., he's utterly charming, that is if you can decipher his rapidly delivered British brogue. The real treat, though, is his guitar work, which is stunning. He walked on stage with a single acoustic guitar and almost two hours later, walked off stage with that same guitar. In that time, he made the beat-up brown ax sound like a stringed symphony, its tone only matched by Thompson's own brassy voice, which sounded no different than when I heard it 24 years ago.

I watched the show from a half-filled balcony. I never got a look at the crowd on the main floor, though the area in front of the stage was littered with bald guys sitting Indian style -- not a single woman to be seen down there. For the most part, the crowd was responsive, and Thompson seemed to be having a good time (if coming out twice for encores is any indication).

* * *

I told Teresa to listen closely to Thompson's guitar, because she wasn't going to hear anything remotely as well-played at the Springsteen concert tonight -- that's right, we're going. I've never been a big Springsteen fan. I always thought his early albums (Greetings…, Born to Run) were utter cheeseball efforts. His stuff never really interested me until The River and Nebraska. It's been hit and miss ever since (mostly miss), though his last album, Magic, is a nice return to form and is probably the best thing he's done since cheese-factory Born in the U.S.A.

You, of course, will get a full report, either tomorrow or on Monday (but probably tomorrow, so look for it).

What about the rest of the weekend?

Tonight after the Springsteen concert, stroll on over to Slowdown Jr. for Glorytellers, featuring Geoff Farina of the now-defunct Karate. Opening is Thunder Power!!! $7, 9 p.m. It should be the same crowd I saw at the Qwest, right?

Meanwhile, The Saddle Creek Bar is celebrating St. Paddy's Day a few days early with The Killigans, The Upsets, Bent Left and Green Room Rockers. I foresee green beers, Jamison's and a drunken mess. Fun! $5, 9 p.m.

Over at The Waiting Room it's Satchel Grande. $7, 9 p.m.

Saturday night's big show is Vic Chestnutt opening for Jonathan Richman at The Waiting Room. I know, JR is the headliner, but I prefer Chestnutt's music (and will probably be the only one in the room who does). Last time I saw him play live was at The Capitol Bar, probably around '96 or so, with Alex McManus accompanying him. $12, 9 p.m.

Over at O'Leaver's it's Bazooka Shootout, The Championship and a third band TBD, assuming that The Ointments aren't going to play (Does anyone know how Reagan Roeder is doing?). $5, 9:30 p.m.

Meanwhile, at The 49'r, it's an always-classic performance by The Filter Kings with The Mercurys. I assume this one will run around $5 and start around 10.

Finally, Sunday, it's the Stephen Sheehan 50th Birthday concert at Slowdown Jr. Sheehan is celebrating with his two favorite bands, KC's Far Beyond Frail and Omaha's Shiver Shiver. Between sets, he and Richard Schultz will play a set of music from their Between the Leaves project. $5, 8 p.m.

Column 164: Alessi goodbye… Richard Thompson tonight… – March 13, 2008 –

A few more notes about Alessi before I turn you loose on the column… In addition to talking about music, we spent a lot of time discussing her favorite restaurants. Among them, Taqueria La Esmeralda on 32nd and Q. "I get the chicken quesadilla, a large cup of horchata soup, and maybe some guacamole." Then there's Bangkok Cuisine at 19th and Farnam. "I order the Tom Kah soup (spice level 5) with tofu, and as main, the Pad Thai (spice level 8)." She also mentioned Dixie Quicks, Nettie's, Jams and the Dundee Dell (where she orders the fried pickles). She said Indian restaurants are to London what Mexican restaurants are to Omaha -- they're everwhere.

We talked about her many physical mishaps. Alessi considers herself clumsy and points to the time she tumbled down the stairs leading to the main floor at Slowdown. "I sprained my ankle and it swelled up and had I show the next night and had to play on crutches." No word of any pending litigation. Then there's the time her tongue became swollen for no apparent reason. "I couldn't stop breathing. I'd been with Jake (Bellows) and Mike (Mogis) came in and didn't know what to do and called an ambulance and we went to hospital and Jake was there quite a long time." She said the doctors think her muscles had contracted, but didn't know why. She talked about doing a show -- and now a split single -- with Thunder Power!!! "I think they're quite fantastic, they're really funny people, and all a bit clumsy so that really works."

In short, Alessi is lovable. In a remarkably short time, she managed to work her way into the hearts of just about every person involved with the local indie music scene. Everyone knows Alessi. Everyone loves Alessi. And what's not to love? I have no doubt that she's going to be a great big star. I just hope that after she makes it big in the U.K., that she remembers all of the people she met in this patch of dirt in the middle of the U.S. She is, afterall, only 17, and Omaha may only have been just another summer crush.

Column 164: British Bird's Other Nest
Alessi make Omaha her second home.

This is the story of a girl named Alessi, a stranger from a strange land called London cast away in a distant world called Omaha to be embraced by natives carrying guitars and glockenspiel. She quickly learned the language, thanks to tribe leader Mike Mogis. And now, after spending only a few months here eating Tom Kha soup and quesadillas, shopping at the temple of Target and hanging out with fried-chicken eating musicians, she's gone. Back to London. Leaving behind her extended family to pursue a career fueled by global music powerhouse EMI Records, fondly remembering time spent with new friends that she won't see again for a long, long time.

Alessi Laurent-Marke is a 17-year-old singer songwriter. When I saw her on stage at The Waiting Room and was told her age, I didn't believe it. From my vantage point propped against the bar in the back of the room, Alessi (who is, in fact, named after the famous line of kitchenware products) looked and sounded much older, playing songs that seemed too world weary for her 17 years. Her voice had a shy, warm, breathy tone, saturated in an odd accent that reminded me of Bjork. Standing stone still in a long, hippie dress, her thick bangs stopping just before her eyes, I thought that she could be Britain's answer to Cat Power's Chan Marshall, but without Chan's hang-ups. Alessi was too young to have hang-ups yet.

A few days later, she sat across from me in the front booth at The Waiting Room on a Sunday afternoon. The place was empty except for owner Jim Johnson toting around a ladder, and bartender Matt Bowen working a crossword on his Nintendo DS. The folks from Tilly and the Wall were busy loading out equipment from the previous night's show, and as they noticed Alessi, they came over and hugged her, asking when she was going back.

"The combination of humility and talent make my knees buckle," she said, draped in an electric-green wool overcoat. "People here are oh so gentle. I'm not saying that London isn't welcoming, it just moves a helluva lot faster."

Alessi only began singing a couple years ago, when she was 15. Living in a neighborhood halfway between Hammersmith and Shepherd's Bush, she was as an outsider in school. "I felt I had to change a bit to make friends, which made me sad," she said. "I stopped trying at age 15."

After completing her compulsory exams, Alessi's parents allowed her to quit school, but on the condition that it only be for a year. After being encouraged to find her voice by musician Johnathan Rice, she started playing shows, including a residency at the 12 Bar Club on Denmark St. She recorded a few songs with friends and placed them on a Myspace page. "Mostly Americans wrote me messages asking when I was going to come over," she said. "It was quite astounding that people showed interest."

Then in December 2006, Alessi played a show at a Soho club. In the audience were reps from Heavenly Records, a subsidiary of EMI whose roster includes Ed Harcourt, Cherry Ghost and Magic Numbers. Also in the crowd was the head of EMI. He liked the music and showed interest in signing Alessi. It took awhile, but eventually she signed on the day before her 17th birthday. "I was really cautious," she said. "I feel like you have to compromise quite a bit, but in order to really share your ideas and songs, you need a vehicle, and this will come in handy."

The folks at EMI asked if there were any producers that she wanted to work with. "All my favorite most recent music had something to do with Mike Mogis," she said, specifically referencing Rilo Kiley's The Execution of All Things. "I remember listening to it and thinking 'This is modern music. This is magic."

She showed up at Mogis' ARC Studios in early September, living in the adjacent guesthouse and immediately bonding with the Mogis family. Before long, she also became friends with studio engineer Ian Aeillo and the cast of characters in the Saddle Creek world. "Jake (Bellows) turned up one day with a bucket of chicken and I liked him immediately."

Bellows and Maria Taylor are among the guests who contributed to Notes from The Treehouse, which will be released on Zooey EMI (Alessi's own label) in Europe in July. She still doesn't know who will release it stateside. That'll be decided after she returns to London.

Some of her fondest memories of Omaha are based on food -- the Mexican and Thai restaurants (There are no Mexican restaurants in London), and shopping at "the temple of Target" with her mom ("Every Target smells like popcorn, and that can't be a bad thing."). But mostly she'll miss her friends. "Sometimes I get tearful about it because I didn't really have friends in school," she said. "I hate to leave everybody here. They have such good hearts."

But she'll be back. She wants to tour the U.S., and even asked Bellows and Dan McCarthy to come along. And maybe someday, she might even live in our little creative universe.

"I'd really like to move here," Alessi said. "The dream is to buy a very small little house and anyone could stay there when I'm not in town. I would sleep better if I knew there was a little nest for me in Omaha."

* * *

Tonight at The Scottish Rite Hall, Richard Thompson. No idea who -- of if anyone -- is opening this 8 p.m. show. Tickets are $25. I haven't seen Thompson in 14 years, not since he played at Liberty Hall in Lawrence around 1994. That was a terrific show; this one will be, too.

<Got comments? Post 'em here.>

Lazy-i in Wayne's World; Eagle*Seagull hates EP's… – March 12, 2008 –

For those of you who have always wondered what my voice sounds like, I'm once again featured in the Worlds of Wayne podcast (download it here). This time Wayne and I talk about conducting interviews, writing criticism and other music-related stuff. Like I said the last time I did one of these, I'll never listen to this podcast as I have a deep-seated phobia about hearing my own voice (I think it's known as Phonophobia). So take a listen and let me know how I did.

Also featured in the podcast is music by The Third Men, Fizzle Like a Flood and Tilly and the Wall. Wayne originally asked me to bring music along that I'd like to play, so I burned a copy of a few of my favorite Lloyd Cole tunes. The look on Wayne's face when I mentioned Lloyd Cole was enough to tell me that he was never going to play them on his show. That, and the fact that there are "clearance issues" regarding using music that is licensed and released by a record label. I have no idea how all that works. Luckily, I also brought along a handful of Best of Lazy-i compilation discs from over the years, and Wayne selected a couple songs off those by local bands which he could track down and get permission to use.

I've been asked before why I don't start a podcast, and it would be relatively easy with my Macbook Air and Garageband, but I'm not convinced that there's any value in me reading my blog entries rather than you reading my blog entries. That may change if I can ever figure out a way to record phone interviews…


I continue to find out about other local bands performing down at SXSW. Someone posted on the webboard that Vverevvolf Grehv is playing at Emo's Thursday as part of the Relapse Records' showcase.

Another one is Eagle*Seagull, who's playing at The Thirsty Nickel Friday night. Eli Mardock e-mailed last week letting me know that E*S released a limited-edition vinyl EP cleverly titled I Hate EP's. "There will be only 500 copies made available, all of which feature hand screen-printed cover art," he said. "They'll be sold on our forthcoming U.S. tour with Tokyo Police Club." The EP also became available on iTunes (US) yesterday. The digital edition features three additional tracks.

I asked Eli for an update on the band's efforts to sign to a record label. He said the EP was self-released, however "we've got a new label but are still keeping tight lipped about it (until all the little details are ironed out). We're really excited about it though, and it's been hard to keep it quiet. We'll make an announcement soon enough."

Know of any other locals headed to Austin? Post them on the webboard.

Tomorrow, the weekly column, featuring Alessi.

Live Review: Son, Ambulance; SXSW schedules; UUVVWWZ, Chinese Stars tonight… – March 11, 2008 –

The final SXSW warm-up show was last night at O'Leaver's featuring a new line-up for Son, Ambulance. Joe Knapp and his brother, Daniel, still anchor the band. Joining them were original drummer Jeff Koster, singer Jenna Morrison, a guy from the Jazzwholes on saxophone/guitar/keyboards/bells/vocals (he was doing everything, and doing it all quite well), and Dereck Higgins. Higgins is like, well, you remember when you played a pick-up game of flag football and there was that guy on the other team who kicked everyone's ass? You called that person a "ringer." And Higgins, who played bass and some guitar, is the ringer on Son, Ambulance. You get the sense that he could step into just about any band and make everything that much better. Joe said the crew had only been together for two weeks, feverishly learning the songs to be performed this week in Austin. Song-writing wise, it was the best set I've seen from him. Joe appears to be channeling Elvis Costello these days both vocally and musically (he's an absolute dead ringer on a couple numbers). Other times the band took off on trippy psychedelic tangents a la Pink Floyd. Yeah, there were a few glitches, but what did you expect? The real question is how these songs sound on the new record. We'll have to wait and see.

Saddle Creek Records sent out their lineup for SXSW yesterday. Here's the run-down for those of you not on their e-mail list.

The official Saddle Creek showcase at SXSW is set for Saturday, March 15, at Dirty Dog. The order:

8 PM - Son, Ambulance
9 PM - Ladyfinger (NE)
10 PM - Georgie James (acoustic duo)
11 PM - Neva Dinova
12 AM - Two Gallants
1 AM - Tokyo Police Club

Creek is also involved in another showcase Thursday, March 13, with The Onion at Emo's and Emo's Jr.:

Inside Stage:
12:05 - Ladyfinger (NE)
1:00 - Son, Ambulance
2:40 - Neva Dinova
5:10 - Georgie James (acoustic duo)

Outside Stage:
4:20 - Tokyo Police Club

Meanwhile Team Love artists are also hitting 6th St.:

Capgun Coup
03.13 Austin, TX Sonny's Vintage 2928 Guadeloupe @ 5:30
03.14 Austin, TX Calle Habana 6 709 E 6th St @ 9:30

Flowers Forever
03.14 Austin, TX Calle Habana 6 709 E 6th St @ 9:00

McCarthy Trenching
03.14 Austin, TX Calle Habana 6 709 E 6th St @ 8:30

Tilly & the Wall
03.14 Austin, TX Calle Habana 6 709 E 6th St @ 1:00 AM

And The Show Is the Rainbow is playing no less than seven different gigs at SXSW. Check out his myspace for the schedule.

* * *

Tonight at the all-holy Brothers Lounge, 38th and Farnum, it's a rare live show featuring UUVVWWZ, Plack Blague and headliner The Chinese Stars. 9 p.m., $5. Go.

Live Review: Tilly and the Wall, Ladyfinger; Son, Ambulance tonight… – March 10, 2008 –

Believe it or not, it's not uncommon to hear people make fun of Tilly and the Wall. Usually it's people beyond their teens and early 20s, or guys who like tougher, angrier rock music, or high-brow musician types that value technical expertise over anything else. The funnin' can become downright abusive, almost hateful. Part of it is jealousy and envy -- here is this troupe of attractive young men and women on the verge of becoming something huge, something that most of those folks will never have. But part of it is the adoration for what can be rather mundane music, music that has been foisted on the slumped, well-coifed shoulders of a next generation who "should know better."

I've liked Tilly since back when they were Magic Kiss, and Park Ave. before that. I admit to liking them no matter how big of a puss that makes me. Part of my affection is due to my perception that there's something rather dark under that ultra-cute façade, something that speaks to a hidden, unspoken reality about the millennial generation. It's a generation that's not supposed to have any underdogs, yet Tilly songs are all about the underdog trapped in a world of constant competition. Look, all you had to do is listen to the words.

Their new single, "Beat Control," however, flies in the face of all that. It's a dance song with no other interest or design other than to get you to shake your rump; a song, as one local sound engineer said "every 15-year-old girl is gonna love." I played it for someone else who swore Debbie Gibson must have wrote it. It is very Debbie/Paula-esque circa 1983, unapologetically so. I've seen others compare it to Dee-lite, which is off the mark (except for maybe the video). It is undeniably infectious, almost impossible to get out of your head after you've heard it just once. It's also a new direction for Tilly. Forget the tap dancing, forget the coy acoustic guitar and the girlie harmonies. This is a straight-up preprogrammed dance-floor raver. And yeah, it could be a big hit if it were embraced by New York DJ's and radio programmers.

I bring it up because the dance vibe that permeates "Beat Control" enshrouded the first 1/3 of Tilly's sold-out set Saturday night at The Waiting Room. The pre-show glowed with a playful Goo-like dance vibe as big-beat club music blared over the sound system while the crowd poked balloons anxiously awaiting The Tilly to arrive.

The line-up Saturday was the five core members, plus two new ones -- a bass player and Craig D on drums. I can't over-emphasize the difference they made to their sound. Night and day. But part of it was the new songs, which stress big, thick beats over handclaps. Even the old stuff seemed rearranged in a way that sounded more realized (and better) than anything on their old records.

Tilly, it seems, has moved away from their hand-made music experience to become this generation's B-52s, or at least that's what they appeared to be going for. Big party, big fun, gets your hands in the air, bang-bang on the drum baby. And the kids loved it. Tilly has gone from having a thrown-together amateur appeal to something much more refined, professional, commercial. I certainly hope that was their intent, because if "Beat Control" does become a hit, there's no turning back. The new crowd -- the crowd beyond the indie stalwarts who loved them for their down-home talent-show appeal -- will not stand for anything less than the hit, and more songs that sound like the hit. "The tap dancing is cute, but we want 'Beat Control.'" And so on.

Speaking of tap dancing, it's still very much part of the act. In fact, it's been elevated to new heights -- literally. A new "tap dance box" has been constructed (at a cost that I'm told that ran in the thousands of dollars). The box, placed at the back center of the stage, elevates Jamie Williams well above the band, so that she looks either like a ballerina on a music box (complete with tutu) or a stripper. The elevation almost makes her too exposed, and though she's providing a rhythm track, I can't help but think that she's become relegated to the role of "dancer," with no microphone in site. Instead, the vocals are handled by Kianna Alarid and Neely Jenkins, singing harmonies that don't quite hold together as harmonies. No one seems to mind.

The bottom line: Tilly fans will love the new Tilly even more, while those who hate Tilly will keep right on hating them, and maybe even moreso as they become more popular…

Tilly wasn't the only Saddle Creek-related band to play a warm-up set this weekend. I caught Ladyfinger Friday night at O'Leaver's and they sounded ready for anything. I talked to a guy who was at their Waiting Room show a few days ago who said they sounded even better at O'Leaver's. There could be a few reasons for this:

1. O'Leaver's small room and low-rent sound system helps pull everything together and hides any flaws that are clearly exposed by The Waiting Room's far superior sound system.

2. The band was more relaxed playing at O'Leaver's, which essentially is their home court.

3. The guy who told me this was loaded.

I tend to think that the truth is a combination of all three. Ladyfinger's new music is more brutal and also more tuneful than their debut. One of the evening's highlights was an impromptu cover of Heart's "Barracuda" where frontman Chris Machmuller managed to hit all the high notes. The band, however, wisely stopped before the second verse -- no reason to shred Mach's voice before heading to Austin.

A combination of late nights Friday and Saturday night, the move to daylight savings time and my advancing years prevented me from going to Holy Fuck last night. If someone was there, please let me know how it went on the webboard.

* * *

Tonight is yet another SXSW warm-up show, this time with Son, Ambulance who is slated to play an early set (8 p.m.) at O'Leaver's tonight. Also on the bill is Fromanhole, Private Dancer, Vampire Hands and Cheap Hookers. $5, all night.

Ladyfinger tonight, Domestica tomorrow, Holy F*** Sunday; Neva vid shoot… – March 7, 2008 –

Here it comes, the weekend leading up to SXSW when bands flock to the local venues to warm up before heading to Austin.

Let's run through the schedule:

Tonight at O'Leaver's, it's a not-so-secret secret show with Ladyfinger and a TBA opener. Seeing Ladyfinger at O'Leaver's is a journey into dark, angry chaos, a sweat bath of bodies crushed deep inside everyone's favorite cramped stinkhole. This is how legends are made. It's also a chance to check out their new stuff before they head to Austin Tuesday. $5, 9:30 p.m.

