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The Blog Archive -- June 3, 2008 to Dec. 31, 2008 -- Go to lazyhome for most-current entries

2008: The Year in Review... – Dec. 31, 2008 –

Well here it is, the 2008 Year in Review wrap-up. This year's recap includes:

--The top-5 music-related stories of '08,
--Favorite albums of the year, and
--Favorite live shows of the year.

Read it here. It's also in today's issue of The Reader. Check it out.

Hey, don't forget to enter to win a copy of the coveted Lazy-i Best of 2008 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. Details and track order are right here. Enter today! Deadline's January 17.

So what's going on tonight? I generally stay in on NYE -- stay out of the line of fire, as it were. This year will likely be no exception. NYE is a bust for fans of good, original live music. Venues generally book cover bands in a desperate effort to draw the largest possible crowd of yahoos as possible. NYE, St. Patrick's Day, Halloween -- these are the harvest nights for bars. I can't says as I blame them for booking cover bands. Plus, what decent touring band is going to play in Omaha on NYE? Anyway, have a safe and happy New Year's Ever. See you in '09.

Lazy-i Best of 2008 sampler... – Dec. 30, 2008

Lazy-i Best of 2008 CD coverThis year's Lazy-i Best of '08 sampler recognizes the website's 10-year anniversary. As I say in the liner notes, Teresa gave me a copy of Microsoft FrontPage for my birthday back in '98, which I used to build the site's first pages. Work is under way on a new site design (it's about time) that will better integrate with all the social media bells and whistles that define the so-called Web 2.0 environment. Bah. It may make updating the site easier, but someone's still gotta write it.

Anyway, here's the track listing to this year's sampler, which I send out every holiday season to friends, family and music colleagues in lieu of Christmas cards. Consider it a sneak preview of tomorrow's year in review article (but expanded to include more bands). For me, these were the best songs of '08, the ones that will forever be the soundtrack for this tumultuous year.

Silver Jews, "San Francisco B.C." from Lookout Mountain, Lookout Sea (Drag City)
David Byrne & Brian Eno, "Strange Overtones" from Everything That Happens Will Happen Today (Todomundo)
Conor Oberst,"Cape Canaveral" from Conor Oberst (Merge)
The Faint, "The Geeks Were Right" from Fasciinatiion (blank.wav)
Filter Kings, "Hundred Proof Man " from Finer Things (Speed! Nebraska)
Brad Hoshaw, "Powdernose" from Live at Mick's Music & Bar (self release)
Son Ambulance, "Juliet's Son" from Someone Else's Deja Vu (Saddle Creek)
UUVVWWZ, "Berry Can" from UUVVWWZ (It Are Good)
Deerhunter, "Nothing Ever Happened" from Microcastle (Kranky)
Vampire Weekend, "Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa" from Vampire Weekend (XL)
M83, "Graveyard Girl" from Saturdays = Youth (Mute)
McCarthy Trenching, "To An Aesthete Dying Young" from Calamity Drenching (Team Love)
Neva Dinova, "Tryptophan" from You May Already Be Dreaming (Saddle Creek)
Tilly and the Wall, "Beat Control" s/t single (Team Love)
Titus Andronicus, "Titus Andronicus" from Airing of Grievances (Troubleman Unlimited)
Tokyo Police Club, "Your English Is Good" from Elephant Shell (Saddle Creek)
Does It Offend You, Yeah?, "Let's Make Out" from You Have No Idea What You're Getting Yourself Into (Almost Gold)
The Whipkey Three, "Separation" from The Whipkey Three (self released)
Jenny Lewis, "Sing A Song for Them" from Acid Tongue (Warner Bros.)
Talking Mountain, "The Abominable Abdominal Snowman" from Old Gold, Ancient Jamz (Slumber Party)

As per usual, you can enter to win a copy of the Lazy-i Best of '08 CD. Just send me an e-mail ( with your name and address -- don't worry, your addy is for mailing purposes only and will be destroyed after the contest. Hurry! Contest deadline is Jan. 17!

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Live Review: Neva Dinova, '89 Cubs, Ladyfinger... – Dec. 29, 2008 –

There was talk of something spectacular, something out of the ordinary for Neva Dinova's last show. Maybe three drummers on stage? But it seemed unlikely. I hadn't seen original drummer Bo Anderson in the crowd and I doubt that I would have recognized him anyway, since I haven't seen in him in years. Finding anyone in the crush mob was difficult. Before I leave, I usually just ask someone at the venue's door what the count was for the evening, but I only know a couple people who work at Slowdown these days, and they weren't working Saturday night. If I had to venture a guess, I'd say the number was around 400, and for most of the night, all of them seemed to be sandwiched along the bar, making it tough to get a beer. On nights like these, Slowdown needs to open a second counter, maybe just a horse trough filled with PBR. For every guy who ordered a pair of tallboy PBRs, there was someone ordering an obscure, technical cocktail that required the bartender to do a lot of trotting about. After a 10-minute wait, I gave up and decided to come back for my Rolling Rock when things quieted down.

I only caught The '89 Cubs' last song. From my spot along the stage-left side of the room I could see Ryan Fox comfortably doing his thing while Dan Brennan feverishly goofed with his pedals and his bass's tuning pegs for most of the song. The Cubs didn't sound much different than the last time I saw them, except that Matt Baum wasn't behind the drum kit. Baum isn't someone you can replace without severely impacting everything -- he's doesn't play drums as much as slam them grotesquely, throwing his whole body into it -- arms, shoulders, neck -- following up by standing between songs and yelling at no one in particular, like a crazy man testifying to his invisible ghosts. New drummer Brad Lauritsen was fine, albeit more restrained.

The outside chatter between sets centered on my pessimistic view of the future of indie bands, and the demise of Mick's. The argument against my pessimism was that nothing's really changed. It's always been an uphill struggle for indie bands, even during the height of Saddle Creek's national notoriety. We would be in a crisis mode, however, if there were no new bands forming, and there are. Tons of them. And some of them are pretty good. Those bands don't seem to care that the deck is stacked against them, because they're artists and artists do what artists do regardless of financial gain. Still, it'd be nice if a songwriter could make a living off his craft and not have to give it all away. The consensus regarding Mick's was unanimous -- the new owners will be hosting live music in six months, whether they want to or not. It's either that or figure out a way to make the bar work from income generated by two or three drunks per night.

Even though it'd only been a few weeks since I last saw them play, Ladyfinger's set had changed quite a bit thanks to the addition of Megan Morgan on vocals. I was told that Ladyfinger had a woman in the studio when they recorded their new album; I don't know who it was. Morgan, who sings in Landing on the Moon, apparently was the fill-in for the night. I figured she'd only go out there for one song, but she stayed on stage for most of the set, adding harmony to Chris Machmuller's strangled growl-vocals (Why doesn't Jamie Massey, who sings lead in Race For Titles, provide harmonies?). Will Morgan be a permanent addition to the band when it goes on tour? Unlikely, unless they only tour during school breaks and summers, as Megan is a full-time music teacher.

The only acknowledgement from Jake Bellows that Neva Dinova was quitting for awhile came about four or five songs into the set. "I thought I'd take this moment while things are quieted down to confirm some of the rumors that have showed up in a few of the local rags," he said (I'm paraphrasing here). "It's true, Tim Haes is dead." (Editor's Note: Others heard it slightly differently.) Bellows looked over at Haes as the crowd laughed. That was it. The rest of the set was the usual, luscious Neva drone folk rock. The band always comes off heavier, less restrained and more dynamic live than on their records. Their stage sound is big; you always feel like you're at an event when you're at a Neva show. They closed with a tripped-out version of "Dances Fantastic" from their 2002 debut, and I think everyone thought they'd come out for at least one encore. But it was almost 1, and instead, the lights came up in the bar and that was all. We might have seen the last of Neva for awhile, but I don't think we've seen the last of Bellows, whether it's solo or with a new band.

* * *

Tomorrow, how you can enter to win the Lazy-i Best of 2008 sampler CD! And Wednesday, look for the Year in Review -- just in time for the New Year.

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Neva Dinova, '89 Cubs, Ladyfinger, McCarthy Trenching tonight at Slowdown... – Dec. 27, 2008 –

I already submitted my list of best shows of the year to The Reader. Too bad I couldn't have waited for this one, because it very likely would have made the list.

As I reported earlier (here), this is going to be the last Neva Dinova show for the foreseeable future as the band is going on an indefinite hiatus. Who knows when you'll get another chance to see them on stage. Don't miss it.

The '89 Chicago Cubs haven't played together in three or four years. The band consisted of Ryan Fox, Dan Brennan and Matt Baum. Fox and Brennan are back, but with Brad Lauritsen on drums (according to the OWH). The Cubs I knew played gorgeous, amazing rock. It's good to have them back.

Ladyfinger will be rolling through a set of music from their upcoming album while Dan McCarthy (Trenching) is bound to pull some tricks out of his sleeve.

All on the Slowdown's big stage for $7. Starts at 9 p.m. See you there...

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Rock Show Photos, Wagon Blasters, Mike Loftus art, all tonight... – Dec. 26, 2008 –

I twittered last night from the show that there were eight hundred thousand people in O'Leaver's. That estimate may be a tad light. I don't know how much money or cans of food they raised for Sienna Francis House, but I'm sure it was enough to feed a few hundred people for a few days at least. There was barely enough room to walk, but somehow I never found myself waiting for a Rolling Rock. Kudos to the staff (including my former intern) for their hard work for a good cause.

I'm convinced that Dan McCarthy (McCarthy Trenching) might be the best find of '08. He's been around for years, but only recently have I had a chance to hear his recording, specifically his Calamity Drenching CD that came out on Team Love earlier this year. It's a special album that has a Randy Newman meets Kris Kristofferson in Dundee vibe, gorgeous piano and guitar story folk -- along with a few full-band rockers -- about life and living in Omaha. Endearing stuff, and the best thing Team Love released in '08. On "stage" last night, McCarthy brought the album to life with help from a few friends who wandered up from the crowd.

If you missed it, you'll get another chance tomorrow night at Slowdown when McCarthy Trenching opens for Neva Dinova. And if you missed Outlaw Con Bandana last night, too, you can catch them tonight when they play with Techlepathy and The Wagon Blasters (Gary Dean Davis, the Thornton brothers, Jesse Render) at Slowdown. The evening begins early with an exhibit by art/rock photographer Kevin Andrew Jones -- one of the best (if not thee best) live-rock shooter in the area. His reception runs from 6 to 8 and is free. The rock show begins at 9 and costs $7.

* * *

And there's yet another art show and benefit going on tonight that you won't want to miss. Artist Mike Loftus is having a showing of his paintings at PS Collective. If you've been around town, you've seen Mike's stuff before -- he's Omaha's version of Picasso. You also might remember Loftus as the drummer for rock bands Shovelhead, 60-Watt Saloon, Hong Jyn Corp., and most recently The Sons of... Performing at PS will be Midwest Dilemma with Dylan May and the Paybacks. The evening also is a fundraiser for online radio station (you remember, here). Admission is $5, and the music starts at 9.

And speaking of PS Collective, the restaurant (i.e., The Pizza Shoppe) is now offering pizza by the slice Thursdays through Saturdays, 5 p.m. to close. This menu expansion is a long-time coming -- as much as I dig their pies, I never don't have time to hang around and wait for them to come out of the oven. I assume (hope) that the by-the-slice pie will be a quick-serve operation. This comes on the heels of news that a new by-the-slice pizza place will be opening behind Jane's health food store in Benson, though I have no idea when.

Also tonight, classic Omaha punk band Cordial Spew opens for 138 (Misfits tribute) and The Lude Boys (Social Distortion tribute) at The Waiting Room. $7, 9 p.m., while punkers The Sidiots, Officially Terminated and Bomb's Blast play at The Saddle Creek Bar, $5, 9 p.m.

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Christmas at O'Leaver's for a good cause... – Dec. 25, 2008

Merry Holiday blah-blah-blah...

After you get all of your family BS out of the way later tonight, swing by O'Leaver's for a very special holiday concert featuring McCarthy Trenching, Outlaw Con Bandana and Ryan Fox (of The Good Life) and Friends. Admission is $5 or 5 cans of food, with all proceeds going to the Sienna Francis House. Last year's show was a door buster. I suspect this year's will be as well. I can think of no better way to celebrate the birth of Our Lord Jesus Christ than by getting hammered on Jagermeister, Rumplemintz and ice cold Rolling Rock. Starts at 9.

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Oberst on Ferguson; More 'zine best-of lists; Column 204: Mick's goodbye... – Dec. 24, 2008

Conor Oberst was on the Craig Ferguson show last night singing the best song off his solo debut, "Cape Canaveral." I'm curious if everyone else's audio was as f_cke up as mine was -- some sort of ticking sound was coming from the studio feed. At first I thought it was a percussion effect by the band, but it didn't stop after they song did. Maybe it was just me. Conor looked tired and slightly goofy, his eyes at times half shut, other times wide and freaked out. He and the rest of the band sounded fine though (most of them were just standing around as CC is more of a solo acoustic song, with Nate dropping in a few keyboard lines). Oberst has now appeared on almost all the top nightly late-evening chat shows twice, which I assume guarantees he won't ever be a special musical guest on SNL. I know, I won't let it go...

* * *

Some more online 'zines have posted their their lists of top releases of '08. Take a look.

-- Tiny Mix Tapes 25 Favorites -- No. 1 is Deerhunter, Microcastle, followed by Portishead, Third, and TV on the Radio, Dear Science.

-- Drowned in Sound Top 50 -- No. 1 is M83, Saturdays=Youth, followed by Frightened Rabbit, The Midnight Organ Fight, and Cut Copy, In Ghost Colours.

-- SPIN's Top 40 -- No. 1 is TV on the Radio, Dear Science, followed by Lil Wayne, Tha Carter III and Portishead, Third.