Also tonight, electro-rock pop band Go Motion plays at The Waiting Room with Roman Candles and Mystery Palace. $7, 9 p.m.

Meanwhile, at the hidden nook called Incognito at 70th Ave. & Maple, a two-piece version of Sleep Said the Monster plays with superstar singer-songwriter Brad Hoshaw. SStM's Karl Houfek says Incognito is "the basement of the '1 Lounge.'" I'm told it's quite cozy. 9 p.m., free.

Finally, tonight at PS Collective it's a veritable Slumber Party Records showcase with the mighty Talkin' Mountain, the charming Honeybee, FTL Drive and NYC band The Lisps. The Mountain say they'll be selling copies of their new I'm Drinking This cassette EP, which will sound awesome in my Tracker. $5, 9 p.m.

Saturday night's marquee show is Tilly and the Wall at The Waiting Room with Thunder Power!!! No surprise: It's Sold Out.

No tickets? No worries. Lincoln heroes Domestica (ex-Mercy Rule, do I still need to say that?) are playing at O'Leaver's with The Lepers, The Stay Awake and Perry H. Matthews. Bring your earplugs. You will need them. I'm not kidding. FYI, those PHM guys say they've got a new 6-song 7-inch (that includes a CD-R, all for only $5) which hopefully they'll have on hand tomorrow night. $5, 9:30 p.m.

Sunday night it's Holy Fuck (read about them here) with A Place to Bury Strangers (read about them in the CW here) and Flowers Forever. $10, 9 p.m.

Meanwhile, down at Slowdown Jr. it's The Most Serene Republic with Grand Archives and Jealous Girlfriend. I've been listening to MSR's ambitious new album, Population, on Canadian label Arts & Crafts (the fine folks who brought you Stars, Broken Social Scene, Feist, etc.). It'll be interesting to see how they pull off the record on stage. $8, 9 p.m.

And over at O'Leaver's (that's three nights in a row for a club that's supposed to be cutting back on shows) it's Orenda Fink with Kid Dakota and Dreamend. $5, 9:30 p.m.

What else.

Saddle Creek Records' go-to guy Jeff Tafolla e-mailed yesterday saying that Neva Dinova is looking for dancing extras for a video they're shooting Monday afternoon and evening at Royal View Hall, 3734 So. 13th St. Apparently the Rosenblatt Stadium parking lot is right across the street from the hall, and you can park there if you go. "Don't worry, if you don't know how to dance, junior high swaying back and forth will be great," Tafolla says. "We just need it to look like a bunch of people showed up for a dance. We need couples, but I'm sure we'll be able to pair up any singles. All are welcome!" You're supposed to wear "conservative dress-up" like for a school dance. They're going for a"50's bubble gum pop feel." I assume Jake is playing the role of the school principal or kindly janitor? The shoot is 4 to 9 p.m. and they say they're providing dinner (something tells me it's pizza). Anyone interested, e-mail Rob Walters at

And don't freakin' forget: Daylight Saving's Time starts Sunday night. That means winter's officially over and barbecue season is once again upon us...

Column 163 -- The Waiting Room after year one; Phosphorescent tonight… – March 6, 2008 –

Some leftovers from the Jim Johnson interview that didn't make it into Column 163 (below)...

When The Waiting Room opened a year ago, I (along with others) told Johnson that he could kiss any free time he had goodbye. And that's pretty much how it worked out. "Whatever anyone said about the hours that it would take was right," he said. "I get to work at about 10 a.m., take a break in there somewhere, and leave between 1 or 2 a.m. every night, seven days a week." Grueling. So how can he stand it? "I just like it. I guess I like it so much because it's actually working. It's been a goal to do this for ten year. Now that it's happening I wish I would have done it a lot sooner, but if we had, I don't know if we'd be here or had these opportunities."

As mentioned in the column, those "opportunities" involve property acquisition, which Johnson said provides a "light at the end of the tunnel," and would eventually allow him to slow down and turn the club over to someone else. "Not that I want to do that in the next 10 or 15 years, but there will come a time where I'll pass it on to some hip kid that knows about this new music."

This prompted a discussion about Johnson's knowledge of up-and-coming bands (He obviously isn't a regular reader of Lazy-i and Omahype!). "It's so hard to keep up," he said. "I was at the store the other day and noticed Vampire Weekend was on the cover of SPIN. Vampire Weekend. We've done two shows with them, and I had no idea they were that big. I didn't know who Sara Bareilles was, and she's everywhere. So it's hard to keep up and stay in front of stuff. When I buy new records, it's The Kinks, The Who and '60s rock. That doesn't help."

Johnson wasn't interested in talking about why One Percent had booked so few shows at Sokol Underground last year, deferring to Marc Leibowitz, who makes the booking decisions. "Without that place (Sokol), we wouldn't be where we are today," he said.

So what's the goal moving forward? "To take it to the next level will involve building a reputation that's generated when bands go on the road and talk to other bands about where they've been and what's good," he said. "Everyone's heard of First Ave. and The Knitting Factory. That's where we want to be, but how many years have those clubs been around? It's just going to take time."

Column 163: A Year of Waiting
Omaha club celebrates its first birthday.

A year ago, on the eve of opening what would become a center point of the Omaha music scene, Jim Johnson wasn't sure The Waiting Room was going to work.

He, along with business partner Marc Leibowitz, couldn't tell if the 250-capacity club nestled in the heart of downtown Benson would even be around a year later.

"You don't know. How would you know?" Johnson said from his office located a flight up from the club's main floor. "I truly think if anyone could have made it work, we could, but we didn't know if a music club would work anywhere in Omaha, let alone in Benson."

But it did work, even better than they had hoped. A year after a March 9 opening that featured Art in Manila, The 4th of July and Black Squirrels, The Waiting Room remains one of the city's prime music venues. The club has hosted more than 250 shows including sold out gigs by local heroes The Faint, Bright Eyes and Cursive as well as national acts such as Okkervil River, The Black Lips and Roger Clyne & The Peacemakers (their biggest bar show yet).

Despite the trepidation, Johnson said The Waiting Room has done solid business from day one, consistently making its monthly revenue goals. But to do so meant having to adjust their business plan. The original idea was to both host live music and cater to a crowd of "regulars" who would patronize the bar even when no one was playing. It hasn't quite worked out that way.

"We realized pretty early on that we needed to fill our calendar," Johnson said, pointing to March and remarking that there are only two empty days on the schedule. "If we don't have some sort of event, we don't have any business. I thought we'd have a regulars crowd, but it hasn't happened. It's only been a year. I'm told it takes longer than a year to build that clientele."

Part of the problem is that people have to do some work before they decide to drop in, he said. "You don't know if you'll have to pay a cover or sit through some band that you can't stand," he said. "First you have to go to our website or look in The Reader and see if we have an event."

And not all of the club's events involve rock bands. Johnson said as the first year wore on, the bar added promotions that he and Liebowitz never would have considered before they opened, including Guitar Hero contests, Wii Bowling nights, rock movie nights and most recently, Omaha's version of Lincoln's popular Shithook Karaoke called Girl Drink Drunk, wherein a member of the audience comes on stage and sings with a live band as they play covers of songs like The Cure's "Boys Don't Cry," The Ramones' "Blitzkrieg Bop" and Generation X's "Ready, Steady, Go."

The duo also strayed from their intended booking policy. Before they opened, they had planned on booking everything from country to jazz to reggae, not just the type of indie bands that made their other venture -- One Percent Productions -- such a huge success. But a year later and indie remains their bread and butter.

"I don't think I agree with that," Johnson said before studying that March calendar again and recanting. "Actually, this month does sort of look indie-heavy, doesn't it. I still think we've done more of a variety of music here than ever before. Some of the country stuff just hasn't worked. We haven't given up on it."

He called the club's two Bastard Sons of Johnny Cash shows "disastrous."

"I love that music, but it's hard to get people out to those shows, especially on weekdays." Why? "I guess because their fans are old and have to work in the morning."

Johnson said the year's low points involved the occasional show where attendance was terrible and the bands were a-holes. On the other hand, the high points included being exposed to music that he'd never considered before, and making a lot of new friends -- especially the cadre of musicians and artists that also make Benson home.

Perhaps the most pleasant surprise was how well locating in Benson has worked out. Johnson pointed out that he and Leibowitz considered other locations. "I think we could have done it anywhere," he said. "Benson ended up being the right move. With all the restaurants and shops, this area could become as hip as the Old Market."

In fact, Johnson's so certain of Benson's potential that he and Leibowitz recently bought the building that houses The Waiting Room at 6212 Maple. The property also houses Edward Jones, Jake's smoke shop and the soon-to-open Jake's Tavern, a new comic book shop located in the empty bay next door and four apartments. They closed the deal a month ago.

"It's something we always wanted to do," Johnson said of their real estate venture, called Revamp LLC. "We wanted to have something that has substance. You can't go wrong with real estate. The concert and bar business is a little scary. And if you're going to work so hard for an area, it's nice to own something there. It's nice to have a little piece of Benson."

Tonight at Slowdown it's Phosphorescent, with Bowerbirds, Coyote Bones and Alessi. Phosphorescent's new CD, Pride, is one of the best slow-groove discs I've heard so far this year. $10, 9 p.m..

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Holy F**k? Holy F__k? Holy Fuck!; Brother Ali tonight… – March 5, 2008 –

One of the challenges faced by The Reader this week was how to handle the printing of the name Holy Fuck in its esteemed pages. Should they spell it out and let the chips fall where they may or alter the name in hopes of saving innocent minds from such a loathsome word? The final decision was the latter, and instead of Holy Fuck, you'll see Holy F**k in the pages of this week's Reader. The decision followed a similar approach taken by most other newspaper that featured the band (The most common approach was spelling it Holy F__k). Methinks the band finds the discussion over its name quite amusing.

Well, Lazy-i ain't afraid of the letters U or C. Take a look for yourself, and while you're at it, read about how the band formed, got its name and what it has in store for their show this coming Sunday (read it here). One little item of note that didn't make it into the story: It's nice to see a band that's still thrilled by the little things, like Radiohead recently playing an HF track on BBC during their stint DJing a radio show in the UK. "Radiohead is one of my favorite bands," said Holy Fuck's Graham Walsh. "It was very surreal, very flattering to hear them even say our band's name on the air. It was like 'Wow, they know my band.' That's really cool. It's certainly been a high point so far for the band." He quickly added that the next high point will be playing again in Omaha.

* * *

Tonight at The Waiting Room, it's Brother Ali with Abstract Rude, Toki Wright and BK-One. Get all brushed up for tonight's show by reading my 2003 interview with Brother Ali -- a story that resulted in an angry shout-out by the MC during his Sokol Underground show that week. $12, 9 p.m.

Saddle Creek Honored in D.C.; The Whigs, Coyote Bones tonight… – March 4, 2008 –

While you're getting ready to head out to South By Southwest, Saddle Creek's Robb Nansel and Jason Kulbel are packing their tuxes and heading to DC to be honored for their work creating the Slowdown complex.

They're getting the Entrepreneurial American Leadership Award, presented by D.C.-based Partners for Livable Communities as part of the organization's "Celebration of Vision and Community Spirit" formal dinner and awards program tomorrow night. According to the organization's press release, the award "acknowledges the civic capacity building, commitment, vision and entrepreneurial spirit of an individual. Those honored with this award are real 'doers' that accomplish change for the betterment of our communities. As Partners' President Bob McNulty describes, 'Partners is thrilled to honor two young leaders from the Omaha community. Robb and Jason's efforts to promote livability bring new life to an overlooked district and set a new standard for planning and the power of mixed-use that has been revered by the City.'" Past award winners include architect and sculptor Maya Lin; Ohio Senator George Voinovich, and Albert Simone, President of Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT).

What will Robb and Jason likely say as their acceptance speech? "Sweet!"

* * *

Tonight at The Waiting Room it's Athens rockers and ATO Records artist The Whigs with Wilmington's Spinto Bands and Omaha's own Coyote Bones. $8, 9 p.m.

And tune in tomorrow for a fun, funky interview with Holy Fuck. See you then.

Weekend wrap-up: Monroes, Midwest Dilemma, Alessi; Simon Joyner tonight… – March 3, 2008 –

I never get tired of seeing The Monroes. I've been watching Gary Dean Davis in his various incarnations since the good ol' Frontier Trust days. That whole rowdy tractor-punk shtick never wears thin, nor does watching Davis bounce around like a giant Mexican jumping bean, tightly grasping a microphone, seed cap firmly planted on his enormous head. Hearing him yell "Thanks!" at the end of every song is like an Omaha punk-rock rite of passage. May he and the rest of the band continue doing it into their 80s.

What about the rest of the show Friday night (Ladyfinger, The Coffin Killers)? Well, I missed it. I intended to come back to The Waiting Room, but never made it. I did, however, make it to the Waiting Room Saturday night to see the ever-expanding Midwest Dilemma. The band has ballooned to seven members, including a flute and tuba player; even a drummer (a first for these guys). The result was a set of ethereal chamber pop played to a lilting waltz beat. Few local artists have grown musically over the years as much as Justin Lamoureux, and I get the feeling that what we saw Saturday night was only the tip of the iceberg. The proof will come with the new CD, which he says will be in your hands in the next couple months. Afterward, a tour is in order. The music that I heard Saturday could just as easily be pulled off with his core band featuring Elizabeth Web on clarinet and vocals and David Downing on cello. The drummer, however, was a nice touch and should be part of any road crew. More to come. I was in the back for most of Jake Bellows' set -- him and an electric guitar. I get the feeling that Bellows could stand up there on stage and play his music for three solid hours and still keep his core fans' mesmerized. Finally, there was Alessi, who've I've been hearing about for months. The Londoner has made Omaha her second home, and at the same time, made the Omaha music scene her second family. She played solo with guitar, and it's fair to say that she could be London's answer to Chan Marshall (though her voice sounds nothing like Chan's). The most shocking moment of the night came when the lady next to me told me Alessi is only 17 years old. Her age and her obvious talent explains why EMI is backing her for the long run. Something tells me she's bound to be a star.

* * *

Simon Joyner opens for Iowa City's Samuel Locke-Ward (Miracles of God) tonight at O'Leaver's. Ward's got a new album out, recorded by Ed Gray, called Golden Favorites-Where Sobriety Is King, which you can check out at his Myspace page. 9:30 p.m. $5.

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Leap Day special: Ladyfinger, Monroes tonight; Alessi, TMBG tomorrow… – Feb. 29, 2008 –

In case you didn't know, you've been given an extra day of life in the form of "Leap Day" today. Don't waste it. And to help make sure you don't, Omaha's entertainment mafia has put together a jam-packed night of shows. Here's the round-up:

-- An unofficial Leap Day celebration is taking place tonight at The Waiting Room with the long-awaited return of The Monroes. Seems like forever since these fun-lovin' farm boys have been on stage. Joining them will be street-fight punkers The Coffin Killers, School of Arms, and the night's headliners, Ladyfinger. $7, 9 p.m.

-- Meanwhile, there's a rock show going on downtown at the new Antiquarium Record Store featuring Box Elders, Yuppies, Mr. Wizard and Time Falcon (quite possibly the best-named band in recent memory). The show is free, but donations will be accepted for Yuppies' and Box Elders' tour funds (So don't be a cheap-ass). The show also is a great chance to check out the record store's new location, if you haven't already (they moved last June). The address is 417 S 13th St., right next door to the 415 Lounge. Buy some vinyl while you're there. Show starts at 8 p.m.

-- While you're downtown, you might as well swing past Slowdown Jr. for Scott Severin & The Milton Burlesque, with The Whipkey Three and The Black Squirrels. $7, 9 p.m.

There's also a couple great shows tomorrow night. The one with the highest profile: They Might Be Giants at Slowdown with Oppenheimer. If you don't have tickets, you're out of luck, since it's SOLD OUT. No tix? Check out London-based freak folk phenom Alessi at The Waiting Room with Jake Bellows (of Neva Dinova), Midwest Dilemma performing as an 8-piece (including tuba), and the always provocative Honey & Darling. $7, 9 p.m.

Let me know if I missed anything by posting it on the webboard. Have a good weekend.

<Got comments? Post 'em here.>

Column 162: Beneath the Masks: Live Review: Honeybee, Thunder Cats!!!; XYZ Affair… – Feb. 28, 2008 –

I already know how most local indie bands will react when they read the following column. "Cover bands make more money on a given night than original bands? No shit, Sherlock!" But they also know that there's a perception by some people outside the industry that touring indie bands are rolling in cash when they get home from a tour. If that were only true. Bands frequently save up as much money as they can before they hit the road so that they don't run out of cash before they get home, especially with gas at $3 a gallon. On the other hand, cover bands can make good bank without leaving the city limits. The flipside, of course, is that you'll never see The Fishheads or High Heel and the Sneakers on Letterman...

Column 162: Dirty Little Secrets
The dream lies beneath the masks.

If you're an indie music fan, last Saturday night was another bonanza of choice found only here in the epicenter. Decisions, decisions. Do I go down to Slowdown for Neva Dinova's last performance before they hit the road in support of You May Already Be Dreaming, the new full-length slated for release by the mothership known as Saddle Creek Records on April 8? Or do I schlep over to The Waiting Room for songstress Basia Bulat and members of Coyote Bones and Eagle*Seagull?

My answer was neither. Instead I turned my back on the warm embrace of midtown and downtown, retreated from the familiar climes of Omaha's vibrant indie rock scene. I pulled my Sidekick out of the driveway and pointed it west.

I headed toward Glacier, a new lounge located a few blocks west of Wal-Mart on the Blair High Road, past the building that used to house the Skateland where I spent most of my weekends in my youth (Does anyone rollerskate any more?).

Part of a new strip mall that only a few years ago was rolling farmland, Glacier is a return to an old idea -- the glitzy pick-up bar that features live music in the form of cover bands.

Tonight's entertainment was a masked four-piece that goes by the name Captain Obvious. Their masks, however, didn't do a good job of hiding their true identities. These were also the guys from what arguably is the best- or worst-named band in Omaha -- 3 Day Meat Sale -- a name that I've never quite understood. Lead guitarist Chad Beisheim is the kid-brother of one of my oldest friends from Fort Calhoun. Back when the band was just gearing up, they asked me to write their one-sheet. I told them that if I did, I could never write about their band in any publication. Conflict of interest. The merging of two very dissimilar worlds -- PR and journalism -- worlds that can never, ever collide. They agreed to the terms, and I found out that the name 3 Day Meat Sale was the result of a band member seeing the slogan in the window of a local grocery store, announcing three days of value pricing on the finest USDA Choice cuts. A 3 Day Meat Sale.

I still don't like the name. But that hasn't stopped 3DMS (as they're also known) from making three albums over the past 10 years. They just finished recording their fourth with producer Jim Homan at Ware House Studios, which will be released sometime this spring or summer or whenever they get the cash together to have it pressed.

Which brings us back to Captain Obvious. To generate the necessary funds for the new album, the band donned masks and learned a spate of cover songs. It's not uncharted territory for frontman Michael Gagliani, who used to sing in one of the area's more popular cover bands, Stepchild. Now here he was again, belting out someone else's songs. And from what I could see from within the standing-room-only crowd at Glacier, he was loving it.

Their flawlessly performed repertoire ranged from recent hits like All-American Rejects' gag-a-licious "Dirty Little Secrets" to old chestnuts like Petty's "American Girl." But mostly it was up-tempo rockers that I've never heard before. Rarely have I felt so out of touch music wise. The crowd, on the other hand, didn't care if they knew the songs or not. Packed onto the dance floor, amid a spiderweb of laser lights and a cloud of Aquanet, a drunken cross-section of West Omaha suburbia was shaking their collective groove thing. It was 1983 all over again.

Watching a cover band (and not a tribute band -- there is a difference) is a dose of reality that I recommend to any indie music follower. You will be reminded that the people who make up the greater world beyond us -- not the ones that drink coffee at Blue Line or browse through vinyl at The Antiquarium or wait alongside you at Slowdown's bar -- do not give two shits about your precious indie music. They just want to dance. I looked across the sea of well-coiffed heads, I wondered how many had heard of Saddle Creek Records or Neva Dinova or even knew what indie music was. The answer seemed, well, obvious. It was a stark contrast from the typical angst-fueled indie crowd that I've seen intently watch bands in stone silence, as if a secret is about to be revealed, but never is.

Afterward, Chad explained the financial reality that drives Captain Obvious. He and the rest of 3DMS learned the same dirty little secret that every local band -- indie or otherwise -- eventually discovers: There isn't much money in playing original music.

He said 3DMS rarely made a dime on a show, while Captain Obvious would make good cash for the night's performance. "I guess you could say that we're selling out," Beisheim said. "That's why we're wearing the masks."

Selling out? Maybe, maybe not. Chad and the rest of the band may not be proud of what they're doing, but they're having a good time. And they're getting paid for it. And they still have their own thing -- their main thing -- that they can hang their dreams on after they take off their masks.

* * *

I apparently inaccurately described Honeybee yesterday in the blog as a 5-piece. Either that or one of their members was sick last night, because the band only featured two girls and two guys. Frontwoman Melissa Geary has a sweet, cute but cutting voice, not mewing and withdrawn, but out front, crisp and quite good. You'll scratch your head trying to figure out who she sounds like, but you'll never pin her down. Their music borders on twee, K Records girly soundz except that they can ride it into something much bigger when they want to. That said, their youth and youthful precociousness is always evident. Ultimately, I like them because they're cute, tuneful and unpretentious, which is the best trait of Slumber Party Record's best bands. I'm told they just completed recording a track with Darren Keen (The Show Is the Rainbow), which is slated for an upcoming comp CD.

The evening's big surprise, however, was Thunder Power!!! Flash back to April 29, 2007 and O'Leaver's, where I described them this way: "Their sound is low-key, low-fi, indie acoustic music (guitars, keyboards, drums, clarinets) in the manner of, say, early Sebadoh. Whereas the clarinetists were talented, their toot-toot-tooting was out of place and too out front in the arrangements. A member of the band told me they only had a handful of practices before this gig, and are still searching for their sound."

Well, judging by their performance last night, they've found it, and it doesn't resemble that early incarnation at all. The band now has six members, including a female vocalist whose voice is the spitting image if Chan Marshall's (though one patron said she sounded more like Hope Sandoval). Their music matches that Cat Power style, and wherein most six-piece bands seem to have two too many members, TP!!! uses every position to its fullest -- a keyboard player (who smokes a pipe on stage, very professorial!) two guitars (a rhythm and a lead), bass and drums, and that earthy front woman. For the final song, one of the guitarists took over lead vocals, sounding a lot like Cat Stevens, which made me think they may want to change their name to Thunder Cats!!! I'm told they just finished recording a track for a split with Alessi. Could be big things in their future for a band that I wrote off a year ago as just another indie janglepop band.

Finally, the headliners, XYZ Affair, a four-piece that brought more than its share of hubris to the stage. As one guy said to me, this is what Weezer would sound like if they were a bunch of jocks. I didn't dislike them quite that much. I mean, who can dislike a band that starts its set with an a cappella version of the intro to Prince's "7"? Frontman Alex Feder doesn't really sound like Death Cab's Ben Gibbard as much as John Darnielle backed by a bar band. Flamboyant, yes, and with plenty of falsetto. Not bad, not terribly memorable. I have no doubt that their common-man pop sense will some day land this unsigned band on a major label.

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The XYZ Affair, Honeybee tonight… – Feb. 27, 2008 –

I've been meaning to check out Honeybee for a long, long time. I even trekked out to The Waiting Room a couple months ago for that very purpose only to find out that they'd canceled right before their set. I'm keeping my fingers crossed tonight. Honeybee, btw, is three girls and two guys who record for Slumber Party Records. Check out their myspace.

They're opening for Brooklyn band The XYZ Affair at The Waiting Room. I've been listening to XYZ's music all morning -- sort of a cross between Death Cab (the vocals) and Weezer or The Ark (the power pop) with funny, introspective lyrics. The New York Times described them as "a middle ground between the Beach Boys and Queen." They must be talking about the falsetto. Catchy? You bet. Thunder Power!!! also is on the bill. $7, 9 p.m.

* * *

Tomorrow's column explores a recent trip out West (as in West Omaha). Don't miss it.

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Black Lips and Brimstone tonight… – Feb. 26, 2008 –

Just a quick moment to let you know what you've probably already known for weeks -- The Black Lips are playing tonight at The Waiting Room with Quintron and Miss Pussycat, and Lincoln's own Brimstone Howl. $12, 9 p.m. Go.

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Live Review: Mick's Birthday bash; Har Mar tonight… – Feb. 25, 2008 –

The most surprising thing about Mick's birthday concert Friday night was how well the bands sounded after being in mothballs for so many years. Janglepop, which broke up sometime earlier this century, sounded no different than I remembered. Actually, they sounded somewhat better on The Waiting Room's stage. The Get also sounded tight, but I'll be honest with you, I never really followed any of these defacto old school "Slam Bands." That includes Musico, who everyone seemed most excited about seeing again. Darren Keen and the boys also sounded as good as I remembered the one time I saw them back in the day. The bottom line: the enormous crowd (which was like walking through a class reunion or a wedding reception) loved every minute of it.

Saturday night was spent slumming, and I may or may not go into great detail about it in this week's column (which I have yet to formulate). Let's just say I spent the evening "out west," and that the entertainment had nothing to do with indie music.

* * *

Tonight -- two rather huge shows for a Monday. At The Waiting Room it's Har Mar Superstar with Little Brazil and Talkin' Mountain, all for $8. This one could (and probably will) sell out. Meanwhile, down at Slowdown, it's Team Love's most recent addition -- The Felice Brothers -- opening for Drive By Truckers. $20, 9 p.m.

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Mick's 50th B-day party tonight; Neva Dinova tomorrow… – Feb. 22, 2008 –

I'm just messin' with ya, Mick. Mick ain't 50. One of the creators and driving forces behind is celebrating becoming a wee lad of 40 at The Waiting Room tonight with a bunch of bands that no doubt show his age (and, unfortunately, mine). Among them, The Get (check out the classic photo), Musico (One of Darren Keen's early incarnations), and Janglepop (more bad-ass photos). Add to that new comers The Ground Tyrants and the funkalicious Satchel Grande and you do, indeed, have a party going on. $5, 8 p.m. Something tells me Mick is going to get smashed from all the free shots.

Also tonight, just down the street at PS Collective, it's Hyannis, Honeybee and Sleep Said the Monster. $3, 9 p.m., while down at Slowdown it's our old friends Malpais (fronted by that trouble-making troubadour Greg Loftis) and Landing on the Moon opening for Say Anything. $15, 8 p.m.

Tomorrow night's spotlight show is Neva Dinova at Slowdown with Race for Titles and Noah's Ark Was a Spaceship. This may well be the closest thing we get to a CD release show for Neva's new disc, You May Already Be Dreaming as the band will be on the road for the foreseeable future. $8, 9 p.m. Also Saturday night, David Matysiak of Coyote Bones and Eli Mardock of Eagle*Seagull open for Basia Bulat at The Waiting Room. $8, 9 p.m. Get an early start on the evening by checking out the 5 p.m. screening of the Evan Blakely film Oscillations, featuring the music of Kyle Harvey at Westwood Cinema, part of the Nebraska Short Film Block of the Omaha Film Festival.

Finally, there's a hummer of a show Sunday night at The Waiting Room, headlined by These Are Powers. These Are Powers is former Lincolnite Pat Noecker's new band. Noecker was a member of seminal '90s band Opium Taylor. He went on to form Liars with Ron Albertson (ex-Mercy Rule), which released the critically hailed They Threw Us in a Trench and Stuck a Monument on Top on Gern Blandsten in 2001 before he and Ron left the band, effectively turning Liars into shit. Along with Noecker, These Are Powers features Anna Barie (ex-Knife Skills) and Ted McGrath. Opening is Mahjongg and founder/owner of K Records, Calvin Johnson, whose former bands include Cool Rays, Beat Happening, The Go Team, Dub Narcotic Sound System, and The Halo Benders. $8, 9 p.m.

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Column 161: Applying Lipstick on the Pig; Live Review: UUVVWWZ; Simon, Capgun, Bear tonight… – Feb. 21, 2008 –

First, a correction to yesterday's blog entry: The Focus Mastering open house is March 1, not this coming Saturday. Don't go there this Saturday!

Column 161: Fresh Ears
More Doug Van Sloun

More with Doug Van Sloun of Focus Mastering. If you haven't already, get caught up by reading yesterday's profile. We'll wait for you.

Van Sloun's been busy mastering the first batch of music in the Focus pipeline. It includes new recordings by Alessi, Beep Beep, Son, Ambulance, Tilly and the Wall, M. Ward, Stephanie Drootin, Midwest Dilemma, Tokyo Police Club, Akita Ken (formerly Your Face), Montana Christian band Sky Collide, and Jerusalem rockers Man Alive.

And the beat goes on. Fact is, while other areas of the music industry are in free fall, business is booming for Van Sloun. As CD sales continue to tunnel ever downward, more recordings are being made than ever before, especially with the advent of home recording.

It's a trend that Van Sloun saw on the horizon years ago. "I could tell more people were doing a lot more recording on a project-studio level," he said. "I know a ton of people with studios in their basements. They're doing modest work, but good work. Meanwhile, no one around here was doing mastering." And that's where he came in.

But along with home recording came the challenge of finding new and better ways to apply lipstick on the same ol' pig, Even worse, a pig that some guy built in his garage.

Actually, Van Sloun said the quality of most home recordings he's heard has been pretty good. And a new hybrid is emerging, where tracks are recorded in a home studio, then professionally mixed elsewhere. That's how Neva Dinova's new CD, You May Already Be Dreaming, was created. "It was home recorded, but mixed at ARC Studios by Ian Aeillo," Van Sloun said, adding that most of the new Narcotic Self CD also was home recorded, then mixed by Jim Homan at Ware House Studios.

In the end, artists that want to take it to the next level hand their recording over to a mastering engineer like Van Sloun, who approaches each project the same way -- whether it was recorded at home or in a multi-million dollar studio.

The advantage he brings to the project is "fresh ears," having never heard the recording before. "And I also won't listen to it a thousand times," he said. "I max out if I listen to a song for an hour. Part of the process for me is to be decisive, fresh and subjective, and not biased."

How many times have you heard someone say that their demos sounded better than the record? "That's because they've listened to it one way for so long," Van Sloun said. "You can't be unbiased when you've heard something a thousand times. It's the classic demo-itis situation."

He lets them down easy by trying to figure out what they did wrong during the recording session. But what about just plain ol' shitty music? There's got to be stuff he doesn't like, right?

"I'm like a doctor. I can divorce myself from the content and not listen to it," he said. "At the same time, nothing trips me out more than if it's not doing what it's supposed to do musically. If something is supposed to sound like Pantera but sounds like Benedictine monks, you've got a problem."

And there's only so much you can do during mastering. "I don't spend a lot of time thinking about stuff I can't do anything about," he said. "If something is out of tune, I hear it, but I can't do anything about it."

I expected Van Sloun to be down on mp3 files like all the other audiophiles I've spoken too since the advent of the iPod. But he was less than dismissive. "It's really a garbage in garbage out operation," he said. "The better the recording going in, the better the chances of it coming out OK."

When anyone listens to music with earbuds, it all begins to sound the same, he said. "It's that deflavorizing effect, where everything sounds homogenous, and mp3s do that to some degree, but it's still a garbage in, garbage out situation. But it can also sound pretty good if the source is good. I don't think mp3s are inherently bad. I think 128 kbits/s (compression) goes too far. My iPod is filled with 224 kbits/s and up. And the only time I listen to it is in the car with road noise, which covers everything up."

Does he get discouraged that the next generation of listeners may only hear recordings in mp3 format? "Yeah, it's a little discouraging," he said, "but mp3s are still better than most cassettes. There was a time when I was making a lot of cassette references for people, and that was frustrating.

"When I started in '93 or '94, there were no CD burners. Cassettes were all we had. The pitch would be off a half percent, or more typically you had drop-outs and wobbles. And cassettes wear out. Whenever I start to get depressed about how mp3s suck and how no one will hear good music again, I think about the 8 Track tape and realize that mp3s are better than that. I would rather have a good AAC file from iTunes than a cassette tape."

Someone asked me what I thought of the Tilly and the Wall and Beep Beep stuff that I heard at Focus. All's I can say is hold onto your hats. One of the Tilly songs was a complete and utter departure from the usual tap-dance routine. In fact, it had no tap dancing at all that I could hear. Instead, it was a full-out dance-floor raver that, if released, will take the band into an entirely different direction. When I heard the Beep Beep stuff, I had to ask Doug a couple times, "Who is this again? This isn't Beep Beep, is it?" It was. Doug played a couple songs that sounded like something you'd actually hear on the radio -- incredibly tuneful, down-right laid-back. Exceptionally good. Yes, there were still the usual quirky numbers, but they weren't nearly as sharp around the edges as the stuff on their debut. Doug had some good stuff to say about the new Son, Ambulance as well, but I didn't get a chance to hear any of it (we ran out of time). Boo.

* * *

I went to UUVVWWZ at Slowdown Jr. last night to see if that show at the Saddle Creek Bar a few weeks ago was a fluke. It wasn't. That said, the band sounded better at SCB than at Slowdown. Who knows why? Had nothing to do with the sound system. The only time it seemed to make a difference was during a couple of the bluesy, slow numbers. When UUVVWWZ played them at SCB, they were more cohesive, each part blurring together in a gorgeous, gritty brew. Last night, however, there was too much separation between band members and Teal, and the result was disjointed and a bit staid. There simply is nowhere to hide within Slowdown's premium sound system. I'm convinced that no two UUVVWWZ shows will ever be the same. You'll get what you get on any given night -- or even within the set itself. I'm also convinced that they'll be one of the more divisive bands when it comes to crowd response. One guy next to me thought they were fun, and asked me if I ever heard of Deerhoof. "This is the closest this town will ever get to a band like that." Meanwhile, another guy was freaked out by Teal, and didn't care for the slow numbers (which are some of my favorites). He compared her to Diamanda Galas, of whom I know nothing. He did, however, like the bombastic rock numbers, which is where the band really took off last night. Recording these folks is going to be a challenge for whomever takes them on. In the right hands, their record could be ground-breaking. Looks like your next chance to see them in Omaha is at The Brothers on March 11 with Chinese Stars and Plack Blague.

* * *

Benson is where it's at tonight. At The Waiting Room it's Capgun Coup with Simon Joyner, Bear Country and Noah Sterba. It'll be Capgun's first show in four months, and their last in Omaha before they go back on tour (this time with Tilly and the Wall, including a show at Noise Pop 2008 in S.F.). $7, 9 p.m. This show will be wall-to-wall. Meanwhile, down the street at PS Collective, it's Shiver Shiver and Jenna Morrison. $5, 9 p.m.

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Doug Van Sloun and Focus Mastering; TSITR, UUVVWWZ, SMD tonight… – Feb. 20, 2008 –

As a primer to the feature I just posted about Doug Van Sloun's brand new Focus Mastering studio (here), you may want to read (or reread) my interview with Doug from 2003 (here). Then come back and read the feature about Focus, where Doug gives full disclosure on his new state-of-the-art mastering studio. Most readers of this site know who Doug is, but for the few who don't: Van Sloun is the guy who mastered every major indie release out of Nebraska for the past 10 years or so. His name is as synonymous with Nebraska indie music as Saddle Creek Records, Mike Mogis and Bright Eyes. His new studio will blow your mind. Read about it, then check it out for yourself at his open house, Saturday, March 1. I warned Doug that he'll have more than just potential customers out there to hear what perfect sound sounds like. We go beyond the new studio in this week's column, where Doug talks about mastering in general, the recording industry, mp3s and other fun stuff. Consider it part 2 of today's feature, online tomorrow.

* * *

Here are my misgivings about tonight's show at Slowdown:

Ever have someone go on and on about a movie that you "just have to see"? They tell you how the film "changed their lives," how the plot and acting and cinematography were beyond clever. How the soundtrack will make your head spin. How they laughed and cried and held on to the edge of their seats for what was a once-in-a-lifetime thrill ride. The words "Oscar" and "Best Picture" are tossed around matter-of-factly, along with phrases like "You MUST see it," and "Unforgettable."

So you go. And the movie might be good, but it never, ever lives up to the build up. And ultimately, you're disappointed.

That's what I'm worried about with UUVVWWZ. I hope I didn't oversell them in my review a few weeks ago. Don't get me wrong, they were frigging amazing. To me. But I don't know if they're going to be the answer to everything that ails you. I don't want you going to Slowdown Jr. tonight expecting the second coming of PJ Harvey, Bjork and The Pixies all rolled up in one. UUVVWWZ isn't that. They are what they are -- which is one of the most talented new bands I've seen around here in years. And hopefully they'll be that for you tonight. If they're not, there's always The Show Is the Rainbow's usual fun-loving bag of tricks. Darren never fails to entertain. And from Edwardsville, Illinois, near St. Louis, comes tonight's headliner, So Many Dynamos. Their name, as you may or may not have figured out, is a palindrome, just like Slap a Ham on Omaha, Pals. Spell it backwards and it spells the same thing. They began working on a new album last year with Death Cab's Chris Walla at Tiny Telephone. Their stuff on myspace reminds me of early Dismemberment Plan. Odd, but spunky. $5, 9 p.m. As we used to say back in old days, Go hang a salami, I'm a lasagna hog!

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What can I get to eat at American Apparel? mousetrap myspace…– Feb. 19, 2008 –

Sorry about the lateness of this post, a post that will probably get lost in the shuffle as I'll be placing my Focus Mastering/Doug Van Sloun story online tomorrow. That said, I see by the Omaha World-Herald (story here) that those Saddle Creek guys gave up on the idea of having a restaurant down at the Slowdown complex. Instead of having a place to get a bite to eat before a show, we will now be able to buy a variety of trendy clothing and under garments from American Apparel.

You can't blame Kulbel and Nansel for taking AA up on their offer. The underwear store, known for its racy advertising and horny CEO Dov Charney, apparently were the only ones interested in that empty 3,800-foot stall. "I think I personally need to get over there not being a restaurant there," Kulbel said in the OWH story. "Every time I walk past it I see a restaurant in there. I don't think it will be weird for other people. It's altered a bit, but I certainly don't think it's altered to the point of it being radically different." He goes on to say other restaurants eventually will locate nearby. If only that were true.

It'll be interesting to see how the addition of an American Apparel store will impact Urban Outfitters, who I have to assume was under the impression that it was going to be the only clothing store on the block. Or how the new AA store will impact Drastic Plastic, who's been one (if not the only) American Apparel outlet in the Omaha area. At least we'll be able to get a good cup of Joe before a show. According to the article, Blue Line still intends to open a "European-style café" in the Slowdown development. No word on when, though…

* * *

Last week, one of the site's more loyal readers posted a link to a new mousetrap myspace (here) on the webboard. The site consolidates all those mousetrap Youtube videos that have been floating around, along with a handful of classic mousetrap tracks, as well as a brief history of the band. Check it out. I wonder what this influx of mousetrap content could possibly mean?

* * *

Again, tomorrow check out the feature on Focus Mastering, which includes an interview with mastering engineer superstar Doug Van Sloun that concludes with this week's column on Thursday.

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Live Review: Shanks, Cloven Path; Bareilles minus Hoshaw, Riggs tonight… – Feb. 18, 2008 –

Remember that scene in The Ten Commandments, the one toward the end when Chuck Heston as Moses climbs Mount Sinai to have a chat with his pal God while everyone down below was letting loose with the mother of all orgies? Remember them dancing around in their underwear, throwing gold baubles at Dathan (as played by Edward G. Robinson) while Aaron made the golden calf? Well, it was kind of like that Friday night at O'Leaver's for the first of two final performances of Cloven Path. Debauchery at its finest. Lecherous chaos. Gluttony and debasement. What a way to go.