-- Coke Machine Glow Top 50 -- No. 1 is Erykah Badu, New Amerykah, Part One (4th World War), followed by Black Milk, Tronic, and Gang Gang Dance, Saint Dymphna.

-- Blender's top 33 -- No. 1 was Lil Wayne, Tha Carter III, followed by Girl Talk, Feed the Animals, and TV on the Radio, Dear Science.

--Magnet's Top 25 -- No. 1 was American Princes, Other People, followed by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Dig!!! Lazarus Dig!!! and Nada Surf, Lucky.

I might have a few more tomorrow.

* * *

Like Column 203, No. 204 is a retread of a past blog entry, this time about Mick's closing, with a few slight additions. Skip it if you've been there before. One brief addendum, Burke's Pub was robbed at gunpoint Monday night, according to an item on the WOWT website (here). Every time something like this happens, it hurts Benson.

Column 204: Mick’s Deep Sixed
Also, Beep Beep, Neva Dinova news…

These holiday deadlines are killing me. I no sooner file a column then another one is due. I'm writing this on Dec. 18 but you won't be seeing it until after Christmas, so please bear with me if this is old news.

The past week's top story: Mick’s Music and Bar is closing at the beginning of the year. The rumor became official in the Dec. 16 Omaha World-Herald. Everyone knew this was coming, but the fact that Michael Campbell found a buyer for the club, which has been on the market for a long time, only became street knowledge a few days before the Herald story broke. In fact, I heard about it at the Criteria show, but was told that a bank loan was still pending – an iffy proposition in these troubled times. Well, it looks like that loan came through.

I've been told that the new owners intend to make Mick’s a hang-out bar, “similar to O’Leaver’s but nicer.” There will be no live music. The concept: People will go there on any given evening and drink. As simple as that sounds, the idea is a bit far-fetched. I guess the new owners have never been to music venues – or even Mick’s for that matter – on non-music nights. You could shoot a cannon off in them and hit nary a drunk.

The initial concern was how a new non-music bar will hurt The Barley St. Tavern and Burke’s Pub. Barley St. is slowly becoming a go-to destination during the week, thanks to its stage, which is evolving into a place where musicians can try out new material – anyone from Brad Hoshaw to Conor Oberst (Who remembers that secret show way back in October ’07?). But more important than that, the Barley St. has musician / celebrity Kyle Harvey behind the bar -- an attraction all by himself.

The clientele at Burke’s Pub, on the other hand, consists mostly of bent-over locals looking for somewhere to get their nightly booze fix – true regulars in the Paul Westerberg sense of the word. They’re unlikely to go anywhere else to get loaded. Long live Burke’s.

When it comes to neighborhood hang-outs, size matters. For example, imagine if The Homy Inn – a crush mob with just 20 people inside -- was the size of The Saddle Creek Bar but drew the same number of patrons. We’d fear for its continued existence. Both the Barley St. and Burke’s are about half the size (or smaller) than Mick’s, and as a result, they feel cozy and inviting even when there's only a handful of people inside watching the game.

The $64,000 question: What'll happen to Mick's stage and PA? Will the new owners keep it in tact, just in case? I bet they will. In fact, I'm willing to bet that by the time summer rolls around (or sooner) we'll see bands playing there again. In the end, the new owners will have no choice but to relight that stage.

As much as I liked the place, I rarely went to shows at Mick’s, mainly because I’m not a fan of the style of blues-folk that Campbell booked. He almost never hosted indie-style singer/songwriters – that just wasn’t his cup of tea.

As a bar, the room is well-designed, with good lighting and ambiance. But as a music venue – especially one that focused on acoustic music -- it suffered from noise problems -- not from the stage, but from the crowd. Musicians complained that Mick's crowds were too chatty, but they probably weren't chattier than any other crowd – you could just hear them better.

A young couple could be whispering sweet nothings into each other’s ears at a table by the door and you could hear them up by the stage. The room was like an enormous whispering arch. When 15 or 20 people quietly talked, the chatter became a roar that built upon itself, growing louder and louder and the next thing you knew it was like being in a union hall during a political rally, drowning out the music. I spent an evening with a musician drawing diagrams of Mick’s on napkins, trying to figure out a way to partition that the room and separate the music from chatter. It could not be done.

Well, now it won’t matter as Mick’s stage is going dark for good (supposedly). The move cripples Benson’s efforts to become Omaha's miniature version of Austin's 6th St. Now there are only three music venues left: PS Collective, The Waiting Room and The Barley St. At least for now…

* * *

Last week Saddle Creek Records confirmed that Chris Hughes no longer is a member of Beep Beep, the band he co-founded with Eric Bemberger eight years ago.

Beep Beep's line-up is now Bemberger, Darren Keen (The Show Is the Rainbow), Javid Dabestani (Bright Calm Blue) and James Reilly (Pharmacy Spirits), according to Saddle Creek label exec Jason Kulbel. Interestingly, Beep Beep is slated to release a new album in early '09 on Saddle Creek that features Hughes. I've heard a few of the tracks from the CD last summer and they were groundbreaking (I'm not kidding).

And in other band news, if you’ve been thinking about seeing Neva Dinova, you better make a special effort to catch their Dec. 27th show at Slowdown with Ladyfinger, McCarthy Trenching and The ’89 Chicago Cubs. Neva frontman Jake Bellows said the gig will be the band’s last for the foreseeable future. No, Neva Dinova isn’t breaking up, but it is going on an indefinite hiatus. Catch them while you can.

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Matador's Cosloy loves Box Elders; Pitchfork top-50... – Dec. 23, 2008

The holidays, they're killing me…

I didn’t go to either of the two Faint shows this past weekend. Part of the reason has to do with confusion regarding "the lists." I originally was told by their publicist that I would be on the list for Saturday night, and then a few days before the show, the publicist e-mailed to say that they "had the tickets cut for the show." (Suspicious… but they assured me it had nothing to do with The Faint column). I could have bought tickets for Saturday night, of course, but I just saw The Faint play at Sokol in August, and from what I've read review-wise, it was essentially the same show. The only difference was the opening bands -- Capgun Coup and Son Ambulance -- both of which I've seen plenty of times. Friday night was the real draw, The Show Is the Rainbow -- who I haven't seen in more than a year. But it was sold out weeks ago.

Now, if The Faint had played at Slowdown, I would have gladly spent $25 for a ticket the second they went on sale. Time to move out of the Sokol cattle barn, boys.

* * *

Every year, Matador Records compiles lists from all of its bands and staff and sends them out via an e-mail. The one list that I pay particularly close attention to is by Gerard Cosloy, who started Matador with Chris Lombardi in 1990. Over the years, I've discovered a lot of new bands by reading Cosloy's lists. Well, what was mentioned in Cosloy's list this year but Box Elders' "Hole In My Head" 7-inch on Grotto. I can't remember any Omaha band ever being mentioned by Cosloy before -- in my opinion, it's a huge honor.

For your reading enjoyment, here's Cosloy's list:

Prisonshake - Dirty Moons (Scat)
The Notwist - The Devil, You + Me (Domino/City Slang)
Endless Boogie - Focus Level (No Quarter)
Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds - Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!! (Anti/Mute)
The Distant Seconds <> - Spectral Evidence (Sweetheart Contract)
Fennesz - The Black Sea (Touch)
Jesu - Why Are We Not Perfect? EP (Hydra Head)
18th Dye - Amorine Queen (Crunchy Frog)
Gentlemen Jesse & His Men - s/t (Douchemaster)
The New Year - The New Year (Touch & Go)
Cheap Time - s/t (In The Red)
Steinski - What Does It All Mean? 1983-2006 (Illegal Art)
Jarboe & Justin Broadrick - J2 (The End)
Retribution Gospel Choir - s/t (Calo Verde)
The Busy Signals - s/t (Dirtnap)
The Young - "Get Out Of My Face" 4 song 7" (Supersecret)
Rock City SIxteen - Lunette Noires Nuits Blanches 7" (Cigarette Music)
Box Elders - "Hole In My Head" 7" (Grotto)
V/A - Messthetics Greatest Hiss, Vol. 1 (Hyped 2 Death)

Those who want to keep up with Cosloy, check out his (mostly sports-related) blog --

* * *

Speaking of lists, Pitchfork posted its 50 "best albums of the year" list on their site a couple days ago (here). No. 1 was Fleet Foxes Sun Giant EP, followed by Portishead, Third and No Age, Nouns. Not surprisingly, no Saddle Creek or Team Love releases made the list . Boo-hoo…

By the way, the Lazy-i top-10 list went to press and will be published in The Reader next week, but you'll get a sneak preview here, along with the rest of the Year in Review (which includes best shows of the year) in the coming days, along with details about how you can win a copy of the Lazy-i Best of 2008 compilation CD (that's right, it's back).

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Talking Mountain, Filter Kings tonight... – Dec. 20, 2008

I overlooked a couple very good shows going on this evening when I updated my blog yesterday, one of which I might attend since I'm contemplating skipping The Faint altogether for various reasons (though I wholeheartedly recommend that you see them if you haven't before). Top of my list is Talking Mountain at PS Collective with Thunder Power, Minnesota band Sleeping in the Aviary and The Jack Russell Band. It is my deepest hope that Talking Mountain plays the seasonal hit "The Abominable Abdominal Snowman," which will be included on this year's Best of Lazy-i compilation CD (more details about that later). $5, 9 p.m. Also tonight, The Filter Kings and The Whipkey Three play at The 49'r. As much as I avoid going to the Niner, there are few better places to be on a cold, snowy night. No idea on the cover, the show will probably start around 9:30 or 10. Of course, if the weather forecast is correct and we're in for 35-below-zero wind-chill temperatures tonight, I probably won't be going anywhere...

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Neva Dinova hiatus; Column 203: When we break...; The Faint this weekend... – Dec. 19, 2008

I got an email yesterday from someone very close to Neva Dinova saying that the band's Dec. 27 show at Slowdown would be their last show ever. So I called Jake Bellows, who called me back and said no, Neva Dinova isn't breaking up. Instead, the band is going on an extended hiatus. Who knows when they'll play again, but it may not be for a very long time. So, if you've been itching to see Neva, better take advantage of that Slowdown gig, which also will feature Ladyfinger, McCarthy Trenching and the return of The '89 Chicago Cubs. Slowdown's website currently doesn't list the $7 show as being held in the "front room," which I guess means it'll be in the big room, where it belongs.

It's been a pretty gloomy last couple of weeks news-wise, what with bands going on hiatus and clubs closing down. What's happening to our music scene? Is it really the economy (stupid)? That’s as good of a transition as I can think of to this week's column -- a recasting of the Criteria show review from earlier in the week. It's a retread (that also will be the case for next week's column), so skip over it if you're bored and head to this weekend's shows.

Column 203: If Not Criteria…
…Then who?

Just before they started, a young local musician with dreams of making a living from his music leaned over and asked what the deal was with Criteria. My answer: They did the right things, they did what they needed to do, they went on the road for 18 months and it just didn’t happen. They never “broke," so to speak.

But you wouldn’t know that by looking at the crowd at The Waiting Room Saturday night. I don’t know the official number, but it had to be a technical sell-out. It was jam-packed; as packed as I’ve ever seen that place.

Criteria’s Stephen Pedersen strolled onto the stage wearing a plain white V-neck T-shirt and carrying his trademark Travis Bean guitar and proceeded to play as good a set -- maybe the best set -- that he and his band has ever played. The Waiting Room’s sound system is tailored made for them, more so than Slowdown's (TWR has become defined as a rock club, while Slowdown has become known as a singer-songwriter venue that hosts the occasional rock show). The room was hot, figuratively and literally, and loud loud loud. Painfully so, but it was a good pain.

Whenever I see Criteria, I marvel at the band’s rhythm section, which to me is the core reason behind how they can do what they do. Bassist AJ Mogis and Drummer Mike Sweeney keep it together; they hold the leash that holds the mad-dog buzz saw from spinning out of control. Sweeney is an animal, a dynamic wonder-being, the throttle that drives this speedy, shiny black Camaro along all those hair-pin turns. Their enormous sound is wave upon wave of guitar pressed to a sonic red line and topped off by Pedersen’s mid-range croon that cuts through the roar, bright and clean. Pedersen is the epitome of the indie rock frontman – just flashy enough to keep the crowd's attention, until he holds his guitar above his head and turns into a modern-day Rick Springfield.

The set was impressive. It was as good as anything I’ve seen on any stage this year. I still think they have -- or had -- whatever it takes to break through. But it’s too late for that now. The band has moved onto other things, and though Pedersen didn’t use this word, Criteria has become more of a hobby for these guys, who now have more important things to occupy their lives -- things like wives and children and money-making careers that rightfully have taken precedent. Still…

I stand by what I’ve always said. Criteria is (or was) the best full-out rock band on Saddle Creek. Bright Eyes may be the most relevant (and popular); The Faint, the funnest; The Good Life had the best songs. But Criteria, well, they rocked the hardest, harder than Cursive. And the fact is, it took way more than 18 months for Creek’s former “big three” to break. One has to believe it would have taken Criteria another year or two of constant touring and releasing records before it took hold, before they inevitably caught the attention of a larger audience and got their shot at performing on Conan -- and man what a performance that would have been.

They played for about 40 minutes, then came back on stage and did a two-song encore, then after the crowd chanted “One more song,” they did exactly that. It felt like a swan-song instead of a welcome-back gig. There is a cliché that says that bands play their best at CD release shows and farewell gigs. It’s a cliché that happens to be true. Maybe it’s the adrenaline. Maybe it’s because in both instances, bands figure they have nothing to lose. And maybe that was the reason why Criteria never sounded better Saturday night.