First up was The Shanks playing a by-the-book, no-kill set of gutter-punk that was relatively flawless and in tune. You read that correctly. The Shanks came off as real pro's -- a disappointment to everyone who expects utter chaos and/or the usual bloody shock and awe. Instead it was almost run-of-the-mill. Downright efficient. And (dare I say it) professional. What's wrong with this picture? They've always said their stage theatrics were never planned; the violence was the natural by-product of too much booze and pent-up anger. So when they do explode, it's an honest explosion. I suspect the days of fist-fights and cymbal throwing are far from over. Until then, we'll have to settle for their buzzsaw, feedback-ringing, hump-thump punk rock, and that's good enough for me (for now).

The timidity would not continue with Cloven Path. The duo is headed to some place in the center of Texas, just a few hours from all the biggest cities. The reason for their departure was rumored by many, but told by no one (including me). Needless to say, they'll do better in the Longhorn state. After what I saw and heard Friday night, Omaha doesn't deserve them. It was their most unbridled set, and their best. Half-naked guitarist/frontman Sii wandered all over the bar, grinding both his guitar and any patron that would let him/herself be ground upon (and there were plenty), while drummer Noraa pounded out clever, oddly timed bombshells. Former vocalist Kat joined in on one song, proving that these guys never really needed a vocalist for their unique style of electro-metal. They do fine on their own, especially when they have a crowd writhing in utter pleasure among the filth and puke of O'Leaver's. I watched in utter awe, thinking about what Omaha will do without its Cloven Path. I then climbed upon the railing, Rolling Rock in one hand, stone tablets in the other, and proclaimed, "Where is your messiah now?"

Cloven Path apparently played another final show Saturday night at O'Leaver's, but I didn't go. In fact, that O'Leaver's show was my only outing this weekend. I planned on going to The Waiting Room tonight to see Brad Hoshaw open for Sara Bareilles, but apparently Bareilles' people insisted that there be no opening acts, and Hoshaw and Honey & Baby were dropped. On one hand, it's a shame for Hoshaw who has been building some momentum recently; but on the other hand, few people other than myself were going to be there to see him anyway. I've listened to Bareilles' music -- it's middle-of-the-road colorless, flavorless, inoffensive VH-1 "adult contemporary" dreck. Bland. The kind of blandness that sells hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of CDs to people who desperately crave music that they can ignore. Television commercial music. Shopping music. Greatest common denominator music. Pap. The last thing her fans want is to listen to something that's intelligent, honest and emotionally moving. Like I said, Hoshaw is better off. Probably. Interestingly, he posted on SLAMOmaha this morning that he's giving away at the door of the Bareilles show 50 copies of a six-song live EP recorded at Mick's Jan. 5 (the show that I wrote a column about here a few weeks ago). There actually were nine songs performed and recorded that night. I have them all, and the collection is one of the best live albums I've heard around here in years. My guess is that none of the Bareilles zombettes will want one, so you may want to drop by The Waiting Room and see if the doorman will give you one. Why doesn't Hoshaw peddle these at his shows? Actually, why doesn't one of the more industrious local indie labels want to put it out?

That's not the only show going on tonight. Omaha punk rock phenoms The Coffin Killers, along with dredge-rock masters Dim Light, are opening for Dax Riggs tonight at Slowdown Jr. Riggs used to be in Acid Bath back in the '90s. $10, 9 p.m. There's also a Todd Snider concert at Scottish Rite Hall. $18, 8 p.m.

By the way, the reviews matrix has been updated...

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Cloven Path goodbye, Forty Filters tonight; PS Birthday show w/Mal Madrigal tomorrow, KIND update… – Feb. 15, 2008 –

Been playing depressing Gregorian chant music all morning, getting ready for tonight's somber event at O'Leaver's -- the goodbye concert for Cloven Path. Details about their departure are sketchy and are probably too controversial to include here (and too dangerous). Needless to say, the band will be vacating the state, possibly forever. Your last chance to see/hear their ritualistic electroni-punk is tonight, that is if O'Leaver's doesn't burn to the ground during The Shanks' opening set. Show of the year nominee? Maybe, maybe… $2, 9:30 p.m. Wear black.

Also tonight, Forty Twenty (winners of the OEA Award for Best Country / Bluegrass band) plays at The Waiting Room with fellow "country/bluegrass band" The Filter Kings. Actually, the odds of ever seeing these guys play at a two-steppin' beer hall like Bushwacker's is slim and none. This is bourbon-soaked country punk (but don't tell the OEA music academy). $7, 9 p.m.

Down the street at Mick's, Mark Olson of the Jayhawks is playing a set. $10, 9 p.m. While over at The Barley St. it's Kyle Harvey and Matt Cox for free (9 p.m.).

Also tonight, Baby Walrus celebrates the release of its Slumber Party Records debut down at Bemis Underground with Flowers Forever. $5, 9 p.m.

Tomorrow night it's the PS Collective "Birthday Bash" featuring Mal Madrigal, Coyote Bones and Brimstone Howl. $5, 9 p.m. It's also an opportunity for those who want their music aired on the new Benson radio station, KIND, to drop off their recordings and fill out a release form. KIND Program Director Mary O'Keefe will be on hand to answer questions. A copy of the release form is available at the PS Collective website. More details here.

This is a good opportunity to clarify a few things I've been hearing and reading about KIND over the past couple of weeks. I asked Amy Ryan, station organizer and owner of PS Collective, for an update. She said the station's non-profit application is currently being pulled together with the help of some folks at the Creighton Law School, while a business plan is being developed with the aid of The Non-Profit of the Midlands and SCORE, a nonprofit association dedicated to entrepreneur education and small business.

"After the non-profit has been established, which we are hoping will be within the next two months, we will begin to make contact with the FCC," Ryan said. "Our attorney will work with this process, as it's extremely complex. The history of KZUM in Lincoln is a good example of the lengthy process one can go through, as it took them many years to do. We are also considering an AM frequency, which seems to have more availability."

So, does this mean KIND has decided not to pursue broadcasting at below 100 milliwatts (i.e., the Part 15 approach that wouldn't require a license)?

"At this time we are beginning with a stream / podcast, while we pursue which route to take with the FCC," Ryan said. "Although our initial thoughts were KIND FM 99.1, we have not yet made a firm decision on whether this station will be Part 15 (below 100 milliwatts as we first envisioned), LPFM community license, or even an AM license. At this time, all options are on the table, even as we begin to undertake the development of local content."

It would be a shame if they decide to shit-can the Part 15 station concept. It might have kept things rolling until a more "powerful" solution was developed with the FCC over the next couple of years. In the long run, they're probably doing the right thing if they want to establish a more permanent foothold in the Benson area. I'm not a big fan of streamcast radio and I never listen to podcasts, but I might start once KIND begins operation.

Also Saturday night, The Pendrakes and Sarah Benck and the Robbers at The Waiting Room, $7, 9 p.m.; The Killigans at The 49'r; and Scott Severin and Paper Owls at The Barley St.

One last thing: I got my copy of Magnet magazine in the mail over lunch. It's their year-end edition, with their top-20 list (No. 1 was Ween's La Cucaracha). The pleasant surprise was in the "Hidden Treasures," which lists the "10 Great Albums Buried in 2007." Among them, Brimstone Howl's Guts of Steel. Said Magnet: "...there's nothing reverent about these Nebraskans' unholy hot-wiring of the Sonics, the Damned and the Blues Explosion." Congrats!

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Column 160: Reviews Roundup… – Feb. 14, 2008 –

A reminder about the my simple rating system: "Yes" means yes, "No" means no. As Brian McNamee said in the Clemens trial yesterday, it is what it is.

Column 160: Winter Reviews Round-up
So what have you been listening to?

The most common question I hear at the bar: So what have you been listening to? When dropped from the sky, I always come up blank and wonder, "Hmmm….what have I been listening to?" and then refer to my iPhone for the list, making a mental note to delete the albums that suck. Below is what I've been listening to (along with what I've deleted).

Times New Viking, Rip It Off (Matador) -- Call it hi-fi low-fi or arty low-fi or loud low-fi or technically perfect low-fi, but straight-up low-fi it ain't. And for me, that's a plus. Cut through the sizzle static buzzsaw and you'll find plenty of tunes. Songs, too. This generation's Slanted-era Pavement? If so, it's apt that they're on Matador. And it's only a matter of time (and releases) until the static fades, replaced by perfect sound forever. Rating: Yes

Flowers Forever, self-titled (Team Love) -- Derek Pressnall may be the grooviest guy in Nebr-indie music, from his role in Tilly and the Wall to his role in Goo, but that doesn't mean he has anything relevant to say. Or maybe he does. Depends on whether or not you buy his "Change better come / We're not fucking around no more" millennial reach-around -- an approach whose sincerity is believable when it comes from the tap dancing band. When it comes from Vincent Gallo fronting a heavier version of Bright Eyes, it sounds less like a rallying cry than a threat that no one could possibly take seriously. Rating: No

Head of Femur, Great Plains (Greyday) -- I was too quick to discard this as more bland indie pabulum on first listen (maybe I was in a bad mood?), but further listens revealed a soul cast in King Crimson and golden light, especially once you find centerpiece "Covered Wagons" with its lush strings and very real piano and more sincerity than you'll likely hear anywhere else in indie land. The Femurs have become true balladeers since those Ringodom or Proctor days, which is another way of saying they've all growed up. Rating: Yes

Darla Farmer, Rewiring the Electric Forest (Paper Garden) -- They need to come up with a name for this style of multi-instrumental (as in there's brass) back-beat indie calliope that was so popular a few years ago. Clown car music? Spazz baroque? Indie cabaret? Good for theatrics and a crowded stage (and angry sound guys) but not so much for listening to in your car, where the guy who sounds like a girl (or a muppet) gets lost in the cacophony and the road noise. Rating: No

Peasant, On the Ground (Paper Garden) -- The only way it'll work is if you can get past Damien DeRose' obvious love (or mimicry?) of Elliot Smith, to which his melodies (if not his voice) is just shy of dead ringer. Get beyond it, and you'll discover sweet coffee shop acoustic folk that would fit right in on the latest indie movie soundtrack. More likely, though, it'll make you stumble through your bookcase looking for your copy of XO. Rating: Yes

Lightspeed Champion, Falling Off the Lavender Bridge (Domino) -- What happens when you uproot a Brit and plant him in Omaha's ARC studios with Mike Mogis behind the board surrounded by all the local talent that Saddle Creek can throw at him. The result is a smarter, older, more tuneful version of Tilly and the Wall (sans tap dancing) meets mild-swing Morrissey and Nate Walcott-arranged strings. Pleasant and fun (if you don't take it too seriously). Rating: Yes.

Neva Dinova, You May Already Be Dreaming (Saddle Creek) -- Lyrically, Jake Bellows is Omaha's version of Paul Westerberg. Clever, maybe too clever for his own good (but not for ours). Those clever words of love and loss and the joys of Tryptophan are apt to shimmer somewhere in a dream fog of a melody (fueled by Bellows' bright croon) rather than a country backbeat ("She's a Ghost") or an electric rumble ("Cloud"). When they do rock (the skittery "What You Want") it's more of a fluke than a trend, short-lived until you can return to the usual slow and drowsy and buttery stuff. Those who can keep from nodding off will be grandly rewarded. Rating: Yes

Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks, Real Emotional Trash (Matador) -- Former Pavement frontman swerves dangerously close to jam-band territory, or does he? You might think so after the 10-plus minute head trip (the title track, his first ever) or the blues jam noodler "Hopscotch Willie," but really, it's the same old Malkmus, that songster with the adolescent Peter Brady meets Lou Reed mew, the king of indie-slacker melodicism, the last man standing from the '90s that still makes good music. Compared to the more tuneful Face the Truth it's almost a toss-off, but still worth your time. Rating: Yes


Dead Meadows, Old Growth (Matador) -- Since when does Matador sell stoner rock? More like stoner rock lite. These hippy fuzz-blues songs are saved by their brevity (and guitar work). Rating: Yes

Devastations, Yes, U (Beggars Banquet) - A moody uptick of Roxy Music with kinda, sorta Nick Drake darkness thrown into the mix. As deep and lush as it is, it suffers from a case of the samies. Rating: No

Panther, 14Kt God (Kill Rock Stars) -- After the genius of bottle-tapping single "How Well Can You Swim" I so wanted this to be great. And it comes close on the Byrne-meets-Fripp "Beautiful Condo" and stuttering funk of "Pueto Rican Jukebox." But that's about it. Buy the singles. Rating: No

Sons & Daughters, This Gift (Domino) -- A kinder gentler version of Metric? Probably just frontwoman Adele Bethel's vocals, which are loose and groovy on music that's trying to be harder than it should (could) be. Rating: Yes

More reviews to come as I revamp and update the Reviews Matrix for 2008. I'll let you know when that's completed (probably over the weekend).

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Kevin Devine tonight… – Feb. 12, 2008 –

Brooklyn singer songwriter Kevin Devine plays at Slowdown Jr. tonight with AA Bondy and The Jealous Girlfriends. The former Miracle of 86 frontman's 2007 release Put Your Ghost to Rest is truly a beautiful thing, an acoustic-flavored rock album that recalls songwriters like Dan Wilson and Michael Penn. $10, 9 p.m.

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Live Review: Daniel Johnston and the Rayguns; Nipper/Bright Eyes Grammy… – Feb. 11, 2008 –

First a bit of news: I found out while watching The Grammy's last night that Zach Nipper won for Best Recording Packaging for his work on Bright Eyes' Cassadaga album. Right before one of the commercial breaks the network tossed the information on the bottom of the screen, along with a picture of Nipper -- decked out in a tux -- accepting the award at a ceremony held earlier in the day. If you're wondering what Nipper looks like, he's the handsome stud on the cover of Cursive's Domestica album. The Grammy is the first for a Saddle Creek Records project, but hopefully not the last. It's just a matter of time before the academy's voters recognize Oberst for his songwriting chops. Niz has coverage in the OWH here. Says Nipper in the article: "It definitely makes me feel like a rock star." Indeed.

Now to Daniel Johnston Saturday night at The Slowdown. The show wasn't sold out when I got there, but it had to be darn close judging by the massive crowd in the venue. I arrived after 10:30, just in time to see Flowers Forever. The band has one of the best drummers in town in Craig D., as well as the genius that is Chris Senseney on guitar. Then there's frontman/scenester diva Dereck Pressnall, who is single-handedly trying to reincarnate the soul of Elvis Presley within his Vincent Gallo-esque frame. There's something almost subversive about Pressnall's flamboyant, gyrating performance style, something that runs obscenely counter to the stand-and-play tradition of indie rock. Pressnall lets it all hang out, much to the dismay of the people around me who took his panache as rock star posing. Whether you're revolted or not, you have to admit the performance is interesting, unlike the music. I'm working on a review of the Flowers Forever debut that'll likely be online this Wednesday or Thursday as part of a package of reviews that make up this week's column. Pressnall's live performance embodies that CD, adding a little more life to the music than what's heard on the disc. It all comes down to whether or not you buy Pressnall's "Change better come / We're not fucking around no more" millennial outreach -- an approach whose sincerity works when it comes from Tilly. When it comes from Flowers Forever, it sounds less like a rallying cry than a threat from someone that no one could possibly take seriously.

Flowers Forever was an odd choice for this bill. Their music is almost diametrically incongruous with Daniel Johnston's. I assume Pressnall is a big fan (or else he and Creek just wanted to glom onto what they knew would be a big crowd). There was no rock star posing from Johnston, who came out and spent the first five minutes of the set struggling with sound equipment. First his microphone didn't work. When they figured that out, his guitar quit working. If you came wondering if Johnston would implode on stage (as a few of the people I spoke to outside admitted), here was the perfect opportunity. Instead, Johnston just looked lost, standing alone behind the microphone, waiting for someone to figure out what was wrong. I suppose this is what happens when you don't do a sound check, which Johnston skipped earlier in the day. The original plan was that Johnston and The Rayguns were to play 30 seconds of each song during soundcheck just to make sure that everyone was on the same page. It didn't happen, and there was some concerns that the evening's performance was going to be a train wreck. It was anything but.

Johnston started by playing a few new songs solo with his guitar. He apologized for fumbling some of the chords, then another guitarist took the stage and accompanied him on a couple classics including "Love in Vain" and a Beatles cover ("You've Got to Hide Your Love Away"). Johnston left the stage for a few moments, only to reemerge with The Rayguns in tow, changing the entire tone of the performance to something more professional and classic. Having seen on YouTube a few of the other instances where Johnston performed with local acts, he probably wasn't used to playing with a band of this caliber. The Rayguns were amazing, playing songs like "Fish" and "Rock This Town" and "True Love Will Find You in the End." The problem was Johnston, whose voice began to break about 10 minutes into the set. By the midway point, he was struggling to sing. He acknowledged that he was losing his voice, but soldiered on heroically. After about five tunes with the band, Johnston said goodnight. The crowd chanted "Daniel" trying to get him out for an encore, but it didn't happen. Instead Mike Friedman and the band came back out and explained that Johnston's voice was gone. Friedman told the crowd that Daniel would love it if they sang him "Devil Town." "He's right back there, he can hear you," Friedman said, leading the crowd in the a cappella tribute. It was a sweet moment.

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Live Review: Obama Eyes; Satchel Grande, Thunder Power tonight; caucus tomorrow… – Feb. 8, 2008 –

There's not a lot to say about the Conor/Obama show yesterday at the Civic. Bright Eyes consisted of Oberst and trumpet player Nate Walcott, joined by M. Ward and Jim James on guitars. It dawned on me while listening to Oberst croon through "Land Locked Blues" -- one of three songs performed for the 9,000-plus crowd -- that Bright Eyes' music isn't exactly inspirational in a "Let's go get 'em!" sort of way. In fact, it's somewhat downcast and slightly depressing. Hardly the "Celebrate good times COME ON!" revelry that one expects at a campaign rally. Oberst made up for it with his own brief comments, the first of the evening where anyone declared Obama "the next president of the United States." We'd hear the same thing again from Ben Nelson, Mike Fahey and the governor of Iowa. Anyway, after their three songs, Oberst and Co. strolled off stage, and it would be another two hours before Obama would finally arrive with his usual, inspiring stump speech, much more of a rock star than Oberst and Co. will ever be. Niz made it to the Slowdown Obama rally; you can read her brief comments on the OWH site here. The caucus is tomorrow morning, where you'll all get to see where your neighbors stand, except in my case because most of my neighbors are probably republicans.

I think there's a law against voting drunk, so you may want to hold back at the shows tonight. It could be difficult, as Satchel Grande is headlining a show at The Waiting Room with Polydypsia and Dessa Vibes. $7, 9 p.m. Down at Slowdown Jr., Thunder Power!!! returns with Darren Keen (a.k.a. The Show Is the Rainbow) and Somewhere Soon. $7, 9 p.m. While at Mick's, Scott Severin and his band opens for Jumpin' Kate. $5, 9 p.m.

Tomorrow night, of course, is Daniel Johnston and The Rayguns at Slowdown. Opening is Flowers Forever and Jake Bellows. $18, 9 p.m., tickets are still available at While over at The Waiting Room, those old stoners from Clever are playing, along with pop-punk bands Old Boy Network and Straight Outta Junior High. $7, 9 p.m.

Don't forget to caucus tomorrow!!!

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Live Review: MGMT, Yeasayer; ConorObama today/tonight… – Feb. 7, 2008 –

Well I did get to see Yeasayer/MGMT last night at Slowdown after all. About an hour after I posted yesterday's blog where I whined about the show selling out, I got an e-mail from Yeasayer's publicist offering me a slot on the list (Yes, people really do read Lazy-i). Despite being sold out, they easily could have squeezed an additional 50 people into the bar. The limited numbers obviously have something to do with bullshit fire codes. Evidence of the slim crowd size: I've never gotten a beer faster at Slowdown than I did last night.

MGMT went on first. My caveat for this review -- I knew next to nothing about either band on the bill, only that Yeasayer has an album near the top of the CMJ radio charts, right under Radiohead. That means they must be good, right? Well, of the two bands, I liked MGMT more, but probably because they were going for a '70s-era prog/arena-rock sound. You could draw parallels to a lot of FM greats, from Queen to Frampton to Styx, but modernized with a touch of Flaming Lips and Arcade Fire. It's no surprise that they're on a major label -- Sony/Columbia (which probably helped them get that gig on Letterman last month). A Sony rep actually was in the bar last night schmoozing. He told me to watch out for a song later in the set that will "have the girls dancing up front."

Sure enough, two or three songs before the end, MGMT launched into a funky, grinding dance number that sounded like a cross between David Bowie and Parliament Funkadelic. Mr. Sony was right, they were grooving up by the stage, and rightfully so. The tune had a heavy, head-bobbing bass line that any college marching band brass section would be proud to blast at next year's bowl game. The Sony guy confirmed that it was indeed the song for which he spoke. "That's their big hit, or the song that should be a huge hit." Believe me, it would be if the recording sounded like it did at Slowdown. I found the track, called "Electric Feel," this morning on their website. That bass line was there, but its thundering storm-cloud weight had been lightened to one guy limply fingering a bass string. 'tis a shame.

Yeasayer came on at around 11 to throbbing tribal drums (some of which were sampled), Middle Eastern-sounding guitar (where's the sitar?) and lush three-part harmonies. It was like listening to the second coming of Poco by way of Punjabi. Cool, stylized stuff, though it lacked any sort of central melody (or at least any that I remembered on my drive home). The frontman, who fiddled with a table full of effects gear/pedals, was a real crooner, and while the crowd wasn't dancing, they were certainly bobbing their heads.

* * *

Of course today and tonight is all about Barack Obama -- his rally down at the Civic with Bright Eyes (doors at 3:30, Barack at 4:30) -- followed by the Obama rally at Slowdown with Bright Eyes, M. Ward, Jim Ward and Secret Life of Sparrows. There already was around 50 people standing outside the Civic as I drove home for lunch. I'll be one of them later this afternoon; I won't, however, be at Slowdown tonight because I couldn't score a ticket.

If politics ain't your thing, Omaha's most genuinely disturbed punk band, The Shanks, are opening for The Filthy Few along with Bloodcow at The Waiting Room tonight at 9. $7 will get you an evening of mayhem.

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Column 159 -- Playing with a troubled genius; Barack O'Conor tomorrow at the Civic... – Feb. 6, 2008 –

As of this writing (lunchtime Feb. 6) there are still tickets available to Saturday's Daniel Johnston show at Slowdown with Flowers Forever and Jake Bellows. You should go.

Column 159: Daniel Johnston and The Rayguns
Local boys back troubled genius

I wasn't planning to see Daniel Johnston at Slowdown on Saturday.

Sure, like you, I loved the documentary The Devil and Daniel Johnston. I rooted for the poor bastard as he battled through mental illness and a broken heart to write a lifetime’s worth of ballads to the unrequited love of his life, Laurie; songs that would be covered by some of music's biggest stars including Yo La Tengo, The Reivers, Beck, Tom Waits, The Flaming Lips and our own Bright Eyes.

I know he’s a genius and all, but hey, $18 is $18. Johnston alone behind a piano or guitar is less than enticing to me. And (based on the documentary) there’s always a chance that, after laying down the cash, he could have one of his "episodes" and not even show up.

Then I heard about the band. At each city on this tour, a local band learns Johnston’s music and backs him on stage. The Omaha band on which the honor was bestowed is The Rayguns, a talented conglomeration of singer/songwriters that includes Reagan Roeder, Kyle Harvey and Mike Friedman (Whipkey Three drummer Scott "Zip"Zimmerman also is part of the Johnston band).

The Rayguns? Now that could be interesting. Reagan and the rest of the combo — all long-time Johnston fans -- explained how the once-in-a-lifetime gig went down from the confines of Roeder’s and Harvey’s new music store in the heart of downtown Benson -- Side Street Music. Located one door south of The Barley Street Tavern (just south of Maple on North 62nd Street), Side Street is a combination guitar and instrument shop, used clothing store, practice space, recording studio and place for musicians to hang out. Nothing fancy, merely a home away from home that resembles a musician's messed-up apartment more than store.

We started at Side Street; we ended up at the Barley Street Tavern with a table of beers.

"We were just sitting here at the bar one night and Jim Johnson (of One Percent Productions, who booked the show) plopped down next to us and asked if we wanted to play the show,"Roeder said. "We felt mostly disbelief that it would happen."

Disbelief vanished with receipt of an e-mail from Johnston’s management outlining conditions for the gig. The band was sent a list of 15 songs from which to choose for the performance. They picked 10. Among them, "Try to Love," "Love Not Dead," "Silly Love," "Funeral Home," "Speeding Motorcycle," "True Love Will Find You in the End," "Devil Town," "Living My Life in Vain" and "Casper the Friendly Ghost."

"He might play from the list or he could throw something at us," Roeder said. "If it's a train wreck, we'll just laugh and move on. He’s not too worried if it's not perfect."

An amazing thing about Johnston's music, Harvey said, "is that people have heard most of the songs before but don't realize he wrote them because so many bands have covered them."

Learning the tunes was both easy and difficult, Harvey said, because while Johnston's "ideas are simple, they include some challenging, quirky transitions."
Roeder said Johnston has an odd sense of timing.

"He doesn't stay on a certain tempo a lot of the time," he said. "Most are three chords, but he organizes them in a unique way. What makes them interesting is his vocal melodies and lyrics. We just play them like we would if we wrote them. We don’t play them like he did. The evening is all about Daniel. We're there to help him have fun. I want to be in the background and let him do his thing for his fans."

But what about his potential, uh, craziness? Reportedly diagnosed with bipolar disorder, anyone who’s seen the documentary knows Johnston's history of unpredictable behavior. It doesn't seem to bother the band.

"I think it’ll be funny if he's a nut," Roeder said. "He's sung these songs a thousand times. If he's crazy, he's crazy. If he's not, he's not."

Friedman said the band can only be as prepared as possible.

"We'll know it backwards and forwards, and what happens, happens," he said. "The only thing that matters is that he's happy and the crowd has a good time."

The Omaha guys have enjoyed preparing for the concert. Fact is, this marks the first time they've played together on stage in months, having been sidelined by a broken keyboard that just returned from the shop. They plan to hit the studio and return soon to the local stage.

But for the past three weeks, they've focused on that devil from West Texas with the cartoon-ish voice and the beautiful mind.

"It's a once-in-a-lifetime thing just to get to see him play," Friedman said. "Playing with him is a nice treat."

Harvey still can't believe the Rayguns are playing the show.

"It's already one of my favorite experiences we’ve had as a band," he said. "What's better than to get to hang out with my best friends and learn a bunch of Daniel Johnston songs?"

Tonight at Slowdown Jr., it's Yeasayer with MGMT. This one just sold out, though, which kind of sucks because I was thinking of going. Too bad they can't move it into the big room, but I have a feeling they're setting up some Barack O'Conor-related rally stuff in there. Imagine rocking among the bunting.

And speaking of Barack O'Conor, according to today's Omaha World-Herald (here), Oberst will "play three or four songs at the candidate's rally Thursday at the Civic Auditorium." The doors open for that rally at 3:30 p.m., and admission is free. If you didn't sign up for tickets for the after-party at Slowdown tomorrow night, however, you're out of luck cuz they're all gone.

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Obama, Conor, and the politics of dancing…. – Feb. 5, 2008 –

By now you've heard about the Barack Obama rally featuring Bright Eyes, M. Ward, Jim Ward of Sparta and Secret Life of Sparrows this Thursday at Slowdown starting at 7 p.m.

What I don't understand is the ticketing situation. According to an e-mail I received from Saddle Creek Record's Robb Nansel, to acquire two tickets to the rally you must be 18+ and "must either register to vote or sign a pledge card stating 'I pledge to caucus for Barack.'"

Now, that isn't an issue for me, as I threw money at Obama's campaign weeks ago. I'd love to see as many people caucus for him as possible. But forcing those already registered to vote to sign a pledge card to get in seems like bad politics.

Isn't the whole idea behind a rally to get people to support the candidate regardless of their affiliation? Why force someone to sign a "pledge card" who may not support Obama prior to the rally? How many of the signees will have lied to get into the event? Is the goal to keep the honest Republicans, Undecideds and Hillary supporters out? It seems out of character for a candidate whose central message has been about inclusion in the political process -- and that includes for clueless Republicans as well. Does Obama want people to vote for him in exchange for a Bright Eyes concert? No, no he doesn't.

Yeah, I know, I'm just reading too much into an event that has obvious limited capacity. Nansel's memo also said even if you have a ticket you may not get in. The sign-up for tickets begins today at 4:30 at Slowdown. Strangely, an article in today's OWH states the club's capacity is a mere 640 -- quite a few less than the 715 we'd been told in the past. One assumes that they didn't sell many tickets to the Jim Ward show that was already scheduled for that night, as they're refunding any previously purchased tickets and guaranteeing admission to the Obama event. So, if they sold 200 tickets to Jim Ward (presumably to 200 possible Republicans *yikes!*), that leaves only 440 remaining rally spots. Better get in line now...

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Live Review: UUVVWWZ... – Feb. 4, 2008 –

I spent some time last weekend contemplating how I would approach this live review. Let me put it this way: It's much, much easier to write a negative review than a positive one. A negative review merely requires explaining why something sucked, and that's usually pretty easy to do. A positive review, on the other hand, requires an extreme amount of dexterity. If you gush too much, readers quickly discount the comments as yet another example of where a writer is a friend of the band and/or was boozed up when s/he wrote the review. Well, it's Monday morning and I'm not boozed up and I don't even know who is in UUVVWWZ. So with a clear head and no reservations, I make the following statements:

1. UUVVWWZ is the best local band I've heard play live in a couple years.
2. If I owned a record label, I would pay to record and release their music. It's the only local band (signed or not) for which I can make that statement.

I should just stop right there.

But I won't. My original plan for Friday night was to go to The Saddle Creek Bar and catch UUVVWWZ and then high-tail it over to O'Leaver's for the Diplomats/Diplomettes of Solid Sound. I never made it to O'Leaver's, however, because UUVVWWZ was slotted to play last. It crossed my mind to just leave and catch them some other time. The only reason I was there was because I'd heard raves on starcityscene and Omahype. So I stayed and watched their fellow Lincoln bands, Car Then Cars and Crush the Clown, play their sets of relatively straight-up indie rock. Nice stuff. It was somewhat crowded early in the evening -- between 80 and 90 people, huge for a SCB show. But by the time UUVVWWZ hit the stage, half the crowd had left. They missed the best part of the night.

Their set started bluesy and turned punk right before our eyes. The beginning was Cowboy Junkies (dripping slacker-rock energy) meets Cat Power (full-on bluesy grit) meets Helium (unpredictable, wonky psychedelic vocal melodies). Their chief advantage is that every member of the 4-piece is exceptionally, brazenly talented. Amazing guitar, amazing rhythm section. Frontwoman "Teal" is a spazzed-out version of Chan Marshall, using every inch of her range to fill every corner of every tripped-out melody. Their style shifted mid-set away from bluesy psychedelic indie rock to raucous post-punk that bordered on New Wave -- i.e. Siouxsie meets 77/More Songs-era Talking Heads, wherein Teal could just as soon chirp as sing as scream -- and I loved every second of it.

Afterward I heard mixed reviews from a couple guys in back. One well-known local scenester who's famous for his love of all things Jehu/RftC/Hot Snakes gave the band a pass, saying it didn't "rock enough" for him. Fine. Another guy compared them to Deerhoof, which I can see, though I generally disagree with (While both bands do have female vocalist and play no-wave flavored sometimes-experimental indie rock, UUVVWWZ has more cohesive (and better) melodies). I told these two fellow critics my opinion and they looked at me like I was crazy.

I'd tell you to judge for yourself but they only have a few rough demos on their myspace page, which seems to indicate that they haven't done much recording. It's time they did. Your next chance to catch them in Omaha is Feb. 20 at Slowdown when they're playing with The Show Is the Rainbow and So Many Dynamos. You should go and then tell me afterward if I'm hearing things or if they really are the first great hope for the next generation of local music (or if I'm full of sh**).

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Live Report: KIND FM meeting; Third Men, UUVVWWZ tonight... – Feb. 1, 2008 –

If the turnout for last night's first "public forum" for KIND 99.1 FM is any indication, the station shouldn't have any problem attracting volunteers. By 7 p.m., every table in PS Collective was filled -- more than 40 people were there to hear what the station was all about. The presentation began with the playing of another Dave Webber-voiced station promo over a logo-emblazened Powerpoint presentation while volunteers handed out agendas that listed the station's "Goals and Intentions." I'm not going into details, it's pretty much what you expected -- a home-grown radio station with a range of 10 blocks (you can read the background here).

The station's entire team of program coordinators already has been selected. The program director is longtime radio veteran Mary O'Keefe, "CD Releases" music programmer is The Reader's Jesse Stanek. There's also a slew of specialty personnel covering everything from "Comedy" (Matt Geiler) to "Independent Film" (Lauren Van Buskirk).

The station even has its own website up and running at (not sure why they didn't get a .org site since they're non-commercial, but oh well). Podcast/streaming is definitely in the works.

The hour-long meeting was mostly background stuff, except for one interesting tidbit: Station organizers intend to set up "repeater" transmitters in attics all over town, each broadcasting at a power level well within the limits of the FCC, essentially creating a pseudo 100 milliwatt citywide network. The engineer on hand said such tiny transmitters are cheap, easy to set up, and take almost no noticeable power to operate. Judging by the interest in the audience, plenty of people are willing to wire up transmitters as soon as the station begins operating.

Station organizer Shawn Halpenny appeared to be blown away by the turnout for the first meeting. And I have no doubt that the station will eventually be broadcasting, for as he said, his "reputation is on the line." Halpenny explained that they were accepting any and all programming contributions as long as the content was legal. This brought up the question of the legality of airing BMI/ASCAP music. When asked by Coyote Bones frontman David Matysiak if they would play BMI/ASCAP material, O'Keefe quickly said "No," but Nils Erickson, who runs Rainbow Recording Studio and who donated some equipment for the station, said they could air BMI/ASCAP music as long as artists signed a written waiver, which will be available from No ASCAP/BMI content would be a real deal-breaker for the station. Even the smallest bands with or without a label have some sort of BMI/ASCAP agreement. Frankly, without the ability to broadcast ASCAP/BMI-represented performers, KIND would only be able to play amateur-level artists.

So when's it going live? No one knew for sure, though it likely will be in the next few months. Volunteers were asked to fill out an "Interest Intake" form detailing what they wanted to do. Now it's up to organizer Amy Ryan to sort through them all and begin assigning tasks… Stay tuned.

* * *

This weekend is front-loaded with shows -- there's tons going on tonight, and almost nothing tomorrow night.

Tonight at O'Leaver's it's The Third Men with The Diplomats of Solid Sound featuring the legendary Diplomettes -- the band's female back-up singers. I have visions of the scene from Apocalypse Now when the drunken troops stormed the stage and the Playboy Bunnies had to be helicoptered to safety. This could be interesting. $5, 9:30 p.m.

Meanwhile, there's a rare live music show over at The Saddle Creek Bar tonight featuring Adam Weaver, Car Then Cars, UUVVWWZ and Crush The Clown. Show starts at 9 and is FREE.

Over at The Waiting Room it's The Mercurys with gritty twang rockers The Filter Kings. $7, 9 p.m.

And finally, down at The Bemis Underground, it's Black Hundreds and Columbia vs. Challenger for a free show that starts at 9.

Then it's Saturday, and the only show of consequence is The Whipkey Three and Sarah Benck (sans The Robbers) at Mick's. $5, 9 p.m.

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KIND FM meeting tonight; Oscillations; Slowdown on my iPhone, Blood on the Wall tonight... – Jan. 31, 2008 –

No, the future of KIND FM (read about the station here) doesn't rest on whether or not anyone shows up tonight at 7 p.m. at PS Collective for the station's first public forum, but it's probably fair to say that if no one shows up for this meeting, KIND will be short-lived, if it happens at all. There's no way a radio station that hopes to broadcast 24/7 can survive without an army of volunteers and content providers (i.e., DJs). As I've said before, any frustrated DJ who had dreams of one day being heard on the air should be there tonight. So should anyone who's whined about Omaha lacking a station that plays local music. Yes, the signal will only carry 10 to 15 blocks, but KIND FM chief engineer Shawn Halpenny's dreams are much bigger -- and far-reaching -- than that. He says that he's currently building a second transmitter, one with a much larger range that "is standing in the wings waiting for the green light (FCC Approval and license)." Such a rare license, if ever made available, would cost a fortune, and who knows where the money would come from. But stranger things have happened.

* * *

I'm told that the short film "Oscillations" has been put to bed. The 20-minute headtrip (with no dialogue) includes music by a number of local musicians, chief among them being Kyle Harvey, who is credited below the title. "Oscillations" will be screened at the Omaha Film Festival as part of two nights of short film entries -- Feb. 21 at 6 p.m. and Feb. 23 at 5 p.m. Screenings are held at Westwood Cinema 8 (find out more about the fest here). Director Evan Blakely also plans to screen the film at an event sometime in the future that would include live performances. Stay tuned.

* * *

Hey, I can finally read on my iPhone. The venue replaced its old, all-Flash website with a standard html model -- and it's about a million times better. All-Flash websites have always been a bad idea -- they're generally over-designed, hard to read, pages can't be bookmarked, rarely print well, can't be copied-and-pasted from, and lack other basic usability -- but are an even worse idea in the age of the iPhone, which doesn't support Flash. So check out the new site at and tell Jason Kulbel the next time you see him, "Thank you for just being you."

* * *

Speaking of Slowdown, tonight at Slowdown Jr. it's the punk stylings of Brooklyn band Blood on the Wall, on the road supporting their just-released LP Lifers on Social Registry Records. They sound like Slanted-era Pavement to me, which is a good thing. Opening is Honeybee and TBA (featuring CJ Olson, Derek Pressnall (Flowers Forever), and others). $7, 9 p.m.

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Column 158 -- The Better Beatles again... – Jan. 30, 2008 –

On top of everything else that's cool about this album -- its history, the music, the liner notes -- is the album artwork itself, which I've seen bring people nearly to tears recalling their youth. The art is a collage of ads for long-gone venues taken from a 1980s edition of The Omaha World-Herald. Among the venues, One Eyed Jacks, The Chicago, Shenanigans, Mr. Bill's, Miss Kitty's Saloon, Club 89, Carter Lake Warehouse and Matt's & Larry's Ranch Bowl. It's a snapshot of days gone by, just like this album. Yesterday, all my troubles seemed so far away...

Column 158: Better than the Beatles
A legendary band's long lost recordings resurface.

It dawned on me as I listened to their mechanical, dead-voiced interpretation of "Can't Buy Me Love" -- a reinvention of a free-wheeling love ballad into a robotic, bleating nightmare -- that there will never be another Better Beatles.

Thrust into the global consciousness for a few brief moments in the early '80s, The Better Beatles is one of the more colorful footnotes in Omaha's music history, remembered by only the tiny handful who were there. Like most of you, I'm just now learning of their existence, 26 years after their brief shining moment.

Consisting of Kurt Magnuson, Dave Nordin, Jean pSmith and Jay Rosen, The Better Beatles were four teenage punks who tried to tear down a cultural icon. Their weapon of choice was their 45-rpm interpretations of Beatles' classics "Penny Lane" and "I'm Down."