But this was no swan-song. In fact, this was only the beginning, or so Pedersen said. No, they'll never tour again, but the band has written new material and plans to record… eventually. Whether their CD comes out on Saddle Creek remains to be seen, though the label has never not embraced its alumni regardless of what they’ve sold in the past, and that includes Son Ambulance, who put out an album last year, and Ladyfinger and Beep Beep, who have new albums coming out in early ’09. None of those bands’ last records sold as well as Criteria’s last album.

So how does a band “break” in an age of downloads and X-Box-Wii's and audiences with 30-second attention spans who only follow bands for one album? How does a band get to that next level? It seems like Tokyo Police Club -- Saddle Creek's most successful recent acquisition -- is slowly getting there. But it also seems like even the Creek-related bands that have broken through are struggling, whether it’s Tilly or The Faint or even Cursive. Oberst isn’t the last one standing, but he’s the only one standing on top of a big pile of money.

These days, right now, the dream of making a living by being in a band -- and not having to live on Ramen noodles -- is over. The ones that are making it and who haven’t sold their souls are very few. Like The Faint’s Todd Fink said, I don’t know how anyone makes money by selling CDs anymore. Unless you’re a legacy band or you’re willing to pump out meaningless pap to lifeless masses, you’re chances of being anything more than four guys in a van seem hopeless.

After Criteria's last triumphant encore, I knew what the musician with the dreams standing next to me was thinking: If Criteria couldn’t make it happen with everything they did and everything that they had going for them, what hope does anyone have?

* * *

This weekend is all about The Faint at Sokol Auditorium. Tonight's show, with The Show Is the Rainbow and Brimstone Howl opening, has been sold out almost from the moment tickets went on sale. Tickets are still available for tomorrow night's show, with Capgun Coup and Son Ambulance, but for how long? If you want to go, get your tickets now, $18. Both shows start at 8 p.m.

Sunday night is dedicated to Oui Bandits' album release show at Slowdown Jr. with adamroberthauG, Jesse McKelvey, The Contrails. $6, 9 p.m.

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Feature Interview: Oui Bandits; The Stay Awake, Derrick Higgins tonight... – Dec. 18, 2008

Just placed online, an interview with the incomparable Oui Bandits (story here). This Sunday night at Slowdown Jr., the guys are celebrating the release of their vinyl-only debut, Mattress in the Afternoon, on I'm Drinking This Records, the used-to-be-cassette-only label that's released tapes by a ton of locals including Talking Mountain, Flamboyant Gods, Flowers Forever, even Tilly and the Wall. Now they're branching out to vinyl. Can CDs be far behind? Well, as I mention in the story, every copy of Mattress… comes with a CDR (I'm surprised that it didn't also come with a cassette copy). Check it out.
* * *

Barring a major ice storm, there are some good shows going on tonight:

At The Waiting Room, noise-punk-math band The Stay Awake take the stage with fellow noise-punkers Techlepathy. 9 p.m., $7. Meanwhile, just down the block at The Barley St. Tavern, Derrick Higgins Band headlines a show that features Omaha escapees Drakes Hotel and Sleep Said the Monster, $5, 9 p.m. Finally, down at Slowdown Jr., three bands that I've never heard of -- Theanti, Kate Davis and Uncle Ghost -- play a show with Omaha darlings Honeybee. $7, 9 p.m.

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Mick’s gets deep sixed, CD Review: Under Water Dream Machine... – Dec. 17, 2008

Well, if you haven’t already heard, Mick’s Music and Bar is closing at the beginning of the year. The story became official in yesterday’s Omaha World-Herald (right here). Everyone knew this was coming, but the fact that Michael Campbell found a buyer for the club, which has been on the market for quite a long time, became street knowledge last weekend. I heard about it at the Criteria show, but was told that a bank loan was still pending – an iffy proposition in these troubled times. Well, it looks like the loan came through.

Two things I’ve been told about this deal: First, that the new owners intend to make Mick’s a hang-out bar, “similar to O’Leaver’s but nicer.” There will be no live music. The idea here is that people will just go to the “new Mick’s” on any given evening to drink. This idea seems tantamount to madness. I guess the new owners have never been to music venues – or even Mick’s for that matter – on non-music nights. You can shoot a cannon off in them and hit nary a patron.

There was some concern Saturday night on how this new non-music bar will hurt The Barley St. and Burke’s. Barley St. is slowly becoming a go-to destination on any night thanks to its stage, which could become a place where local musicians know they can try out new material – and I mean any local musician, from Brad Hoshaw to Jake Bellows to Conor Oberst. On top of that, Barley St. has Kyle Harvey, who’s an attraction all by himself. The clientele I’ve seen in Burke’s consisted mostly of bent-over locals looking for somewhere to get their nightly booze fix – true regulars in the Paul Westerberg sense. They’re not going anyplace else to get loaded. And both the Barley St. and Burke’s are about half the size (or smaller) than Mick’s. They’re true neighborhood bars.

The other thing I’ve been told is that the new owners intend to keep Mick’s PA intact, just in case. I predict that by the time summer rolls around (or probably much sooner) there will be live music again at the bar formerly known as Mick’s. The new owners will have no choice but to relight that stage.

I rarely went to shows at Mick’s mainly because I’m not a fan of the style of folk / blues that he booked. Mick’s rarely booked indie-style singer/songwriters – that just wasn’t his cup of tea. As a bar, I thought that it was well-designed with good lighting and ambiance, a nice room. But as a music venue – especially one that focused on folk music -- it suffered from poor acoustics. Not from the stage, but from the crowd. Musicians always complained that Mick’s crowds talked too much during their set. The fact is, they probably didn’t talk any more than any other crowd – you could just hear them better. A young couple could be calmly taking to each other by the door and their conversation could be heard by the stage. Mick’s was like a whispering arch. When 15 or 20 people quietly talked, the whispers became a roar, forcing them to talk louder and louder and the next thing you know it was like being in a union hall during a political campaign, drowning out the musicians on stage. I spent a good part of one evening drawing diagrams of Mick’s on a napkin with a musician, trying to figure out a way that the room could be adequately partitioned so that music performances would be in one room while chatters could be in another. It couldn’t be done. Well, now it won’t matter as Mick’s stage is going dark for good (supposedly). The move hurts Benson’s efforts to become known as the city’s music district, leaving PS Collective, The Waiting Room and The Barley St. with live music. At least for now…

* * *

Here’s a CD review I wrote for this week’s issue of The Reader:

Under Water Dream Machine, Under Water Dream Machine (Slo-Fidelity) – Singer/songwriter Bret Vovk (the be-all of UWDM) may never have heard a single note written by The Conor or Elliott Smith, but that doesn't mean he's not their natural progeny, especially when his echoing voice is emoting all broken-hearted and regretful. Lyrically, he's not as clever as either of them, but he sings better than both and his melodies have just as many hooks. This is the inevitable lost-my-girlfriend debut with a brief glimpse of what could be after he gets over her (the Dylan-esque opus to over-indulgence "Too Much"). Not bad sounding for a home recording – Vovk knows how to fill out his guitar/vox with dense, layered multi-tracking -- but it sure could use a good mastering (so say my headphones). A promising debut by a next-generation Omaha songwriter destined to carry on the tradition. Rating: Yes (Reader rating: 4 stars)

Tomorrow: Oui Bandits…

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Beep Beep line-up change... – Dec. 16, 2008

Saddle Creek Records today confirmed that Chris Hughes no longer is in Beep Beep, the band he co-founded with Eric Bemberger eight years ago.

Beep Beep's line-up is now Bemberger, Darren Keen (The Show Is the Rainbow), Javid Dabestani (Bright Calm Blue) and James Reilly (Pharmacy Spirits), according to Saddle Creek label exec Jason Kulbel. Interestingly, Beep Beep is slated to release a new album in early '09 on Saddle Creek that features Hughes. I've heard a few of the tracks from the CD last summer and they were groundbreaking (I'm not kidding).

A brief history (from this story): Hughes and Bemberger first met in '95 when Bemberger was playing a show with Blandine Cosima, a band that also included Aaron Druery (Criteria) and drummer Mike Sweeney (Criteria). At the time, Hughes was a veteran of The Magnetas, a band that included Todd Fink (the man formerly known as Todd Baechle, of The Faint), Ben Armstrong (Head of Femur) and Conor Oberst (Bright Eyes); as well as an early version of Norman Bailer with Fink. Hughes and Bemberger first joined forces in '96 in the band Gabardine that included Hughes' then-roommates Joel Petersen (The Faint) and Armstrong. Gabardine recorded a 6-song EP and two tracks for a Saddle Creek sampler before breaking up in the summer of '98. Two years later, Hughes and Bemberger formed Beep Beep, playing their first show in January 2001. In August 2004 they released their debut, Business Casual, on Saddle Creek Records, with Sweeney on drums and Petersen on bass.

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Live Review: Criteria... – Dec. 15, 2008

The following was written at 1:30 a.m. Saturday night:

My ears are still ringing.

A guy next to me asked during the set what the deal was with Criteria. Apparently he hadn’t read my recent write-up (no surprise there). My answer: They did the right things, they did what they needed to do, they went on the road for 18 months and it just didn’t happen. They never “broke”, so to speak. But you wouldn’t know that looking at the crowd at The Waiting Room Saturday night. I don’t know the official number, but it had to be a technical sell out. It was jam-packed. As packed as I’ve ever seen that place. And there was no question who the crowd was there to see.

I caught the last half of the Beat Seekers’ set. Standard pop-punk in the Green Day vein. Well played, or as one person put it, they did it as well as anyone trying to do that sort of thing. Very tight, but we’ve heard it all before. It seemed funny to hear a band play that Blink 182/Green Day style of music, a style that got left it behind so long ago. But it works for them, right?

Criteria’s Stephen Pedersen strolled on stage wearing a plain white v-neck T-shirt and carrying his trademark steel-head guitar and proceeded to play as good a set, maybe the best set, that they’ve ever played. The Waiting Room’s sound is tailored made for what they do, even moreso than Slowdown (TWR has become defined as a rock club, while Slowdown has become a singer-songwriter venue that hosts the occasional rock show). The room was red hot, figuratively and literally, and loud loud loud. Painfully so, but it was a good pain.

Whenever I see Criteria, I marvel at the band’s rhythm section, which to me is the core reason behind how they can do what they do. Mogis and Sweeney keep it all together, they put it all in the perfect black-velvet box, the leash that holds the mad-dog beehive sound from spinning out of control. Sweeney is an absolute animal, a dynamic wonder-being, the throttle that drives this speedy, shiny black Camaro along all those hair-pin turns. The enormous sound is wave upon wave of guitar pressed to a sonic red line. It’s topped off by Pedersen’s mid-range croon that cuts through the roar, bright and clean. Pedersen is the epitome of the indie rock frontman – just flashy enough to keep the crowds attention, until he holds his guitar above his head like a modern-day Rick Springfield.

It was impressive. It was as good as anything I’ve seen on any stage this year. I still think they have whatever it takes to break through. But it’s too late for that now. The band has moved onto other things, and though he didn’t use the word, Criteria has become more of a hobby for these guys, who now have more important things to occupy their lives, things like wives and children and money-making careers that rightfully have taken precedent. Still…

I stand by what I’ve always said. Criteria is the best full-out rock band on Saddle Creek BE may be the most relevant (and popular), The Faint were the funnest. The Good Life had the best songs. But Criteria , well, they rocked the hardest, harder than Cursive. Fact is, it took way more than 18 months for Creek’s former “big three” to break. One has to believe it would have taken Criteria another year or two of constant touring, of releasing records, before it took hold, before they caught the attention of a larger audience, before they got their shot at performing on Conan, and man what a performance that would have been.

They played for about 40 minutes, then came back on stage and did a two-song encore, then after the crowd chanted “One more song,” and they did exactly that. To me it felt like a swan-song performance instead of a welcome back gig. There is a cliché about bands playing their best at CD release shows and at farewell gigs. It’s a cliché that happens to be true. Maybe it’s the adrenaline. Maybe it’s because in both instances, bands figure they have nothing to lose. And maybe that was the reason why Criteria never sounded better Saturday night.

Obviously we haven’t seen the last of them. In fact, this is only the beginning, or so Pedersen said. The band has written new material and plans to record… eventually. Whether what they record comes out on Saddle Creek remains to be seen, though the label has never not embraced its alumni regardless of what they’ve sold in the past, and that includes Son Ambulance, who put out an album last year, and Ladyfinger and Beep Beep who have new albums coming out in early ’09. None of those bands sold nearly as many albums as Criteria’s last album.

So how does a band “break” in an age of downloads and television-radio and audiences with 30-second attention spans who only follow bands for one album? How does a band get to that next level? It seems like Tokyo Police Club are slowly getting there. But it also seems even the Creek bands that have broken through are struggling these days, whether it’s Tilly or The Faint or even Cursive. Oberst isn’t the last one standing, but he’s the only one standing on a big pile of money. These days, right now, it seems like the dream of really making a living being in a band -- and not having to live on Ramen -- is over. The ones that are making it who haven’t sold their souls are very, very few. Like Todd Fink said, I don’t know how anyone makes money off selling CDs anymore. Unless you’re a legacy band or you’re willing to pump out meaningless pap to lifeless masses, you’re chances of being anything more than four guys in a van seem hopeless.

Man, my ears are still ringing…

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Under Water Dream Machine, Coffin Killers tonight; Criteria tomorrow... – Dec. 12, 2008 –

Last night I had a discussion with a cohort about the past week's worth of shows, or complete lack thereof. I don't remember having an entire week without a single show worth seeing. But as this person told me, the offers for touring bands through his club has slowed to a trickle (which didn't mean much because his club has all but stopped hosting shows). Maybe it's the economy or maybe it's just the time of the year. I took a look at what was going on during the second week of December 2007 -- major ice storm Dec. 10-11, Dinosaur Jr. Dec. 12, Race for Titles Dec. 13. Draw your own conclusions. It just seems as if clubs are bringing in fewer shows on weekdays, and that shows that feature local bands are inordinately outnumbering shows featuring touring bands. Is it the economy (stupid)? Are fewer bands touring these days? In reaction, bars seem to be doing whatever they can to draw drinkers. There are now four clubs that have "movie nights" during the week, including Slowdown which started theirs yesterday and TWR which showed movies two nights this past week. Wonder how that's working out...

Well, the long cold week is over and so is the absence of shows (though only one touring bands is playing this weekend).

The weekend's only CD release show is for Under Water Dream Machine at The Barley St. tonight. The album is the second release on Kyle Harvey's Slo-Fidelity Records label. Joining UWDM are It's True, Raven Carousel, and Lisa and Bess. $5. Show starts at 9.

Also tonight in Benson, Lee Meyerpeter's punk rock outfit The Coffin Killers headlines a show at The Waiting Room that features Noah's Ark Was a Spaceship, Paria and Dim Light. $7, 9 p.m. Bring your earplugs.

Tonight down at Slowdown Jr. it's San Francisco freak folk band Vetiver, who in the past has collaborated with, among others, Joanna Newsom and Devandra Banhart. They're touring in support of a new album on Fat Cat. Opening is Our Fox. $10, 9 p.m.

Tomorrow night (Saturday) is, of course, Criteria at The Waiting Room with The Beat Seekers and The Envy Corps. This will be a madhouse. $7, 9 p.m.

Also Saturday night The Pendrakes play at Slowdown Jr. with The Third Men and The Great Atomic Power. $6, 9 p.m.

And part two of the Homeless for the Holidays benefit concert series also takes place Saturday night at West Omaha bar Club Roxbury, 108th and Q. Among the performers is Thunder Power, Big Al Band and Scott Severin's band. It's free, but donations are encouraged (at least $6). Show starts at 8 p.m.

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Criteria: From lawyer to rock star to lawyer to rock star…; Rolling Stone's top-50 albums... – Dec. 11, 2008 –

The back story behind this Criteria feature is as follows: I wrote a story with frontman Stephen Pedersen right around the time he left Kutak Rock to do music full time (read that one here). Off he went on tour for a year and a half. And then one day as I'm leaving my office at Union Pacific to get some lunch, I ran into Pedersen -- in suit and tie -- as he was headed to the UP cafeteria (which is open to the public, btw). Stephen told me he was back at Kutak and that he'd fill me in on his brief spin with rock stardom. It took a year, but here's the story, just in time to support Criteria's gig at The Waiting Room this Saturday night with The Beat Seekers and The Envy Corps. Sounds like Pedersen has found a comfortable middle ground between his life as an attorney and his life in Criteria. I know he says he isn't going to tour again, but I'll believe it when I see it… Anyway, go read the story and get your tickets for Saturday night's show.

* * *

Looks like Rolling Stone struck first with their list of the top albums of '08 (actually, Omahype beat them to the punch -- they posted their list on Tuesday). Of note with RS, TV on the Radio was No. 1 (blah…); My Morning Jacket was No. 4 (huh?) and our very own Conor Oberst came it at No. 23. Sayeth Stone about Conor: "Tracks like 'I Don't Want to Die (In the Hospital)' feel like lost Hank Williams demos." No, no they don't. I like the album, but it doesn't sound like Hank Williams. Anyway… I suspect we'll be seeing Pitchfork's list any day now. And watch for the Lazy-i list in the coming weeks.

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Column 202 -- Catching up with The Faint; Team Love gives it away; CD Review: 1090 Club... – Dec. 10, 2008 –

I can only imagine what Todd Fink was looking at from his Portuguese vantage point when we were doing our interview Saturday. "I'm in the most futuristic building I've ever been in," he said, asking if I'd ever seen the George Lucas film THX 1138. "Everything looks like that everywhere, outside, inside. Everything is super strict. You have to have cards to get in here. It seems to be an art school or music academy. We were told it cost $77 million to build."

There was a lot of commotion in the background as Fink learned he was supposed to be at soundcheck. "How come I'm finding this out now?" he asked a ghost on the other side of the phone. In fact, he said he hadn't even known about the interview until only moments earlier, which made sense as the publicist said I'd be talking to Jacob Thiele, not Todd. Here's what happened next:

Column 202: Camel-Towing the Line
The Faint talk about music, money and cigarettes.

I was more than a bit surprised when I got the e-mail from Carla Senft of Press Here Publicity, the publicist for a variety of top indie artists, including The Faint.

“The Faint will play in Omaha on 12/19 and 12/20 at Sokol Auditorium,” the e-mail said. “I would love to hear your thoughts on speaking with the band or previewing the show!”

First I laughed; then I wondered what was going on. About two and a half years ago – March 22, 2006, to be exact – I had written a column that asked if The Faint were leaving Saddle Creek Records and headed to American Recordings to work with producer Rick Rubin. I was trying to confirm a deep-throat rumor from a reliable anonymous source. I left a message with a member of The Faint, but heard nothing back. It was Saddle Creek label exec Robb Nansel who confirmed the rumor, saying that The Faint had negotiated with American and that Rubin had expressed interest in working with the band.

It seemed like a fairly innocuous column at the time, except that it represented the first instance that one of Creek’s core artists was considering jumping ship. Word got to me that the band wasn’t pleased with the article. Months later, when I tried to line up an interview with The Faint, my editor passed word that Saddle Creek had been instructed that any reporter could interview the band, except me. And then recently I was told by a friend of the band that the column had resulted in a potential deal with a major label falling through.

But I wasn’t telling Carla any of this. She set up the interview for last Saturday morning. After some misconnections, I was talking to Faint frontman Todd Fink via Skype from Portugal where the band was on tour. My first question: Had the column really caused fall-out with a potential suitor?

“Something in that article, I don’t remember what, did affect how things went down on some level,” Fink said. “Ultimately we were in some negotiation. Once you write anything now, everyone will pick up on that kind of stuff. I don’t think it actually fucked things up.”

So had the band blackballed me? “I don’t know if we made a stance like what (Saddle Creek) told you, but I wouldn’t be surprised if (band member) Joel (Petersen) made that stance on our behalf.”

Other than not getting interviews, the situation never affected how I covered The Faint. I still reviewed their music and their shows, and continued to enjoy both.

Anyway, through the static-crackle of our Skype connection, Fink said the band’s self-released album, Fasciinatiion, was living up to their expectations sales-wise. “I think it’s doing what we figured it would do,” Fink said. “We told ourselves we’d put as much money into it as we needed to. We also had to come up with a bunch of money to go on tour and make the CDs and to finish paying for building the studio. I wouldn’t be surprised if we kind of went light on it in some way, but I haven’t noticed any difference. It seems about the same to me as far as promotion and sales. The whole business is down from four years ago. This record will sell 30 percent less or half as much as the last one did. With that in mind, we’re about where we figured we’d be.”

Had releasing it themselves made a difference? “Everyone is still learning by making mistakes,” he said. “A record label that’s been around longer has already made mistakes and figured things out. I haven’t felt any kind of regret. I don’t think anyone in the band has.”

Fink said self-releasing may be the wave of the future. “More bands are doing this," he said. "It depends on what size band you are. If you have to take out a loan to put out a record, if you have no idea if anyone is going to buy it at all or if you don’t have an agent to book your shows, it could be a bad investment.”

Unable to rely on CD sales for revenue, touring has become a primary money maker for some bands. “We’re going to be touring longer than making sales from records,” Fink said. “I don’t know how you make money from selling records in the future, but you can still have an event, and that’s what we do on tour.”

But keeping a band alive also means sometimes taking money where you can find it. The Faint has augmented its income in the past by taking sponsorship gigs, including shows sponsored by Camel cigarettes. “That stuff comes up here and there,” Fink said, “and sometimes the bills are high enough that we need to find a way to have money come in. We did that one, but I doubt that it will be the end of it. It would be great to do everything without any kind of sponsorships that weren’t charities, but it doesn’t really add up. Being in a band is expensive, and there has to be money coming in. Whatever the offers are, we need to consider them. If they’re not going to ruin the band and they pay for that year for writing songs and recording, we’re going to do it.”

Fink said Camel gave away tickets for their sponsored shows or only charged $5; and the tour gave The Faint a chance to play smaller rooms in cities they hadn’t been to in a while.

“It’s not a Faint show. They’re having a party to promote their brand and they need people to show up at the party. They’re paying a lot of money for bands to show up and make it cool or something,” Fink said. “If you have enough money, you can get anybody, that’s what it comes down to. If you’re getting a million dollars to do a show and you’re Fugazi, you’re going to take it. That’s too much money. It’s too selfish to not do it. You could give the money to the charity that means something to you.”

I told Fink that there was a perception by some that The Faint had become millionaires off of their music. “If anyone thinks we’re doing it and getting rich, they’re wrong,” he said. “As a matter of fact…actually I don’t want to talk about that.”

And with that, Fink had to leave to join the band for sound check. As of deadline, The Faint's Friday night show had already sold out, with tickets going fast for Saturday night.

There were a couple other things from the interview that didn't make it into the column. Among them, Fink's discussion of Enamel -- The Faint's new state-of-the-art recording studio. Is Enamel another revenue stream for a band that's doing everything on its own? "It may be a wise investment," Fink said of the studio. "Maybe not. We'll have a place to record, and it's worth it that way, but we can make some money renting it out when we're gone that could help pay for it in the long run."

Then there was the question as to why The Faint even bother recording new material. They've consistently sold out large venues over the past few years without having released a new album. "We tour enough that people keep coming whether there's an album out or not," he said. "It's easier to tour when you have a new album; there's more things working together to get people there, the advertising, the publications, whatever."

Seriously, if you're thinking about going to the Dec. 20 show (the 19th is sold out) you better get your tickets today (online here). Opening on the 20th is Capgun Coup and Son Ambulance (opening the sold out show on the 19th is Brimstone Howl and The Show Is the Rainbow).

* * *

Team Love announced yesterday that it's "reshaped" its free download policy by introducing the "Team Love Library," where they're offering a rotating selection of TL albums for download, along with exclusive content, unreleased tracks and remixed versions, etc. Users first have to register (here). Current titles include Capgun Coup's Brought to you by Nebraskafish, McCarthy Trenching's self-titled debut, Jenny Lewis' Rabbit Fur Coat, The Berg Sans Nipple's Along the Quai, Dave Dondero's Simple Love and Tilly and the Wall's Wild Like Children.

* * *

And now, the intern (I got nothing to add to this as I haven't heard this CD):

1090 Club, Natural Selection (Sidecho Records) -- They've always carried an interesting approach to writing rock music, partially due to their instrumentation. While piano and guitar are at the core, a violin weaves beautiful, flowing melodies throughout this Billings band's sophomore effort. Tasteful, technical and precise drumming propels the recording and keeps the orchestration consistent. This is a more focused product than the band’s debut, Shipwrecked On Shores, thanks to tighter instrumentation and more prominent vocals. Opening track, “ITSON,” delivers a musical punch with a hook that'll stay in your head for days. Rating: Yes -- Brendan Greene-Walsh

* * *

Tomorrow, an interview with Criteria's Stephen Pedersen.

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CD Review: Dresden Dolls... – Dec. 9, 2008

Here's today's intern submission (It's nice to have something to fall back on when nothing's going on…).

The Dresden Dolls, No, Virginia… (Roadrunner) -- The Boston duo delivers a whirlwind of piano and drums, self-described as "Cabaret Punk." They've crafted an original style that combines elements of straightforward rock and theatre. The rock comes by way of precise, technical drumming coupled with vibrant piano. The theatricality comes by way of dramatic stops and starts, dynamic changes and pianist Amanda Palmer's voice. Some might describe it as over-exaggerated, forced or even downright irritating. But halfway through the album, the garishness subsides into the song structure and meshes with the music to create the band's unique genre. They avoid monotony by differentiating tempo and pacing, showing a willingness to pull back the rock in place of gentle, more somber numbers. Rating: Yes. -- Brendan Greene-Walsh

Tim sez: This is a collection of b-sides, rarities and leftovers from the recording sessions that produced 2006's Yes, Virginia… of which this is sort of a sequel. I've never been a DD fan, and this didn't change my mind. Of note is a rather languid cover of the Furs' "Pretty in Pink," which was a bit too pretty for my taste. The duo are said to be on an indefinite hiatus, so this could be their swan song. Rating: No.

Tomorrow: The Faint

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Charity night at SCB; CD Review: Friendly Fires... – Dec. 8, 2008 –

There were dualing charity rock shows going on Friday night (and the rest of the weekend). The one held at The Saddle Creek Bar still managed to draw about 60 patrons to hear a handful of bands willing to give their time for a good cause. I stepped in halfway through No Blood Orphan's rather loud set and stepped out halfway through Beta Minus's. In the middle was Two Drag Club, a band that includes two thirds of Grasshopper Takeover and one of the city's best drummers. They played relatively straight-forward bar rock reminiscent of, well, GTO and traditional '80s arena bands. Very well played, albiet not my thing. Siena Francis House should be pleased with the take at the door.

Here's today's Brendan review:

Friendly Fires, self titled (XL Recordings) -- This three-piece UK outfit brings an ecstatic brand of music highlighted by strong backbeats and solid bass patterns reminiscent of dance bands from earlier this decade. But in this case, they don't rely on disco beats to propel their songs toward after-hours dance parties. The music is light-hearted and fun to listen to without typical dance-band structures. While the synth is a big part of each song, it's used as a layering effect to create depth behind prominent guitar and bass parts. The vocals are the real selling point. At times they remind me of everthing from '80s Michael Jackson (the good Jacko, mind you) to the non-talkbox stylings of Roger Troutman of Zapp. This is a band that you don't need to be in the mood to enjoy. Rating: Yes -- Brendan Greene-Walsh

Tim sez: Their single "Paris" already is getting the deserved MTV/Subterranean treatment. Opening track "In the Hospital," is "I Zimbra" by way of Earth Wind and Fire. The rest is updated '80 retro dancefloor fodder sung in Ed Macfarlane's sometimes breathy/sometimes falsetto croon. It's kinder, gentler indie dance music that could make them the next Duran Duran (but won't). Rating: Yes.