A review in Lincoln's Capital Punishment fanzine said it all: "As their name implies, they are better than the Beatles, reducing those time worn 'classics' to mechanistic rumbling. Gone are the 'Lets make love not War, everything's groovy' emotionalism of the '60s replaced by more realistic rhythms of repetition and emotionlessness. The synthesizer beats out a five-note sequence that makes up the whole song, while Kurt and Jay's instruments are barely audible. The real gem here is Jean's voice. She sings 'Penny Lane' in a stark staccato tone that is half frightening, half bored. This is the way the Beatles would sound if any of them were alive today."

Little did our heroes know that their record would get airplay all over the U.S. and beyond, including a spin by U.K. uber-tastemaker John Peel on his famous radio show. Even Village Voice music critic Robert Christgau gave the single a wizened nod.

The single was supposed to be only the beginning. The Better Beatles had recorded an entire album's worth of their New Wave anti-pop Beatles covers. But as quickly as their musical star rose, it faded. The rest of those recordings never saw the light of day. Until now.

Late last year, Oakland label Hook or Crook Records released the long lost Better Beatles recordings on a full-length album titled Mercy Beat. In addition to the single, that album includes the band's unique take on "Lady Madonna," "Baby You're a Rich Man," "Eleanor Rigby," and five more standards. You can pick up a copy at The Antiquarium record store.

Via e-mail from Berlin while on tour as the guitarist for The Legendary Stardust Cowboy, Better Beatles drummer/vocalist Jay Rosen told the story of the unlikely emergence of Mercy Beat. He said the last time all four members of the band were together in the same room was the November 1981 sessions that spawned the album. "Kurt and Jean moved to Seattle right after that in Kurt's old 1964 Chevy, driving across the frozen Midwest and Northwest," Rosen said.

Shortly after the session, a few record labels were interested in releasing the material. "There was a guy at Arista Records who was planning to put the record out," Rosen said. "The only problem is, that would have taken months! That is a long time when you are 19 years old playing in bands that are together for 10 or 12 weeks."

Instead, the band put out the single on their own Woodgrain Records label. "It seems like it was a minor hit on BBC and on some West Coast stations," Rosen said. "We were getting a lot of letters from Europe, due to John Peel playing the single." But the attention was short-lived, and the band members moved on. Years went by. Al Gore invented The Internet, and the next thing you know, new reviews of the single started showing up online. One review, Rosen discovered, included a comment posted by Jean pSmith. "A few days later, I got an e-mail from her," Rosen said. "I nearly fell off my chair. I had not heard from her since 1981."

All the web chatter piqued the interest of Hook or Crook's Chris Owen, who wondered about those lost sessions. "I had the tapes, but I was not sure they would still be intact," Rosen said. "There can be problems storing magnetic tape. It can come apart the first time you play it after years go by."

But the old Radioshack reel survived, Rosen said, and he and Jean set to work putting the album together. "I only had a cassette tape that was destroyed in 1984 by Krishna Copy center in Berkley, so I had not heard most of these for 23 years," Rosen said. "I'm glad to hear them again."

Despite the time that's passed, the recordings still hold their own as a critical comment on commercialism and idol worship from a band that considered The Beatles to be "an oppressive influence."

"I knew people that were riding Big Wheels when the Beatles broke up who still worshiped them like gods," pSmith said in an interview with the band by Jay Hinman from September 2007 (which is included in the album's liner notes). "Omaha has always been slow to change, being insulated by the rest of America's conservative bulk. I felt that the adoration of the Beatles had gone on quite long enough. Better Beatles stripped the songs of their sacred status, like saying 'We're not afraid of your gods!'"

She also said that the band didn't have any other material to play, "and this is just what we pulled out of our asses."

Regardless, the record is a reminder of a time when musical icons still existed for bands to denigrate. That time is long gone.

You can also purchase the album (vinyl or CD) online from the Hook or Crook website. For authenticity's sake, I recommend the vinyl. My last question for Jay Rosen: When is the long-awaited Better Beatles reunion? "I think that question could qualify as a zinger," he said. "I'm still kind of shocked that the record is out."

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The voice of Lazy-i... – Jan. 29, 2008 –

For those of you who have always wondered what my voice sounds like, check out the Worlds of Wayne podcast (here), featuring yours truly reading Column 155, where I talk about nearly missing my chance to hear singer/songwriter Brad Hoshaw because of my poorly held preconceived notions. It's part of an all-Hoshaw edition of WofW (Episode 39) where you'll also hear some of Brad's music, which by itself is reason enough to check it out. I have to admit having not listened to this particular episode, as I have a sort-of phobia about hearing my own voice! We did the reading in one take, and I never even listened to it on playback, trusting host Wayne Brekke that everything went fine. You tell me.

This week's colunn focuses on The Better Beatles. Look for it online tomorrow...

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Weekend in review: The Stay Awake, Perry H. Matthews, Fromanhole... – Jan. 28, 2008 –

Most common question heard this weekend: Did you go to Cursive on Friday night? Everyone else did. And I planned on going, too. But I never figured that it would sell out. Well, by late Friday afternoon, all the Cursive tickets were gone, leaving me out in the cold. The consensus from the half-dozen or so people who told me they went: Cursive was phenomenal. Their new music seems to be taking a turn in a new direction, one driven in part by their new drummer, whose style is more straight-forward than Clint Schnase's. Can a different drummer really make that much of a difference to a band's sound? Absolutely. But can it really drive the songwriting process of people like Tim Kasher and Ted Stevens? I'd have to hear that to believe it. Everyone I talked to said Little Brazil played one of their best sets ever. Those same people also were confused about Baby Walrus. Everyone agrees that Chris Senseney could make great music by pounding two empty cardboard boxes together; they're just not sure that he can do it consistently. They don't "get" what Senseney is trying to do, which is more than write straight-up pop songs. Listen to his Coco Art CD and you'll either be inspired or frustrated by all the weird, loopy interludes between the pop songs. Senseney has a vision, whether anyone else can see it or not.

There Will Be Blood kept me from getting to The Waiting Room Saturday night in time to see the opening bands. Instead, by 11:15, headliner The Stay Awake already was tuning on stage in front of a respectable crowd of around 100. They proceeded to tear through their usual set of bottled-up anger/frustration/resentment in the form of acidic, angular bombasts at 110 mph. Listening to the Stay Awake is like watching the spazz kid you remember in high school who always got in fights after the last bell -- charging after the bully, head back, eyes pressed shut, swinging wildly like a punching windmill, hoping to hit whatever was in his path. He usually ended up flat on his back in the dirt with blood draining from his nose. He may have lost, but goddamn if he wasn't entertaining for those 15 seconds before hitting the ground.

The Stay Awake guys were in the surprisingly large crowd at O'Leaver's last night to catch a show performed by some kindred spirits. Three weeks ago at The Waiting Room, I lasted about 10 minutes into Perry H. Matthews' set. They sounded like shit, sloppy and confused, especially compared to an always-tight Bombardment Society, which had played right before them. Last night was a different story. PHM plays post-hardcore/noise rock with mathy overtones. You get the usual squall vocals -- mostly guys angrily yelling into the microphone. The appeal is in the wonky arrangements and their energy. The set-up is two guitars, bass and drums. A guy standing by the door described them as "Baby Shellac" -- a tag on their just-out-of-high school (probably) age and their Skin Graft style. Their anchor was firmly seated behind the drum kit, the only thing that kept them grounded from inside a squealing tornado of high-end guitars. More bass would have helped immensely. The bassist knew what he was doing, but he could barely be heard in the rather brash mix. PHM has the same unbridled exuberance that I remember from '90s bands like Mousetrap and Culture Fire, artful noise for an unsophisticated world, they'll soon realize that they're playing to a niche market, especially in Omaha. Keep an eye on them.

Obviously not targeting a niche was Chicago's Four Star Alarm, who were in the wrong place at the wrong time. They couldn't have known that they'd be sandwiched between two of Omaha's more atonal prog/punk bands. As a result, their made-for-radio emocore sounded silly and woefully commercial in comparison. Just as out of place was their rock star posturing, which I'm sure goes over just fine on a different stage with a different audience. Not last night.

And then came Fromanhole. Playing for the first time since last August, the only visible rust was in their uncertainty between songs -- what would they play next? The band has been around for over a decade, and though their core design remains unaltered -- intricate, complex rhythms, harsh/atonal melodies, precision drumming and banshee-yell vocals all wrapped in a stuttering, proggy package -- they've developed a more tuneful ear, whether they'll admit it or not. Sure, the usual whiplash start-stops are still there, but individual song sections develop more into throbbing grooves than before. The Brothers Kiser (Doug and Daryl) are tonally more in synch on bass and guitar (respectively), with the improvisation coming from drummer Doug Berger's ranging style. The product is amped jazz with shards of broken-glass vocals to keep you on your toes. The biggest surprise of the night -- one of their songs bordered on traditional structure, complete with backbeat and hooks, though you'd never mistake it for a pop song. I pointed this out after the set and Doug seemed embarrassed by it. He shouldn't be. He's always known that their style of music will limit their audience in Omaha vs. cities like Chicago or NYC that are more open to progressive music. Just by throwing in one or two of these more straightforward songs, they'd get more people at their shows here, where they could brace the unsuspecting victims to the wall and force feed their more radical stuff.

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Cursive tonight, The Stay Awake tomorrow... – Jan. 25, 2008 –

Ah, remember a time not so long ago when Cursive tried out their new material at places like O'Leaver's and Sokol for $2 to $5? Those were, indeed, the good ol' days. From now on, looks like we'll have to settle for $14 shows like the one tonight at that hoity-toity Slowdown, with its fancy state-of-the-art sound and lighting system. Come on, Kasher, don't you like singing into microphones that sound like you're screaming into a metal box? All right, all right, I guess it is worth the extra jack to see these guys on the city's finest stage, even if they seem oh so far away up there in the lights… Opening is the best of Omaha's Next Wave bands, Baby Walrus, along with the winner of the 2007 OEA Award for Best Alternative Band, Little Brazil. 9 p.m., $14. This will likely sell out at the window…

On a side note, Slowdown hospitality director Val Nelson sent out a press release last week stating that the bar is now serving sandwiches from Patrick's Market. "We have a vegan, vegetarian, and meat option. Also, the snacks have expanded to include pita chips, pretzels, and a few more savory items." Mmmm, savory items… I wonder where they're going to set up the deli counter. Food continues to be a problem for the entire Slowdown complex, as anyone who's gone to Filmstreams for a 7 o'clock screening can attest. There is nowhere nearby to get a bite to eat. I mentioned this problem to one of the Slowdown owners, who kindly suggested I try the recently opened Old Mattress Factory Bar and Grill. An enormous mistake, as there was a basketball game that night, which meant $6 to park in their lot and having to put up with Bluejay a-holes. No thanks. Eating in The Old Market also wasn't an option -- no way to park, get a table, get served and eat in time to get back to Filmstreams for the opening credits. (We ended up driving all the way to Panera on Saddle Creek (yuck!) and driving back downtown). The most obvious solution is also Slowdown's missing link -- a restaurant in the vacant bay that was supposed to house Yia Yia's Pizza. Am I the only one who thinks a by-the-slice pizza shop is a no-brainer? So why isn't anyone stepping up to the plate?

Moving on…

Tomorrow night's marquee event is, of course, The Stay Awake CD-release show at The Waiting Room with Bombardment Society and those crazy f--kers in Dance Me Pregnant. Prep for the show by re-reading my Stay Awake feature/interview (here). $7, 9 p.m.

Sunday night, it's back to everyone's favorite neighborhood stinkhole, O'Leaver's, for Omaha's favorite math-rock band Fromanhole, along with Chicago punkers Four Star Alarm -- a band that includes members of Strike Anywhere, Horace Pinker and The Bomb. Opening the show is a band that The Stay Awake's Steve Micek said is his favorite new act -- Perry H. Matthews. $5, 9 p.m.

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Column 157 -- KIND FM; Brad Hoshaw, Noah's Ark tonight... – Jan. 24, 2008 –

The biggest question surrounding KIND FM remains "Will it happen?" I know all the details are below, but even after reading this, there are those who will still be skeptical, and I don't blame them. A single parent with two kids who runs/owns The Pizza Shoppe and PS Collective, how will the adorable Amy Ryan also have time to operate a radio station? The job of coordinating dozens of volunteers is a challenge that's too big for most people, let alone someone with so many kettles already on the stove. Luckily she also has the help from another go-getter in Shawn Halpenny. Even if they manage to get it going (and I think they will) an even bigger challenge remains: Keeping it going. And that's where you come in. Every broadcasting student, every frustrated DJ, every person who ever dreamed of getting involved in radio, here is your chance. Even if the signal only travels a mile, it's a mile more than we had before. And who knows where it'll go in the future?

Column 157: The Quiet Revolution
A community gets a broadcast voice.

When word starts getting around about a new radio station that will actually focus on the community and its artists, people get excited. Very excited. Maybe too excited.

The rumor started leaking out about KIND FM a week ago -- a new radio station that would operate out of Benson and play local music -- yes, local music -- as well as other locally produced programming. For a community of musicians and artists that has been starving for such a broadcast voice for as long as I can remember, it seemed too good to be true.

And like all rumors, the story only got bigger and bigger. Before long, I was hearing that KIND would have a broadcast range of 50 miles. My god, you'd be able to pick it up in Lincoln! But wait a minute… that could only happen if one of the large commercial stations was to change format, and doesn't it seem unlikely that a money-generating FM station would switch to a non-profit community-based format?

The truth, while not nearly as big and bold, is still exciting in its own way.

The people behind KIND FM are Amy Ryan -- owner/operator of The Pizza Shoppe and PS Collective in Benson -- and WOWT senior writer/producer Shawn Halpenny -- the driving force behind the broadcast of the Omaha Entertainment and Arts Awards for the past two years.

For Ryan, KIND is yet another effort to turn Benson into what she calls a "self-sustaining, harmless community." Give her a chance and she'll tell you about dreams of mounting power-generating wind turbines on the roofs of Benson buildings, about creating an all-inclusive community that nurtures artists and musicians. Her performance venue, PS Collective, is about "experiencing all perspectives of the human condition," she said. "That's the power and magic of creativity!" She plans to eventually turn the Pizza Shoppe and PS Collective into nonprofit businesses that provide work training for "people in transition." Some might call her a visionary; others, a hippie with a cause.

Ryan shared her vision with her old pal Halpenny. "At an impromptu meeting a few Saturdays ago, Amy asked me about how we could get the word out about Benson, and how Benson resembled Haight Ashbury circa 1968…" Halpenny said. "It just clicked… a radio station."

Not your typical radio station, an FCC Part 15 station -- a low-powered FM broadcast that Halpenny said is allowed to operate by the FCC without a license. "You don't need a license if your signal's power doesn't exceed 100 milliwatts," he said.

So what kind of range are we talking about here? Fifty miles? Twenty miles? "It will cover 10 to 15 blocks in every direction, if we're lucky," Halpenny said. "It's truly a community radio station designed just for the people of Benson."

Halpenny said the $150 transmitter and 40-foot tower were donated by his radiohead colleagues at WOWT. The PS Collective building will be the station's headquarters, housing the studio and transmitter, with the tower mounted on the roof. Halpenny and his TV friends will be the technical brains behind the station, while Ryan will coordinate programming and the volunteer personnel who will run it all.

"The station is designed to promote local art and businesses," Ryan said. Operated as a nonprofit, KIND won't accept advertising. It also won't play music registered with ASCAP and BMI -- which is most of the music heard on college and commercial radio stations. That means KIND will only air locally produced original music. What about local bands on labels like Saddle Creek? Their music may be aired if musicians sign a release form. Needless to say, Ryan and Halpenny already have lawyers involved who are familiar with broadcast rules and regulations.

Beyond music, Ryan said KIND also will broadcast talk shows and live performances not only by bands but by local theater troupes who have voiced interest in producing radio plays. It sounds like a mish-mash, but there will be plenty of hours to fill. Halpenny said programming will be surprisingly automated, utilizing Vara broadcast software tools. "People will be able to build their own master show using Audacity (software) and e-mail it to me as an mp3 file," he said.

The studio will be used for live interviews, performances and talk shows, including Halpenny's own show for M.A.P.S. Omaha -- the Metro Omaha Paranormal Society, which he helped found. Got an idea for a show? Ryan and Halpenny are open to anything, as long as it follows the rules.

So when's all it going to happen? Ryan and Halpenny couldn't say for sure. KIND literally is in its infancy, though all the pieces are slowly coming together. They both say the station could be broadcasting in the next few months, depending on the amount of help they get from volunteers. Anyone interested in playing a role in KIND is invited to an organizational meeting to be held at PS Collective, 6056 Maple St., at 7 p.m. Jan. 31.

Before I left the interview, Ryan played an mp3 file on her MacBook -- a station promo created by WOWT's Dave Webber. Amidst a blur of noise, Webber's sterling voice announced, "KIND FM, the revolution has begun."

It's a small revolution, one with a tiny voice, but a revolution none the less. And in a city internationally known for its creativity, where its own artists' voices have been effectively kept off the airwaves, it's a revolution that's a long time coming.

Tonight down at Mick's, it's the return of Brad Hoshaw, whose last appearance at Mick's became fodder for a Lazy-i column (here). You need to hear this guy's stuff. Headlining is the Southpaw Bluegrass Band. $5, 9 p.m. Meanwhile, down the street at The Waiting Room, it's once again, Noah's Ark Was a Spaceship with Dimas Lemus and Lincoln's Spring Gun. Noah's Ark plays more than any other local band that I've heard. If you haven't had a chance to catch them, then you're living in a cave (you're certainly not reading this). Here's another chance. Take it. $7, 9 p.m.

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The Stay Awake exposed!– Jan. 23, 2008 –

After walking away from the interview with The Stay Awake last week I figured I had a stone-lock exclusive. The band had told me they'd never been interviewed before. Then a couple days later at The Waiting Room, City Weekly writer Chris Aponick tells me he's doing a feature on The Stay Awake for The CW as well. I wouldn't be surprised if Niz has something in the pipeline at the OWH. So the Stay Awake go from nothing to everything press-wise in a week. Now all they have to do is break up after their CD is released to complete the typical rock 'n' roll circle.

Anyway, here's my stab at capturing the band in print. Steve, Robert and Mario talk about their mysterious origins, their new CD and why they do what they do. (read it here). To give you a taste of the overall tone of the piece, here's the first few paragraphs.

Omaha punk trio The Stay Awake has been around for five years. So why is this the first time you've read about them?

Probably because the band has never done an interview before, nor has it ever really wanted to.

"We never did much to promote ourselves," said bassist Robert Little over beers at O'Leaver's last Tuesday night. "It's just how it is."

"It's all a fucking game," said frontman/guitarist/cynic Steve Micek. "I can't do shameless self-promotion."

"For me, our music is a take-it-or-leave-it thing," added drummer Mario Alderfer.

On the surface, they sound like they don't care -- about the band, you, or if people listen to their music. But that's not entirely true. "I could say that people liking our music isn't a motivation," Alderfer added, "but I like it when they do." (continued)

It goes on like that for another 800 words or so. I had an editor read the piece who told me they should be called The Self Deprecating Three. These guys really don't care if you like what they do, which is a shame because they do it better than anyone in town. They were on my list of the top 20 bands of '07, and for good reason. Find out why on Saturday at The Waiting Room with Bombardment Society and Dance Me Pregnant. The band said they'd be happy if just their friends showed up along with a few other people. I think there's going to be a few more people there than that, now that they're media whores... And if you're wondering, the article's photo was indeed taken in the shitter at O'Leaver's. No idea who that guy is taking a wizz, but he's a star now.

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The Brutes, Honey & Darling tonight… – Jan. 22, 2008 –

Just a quick note to let you know what's going on the rest of the week. Tomorrow on Lazy-i, look for a profile of The Stay Awake, written in support of their CD release show this Saturday at The Waiting Room. And on Thursday, details behind KIND, the new Benson-based FM radio station, which is the subject of this week's column.

Tonight at The Waiting Room its Minneapolis indie band The Brutes with Talkin' Mountain, Tim Perkins and Honey & Darling. $7, 9 p.m.