In case you're wondering, there's nothing going on tonight and practically nothing going on until later this week. These are, indeed, quiet times... but not for long.

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CD Review: F*#ed Up; charity event weekend... – Dec. 5, 2008 –

First, intern Brendan Greene-Walsh's series of CD reviews continues (and will continue for the next week). Here's his latest:

Fucked Up, The Chemistry of Common Life (Matador) -- Fucked Up is a band known for its antics during live shows. Mosh pits, bodily injury and general chaos are all commonplace elements. After listening to this release, I can completely understand. The band needs this madness to distract from the fact that their music is just not that good. Attempts to steal from real punk, their song structures and guitar parts come off as phony. The vocals sound like Cookie Monster is trying to squeeze a watermelon out of his throat. I’m not sure what that means, but if you take a moment to make a visual of that, you will understand what I’m getting at.  Rating: No -- Brendan Greene-Walsh

Tim Sez: The vocals aren't so much Cookie Monster as an Andrew W.K. rip -- over the top, slightly out of control, in your face. But not Cookie Monster -- that term is forever reserved for the vacuous metal-esque goon-rock bands that litter high-NRG Nickelback stations (in Omaha, 89.7 The River). Fucked Up isn't "goon," and you would never confuse it with metal or, really, even punk (though it is loud and obnoxious). This is spaz rock in that AWK-vein. Overbearing and sometimes annoying, it's best served in small doses. That, along with odd tangents like space instrumentals "Golden Seal" and "Looking for God," that owe as much to Pink Floyd as anything punk, are enough to make this worth checking out. Rating: Yes.

'Tis the season for benefit concerts, and there's a slew of them in the coming days/weeks, including two tonight.

The Saddle Creek Bar is hosting the Homeless for the Holidays benefit featuring No Blood Orphan, Beat Seekers, Two Drag Club, Beta Minus, Sleepy House, FreeJack and Rock Paper Dynamite. No idea of the order. Show starts at 7 and your requested donation is $5, which will go toward the Sienna Francis House.

Meanwhile, The Waiting Room tonight is hosting the Christmas for Pine Ridge a.k.a. Lash's Toy Drive featuring The Mercurys, The Filter Kings, Black Squirrels and Korey Anderson. Admission is $10 or a new unwrapped toy. 9 p.m.

Not feeling generous? Check out the free show at Slowdown Jr. featuring Darren Keen, Anniversaire and Thunder Power. 9 p.m. Note that they changed the one-way roads on the east and west side of the Slowdown compound. Both streets are now two-way, which means you no longer are forced to take a left when leaving the Slowdown parking lot (yay!). The owners tell me that the on-street parking along 14th Street will remain forever and ever.

Tonight at The Bemis Underground it's Nebraskafish Rising III featuring Capgun Coup, Flowers Forever, Yuppies, Stdz and Adam Robert Haug. Show starts at 10 and is $5, and they're giving away a keg of beer to boot.

The benefit shows continue Saturday with night two of the Lash LaRue Toy Drive, this time at Mick's featuring Michael Campbell, Vago and Brad Hoshaw and the Seven Deadlies. Rules are the same: $10 or an unwrapped toy gets you in the door. Show starts at 8.

Meanwhile, down at Slowdown Jr., it's another free show, this time featuring Jake Bellows (of Neva Dinova) and Landon Hedges (of Little Brazil). Show starts at 9 p.m.

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CD Reviews: RFT, GNR; *yawn* Grammy noms... – Dec. 4, 2008 –

Below, a couple new CD reviews...

Race for Titles, The Closer (Redemption) – My biggest gripe with RFT always has been that their vocals seemed like an afterthought. Sure, Jamie Massey's ghost-howl is suitably atmospheric, but it feels casually laid atop RFT's dreamy, Cure-ish riffage. Songs like "Under/Above" and "Dimmer," for example, may have been better served as instrumentals when you realize that you're not paying much attention to what Jamie is singing as much as imagining his voice as an extended guitar solo, again, added after the fact. What you're missing by not CONCENTRATING are lines like "Something makes me want to pick you up / Take you away from here" (Lighter on the Inside) and, from the title track, "Build me from the ground up / To tear it all back down / These walls don't have the secrets to keep / From us anymore." Instead of words, I was mesmerized by the tense, intricate, duo-guitar interplay and the throaty, tribal rhythms that set this album apart from past RFT efforts. Maybe some things are better left unsaid, or unsung. Rating: Yes. The Reader rating: Three stars.

Guns N' Roses, Chinese Democracy (Geffen) – Fourteen years. Was it worth the wait? For die-hard fans, yes; for the rest of us… well, let's go down the list of pluses and minuses. Axl's voice sounds surprisingly good, but maybe that's because these vocals were recorded during the Clinton administration. The riffage (at times) is stone-head heavy metal at its finest -- blunt, uncaring, brutal. And the songs? All the best ones -- "Shacker's Revenge," "Better," the title track -- come from the first half (or "side one) and have that classic G n' R swagger. This comes out of the box smoking. But things dampen when Axl channels his inner-Elton John. The syrupy "This I Love" is Axl's "Lick My Love Pump" right down to the cheesy piano chords. But unlike Spinal Tap, it's not played for laughs. Had he thrown out most of the meandering ballads, this would have stood up right next to Appetite. And had he released it 12 years ago it might not have been considered merely a retro oddity or a tribute to procrastination by rock's Rip Van Winkle, who woke up to find that music had passed him by. Rating: Yes. The Reader rating: Three stars.

The Grammy nominations came out yesterday. The list is here. When did the Grammy's turn into the AMA's and People's Choice Awards? Looks like the "new Bob Dylan" got passed over again. Well, he's not in it for the awards anyway, right?

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Cursive for $5; Column 201 -- Darkness on the edge... – Dec. 3, 2008 –

Cursive announced a brief January tour that includes two nights at Slowdown (Jan. 23-24). Tickets: Just $5. They'll never get rich at those prices. Seriously, here's to a band that's cognizant of the current economy and how it's affecting its fans. Tickets go on sale Saturday, according to The Slowdown website. Get them while they last.

* * *

The following column is essentially a repackaging of a couple blog entries from last week, slightly modified. Old news repackaged.

Column 201: Darkness on the Edge of Town
Of Crime and Blackouts…

There's an underlying sense of anxiety these days when going out at night, what with all the murders going on.

Just getting home after an evening at one of the city’s tony music venues seems like an accomplishment, something that you can gloat about while enjoying a cup of coffee the next morning and hearing about who got shot or stabbed or knee-capped in a drive-by the night before. Each news story is accompanied with a city map and a bloody red star to indicate where the "incident" took place. There is that edgy moment when you mentally do the math and figure out how close it was to where you were, and when.

Drive-by shootings and random murder used to be something that no one in the indie music scene cared about because those sorts of things only took place in parts of Omaha where few rarely, if ever, stepped foot. Certainly not at night. But when that guy got shot a couple weeks ago getting cash out of the ATM in the parking lot across from the A&B’s in Dundee, well, people started to notice. Everyone has used that ATM before without a thought that they could find themselves rolling on the ground in a puddle of blood clutching their leg, waiting for an ambulance to take them to Emergency. I personally have stepped into that Infinite convenient store on Leavenworth -- the scene of a tragic random killing a few weeks ago -- numerous times. Now it’s impossible to go in there and not think about Tari Glinsmann, who was minding her own business and ended up dead in the parking lot. How did we get to this place?

Shortly after the crime spree earlier this month, the talk on the midtown sidewalks turned to speculation as to who was behind all the violence. Were these just desperate acts generated by desperate times? No, too random, too scatter-shot. Was it gangs moving into Dundee, trying to lay claim on the coveted latte and batter-fried fish cartel that the neighborhood is known for? That, too, seemed unlikely. But as we all were scratching our heads, the body count continued to rise. Every morning brought fresh news of yet another shooting or mugging – most of them likely unrelated to the spate of crime that had crept into Dundee, but now each demanding our attention. By mid-November Omaha was enjoying a record eight homicides so far that month.

Paranoia reached a fever pitch last Wednesday night, the day before Thanksgiving. I was driving north on 60th St. from Western Ave. and noticed that the streetlights were out. I turned on my brights and glanced at the houses flying by and saw that they, too, were dark. Power outages are commonplace in my neighborhood. At least once a week I come home from work and all the digital clocks on the appliances are blinking. It's the price you pay for living in an old neighborhood with lots of trees and dangling overhead power lines.

I struggled to see where I was going as I rolled up to Benson’s main drag. Every storefront was dark, but the streets were far from empty. Cars motored down Maple, blowing through intersections without slowing down. I eased onto the street and drove by Mick’s and The Musette and the empty Subway sandwich shop.

The outage encompassed all of Benson and points beyond. Would all the venues be closed? Surely it would take more than lights out to keep drunks away from the bars. I parked in my usual parking lot and made my way to Burke’s Pub, the site of Kyle Harvey’s CD release show.

When I got there, I could see the candles burning from the sidewalk outside the venue. Burke’s was packed to the gills, in fact too packed to get in. A couple smokers outside said that Harvey had already played his set (though it was only 10:30), and now the Black Squirrels were playing in the front end of the bar. Who needs power when you’re a bluegrass band?

I never stepped foot inside Burke's. It looked too crazy, and I knew that even if I could squeeze in that getting a Rolling Rock would be a dicey challenge. So I made my way through the darkness down to The Barley St. Tavern, passing The Waiting Room, which looked as empty as the streets had suddenly become. I kept an eye over my shoulder and wondered to myself if it made sense to be walking around alone.

Any fear disappeared once I got to The Barley St. Tavern, a bar that's become one of the city’s most talked-about music venues not because of a state-of-the-art sound system (it has a tiny PA) or an enormous capacity (you can probably stuff 50 into the music room), but thanks to an inviting, unintimidating stage where singer/songwriters feel comfortable trying out new music.

Little Brazil's Landon Hedges was behind the candle-lit bar and quickly handed me a needed beer. Emergency lighting glowed from the ceiling in the music room, and people milled around wondering when the power was going to come back on. The usually electric Whipkey Three had been slated to play, but was left with nothing to plug their amps into. It took about 15 minutes for Matt Whipkey to find an acoustic guitar (lent to him by Kat of the Black Squirrels). He and the rest of the band played an acoustic set to about 20 people gathered around in a circle.

Right after they played their last song, the power came back on, ending the Great Benson Blackout of 2008.

To the best of my knowledge, no crimes were committed in the few hours that Benson was in the dark. I don't know what this recent crime wave means, but I know that even in the darkest moments, there is a sense of community that brings people together and makes them feel safe. It's a kind of security you'll never find with a gun.

Tonight at Slowdown Jr., it's Audrye Sessions with Midwest Dilemma and Down with the Ship. $7, 9 p.m.

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The end of Southern: What's it mean? – Dec. 2, 2008

Homer's GM Mike Fratt forwarded the following letter that he received in mid-November. I can't tell if what's happened to Southern -- once a leading indie music distro -- has anything to do with the economy or not.

Dear Friends,

On November 21st, 2008, Southern Records Inc. of Chicago (SRI) will cease operations. Chicago Independent Distribution, which is owned and operated by SRI's current General Manager Jim Zespy, will take over distribution operations without interruption.

Southern Studios began operating in London in the late 1970's, first as a recording studio, then as a group of record labels. With time, the activities of Southern grew and several affiliate companies were formed in the UK. A U.S. company was first established in the late 1980s and eventually led to the establishment of the U.S. distribution facility, SRI, in Chicago in 1993.

2005 saw the passing of the company founder and principal shareholder, John Loder. John's family has since moved to allow the sale of each company to its existing management. The Chicago-based company, Southern Records Inc., will cease operation as part of such an arrangement.

Southern Studios will continue to manage its record labels from their London office, including Black Diamond, Bluurg, Crass, Exitstencil, Latitudes, Southern, Truth Cult, and Wrong.

Chicago Independent Distribution and Dischord Records have established a new partnership for North America. Chicago Independent Distribution will also continue to distribute the record labels owned and/or operated by Southern Studios in North America.

Chicago Independent will remain the exclusive home of the following labels in the USA: Aurora Borealis, Black Diamond, Bluurg, Constellation, Crass, DeSoto Exile on Mainstream, Graveface, La Societe Expeditionnaire, Latitudes, Marriage, My Pal God, Outer Himalayan, P.W. Elverum & Sun, Permanent, Retard Disco, Sickroom, Southern Records, Truth Cult, Upset! The Rhythm, and Wrong Records.

OK, so what's this really mean? The first paragraph seems to indicate that no one will notice a change as a result of this business transaction. I asked Fratt. "Depending on the deal they did, this could mean small artists are left holding the bag, so to speak," he said. "Even though the new company has their product, artists may have to do a new 'deal' on that with the new company and then try to navigate the closure of Southern to collect for what they sold. Or, it may be seamless and no outstanding accts payable issues."

Fratt foresees nothing but gloom for the music industry and business in general deep into next year. "The volume of national chain closures (in every sector; retail, food, services, etc) as well local businesses will be staggering in the next 6 months," he said. Hold onto your hats.

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Live Review: Fortnight, Answer Team, No Blood Orphan… – Dec. 1, 2008 –

I listened to No Blood Orphan from the bar at The Barley St. Saturday night -- I was too glued to the Oklahoma/Okla St. game, and besides, there was no place to sit/stand in the music room anyway. As the third quarter rolled into the fourth and the Sooners began to pull ahead, the crowd began to overflow into the bar. I don't know if it was because of the Thanksgiving holiday or a pseudo family reunion, but there were lots of older folks (re: older than me) cramming up the place. I think they were probably there to see either Answer Team or Fortnight.