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Live Review: Box Elders' circus… – Jan. 21, 2008 –

Actually, it wasn't much of a circus. It did, however, contain elements of a freak show. I guess I got there too late to see most of the evening's carnival events. When I walked into The Waiting Room Friday night, The Shanks were on stage putting on a blistering freak show of their own. I don't know if it was the big stage or the big crowd, but the band was remarkably subdued compared to their usual beer-strewn, violent romps. No fighting. No broken glass. No blood. Just some gritty punk done up loud and sloppy, the way it should be. The Shanks have an unstoppable, almost plodding power, like watching a Frankenstein monster on meth stomping toward you with blood in his eye. Beyond their sheer power, the beauty of a Shanks' performance is in its unpredictable nature -- you never know what you're going to see on any given night, and Saturday night was no exception, though I have to wonder if they're beginning to mellow. Maybe it was because Johnny, their drummer/guitarist (they all switch instruments throughout the set) was getting over the flu. On a side note: The band was selling copies of its single, but were out of their 5-song CD/EP, Urine Heaven, which is one of the best local punk recordings I've heard in years. Johnny said there was no chance that they'd ever press additional copies, which is a shame…

After The Shanks, This Is My Condition played a set to the left of the stage, which I couldn't hear from my vantage point back at the bar. He was followed by one of the evening's carnival acts "Johnny Mayhem," who did the usual array of body mutilations including sticking things up his nose, sword swallowing, walking on broken glass, all the customary stuff leading up to a bit where members of the crowd could staple dollar bills to his body. I think he had a twenty stapled to his forehead, as well as a dozen or so other bills stapled to his arms, chest, etc. -- a profitable evening for him, no doubt.

Finally, after midnight, Box Elders took the stage with flaring garage-rock panache. Is there a more energetic musician in town than Dave Goldberg? The answer: No. He's a frickin' freak of nature playing keyboards while slamming away behind a drumkit. The Brothers McIntyre provided their usual Ramones-style non-harmony vocals sung to an upbeat garage sound that borders on NYC punk. Simple, yet effective. Their 4-song single, which was being celebrated that night, sports a gorgeous red, black and white screen print and is worth the $5 for the artwork alone. I've yet to put it on my turntable, but will this week…

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Box Elders circus tonight, the weekend, and the winners are… – Jan. 18, 2008–

Before we get to the weekend, congratulations are in order for three lucky Lazy-i readers, this year's winners of a copy of the Lazy-I Best of 2007 compilation CD. They are:

Daniel Tijerina, San Marcos, Texas
Courtney Anderson, Ohsweken, Ont, Canada
Christopher Van Buskirk, Omaha, NE

Your CDs will be dropped in the mail Monday. Thanks to everyone who entered!

* * *

Now, onto the weekend. It's a busy one, especially tonight.

The marquee event is "Box Elders… After Dark" at The Waiting Room. Not content with any ol' release show to introduce their new 7-inch on Grotto Records, Dave Goldberg and The Brothers McIntyre decided to instead put on a friggin' circus featuring balloon artists, acrobats, ventriloquists, and much, much more, including performances by Mr. Wizard, This Is My Condition and those crazy-ass punkers The Shanks. The highlight, of course, will be a performance by The Box Elders themselves. That's a lot o' entertainment for $7. Brave the cold and get there at 9.

Also tonight, the Wise Family Benefit Show at O'Leaver's featuring Landing on the Moon, No Blood Orphan, Tritone Substitution and Father of the Year. I'm not sure of the cover, but it'll at least be $5. Show starts at 9:30.

Meanwhile, down at Slowdown Jr., it's the return of Black Tie Dynasty with The Crash That Took Me and FTL Drive. $7, 9 p.m.

Saturday night's highlight is an art show/performance down at Bemis Underground featuring art created by a plethora of local musicians, including members of Eagle * Seagull, Tilly and the Wall, The Faint, M Ward, Spring Gun, Capgun Coup, as well as Gillian Welch, D. Bushon, Darren Keen, Nik Zinner, Andy Lemaster and Orenda Fink, among others.

Performing live are Flowers Forever, 4th Of July and Coyote Bones. The show runs from 7 'til 10, so you can hit it and still have plenty of time to make it to The Brothers for drinks. Bemis Underground is the lower level of the Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts, 724 South 12th Street. More details here.

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Column 156: Webboards and feedback; Little Brazil tonight; DEADLINE TODAY to enter the Lazy-i Comp CD Giveaway! – Jan. 17, 2008–

This week's column is a riff on the traditional mailbag column, focusing on the Lazy-i webboard (and webboards in general), so for regular board readers, it's old hat. Fact is, it was a last-minute column written with my back firmly braced against my deadline. Strangely, a couple people who read it said that it was helpful in explaining Lazy-i's relationship to The Reader. If anyone is still confused -- The Reader isn't affiliated with Lazy-I (and vice versa). It just so happens that my writing appears in both publications. Incidentally, this was written prior to Kyle Harvey's post on my webboard concerning local radio. I'm following up on that now...

Column 156: Enter the Fray
Better than a letter?

And now a peek into the ol' mailbag... sort of.

Actually, I rarely get letters these days via the U.S. Post in care of The Reader. I'm sure The Reader gets plenty of letters (at least one hopes), but none of them are addressed to me and none of them are published. Most of the feedback from this column and other articles I write for the paper comes by way of a webboard linked from -- the online repository (some might say, dustbin) for all my music writing (and yes, The Reader also has a website where my columns are posted).

Webboards have been around in one form or another for as long as there's been an Internet (and even before. Who remembers BBS?). They're the modern-day equivalent to the town square, where anyone in the world can read and react to whatever is on their minds, anonymously or otherwise. Webboards and blogs are replacing the old fashioned "letters to the editor" pages at most progressive newspapers and publications (which means you likely won't see them at

Lazy-i's webboard is focused almost exclusively on indie music and the Omaha scene. By far, the most common posts -- or "threads" -- announce bands' upcoming gigs, CD releases or other music-related news that slipped through the cracks. Some posts point out typos or errors in my writing, of which there is a multitude. Some are kudos; others let me know what an asshole I am. I welcome both roses and rocks tossed in my direction.

Perhaps the most interesting posts are those that ask questions that strike at the heart of the music scene. Here are a few recent ones:

-- "JJ" posted on Dec. 28: "Who's the ONE Omaha band that is going to break through on a national level in 2008? Be honest."

Of the 24 replies, the most common response was Baby Walrus, whose debut album is about to be rereleased on Slumber Party Records -- a new Omaha label distributed by Saddle Creek. Capgun Coup, who records for Conor Oberst's Team Love label, and Noah's Ark Was a Spaceship also got nods. My take: The breakout band will be the one that gets off their asses and tours. Playing three days a week in Omaha will certainly get you noticed around town, but will keep you anonymous beyond the state's borders, regardless of your hundreds of Myspace friends. I know, I know -- but what band? My guess: Eagle*Seagull or Ladyfinger.

-- "Bartlett" posted on Jan. 6: "…Omaha has no real radio station representing the sound of the city and no real representation of good local music (outside of Planet O). What would it take to get a good radio station here in town?"

It's a question that's been asked for over a decade. "Boris" replied: "There are a few options: Someone buys a broadcast license for a few hundred thousand (million?) dollars and then invests another million more to establish a new radio station. Someone who already owns a broadcast license decides to change their format to indie rock. I'm not aware of any over-the-air broadcast commercial indie rock stations in this country. (Or) a college or university establishes an indie-themed public radio station. The options are UNO (not happening with classical KVNO already established); Iowa Western (They already have the shittiest radio station in town, which they consider "alternative"), Creighton (indie rock is the devil's music); KIOS (NPR affiliate that recently added a news staff of one, would never take the risk). In summary: It'll never happen." I wouldn't be so sure.

-- "JJ" (again) posted Nov. 28: "The Future of Omaha Music, hype or hope?" This simple question was one of the webboard's most popular threads, read more than 3,300 times with 91 replies. Most pointed to the Hotel Frank bands as being both the hope and the hype (or the overyhyped). Hotel Frank is a popular house show location. HF bands include Capgun Coup, Baby Walrus, Bear Country, Coyote Bones, Flowers Forever, The Family Radio, Hyannis, Talkin' Mountain, Dim Light, Honeybee, and a number of bands that never actually played there before but have been lumped in with them just the same.

My posted response: I don't know what people mean by bands being "overhyped." Too many people like them? Their fans/friends are too vocal? They're getting showered with undeserved press? There haven't been very many stories written about HF bands in the "formal press," certainly none in the OWH. The only place they get "hyped" is in blogs (and webboards) -- and why shouldn't the writers cheer on their favorite bands and friends? I prefer that over the endless discussion threads on certain webboards where people go on and on about how much they hate a specific band or scene or whatever…

Which brings up the downside to this new electronic town square -- its propensity to turn into a haven for bitching and whining. If it goes unchecked, the constant negative vibe eventually drives people away. That certainly has happened to a couple of local webboards. But it won't happen to mine -- criticism is fine, but outrageously hateful and/or slanderous comments are immediately deleted, and the person posting the comment is banned from posting again. When it comes to webboards -- especially the one that I administer -- the First Amendment doesn't apply.

So, you got something to add? Go ahead and drop a letter in the post or send me an e-mail. Or better yet, go to the webboard and enter the fray.

* * *

Tonight at The Waiting Room, it's Little Brazil with local hip-hop guy Articulate, Old Boy Network and Jamazz. $7, 9 p.m.

* * *

THE DEADLINE IS TODAY to enter to win a copy of the coveted Lazy-I Best of 2007 Compilation CD! Just 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 now! Again, the deadline is today. The winners will be announced on tomorrow.


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Snowbound evening?… – Jan. 16, 2008–

So are we going to get four inches, six inches or just a dusting tonight? I'm keeping my fingers crossed for the dusting, as there are a couple good shows going on around town. Over at O'Leaver's, those crazy somersaulting punk-rock wonders Poison Control Center are taking the stage along with Bazooka Shootout and El Diablos Blancos. Expect some microphones to get broken. $5, 9:30 p.m. Meanwhile, over at The Waiting Room, it's Scott Severin and his band, the Milton Burlesque, along with Omaha legend Dereck Higgins (The Family Radio, Digital Sex, etc.) and Electric Needle Room. $7, 9 p.m.

What else…

There's an interesting interview with The Good Life at (read it here). Nothing really new, but the webpage also includes a video snippet from the interview. Strangely, the text reads as if this was written last summer, though it was posted online only yesterday.

* * *

Today and tomorrow and that's it! Get your entry in to win a copy of the coveted Lazy-I Best of 2007 Compilation CD! Just 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 now! Deadline is January 17. The winners will be annouced on Friday.

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Live Review: Actors & Actresses, Race for Titles; new Bob Mould… – Jan. 14, 2008–

It was nice to be back at O'Leaver's Saturday night. It's been quite a few weeks since I leaned against the rail inside everyone's favorite mid-town stinkhole. As the marquee says, "Voted Best of Nothing. Thanks Omaha!" It was, however, voted best place to see a live show by a certain dumb-ass who writes about music for The Reader. Yes, The Waiting Room has a superior stage, sound system, lighting, everything. Slowdown is an absolute marvel, a wonderland for live music. But O'Leaver's, well, you just can't beat it for its low-down, intimate vibe. You never know what you're going to get on any given evening. It could be absolute shit; it could be one of the best performances of the year. Saturday night's show was the latter. Actors & Actresses, a three-piece that drove up from Kansas City, rifled through an amazing set of gritty, fuzzy, feedback-smeared slow-churners. Shoegazer on steroids. Someone referenced Sigur Rós. I was reminded of classic '90s Lawrence band Zoom, though at a much slower pace. This was head-trip music. As one guy said, "I should have taken that acid before the set." They were the first band in a long time that showed a video during a performance that actually enhanced the experience -- the collection of shots ranged from show-motion explosions to grainy b&w landscapes to atmospheric, decaying set pieces, all of which could have been used in a Joy Division video. Well-edited and always interesting, and a perfect compliment to their sound. And speaking of sound, the audio level also was perfect -- loud, but not painful. There was no need for earplugs. There also was no escaping its intensity, which is another thing I like about O'Leaver's. At TWR you can always retreat back to the bar for relief. Same with Slowdown. But there's no place to hide in O'Leaver's. You cannot escape the music, and as a result, you're forced to pay attention (for better or worse).

Actors & Actresses was followed by headliners Race for Titles. And as if on cue, just as the band was setting up, the place got packed like it always does at around 11:30. I haven't seen RFT in over a year because other than a couple very recent shows, they haven't played in a year. That hasn't stopped them, however, from writing new material. My main gripe about RFT always has been: 1) Their droning sound, while interesting, can become repetitive (and boring), and 2) the vocals are more like improvised three-note tonal wailing than singing. That's changed with this new material. The opening song featured drummer Matt Baum tapping out rhythms on the rims and cymbal stands. The riffage was most awesome, a departure from the usual semi-shoegazer Cure-ish minor-key wave-of-desolation dirge rock. Still, there was plenty of that, too, as if the band cannot escape their droning, ethereal past. I preferred the more up-tempo, riff-oriented rock. My guess is there will be plenty of both on their new album, which the band tells me is pretty much in the can. You'll get a chance to check out the new stuff when RFT opens for Neva Dinova at Slowdown Feb. 23 along with Noah's Ark Was a Spaceship.

* * *

I know, I know… After reading all that, you're feeling lonesome for a little O'Leaver's love. Well, you can get some tonight as Omaha's Favorite Stinkhole hosts Forbidden Tigers, Estrogen Highs and Fucken Snakes. The fun starts at 9 and will run you $5 clams.

* * *

On the news wire… Looks like Bob Mould has a new record coming out, according to CMJ (here). Says the article: "Mould somehow found time to craft what is being described as a return to his flying V-centric days. While Mould's projects always come with promises to his longtime followers that this one will please longtime followers, District Line may be the closest in sonic similarity to his catchy, Sugar/Husker Du guitar-based bash-aways." I'll believe it when I hear it. Looks like the closest he's coming to Omaha on this tour is Minneapolis (First Ave.) and Chicago (Metro). Something tells me he'll be through here sometime this year, though.

* * *

Seriously folks, the clock's ticking. The deadline is Thursday. Get your entry today in to win a copy of the coveted Lazy-I Best of 2007 Compilation CD! Just 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 now! Deadline's January 17.


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An Octopus Weekend; Neva tonight; Third Men, Race For Titles tomorrow, Orenda Sunday… – Jan. 12, 2008–

I didn't know anything about what this weekend's three-day benefit for The Octopuses Garden Art Alliance was about until I read Niz's article in yesterday's OWH (here). It certainly sounds like a worthy cause. It's also one of the best benefit line-ups I've seen in Omaha. The breakdown:

Tonight: Stefanie Drootin, Outlaw Con Bandana, Bear Country, Neva Dinova.
Tomorrow: Baby Walrus, No Blood Orphan, Johnny Clash, Groove Gov'nors.
Sunday: Orenda Fink, Jake Bellows, Josh Audiss, Benjamin Komar, Derek Andersen, Matt McLarney, Michael Wunder, Joe Knapp, Dan McCarthy, Stefanie Drootin.

All three nights are at The Waiting Room. Admission is $7 per night, and the shows start at 9, except for Sunday's mega-show, which starts at 8.

That alone should be enough to fill your weekend music needs, but there are some other quality shows going on as well. Tonight Slowdown Jr. is hosting a free show featuring Thunderpower!!!, Spring Gun and Dan McCarthy. Starts at 9.

Saturday night, Slowdown Jr. hosts The Third Men along with Ideal Cleaners and The Pendrakes. $5, 9 p.m., while over at O'Leaver's it's Race For Titles with Actors & Actresses. $5, 9:30 p.m. Reports of O'Leaver's musical demise have been exaggerated. The smelliest bar in Omaha is hosting five shows this month. The schedule is here. I, for one, couldn't be happier.

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Netherfriends, Talkin' Mtn. tonight… – Jan. 10, 2008–

It's been kind of quiet as we head into a busy weekend. Tonight at Slowdown Jr., Chicago's Netherfriends take the small stage with Talkin' Mtn., Sam Martin (Capgun Coup) and Oui Bandits. Netherfriends are followers of Animal Collective and Man Man, and it sounds like it -- jangly, spacey indie rock. Not bad. It's worth $5 just to hear Talkin' Mtn. play "Abominable Abdominal Snowman." $5, 9 p.m.

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Felice Brothers to Team Love… – Jan. 9, 2008–

The good news about last night's Honeybee show at The Waiting Room: A number of people told me they came out specifically to see Honeybee - a testament to the level of interest in the band. The bad news: Honeybee didn't perform due to illness. Instead, a cute member of Honeybee did a nice solo acoustic set. Looks like I'll have to keep waiting to see these guys. With an early morning on my agenda, I left before Noah's Ark and Baby Walrus played.

In signing news: Team Love announced yesterday that it signed NYC twangsters The Felice Brothers and will release their self-titled debut March 4, followed by a double-vinyl version in April. The band opened for Bright Eyes last year, including the famed Radio City Music Hall performance. The term "Sunday BBQ sing-alongs" is used on their one-sheet and accurately distills what this 4-piece is all about. You'll be able to check them out for yourself when they open for Drive By Truckers at Slowdown Feb. 25. They'll be touring with labelmates McCarthy Trenching in March.

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Last weekend pt. 2, Column 155 -- Preconceived Notions; Slumber Party showcase tonight… – Jan. 8, 2008–

The continuation of yesterday's weekend recap is summed up in this week's column, below, which also will be published in Thursday's issue of The Reader. Here it is a day or so early...

Column 155: Preconceived Notion
What are we missing?

So Saturday night rolled around and looking through the listings I saw that Lincoln Dickison was doing a rare solo acoustic show at Mick's. Dickison is renowned locally for his guitar playing in The Monroes, and within the last year as the bass player in Bombardment Society not to mention his work a few years back as frontman for the chaotic noise-punk trio Putrescine, which sadly no longer exists.

I'd heard about the show from members of The Black Squirrels a week earlier while backstage at the first OEA awards show at The Scottish Rite Hall. The Squirrels also were on that Mick's bill, and I made a mental note to clear my calendar for Saturday night.

Also on the bill was a guy named Brad Hoshaw, but looking at the band order on the listing, I figured if I timed it right I could miss Hoshaw altogether and just see Dickison and the Squirrels. Nothing against Hoshaw, he just wasn't for me. I was introduced to him briefly a few years ago by Matt Whipkey at a show at O'Leaver's. Hoshaw, with the well-groomed beard and the ponytail, looked like a cleaned-up, Midwestern hippy. Whipkey said he was one of the city's best singer-songwriters who played a lot at Mick's and other places around town that showcase acoustic music. He was a nice, affable person with an honest, warm smile, but I never bothered to check out his music. I'd seen more than my share of these guys who sing about their personal pain to the tune of the same boring, dusty acoustic chord progressions. Thanks but no thanks.

We're all guilty of bearing preconceived notions about people and music and places and things. Maybe not all of us. There are a few of you with an open mind who never make those prejudgments. But you're very rare. Most of us see something or hear something and write it off as more of the same ol' bullshit before we really get to know it. Nowhere is that more true than with music. We hear about a band or see their picture and immediately think, "Been there, done that, moving on." Let's face it, life is short and we don't have time to explore every path of discovery in search of that golden nugget of artistic relevance, especially after so many wind up being I-told-you-so dead ends. After all, aren't most stereotypes dead accurate? Aren't most first impressions absolutely true?

Somehow I managed to avoid Hoshaw ever since that first meeting. It wasn't hard to do. I rarely go to Mick's because while I love good acoustic folk, I generally enjoy listening to it in places that don't sound like German beer halls during Octoberfest. It's the height of irony -- Mick's showcases the quietest music performed in our scene, and it also has the chattiest crowds in a room with the worst crowd acoustics (i.e., you can hear every gory detail of Buffy-in-the-back-of-the-room's last date while sitting at the tables right next to the stage).