BTW, it didn't matter that I was in the bar when NBO was playing -- I could hear them just fine. I don't need to see Saklar's guitar ballet to hear its splendor and beauty. My take on NBO and their new music: They've never sounded so poppy and so hooky and embraceable as on their new CD or on stage Saturday night. The sound is kick-back but not rustic or rural or Americana. It's modern indie rock with a definitive beat.

By the time The Answer Team came on the game was pretty much over or at least no longer interesting. I've never heard of these guys -- a five piece that included a lady on violin and a guitarist who looked like McLovin' with a perm and headphones. Their instrumentals-only music sounded influenced by Tristeza or The Album Leaf. One person compared them to Race For Titles without vocals, though Answer Team was no where as hard as those guys. I do like what they did, though inside the Barley St. their overall sound was tinty, with no low-end at all. Their guitars sounded too bright and metallic and I wondered how they'd sound on the Waiting Room's stage with beefed up amps.

Finally, on came Fortnight, a combo that includes Jenn Bernard (ex-Park Ave, ex-Magic Kiss). Bernard looked like she hadn't aged a day since I last interviewed her more than seven years ago. They began playing a song during their pseudo soundcheck -- just started playing -- and it was among the coolest things they did all night. The guitarist walked onto the dance floor and faced the band and began riffing and everyone joined in. I'm not familiar enough with their music to say if that was just an interlude from another song or not, but they should consider starting their sets that way.

As a whole, Fortnight came off as a fun loving indie band featuring two vocalists -- Bernard and frontman Corey Degner -- taking turns and singing together without harmonies a la Tilly-style. Sitting in on bass was intern Brendan Walsh-Greene -- no idea what that was all about, but he did a yeoman's job with just a week's worth of practices. This is a band to keep track of.

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Shoot out the Lights; Race for Titles tonight… – Nov. 28, 2008 –

So I'm driving north on 60th St. from Western Ave. Wednesday night and notice that the street lights are out. I turn on the brights and glance at the houses flying by and see that they're dark as well. Power outages are commonplace in my neighborhood. At least once a week I come home from work and all the digital clocks on the appliances are blinking. It's the price you pay for living in an old neighborhood with lots of trees.

The lights stayed out all the way to Maple St. Every venue was dark, but I knew that it would take more than an outage to close these bars. Burke's Pub, where Kyle Harvey's CD release show was scheduled, was candle-lit and packed to the gills, too packed to get in. A couple smokers outside said that Kyle had already played (it was only 10:30), and now the Black Squirrels were playing in front of the bar. They didn't need power; they're a bluegrass band ferchrissake. I never stepped foot inside Burke's though. It looked too packed, and I knew that even if I could get in that getting a Rolling Rock would be a real challenge.

So I walked down to The Barley St. (The Waiting Room looked dark and vacant from across the street). Landon Hedges was behind the candle-lit bar and handed me a Rock. Emergency lighting glowed in the music room. It took about 15 minutes, but Matt Whipkey found an acoustic guitar (lent to him by Kat of the Black Squirrels) and he and the rest of the Whipkey Three played an acoustic set to about 20 people. Right after the last song, the power came back on, ending the Great Benson Blackout of 2008.

* * *

Barring another blackout, tonight's big show is the Race for Titles CD release party at The Waiting Room. Opening is Anniversaire and Malpais. Expect a large crowd. $7, 9 p.m.

Also tonight down at The Barley St. it's Slumber Party Records band Talkin' Mountain with Bradley Unit and the Members and Adam Haug. $4, 9 p.m.

Saturday night has Fortnight at The Barley St. with No Blood Orphan, The Answer and Barometric. It's probably $4, 9 p.m.

Also Saturday night, Lincoln's Ideal Cleaners is playing down at Slowdown Jr. with Knots and Yuppies. $5, 9 p.m.

Finally, The Waiting Room has U2 tribute band Me2. $10, 9 p.m.

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Column 200 -- Looking back; Kyle Harvey's Chinese Democracy tonight… – Nov. 26, 2008 –

So, four years of Lazy-i columns are now history. My original intent was to write a retrospective that went back to Column No. 1, but one thing led to another and we didn't have time (This was actually written last Thursday -- an accelerated deadline for The Reader due to the Thanksgiving holiday). Anyway, we didn't need to go back that far because it's been a very good year for music stories, maybe the most important year for Omaha music since 2001, but we'll recap all that with the annual year-in-review article that'll be online in a couple weeks. This is just a snippet -- consider it the first of the series of year-end articles that you're about to be bombarded with from all corners of the media...

Column 200: This Is 200
Now begins year 5…

Here it is, installment No. 200 and also the four-year anniversary of this column. As per usual, what follows is an update on some of the people, places and things covered over the past year. And now, my annual plea: The hardest part of writing this column is coming up with the ideas. I can't do it alone. Got the latest scoop on something happening musicwise around these parts? Drop me a line at Thanks for reading!

Dec. 6 -- Five-Year Rainbow -- A look back at Darren Keen's project The Show Is the Rainbow on its 5-year anniversary while dining on a $5 lunch at Cici's. Hopefully Darren's eating better these days. He should be. He just got off the road playing a string of sold-out shows opening for The Faint.

Jan. 28 -- Preconceived Notion -- Where I confess to being a musically prejudiced boob, thanks to a riveting performance by singer/songwriter Brad Hoshaw. Brad has gone on to release a CD of that night's set at Mick's. He also formed a band called Brad Hoshaw and the Seven Deadlies, which just finished recording a debut album and also received an armful of nominations for the upcoming Omaha Entertainment Awards -- more evidence that I am, in fact, a musically prejudiced boob.

Jan. 24 -- The Quiet Revolution -- So whatever happened to KIND-FM, the proposed low-powered FM community radio station to be based in Benson? Well, KINDair is now streaming programming -- including music from about 20 bands -- at, said station representative Raechel Achelpohl. "We have started broadening the content to public service announcements for non-profit events as well as young poets and singers through a partner of ours, Omaha Young Life." OK, but when will I be able to hear it on my car radio? "We are currently working with an FCC correspondent and FCC attorney to establish the guidelines for broadcasting over FM, but this turned out to be a process that requires careful steps to ensure we do not do harm in any fashion," Achelpohl said. "The website if fulfilling the same functions a radio station would with the addition of high networking potential between bands, artists, small businesses, and non-profits.  We would like to get an FM station, but the website will have to do for now."

March 13 -- British Bird's Other Nest -- A profile of Alessi Laurent-Marke, a Londoner who made Omaha her home this year while recording an album with Mike Mogis at ARC. These days her project is going by the name Alessi's Ark, according to the London Daily Mail, and her first EP, titled The Horse (the one recorded here) is slated for release on Virgin Records Dec. 8, followed by a full-length, Notes from the Treehouse, next March.

April 10-24 -- Minor Threat -- For three weeks this column covered the rise of Omaha's all-ages music venue ordinance, which requires written, notarized permission slips from the parents of those under 18 who want to attend shows at designated "music venues" that serve alcohol. The ordinance was passed during a circus-like session of the Omaha City Council that looked like the town hall scene from Footloose, with Slowdown's Robb Nansel playing the role of Ren. Since it went into effect, Slowdown has received 701 parental permission slips, while The Waiting Room has somewhere between 200 and 250 on file, according to the respective proprietors. And other clubs also have received all-ages permits, including The Saddle Creek Bar, whose owner -- Mike Coldewey -- was blamed by some members of the music community for the whole brouhaha. The villainized Coldewey announced in June that he was getting out of the bar business "on or before Labor Day." Guess what? He's still there.

May 1 -- Convo with a Cop -- An interview with former Omahan Mike Jaworski, frontman of the band The Cops and proprietor of Mt. Fuji Records, a label whose roster included Slender Means, Lillydale and our very own Little Brazil. In October, Little Brazil announced it was leaving Mt. Fuji for Kansas City label Anodyne Records, home of The Architects, Roman Numerals and The Meat Puppets, among others. Look for LB's new album, Son, in early 2009. Meanwhile, Mt. Fuji lives on, recently announcing that it has signed Seattle band The Whore Moans and Portland band Point Juncture, WA.

May 21-28 -- The Traveller Returns -- A two-part history of the making of Simon Joyner's seminal recording, The Cowardly Traveller Pays His Toll. Its rerelease on Team Love Records has sold just under 300 copies to date.

June 25 -- Smell Ya Later -- A look at how the smoking ban, which quietly went into effect June 17, would impact the smokiest of Omaha's bars, the legendary Brothers Lounge. A recent trip to The Brothers revealed that the bar continues to draw a nice weekend crowd, even though it has nowhere to build an outdoor "smoker's garden." Instead, smokers stood on the sidewalk along Farnam St. getting their nicotine fix, dreaming of smoky days gone by. How the ban affects patronage during its first brutal winter is yet to be seen.

June 16 -- One Ringy Dingy -- An interview with Coyote Bones' frontman David Matysiak about his Telephono project, created during his residency at The Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts. Matysiak announced in October that he was moving back home to Atlanta. Meanwhile, Slumber Party Records bands Bear Country, Capgun Coup and Honeybee have taken over The Bemis music residency.

July 23 -- Help Wanted, Rights -- The column lambasted the Omaha World-Herald's suggestion that performers should have their pay sanctioned at publicly funded concerts should they espouse their political beliefs or profanity from stage. This after The Good Life frontman Tim Kasher declared his support for Barack Obama and sang songs with the F-word when the band opened for Feist in Memorial Park in July. The OWH took umbrage to the column, saying in its editorial page a few days later that it "understood and contemplated the band's right to say what it wanted. That is free speech," but then went on to say that "critics" misunderstood the difference between free speech and speech free of consequences. "The city and this newspaper have a right to criticize crudeness and contemplate incentives for better behavior." Incentives? I always thought incentives were benefits paid beyond basic compensation (a bonus, for example). In the OWH's eyes, paying someone for work performed isn't part of an agreement or contract, it's an incentive -- an odd way of doing business.

Aug. 28 -- Skipping Boston -- A discussion with singer/songwriter Brad Hoshaw about how he chooses cover songs, and a plea for him to cover "Please Come to Boston" by Dave Loggins. We're still waiting, Brad…

Sept. 10 -- What's the Point? -- Wherein I and New York musician David Hurwitz try to figure out the goal behind the Mid American Music Festival (MAMF), the four-day event that featured lots of bands playing lots of Benson venues, all for no compensation. We never quite figured it out, but sure had a good time trying. Here's to MAMF '09.

Oct. 23 -- Remembering Coco -- I realized after writing this tribute to singer/songwriter Sarah Benck's dog, Coco -- who inspired so much of her music -- that I was actually writing about my own dog, Sam -- a 14-year-old best friend who sat beside me while I've written all these columns over the past four years. I said goodbye to Sam for the final time last Monday morning and still haven't quite gotten over it. I think the Coco column might have helped me prepare for the inevitable (as much as one can prepare for losing a family member). So here's to Sam, who's reading this up in the great dog park in the sky right alongside Daisy, Mickey, Cinnamon, Nutmeg and Coco.

Tonight, another historic moment, this time at Burke's Pub where a crowded room of drunks will be celebrating the long-awaited release of Kyle Harvey's Truth is the Color of Teeth. More than four years in the making, think of it as Omaha's version of Chinese Democracy, with Kyle playing the Axl role. Opening the free, 9 o'clock show are The Black Squirrels and Ben Sieff.

Shows are thin tomorrow night, which is odd since everyone will want to get out of the house after a day of family bullshit. A good way to unwind is with Satchel Grande at The Waiting Room. $7, 9 p.m. Down at Slowdown Jr., Sunny Day Real Estate frontman Jeremy Enigk takes the stage with Fine, Fine Automobiles (Landon Hedges' solo joint) and Adam Weaver. $13, 9 p.m.

Gobble, gobble...

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1% keeps busy (Kevin Costner?); Sebastien Grainger, Low Vs Diamond tonight… – Nov. 25, 2008

I'm sure if you read this and you're from Omaha that you probably also get the 1 Percent Productions "Upcoming Concerts" e-mail, just like I did yesterday. Despite this downturn in the economy, Jim and Marc have managed to book one of the busiest winters in recent memory -- a time when there's usually a downturn in touring. The standouts from the list:

-- Kevin Costner & Modern West Jan. 29 -- Yes, that Kevin Costner, the guy that starred in Dances with Wolves, Waterworld and Fandango (my favorite Costner film that no one's ever seen but features a killer soundtrack by Pat Metheny). His band is another in a series of movie-star vanity projects that include everyone from Billy Bob Thornton to Keanu Reeves -- all of them sucking. I'm sure Costner's will suck just as bad, but that won't stop it from selling out, especially considering Costner visits Omaha whenever his Cal State Fullerton team is in the CWS. It's a smart booking, and further underscores Slowdown's willingness to allow anything on their big stage as long as it sells (especially at $30 a ticket).

-- The Faint, Dec. 19 with Brimstone Howl and The Show Is the Rainbow; Dec. 20 with Capgun Coup and Son Ambulance -- both $18 at Sokol Auditorium. Just like you, I like going to Faint concerts. Apparently unlike you, I hate going to Faint concerts at Sokol Auditorium. Unfortunately, that's what we're stuck with since it's the only venue with a sweet-spot capacity of 1,400 that's also big enough to handle their AV requirements. I'd love to see the Faint at Slowdown, and would be willing to pay as much as people are willing to pay to see Kevin Costner. Three nights at Slowdown for $30 a ticket would likely sell out. But I'm sure there are other things that were considered when deciding to use Sokol, things we'll never know about.

-- Neva Dinova, Ladyfinger, McCarthy Trenching and The 1989 Chicago Cubs, Dec. 27 at Slowdown. The big surprise here is The Cubs, who as far as I know, haven't played together in years. Is this just a one-off reunion? Probably. Call it a late Christmas present. $7.

-- Criteria with The Beat Seekers and The Envy Corps, Dec. 13 at The Waiting Room. Will Criteria be rolling out new material? Wait and see. $7.

-- Rock Movie Night featuring Joy Division (Documentary), Dec. 1 at The Waiting Room. I was at TWR last night for Under a Blood Red Sky -- along with seven other people (It sounded awesome, btw). In an effort to ratchet up the draw to these Monday night movie-watching parties, TWR will begin offering free chili and drink specials starting Dec. 1. A colorful aside: When I was going to school at UNO I literally had no money for food. My roommate and I used to scour the newspaper looking for free food offers at local bars -- taco nights, chili nights, whatever. This would have been on our radar screen. You cannot beat free food, especially if you've been living on a steady diet of baked potatoes.

So what's missing from the schedule? The bigger touring indie bands. Some examples off the top of my head: Of Montreal, TV on the Radio, M83, Titus Andronicus, Deerhunter, Mark Kozelek (Sun Kil Moon/Red House Painters), Rosebuds, Fucked Up, Belle and Sebastian, Ratatat, Black Kids, Does It Offend You, Yeah?, LCD Soundsystem. And where are the old stalwarts like Ryan Adams, Beck, Death Cab, Mogwai, Spoon, Yo La Tengo, Low and Interpol? Yeah, I know. A lot of them aren't on the road right now, but they have been and they've missed us. Still, considering everything we got this past year, we don't have room to complain.

* * *

Speaking of shows, there are a couple doozies tonight:

At The Slowdown Jr., it's the debut of one of Saddle Creek Records' most recent recruits, Sebastien Grainger, former drummer from Death From Above 1979. Don't go expecting a DFA show, Grainger's style is straight-forward indie rock. With Josh Reichmann and Ladyfinger. $10, 9 p.m.

Also tonight at The Waiting Room, it's Low Vs. Diamond, and no, this band has nothing to do with the Minnesota drone-band Low (someone asked me that very question last night). LVD is riding a wave having recently been featured in Filter. Their sound is run-o-the-mill indie, but with more of a pop edge. Not bad. With Barcelona and Akita Ken. $10.

<Got comments? Post 'em here.>

Live Review: The OEA Showcase; AMAs; U2’s Under a Blood Red Sky tonight… – Nov. 24, 2008 –

The OEA showcase Friday night looked like it was another success. Despite the cold and wind -- making the trek from one end of Maple St. to the other brutal -- the sidewalks were crowded with music fans bouncing between venues. The most crowded show I saw was probably Brad Hoshaw and the Seven Deadlies at Mick's or maybe The Song Remains the Same at the tiny Barley St. If I had to put my money on one act to clean up at the OEA's this year, it would be on Hoshaw, who might have the best turnaround story of the year. The most surprising set for me was Skypiper, who closed out The Waiting Room (introduced by OEA prez Matt Oberst, the man who sired The Conor). Their music wasn't terribly innovative – sort of an indie pop take on Wilco – but it was well played. And though it was the first time I saw the band on stage, their songs seemed familiar in a good way. Other acts I caught Friday night – Lucas Kellison, Confidentials, Mass Quantities and Midwest Dilemma (I didn't get started until 10). I assume I'll be receiving the final OEA ballot in the mail in the next few weeks, which will be followed by the awards show itself Jan. 8 at The Holland Center.

Speaking of award shows, I'm watching the AMA's as I write this. Teresa said you know you're getting old when you don't recognize most of the musicians on the red carpet. Actually, I think the anonymity of these "stars" has more to do with the shift in the music industry over the past decade, essentially taking the boy band trend to the next level -- thank you American Idol and High School Musical. One of the announcers said this year's AMA's had the youngest performers in the history of the show. Few if any wrote the material they were performing. In the old days just 10 years ago most "popular" music could still be of some interest to people outside of the 14-18 female demographic. Not anymore. Apparently that demo is the only ones left buying CDs (except, of course, for old fucks and mullets who make it into Wal Mart for the latest legacy acts like AC/DC and Metallica). They've even managed to marginalize the term "rock" -- Chris Brown, for example, won "best rock/pop male vocal." After he left the stage along came Scott Weiland who wasn't just drunk, he was barely able to introduce Pink without passing out. That's when I changed it to the football game. I think today's current crop of pop stars, all under 18, are talented performers. They just don't have anything relevant to sing about, and apparently none of their fans cares. Then again, the guys in Journey and Styx weren't exactly poets, either.

A final sidenote: Teresa asked why there wasn't an indie music award show. I told her most of the nominees probably couldn't afford to travel to the show or would be too busy trying to eke out a living on the road. That, and the fact that it would likely have the lowest rating of any award show in history (if you take into account how poorly indie music sells in comparison to the AMA acts, who consider any album that moves fewer than 100k units an enormous failure).

It's Rock Movie Night tonight at The Waiting Room, and tonight's movie is special -- U2's Under a Blood Red Sky -- a film that I remember seeing on MTV back in the '80s. Shot at Denver's Red Rocks Amphitheater on June 5, 1983, it captures U2 at their career zenith, shortly after the release of War. The movie has been released for the first time on DVD and includes five previously unreleased live cuts, a director's commentary, digitally re-graded pictures and a 5.1 mix. As part of the night's festivities, TWR will be giving away a pair of tickets to Saturday's Me2 show. It's free and starts at 8.

<Got comments? Post 'em here.>

Guitars 101; OEA Showcase tonight, No Blood Orphan tomorrow… – Nov. 21, 2008 –

I wanted to take a moment and point out a writing project that isn't going to be posted here in Lazy-i. As part of The Reader's annual "Music Issue" I wrote a cover story that's sort of designed to be an "Electric Guitars for Dummies" article. As I say in the lead:

The idea came while watching The Third Men play a set at The Waiting Room. I was standing there, drinking my Rolling Rock, minding my own business, when a couple guitar gearheads came up beside me and started talking about what was happening on stage.

"Man, look at that classic Les Paul Goldtop replica," one gearhead said to the other. "Nothing quite like it."

And then it dawned on me that I'd been writing about bands for years but never paid attention to the guitars that they were playing. They all looked the same to me -- colorful, bitchy, macho axes, a signature of rock -- and I couldn't tell one from another.

So here's the goal of this special Music Issue focused on guitars: By the time you finish reading it and study the pictures, you too will be able to identify the guitar being played by the sweaty guitarist grunting away on stage at one of our local venues or on TV.

But here's the catch: There are literally hundreds of different types of electric guitars produced by dozens of different guitar makers. There's no way we could cover them all. So for this exercise, we whittled it down to just four, with a few wildcards thrown in to cover our asses.

The four guitars: Fender Stratocaster, Fender Telecaster, Gibson Les Paul and Gibson SG. We talked to two local guitarists who also work at guitar stores -- Matt Whipkey, frontman of The Whipkey Three who works at Dietze Music, and Mike Saklar, frontman of No Blood Orphan who works at D Rocks in Papillion. Both agreed that these four seminal guitars helped define rock 'n' roll as we know it today. They are arguable the four most popular guitars you'll find on any stage or collecting dust in family rooms across the country.

Also discussed are three "wildcard guitars" -- the Flying V, ES-335 and Jazzmaster. The article is rife with photos of electric guitars, but also includes nine local guitarists' stories about their favorite guitars, how they got them and why it's their favorites, along with some rockin' action photos. Those guitarists are Lash LaRue, Ted Stevens, Jon Taylor, Jamie Massey, Mike Saklar, Matt Whipkey, Matt Rutledge, Corey Weber and Sarah Benck. An online version of the story may or may not appear at (it's not there now), so your best bet is to pick up a copy!

* * *

Tonight throughout Benson it’s the annual Omaha Entertainment Awards showcase. For a $10 wristband, patrons can stroll from one venue to the next and check out performers nominated for this year's OEA awards. Here's the schedule:

The Waiting Room

Kris Lager Band
The 9's
Prairie Cats


Sarah Benck & the Robbers
John Worsham
Brad Hoshaw
Matt Amandus

Barley Street Tavern

Whipkey Three
Song Remains the Same
Flight Metaphor

P.S. Collective

Shiver Shiver
Black Squirrels
Mass Quantities
Midwest Dilemma
Lucas Kellison
Son of '76 & the Watchmen

All showcases begin at 8 p.m.

Also tonight at Slowdown Jr. it's The Republic Tigers with Malpais and Roman Numerals. $8, 9 p.m.

Saturday night's marquee event is the No Blood Orphan album release show at The Waiting Room with Jake Bellows, Brad Hoshaw, Ben Brodin, Steve Bartolomei, Landing on the Moon & special guests. Just $2. 9 p.m.

Also Saturday night, at O'Leaver's it's Fromanhole, Self-Evident, Traindodge and Techlepathy. $5, 9:30 p.m.

Finally, on Sunday, it's Calexico with Simon Joyner and Mal Madrigal. 9 p.m., $15.

<Got comments? Post 'em here.>

The Reader Top 20/Next 20; Slowdown history, Darker My Love tonight... – Nov. 20, 2008 –

So here's The Reader's official list of the Top 20 bands of '08, along with the next 20:

The Reader Top 20
Brad Hoshaw (7 Deadlies)
Black Squirrels
Brimstone Howl
Conor Oberst
Eagle Seagull
The Faint
Filter Kings
Flowers Forever
Mal Madrigal
McCarthy Trenching
Midwest Dilemma
Neva Dinova
Shiver Shiver
The Show is the Rainbow
Simon Joyner
Son Ambulance
Southpaw Bluegrass Band
Tilly and the Wall
The Whipkey Three

The Reader Next 20:
Adam Hawkins/It’s True
Baby Walrus
Box Elders
Capgun Coup
Little Brazil
Matt Cox
Noah’s Arc Was a Spaceship
Outlaw Con Bandana
Perry H. Matthews
Race For Titles
Son of 76 and the Watchmen
The Stay Awake
Talkin Mountain
Thunder Power

Like I said, it's pretty close to my list (here). Again, the list is created by all the music writers submitting a list of their Top 20 and next 15 to the editor of The Reader. She compiles them, and then we meet at a location and hash it out (This time the meeting place was Blue Line Coffee down at the Slowdown complex). The discussion was animated and fun. As I said the other day, The Reader changed the rules after we started, interpreting "the next 15" to mean local bands that are not in the top-20 that will have the biggest impact in 2009. They also expanded that list from 15 to 20. That being the case, if I expanded my list, I would add Perry H. Matthews, Ladyfinger, Dim Light, Bloodcow and Capgun Coup.

One of the most common criticisms of lists like these also overlaps to the whining heard about the Omaha Entertainment Awards (OEA's) nominees -- that Saddle Creek artists like The Faint and Bright Eyes (or this year, blank.wav artist The Faint and Merge artist Conor Oberst) shouldn't be considered in the discussion because "they have a national following" or "they already have enough publicity," etc. That's like saying that a band is "too good " or "too successful" to be considered for a Top 20 list or an OEA nomination. In other words, we should only be recognizing the mediocre acts -- not the ones that have gotten off their asses, taken risks, gone on the road and toured and are now reaping the benefits of their hard work. Hogwash. There are those who say Oberst shouldn't be considered because "he doesn't live here anymore." If that's so, than who was the guy I saw pushing a shopping cart down the produce aisle of the Peony Park Hy-Vee a couple months ago? Who owns that mansion in Fairacres next to the ARC studios? Yet another criticism is that "the list is the same every year." Obviously that's not true, though there are a number of artists who are on it every year because they produce significant work every year.

A better argument -- the one I use anyway -- is that there's no place for competition in art or literature. These kinds of things are generally divisive, and do more to split a community than build one. Unfortunately, lists and awards are the most convenient way to provide recognition to artists and musicians -- especially in these digital MySpace days when there are a million bands and no way to  find the ones worth your time (especially with the current state of radio). That said, I'll be at the OEA showcase in Benson tomorrow night to check out some of the under-the-radar acts that have been nominated for this year's awards. More details about the showcase tomorrow.

Tonight there's another special event, this time on the campus of UNO.  Michael Seman of Denton, Texas, indie band Shiny Around the Edges (I met him when they played at O'Leaver's way back in 2005) is in town tonight to present his thesis on the Slowdown project as part of a program titled UNO 100: Central to our city since 1908. Seman is a research associate at the Center for Economic Development and Research at University of North Texas and will be discussing the "present" portion of the program focused on Slowdown, while Dr. Harl Dalstrom will talk about "the past" -- the politics of the creation of UNO -- and Connie Spellman of Omaha By Design will talk about "the future" -- specifically the Midtown Crossing and Aksarben Village projects. Sounds exciting, doesn't it? The free lecture starts at 7 p.m. at Rm. 115/116 of the Durham Science Center on the UNO Campus.

Afterward, with your head all swollen from gaining so much knowledge, drive on down to Slowdown Jr. for Darker My Love, The Strange Boys and Eulogies.  $8, 9 p.m.

<Got comments? Post 'em here.>

Column 199 -- Harvey Vs. Saklar… – Nov. 19, 2008 –

The key to both of these efforts is the number 100. Do unsigned indie bands who are self-releasing their CDs really need to press more than 100 copies of their record? Especially when they can always simply press 100 more? Yes, there are exceptions, specifically local bands that have a fan base that regularly sells out TWR, but those are few and far between. The other exception has to do with sending discs out to radio or media -- specifically bands that have deals with promotion and distribution companies or that plan to go out on multi-week (months) tours. I think Kyle's label idea is spot-on; and I have no doubt that Mike will sell out his tri-disc release...

Column 199 -- Homegrown Ambition
Two local musicians redefine DIY.