As it turned out (and often is the case) the band order didn't reflect what was printed in the paper. We got there at 10 and Lincoln Dickison already was on stage. We made our way to the only open table in the place -- on the floor to the left of the stage. I knew better than to expect Dickison to be spitting out rowdy, angry punk. Lost in his other projects is his quiet, personable voice and a songwriting style that's summed up by the cover he chose to play at the end his set -- a rambling version of Richard Thompson's "Cooksferry Queen."

Instead of the Black Squirrels, Hoshaw strolled onto the stage with his beat-up acoustic guitar. I turned to Teresa and said, "Good god, prepare for the worst. We can always sneak out of here between songs if this sucks, and I know it will."

Hoshaw took a moment to tell the crowd about that old guitar, how the crack in its back seemed to be getting wider, and I could see from my seat how its finish had been worn through from thousands of nights just like this one.

And then Hoshaw started playing, and I quickly realized what an ass I had been, and felt a pain of regret in the pit of my stomach.

Hoshaw's music was simple coffee shop acoustic folk but with a few important differences. His somber melodies were gorgeous, and his voice was honest and without affectation, similar in tone to Damien Jurado's but uniquely its own. He used the same introduction for a number of his songs: "This one comes from an album that was never released." Later he added, "That's what I'm good at, making albums that no one ever hears."

He took a sip from a shot of Johnny Walker neat and started playing "Powdernose" (the song's name I discovered afterward by scouring his Myspace page). More than just another lonely drinking song, it was a stunning portrait of liquefied regret, with the line, "I wonder what Jesus think if he caught us alone with powdernose?" Hoshaw finished with a cover of a song by his pal Kyle Harvey; its delicacy lost in a sea of Mick's chatter.

I left that night depressed. I'd found the acoustic singer-songwriter that I'd been searching for, but who I had ignored because of my own jaded lack of vision. I wondered what else I'd been missing all these years because of assumptions. And what I'd never get a chance to hear or see again.

* * *

Tonight at The Waiting Room, a veritable Slumber Party Records showcase featuring two bands from the label, Baby Walrus and Honeybee, along with Noah's Ark Was a Spaceship. $7, 9 p.m.

The clock's ticking... Get your entry in to win a copy of the coveted Lazy-I Best of 2007 Compilation CD! Just 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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Last weekend: The Hype, The Showman, and The Forgotten Genius (and my own regrets)… – Jan. 7, 2008–

This past weekend started out in typical fashion -- a perusal of the usual calendar of events at all the usual venues followed by a series of decisions. I started out Friday night at The Waiting Room which boasted a bill that included sludgefest idols Dim Light, old-school (as in '90s-style) punk rockers Bombardment Society, new kids on the block Perry H. Matthews and the hottest of the hyped Next Wave bands, Capgun Coup, who I hadn't seen since last summer at Slowdown. Dim Light was on stage when I got there, a four-piece fronted by a guy who looks like a cross between freak-folk hero Devendra Banhart, indie stalwart Jim James and The Unibomber. Their sound was deep-brown sludge-core, loud and grim, tipped by the atonal bleating of a guy on trumpet whose only job was to create a sonic echo as an afterthought. I love sludgecore, that is if I'm in the right mood. Only 15 minutes earlier I had taken a couple ibuprofen for a nagging headache, and Dim Light's turbulent waves of gloom were only adding to the pain and making me slightly nauseous. That's not a criticism of the band -- the closest I've heard anyone come to their sound was the Tim Moss-led stoner rock act Men of Porn a half-decade ago (and that's not a criticism, either).

After their set, my headache slowly began to subside. The excitement in the mostly underage crowd (judging by all the X's on their hands and the bad haircuts) was coming to a fever pitch as Capgun Coup was about to take the stage. But what's this? Capgun Coup, originally slated as the evening's headliner, consisted only of frontman Sam Martin sitting on a chair with a guitar. Throughout his set, I stood next to a guy (one of the few old enough to drink) who had never seen Capgun before and was curious to see what all the hub-bub was about. Within two minutes of the first couple songs, he turned to me shaking his head with a puzzled I-don't-get-it look on his face. Martin's wonky off-pitch singing made Simon Joyner sound like Michael Bublé in comparison. His electric guitar playing was, to say the least, rough and sloppy. "This guy needs to go back and practice some more," the drinker said. I told him that the wonky effect was probably exactly what Martin was going for. In fact, Martin reminded me of a young Simon Joyner or even, yes, an early incarnation of Conor Oberst, who's post-Commander Venus acoustic shows were hit and miss (and mostly miss). The kids back then, however, loved Conor and rejoiced in his ineptitude. The same holds true, it seems, for Martin. Despite the sloppy atonal caterwauling, the kids in the crowd were mesmerized. I explained to the guy next to me that this wasn't really Capgun Coup, whose music is typically somewhat keyboard-heavy. "So this is the next big thing?" the drinker asked. So it would seem. Capgun Coup has been ordained by The Conor himself, embraced within the group-hug known as Team Love and is headed on the road in April with no less local superstars than Cursive. Martin is Omaha's unlikely Luke Skywalker, the hope for the future of a music scene mired in stagnation. But for me, the jury is still out. Capgun Coup is 1 for 3 for live performances (He got on base that one time at Slowdown).

Maybe it's an age thing. Maybe the drinker and I were too old to get it. After all, I loved Bombardment Society, who came on next and proceeded to tear the place down with their abrasive post-punk SST-flavored rock. Bombardment probably are viewed as "old guys" by Capgun fans. I wonder what they thought of this style of straight-forward punk. Did they immediately discount it as passé?

Last up was the four-piece band Perry H. Matthews (by the way, which one's Pink?), but by then, I was getting tired of all the noise. Matthews also plays post-punk but with an even more abrasive, atonal style and glaring vocals that cut like shards of glass. I turned to the drinker and said, "I'm going down to Barley St. to catch Scott Severin." He replied, "I see. I guess you want to hear some real music."

It's always been a matter of bad timing that I've never caught a full set of Severin and his band, The Milton Burlesque. In all honesty, I've never cared for Severin's recorded music. But I found out that Severin is a much different animal on stage than on those recordings, thanks in part to a super-tight band of seasoned pro's who know every turn, every lick of Severin's old-school, NYC-flavored rock. For that evening, The Barley Street was transformed into a Brooklyn lounge because of Severin's knack for showmanship, something that has been long dead in the indie world. Most of the slumped-shouldered bands I see at TWR or Slowdown stumble on stage in their T-shirts and jeans and then start playing their janglepop, rarely acknowledging the crowd other than to say "We got one more." They leave the stage and you wonder if they're coming back, until the lights comes up and everyone turns to leave.

Severin, on the other hand, commands a room as if he knows and loves everyone there (and considering there were only 20 people in the bar, he very well might have). Vocally, he commits a slight twang that reminds me of John Hiatt, a rocking singer/songwriter that his sound resembles. There were a couple times when his music caught a more progressive groove, including one tune with a repeated outro that seemed to (pleasantly) go on and on. His music is urban but not gritty, almost traditional in its style, a far cry from indie or punk, but still entertaining. The best part was how he ended the evening: While the band continued to play a rendition of "On Broadway," Severin set his guitar down and picked up a jacket and slung it over his shoulder. He introduced the band -- member-by-member -- then asked for a cigarette and a light, leaned forward into the microphone and thanked the audience before leaving the stage while the band played on. It was a New York thing or a cabaret thing, and it was great. It was entertaining. And in an era when so many seem to have lost sight of what that word means, it was a welcome oddity.

I'm running a bit long. Tomorrow, part 2, and Brad Hoshaw…

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OEAs' winners and sinners; Two Gallants last night, Capgun Coup tonight… – Jan. 4, 2008–

And so ends the second annual Omaha Entertainment Awards. Better than the first annual event? No, not really. Technically, there were even more fuck-ups this year than last year. On a couple occasions, presenters opened the wrong envelopes and announced the wrong winners - which resulted in a chorus of boos from the attentive, well-dressed and slightly inebriated audience. It all got sorted out, eventually.

Other than that and a few audio miscues, the show was about the same as last year's. It was the same unique crowd -- a mix of younger music fans and older theater-going types. I noticed fewer politicos on hand, probably because of that other awards show going on -- the Iowa caucuses. And there were fewer winners there to pick up their awards this year, specifically for the theater categories, which seemed to dominate the night's proceedings. The evening's running joke: The envelope would be read, and after a few pregnant moments when it became obvious that the winner wasn't there, someone from the winning production would run up to the podium and announce "That's right, I'm not so-and-so…" It happened over and over and over.

The OEA organizers appeared to have learned from last year's mistakes and dovetailed the music awards with the arts and theater awards, instead of grouping each medium together, which last year resulted in all the theater folks leaving after their part of the evening was over. Strangely, the dovetailed awards still didn't work, and by the last hour of the program, two-thirds of the sold-out floor seating was once again empty. Come on, people, the least you can do is stick around to honor your comrades in arms… Is there anything more selfish than leaving directly after your individual category has been announced?

I left the show last night thinking that the OEA's focus had shifted to dance, art and theater awards, with music as a novelty afterthought. I'm sure this was by design -- an effort to get even more of the "creative community" involved in the event. Too bad that noble outreach was met by an audience of winners who didn't show up and losers who left early.

I went to the event stag -- Teresa has the flu or some other sort of ailment. So I spent the night texting to a friend of mine who also didn't go. Here are my notes from my iPhone:

-- John Nicely and Tracey Madden presented the best hard rock/metal/punk category. Nicely seemed lucid and attentive, unlike his usual sedated demeanor on the evening news. The winner was Venaculas -- the second year in a row. During their acceptance speech one of the band members said he was surprised anyone remembered who they were.

-- Matt Whipkey presented the best Hip-Hop award, which went to Breathless, who arrived on stage with an 8-person "entourage."

-- We were all treated to a scene from a play that was embarrassingly trite and poorly acted. They need to stop doing these dramatic performances during the show. I realize they're trying to be "inclusive," but these are horrible.

-- Two other TV news "personalities" announced the best ethnic award, which went to Mariachi Luna y Sol. For whatever reason, the OEAs cannot let go of this idea of having members of the media present these awards -- they are the last people who should be up there.

-- The Lifetime Achievement Award was presented by Luigi Waites, who won it last year. Luigi, who got a standing ovation, was hilarious. The winner was Bob Rogers, who runs Gallery 72 and who I'm guessing 95 percent of the audience never heard of.

-- I stepped out and got a $5 Morgan and Coke during a performance by a local "jazz" band, and missed Best Folk/Roots/Americana, which went to Bright Eyes, and Best Jazz, which went to Luigi (thank god). The crowd in the lobby was as big as the crowd inside the auditorium. Most were drunk or getting there.

-- Unfortunately, I returned in time to see a performance by Anchondo. They are worse live than I could ever imagine. I thought they broke up years ago. Like the Coyote Bones performance earlier in the evening, the sound mix was horrendous -- overly bassy -- at least from my lonely perch in the balcony. Sarah Benck and the Robbers would have the same problem when they performed.

-- The Best Blues award went, again, to Kris Lager, who looked like Molly Hatchet accepting the award.

-- One of the more awkward awards of the evening, Best Rock, went to Matt Whipkey and Anonymous American, beating out Ladyfinger and Oxygen, among others. Not awkward in that Whipkey and Co. didn't deserve the award -- they did -- awkward in that the band rarely plays together anymore now that Whipkey has moved onto his new band, The Whipkey Three. This led to some uncomfortable back-and-forth during the back-stage interview, when one of the 620 VJs kept prying Whipkey about AA's future. "So, have you guys been writing some new songs?" Uh...

-- In an unscripted moment, a big black guy with a pink Mohawk ran onto the stage while AA was accepting their award and tried to make a speech. Whipkey pushed him aside, and eventually the geek left.

-- Poor Michael Campbell was the presenter who was given the wrong envelop during the Adult Alternative award. He read the name "Little Brazil," the crowd booed, and he and his co-presenter exited stage left. I'm sure he was pissed (I would have been). The winner was Sarah Benck and the Robbers, who accepted the award a few minutes later.

-- The best R&B/Funk/Soul Award went to Satchel Grande -- a pleasant surprise.

-- Finally, Little Brazil was given their award for Best Alternative/Indie. Landon Hedges accepted, saying something like, "People like to talk shit about our music scene," adding that after going on the road on tour that he realized "We have the greatest fucking music scene!" I hope the TV people were quick with their buzzer. I can just see them stumbling over themselves in the truck, screaming "Go to break! Go to break!!!"

-- Best New Artist went to the band that I voted for last year for best R&B/Funk: Satchel Grande, who have been around for a few years -- another screw up by the nomination committee.

-- Paria performed next and were the only band other than a mariachi band that sounded good on stage. For some reason, the sound mix complimented their metal performance, only heard by the few people still left in the auditorium.

Finally, at around 10:30, the last two music awards were announced. Album of the Year and Artist of the Year both went to Bright Eyes, who wasn't there to accept the award. Instead, artist Jay Lynch, looking like a hip version of the Zig-Zag man, accepted for Conor. One assumes that Oberst was busy stumping for last night's other big winner, Barack Obama (Seriously, check out all the coverage and the scary Conor picture here).

I'll have more comments about the OEA's in next week's column. Stay tuned.

My night ended at 12:30 watching Two Gallants on the Jimmy Kimmel show - which had been pushed back due to the caucus coverage. They sang "Despite What You've Been Told." There's always something wrong with these network shows sound-wise. Last night it was the drums, which could barely be heard in the mix. Instead, we got a lot of guitar and vocals. Adam Stephens spit out the lines with earnest defiance, shaking like he was being electrocuted or about to go into seizures. His guitar sounded terrific, though, and he sang well on a song that sounded jittery and nervous. Kimmel acted like he genuinely liked it.

Tonight at The Waiting Room, it's Capgun Coup with Perry H. Matthews, The Bombardment Society, & Dim Light. $7, 9 p.m.

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Visions of 2008; Omaha Entertainment Awards -- Who should win, who will win (probably)… – Jan. 3, 2008–

Here's what you've been waiting for -- my annual music predictions for the coming year (read it here). I think I said in the article that last year's predictions were the toughest, but in retrospect, I actually did better with my predictions last year than I did the year before. Odd. As I say in the article and in my Year in Review piece, 2007 was the year for monumental change in the Omaha scene. I don't see a lot of dramatic stuff happening in '08, just more of the same. Most of this year's predictions are just common-sense hunches. Still, there are a few surprises...check it out.

* * *

Speaking of predictions, here are my picks for tonight's Omaha Entertainment Awards, along with how I voted (I am an "academy member" ya know). The "big show" is being held at The Holland Center. If you can't afford a ticket, you can watch along at home (if you have Cox digital cable) by tuning into Cox 248 at 7 p.m. Here we go:

Best Adult Alternative: This is the so-called "singer/songwriters" category, which of course makes no sense. I would never consider Anchondo or Oxygen "singer-songwriter" bands. And, uh, where's Bright Eyes? In fact, where's Saddle Creek, whose roster consists almost entirely of singer/songwriters? Obviously, Oberst is the best singer/songwriter in Omaha (as well as best "adult alternative," whatever that means), but he wasn't nominated, so I voted for Sarah Benck. The winner will be John Henry.

Best Alternative/Indie: Hard to vote against Bright Eyes, especially considering that Cursive and The Faint didn't release albums last year. I like Little Brazil and Tighten the Noose, but not as much as Cassadaga. Bright Eyes will win.

Best Ethnic: Based solely on their OEA showcase performance, my vote went to Mariachi Luna y Sol. The Turfmen will probably win.

Best Hard Rock/Metal/Punk: Like Bluegrass/Country, here's another example of where the OEA folks decided it would be a good idea to roll different categories into one. Obviously none of the nominees play punk. A. Symbiont is more of a hard rock band. The rest are metal. It's a mess. That said. I voted for Paria, and Paria will take home the OEA crystal dildo.

Best Folk/Roots/Americana: These categories also don't belong together. Folk and Americana are very different animals. Black Squirrels comes closest to folk, Bright Eyes and Whipkey come closest to Americana. Filter Kings and the Mercury's are twangy rock (maybe Americana?). None of them are "Roots." I voted for Whipkey. Bright Eyes, of course, will win.

Best Jazz/Standards/Easy Listening: I have to think that a few local jazz fans will see how this category was put together and cringe. Jazz isn't "easy listening" (at least not good jazz). Having heard only a couple of these artists, I didn't vote in this category. The winner will be the ever-joyless Heidi Joy (who doesn't sing/play jazz nor is easy to listen to).

Best Hip Hop/Rap: I didn't vote in this category, either. The winner will be Breathless (But wouldn't it be great if Buck Bowen could do another acceptance speech?).

Best Blues: Another non-vote for me. Sarah Benck and The Robbers isn't a blues band. Sarah Benck and the Robbers will win.

Best New Artist: Coyote Bones got my vote. Despite being on Conor's record label, Capgun won't win since few people know who they are. Instead the award will go to Tim Wildsmith, who I'm told got more public votes than any other performer in the nomination process.

Best R&B/Funk/Soul: Satchel Grande blows away everyone in this category, and of course, got my vote. That said, The Wholes, who don't play R&B or Funk (judging by their performance at the OEA showcase) will take the prize.

Best Rock: Rock should be, well, heavy music -- hard, fast, angry. And no nominee plays harder, faster or angrier than Ladyfinger, who got my vote. The winner will be the odorless, colorless, flavorless gas we call Oxygen.

Local Album of the Year: I voted for Cassadaga, which also is the biggest selling local album (nationally, anyway) among the nominees. In a tight vote, Bright Eyes will pull this one out.

Artist of the Year: Again, how do you vote against Bright Eyes? It's the only band among the nominees that charted on Billboard, that toured throughout the U.S. and the world, that locally drew more people to their shows than any other nominee. The rest of the Academy will see things the same way.

See you at the show (maybe).

What are you waiting for? Get your entry in to win a copy of the coveted Lazy-I Best of 2007 Compilation CD! Just 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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Happy New Year, Oberst at the 400, At Land prepares for landing… – Jan. 2, 2008–

Hope y'all had a good, drunken New Year's Eve. Me, I never go out on New Years. It's never a good holiday for live music. Most venues book cover bands (or bands that sound like cover bands) because that's what the masses want, and who can blame them? One music-related resolution this year is to try to do better with CD reviews -- a difficult task under the already large pile of writing that I'm doing. I do listen to the CDs that come my way. I rarely write about them if they suck. This year I may begin to merely issue "No's" without comment on the lousy ones just to get through the pile. "Yes's" often are covered in feature stories and reviews, but they take more time. There's nothing less satisfying that reading a review that simply says, "Check these guys out." We'll do better next year.

Some catching up news-wise: A number of Minneapolis papers printed reviews of the Conor Oberst solo shows at the 400 Bar last week. Among them, this one from the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. Sounds like Oberst's band included Rilo Kiley drummer Jason Boesel and guitarist Nik Freitas, who opened the show. No M. Ward. "Musically or lyrically, the songs weren't a radical departure for Oberst, but they traded Bright Eyes' orchestrated and dramatic flavor for a rawer, looser, more roadhouse vibe." Sounds good to me. City Pages published a slideshow of the concert, here.

Chatting backstage at last week's OEA awards deal, Black Squirrels' bass player Travis Sing mentioned that he's in a new band with Doug Kabourek (Fizzle Like a Flood) and James Carrig called At Land. The trio already has a couple tunes up on a Myspace page ( Travis mentioned "Brit-rock" in his description -- they sound more like a reincarnation of The Replacements to me. Travis also mentioned that he's working with Matt Bowen, Matt Rutledge and Pat White on a "punk/new-wave 'karaoke' band at the Waiting Room." Shithook karaoke? Fun! Look for the launch in mid-February.

And look for my annual "Predictions" article right here tomorrow. It's a doosy.

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.


<Got comments? Post 'em here.>


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