Talk about going the extra mile -- here are two examples of local CD projects that take the DIY concept to a whole 'nuther level.

Let's start with Kyle Harvey, who along with Conor Oberst is one of the city's most beloved songwriters. Harvey has never been afraid to quietly unbutton his shirt, grab the closest sharp implement and gouge a gaping hole in his chest, then reach in and grab his hot, beating heart and place it directly on his sleeve, covering his audience with a fine spray of pain. OK, that's a rather stark image, but it fits the music on Truth Is the Color of Teeth, a droning, atmospheric 7-song opus best played with the shades drawn.

I first heard the recording four years ago as a 10-track CDR handed to me only a few months after Harvey's debut album, The Holidays in Spain, was released. At the time, I assumed Teeth also would be released in the coming months. But it never was. The reason is a typical music industry story.

"I had a fairly decent-sized indie label interested in it," Harvey explained over a beer at Jake's in Benson. "They said they loved it and wanted more stuff. This was in the fall of '04, and the label said, 'Let's talk again in the spring because we're really backed up.' I sat around thinking it was a good opportunity, but nothing ever happened."

After waiting a couple of years, Harvey considered releasing Teeth himself. "But I thought, what's the purpose of releasing it now? It felt dated to me." Since the album was recorded, Harvey has been married -- and divorced. Most of the songs are about a time when he moved to Nashville and the relationships he left behind. Well, he's been back now for years, living a musician's life in Benson. So why release this time capsule now?

"Quite a few people said they were interested in hearing it," Harvey said. "And it'll be the first album released on my new label."

The label is called Slo-Fidelity Records -- a play on the term low-fi. "It's all home recordings, not necessarily low fidelity stuff, but homemade music," Harvey said, adding that each release will have a limited run of 100 copies. "I know I can sell 100 copies of my CD for $10. I'll take the $800 I make off of it and dump it back into the next release."

Which will be Under Water Dream Machine -- a project by singer/songwriter Bret Vovk, slated for release Dec. 12. The third Slo-Fi release is the debut of singer/songwriter Adam Hawkins' project, It's True. Harvey plans to put out one new CD per month. It all starts with SF-001, which is being celebrated at a free CD release show Nov. 26 at Burke's Pub, a neighborhood bar in downtown Benson. "I figured the album is DIY, the show should be, too."

Another example of DIY ambition is the self-release of No Blood Orphan's new CD, Your First Is Your Last. Ambitious because it's a triple-CD package that includes a new studio album, a live album, and a 21-track comedy concept album, all wrapped up in a handsome screen-printed tri-fold package available as a limited run of 100 sets.

No Blood Orphan frontman Mike Saklar said it's something old, something new and something weird. The new material shows where the band is today, having grown from a trio to a five-piece that includes Steve Bartolomei, guitars; Chris Esterbrooks, keyboards; Shawn Cox, bass and Marc Phillips on drums. The 15-track live disc, called Let It Boot, includes tracks recorded at Sokol Underground, O'Leaver's and Saklar's basement between 2004 and this year. "It's material from our first two EPs, which are out of print," Saklar said. "It seemed like the best way to make that music available again."

And then there's the weird: The Beast Chronicles. Described as "symbolic-satiric relief," longtime Saklar followers will see it for what it really is -- an ode to Saklar's early days when he was known as a metal guitar god in bands like Ritual Device and Ravine. Beast hums with the classic minor-key drive and dirge you'd expect from stereotypical metal bands on tracks like "The Lonesome Death of the Beast Master" and "Beastruption."

"The comedy album -- it's something that I don't know if the whole band really 'gets,'" Saklar said. "There's a beast and a servant, the beast punishes the servant, the servant kills the beast and they reunite in heaven. It symbolizes the absurdities of the music industry."

Both Cox and Phillips, on hand during the interview at eCreamery, just sort of nodded their heads and smiled at Saklar's explanation.

"Not everyone is going to get into three CDs," Saklar said. "We'll be lucky to get them to listen to the first disc. I just hope they put them on in the right order."

That "right order" would be the new stuff, the old stuff, and then the comedy stuff. "If someone put the Beast Chronicles in first, it might make them mad," Phillips said.

Listeners can buy just the new material for $8, while the 3-CD set will sell for $10. Both will be available at the CD release show Saturday, Nov. 22, at The Waiting Room. Joining No Blood Orphan will be Jake Bellows, Brad Hoshaw, Landing on the Moon, Steve Bartolomei and Ben Brodin -- that's a lot of music for a $2 cover. "The show will be like a huge house party," Saklar said. "It's gonna be fun."

All right, so where's The Reader's Top 20 + 15 list? Well, I do have the list, but I haven't seen what they printed -- there could be some differences, specifically with the "+15" part. So until I see a printed version, I'm holding off on publishing anything online. It'll be here tomorrow. In the meantime, go out and find a copy of The Reader's special "Music Issue," which should be dropping around town this evening.

<Got comments? Post 'em here.>

Let the controversy begin: 2008 Top-20/Next-15 preview; Heartless Bastards tonight… – Nov. 18, 2008

There's a good reason why I'm showing you this list a day before the actual Reader Top-20 List is released and in print. Every year I usually write a companion column about how stupid and unnecessary "best of" lists are, while at the same time saying that they can be fun if you don't take them seriously (which is hard to do if your band didn't make the list). Here and here are the past examples of that column.

This year I didn't write a column/comment about the list because: 1) I dedicated this week's column to two CD release shows going on Saturday and next Wednesday, 2) I killed myself this weekend writing the "guitars" cover story along with a handful of band profiles, and 3) I didn't think I could improve on what I've already said about lists -- they piss off more people than they please, they're also dreadfully entertaining and generate heated discussions. Certainly that was the case when The Reader writers got together and hammered out the list this year (and every year). I know there are bands on the final Reader list that I don't agree with, but ultimately it's all about the art of compromise (plus, I know I can print my own list on this site).

Keep in mind that "Top 20" means something different to everyone. To me, it's the 20 most significant and/or "important" local bands performing in Omaha over the past year, not necessarily the bands that I like the most or think are the best (though most of them are). This year, The Reader switched things up and made "the next 15" the bands to "watch for in 2009." That's not how I approached it, however, so my next 15 are the ones that didn't make it into the Top 20.

So in the spirit of disclosure, here it is, in alphabetical order. Again, THIS IS NOT THE OFFICIAL READER TOP 20 LIST; this is what I submitted as my list:

The Top 20

Brad Hoshaw
Brimstone Howl
Conor Oberst
The Faint
Filter Kings
For Against
Flowers Forever
The Good Life
McCarthy Trenching
Midwest Dilemma
The Monroes
Neva Dinova
The Show Is the Rainbow
Son Ambulance
Thunder Power
Tilly and the Wall
The Whipkey Three

The Next 15

Black Squirrels
Box Elders
Little Brazil
Mal Madrigal
Outlaw Con Bandana
Perry H. Matthews
Sarah Benck and the Robbers
Satchel Grande
The Shanks
Shiver, Shiver
Simon Joyner
The Stay Awake
Talkin' Mountain

I'll probably post The Reader's list tomorrow, and you can see how much we differed. It wasn't by much.


A couple shows are going on tonight that may be of interest to you. At The Waiting Room Fat Possum Records band The Heartless Bastards (from Cincinnati) are playing with The Whipkey Three. $10, 9 p.m. Meanwhile, down at Slowdown Jr., Brooklyn band The End of the World is playing with Jake Bellows (Neva Dinova). $7, 9 p.m.

<Got comments? Post 'em here.>

Live Review: Bombardment Society; more Azure Ray news; Slumber Party emerges; Edie Sedgwick tonight … – Nov. 17, 2008 –

I'm home sick today, but not too sick to blog, apparently...

Bombardment Society rolled out a set of new music Saturday night at O'Leaver's. It's the third band I've seen in the past week working on new material that's better than the last stuff they've put out. I know bands are supposed to improve over time, but it's still a surprise when it actually happens. Bombardment's new material is heavier but more coherent, more streamlined, more tuneful, i.e., they're playing songs. Part of the credit goes to bassist Lincoln Dickison sitting at the core of the action. The weight is unavoidable. I caught the last couple songs by Perry H. Matthews. It didn't even sound like the same band -- very prof. Now if they can only get their act into the studio...

Pitchfork is finally reporting about that Azure Ray reunion -- old news. The new news is that both Maria Taylor and Orenda Fink have new solo albums on the way. BTW, Tim Kasher has been added to that show, along with Andy Lemaster. Tix are still available -- too bad it's at the Troubadour.

When Slumber Party Records launched about a year ago, the label was poised to be the city's hot new thing with the hottest new bands. And then... nothing. After a year of nothing, Slumber Party appears to have launched a new website (at least it's new to me) at The site includes news (Capgun Coup's West Coast tour got cancelled due to "van troubles"), show calendar (Bear Country, Capgun Coup and Honeybee will be playing at The Bemis "Open Studios" event this Wednesday from 5 to 8 p.m. All three bands are current musicians-in-residence), and promises of new "weekly things" on the site including videos and downloads. They even have a new "press" site, but I can't tell you about it because you ain't press.

Tonight at The Waiting Room it's transgender pop diva Edie Sedgwick with The Stay Awake and Perry H. Matthews. $7, 9 p.m. I'm feeling better already...

<Got comments? Post 'em here.>

Live Review: O'Death, Triggertown; Bullets and Mohawks tonight… – Nov. 14, 2008 –

There's nothing more annoying than seeing someone texting during a show, I know this. That's why I usually hide in a corner if I need to type out notes on my iPhone -- I don’t want the band to think I'm so bored or jaded that I'm passing the time SMS'ing or Twittering or whatever (which reminds me of a story I heard about a Kansas City duo who were out on a coffee-shop tour. Their biggest problem -- most people in the coffee shops didn't know (or care) that they were going to be playing a set on a given afternoon/evening, so the duo often played to rooms filled with people drinking coffee, reading and listening to their iPods. Can anything be more demoralizing to a performer than someone sitting five feet away listening to an iPod?).

I mention this only because I did tap out some notes during last night's O'Death show at The Waiting Room, but it didn’t matter where I stood because there were so few people there -- maybe 40, which seems empty in TWR (especially when no one gets out of their chairs). O'Death wasn't complaining -- the band's frontman, who looks and sounds just like David Cross (but with more hair), said they played to six people the night before in Iowa -- and that all six were in the opening band. Life on the road can be lonely, especially on your first trip "out west."

I got there halfway through the opening set by Lincoln bluegrass band Triggertown -- these guys are amazingly good. The combo included banjo, guitars (one horizontally), fiddle and a guy playing a washtub bass or "gutbucket" (upside down washtub, large mop handle, string tied from top of handle to center of washtub, really all you need). Gorgeous three-part harmonies, including from the fiddle player who looked like a younger, cuter version of Amy Pohler. There are quite a few quasi-traditional country and bluegrass bands playing around here these days -- Triggertown is on top of my list (at least until The Shorttimers get back together).

Triggertown was traditional bluegrass. O'Death was anything but. They did have a fiddle, banjo and guitar, but also a rhythm section that looked like they walked off the cover of Metal Hammer magazine -- long-haired and shirtless with plenty of snarl and tats (and gut), they supplied a metal attitude to O'Death's bluegrass folk rock, that during its hardest moments sounded like DeVotchKa meets Primus with banjos. In fact, those moments were a bit too proggy for my taste. The best parts were when they pulled back and played more linear numbers that accentuated traditional structure along with their harmonies. I have no doubt that their high-energy set would have gone over better in a more-crowded room, say at O'Leaver's or The 49'r, where 40 people is a packed house and you're playing right inside the crowd. O'Death in front of 300 would be a sweat-soaked party, but the only way I'm going to see that is if I go to Brooklyn, where I'm told they have quite a following.

* * *

These days it seems any night that you get home alive is a good night. Eight murders so far this month, including a few in my neighborhood makes for lots of looking out the corner of your eye when dark-windowed SUV's drive by. The recent rash of shootings also means more cops on the streets -- or at least more visible cops. No one knows for sure what's going on, but it's spooking people, as it should. I don't know anyone who doesn't use that ATM located in the heart of Dundee where someone was shot and killed a couple nights ago. It makes going out at night a little more… interesting.

Speaking of which…

I think it's safe to say we're in the middle of another punk revival here in Omaha, judging by tonight's shows, most of which are punk-oriented in one way or another. O'Leaver's, Saddle Creek Bar and The Waiting Room are all hosting punk shows that will be fighting for the same crowd. Someone is bound to lose. I doubt that it'll be The Waiting Room, which is hosting a Guinness Book of World Records event -- The World's Tallest Mohawk. The night is a benefit for Locks of Love and Project Nightlights, and will, in fact, feature a big friggin' mohawk sported by Eric Hahn of The Filthy Few. There also will music by The Filthy Few, along with Bloodcow, '80s punk pioneers Cordial Spew, Live Wire and Somewhere Between Heaven and Hell. $7, 8 p.m.

Over at O'Leaver's, the sound isn't so much punk as revival garage rock with Brimstone Howl, who just got back from a European tour. Opening is Minneapolis band Blind Shake. $5, 9:30 p.m.

Finally, over at The Saddle Creek Bar, it's more punk by way of The Shidiots, The Upsets, Jealous Lovers and Officially Terminated. $5, 9 p.m.

Not in the mood for punk? Slowdown Jr. is hosting Fancie, Alas Alak Alaska and Lurk Late. $6, 9 p.m.

Saturday night Bombardment Society rolls out a shitload of new material at O'Leaver's. I'm sure someone else is playing, but I don't know who. Brendan? $5, 9:30 p.m.

As they used to say on Hill Street Blues: Be careful out there…

<Got comments? Post 'em here.>

Column 198 -- The Sound of Change; O'Death tonight; Twitter… – Nov. 13, 2008 –

I wrote this week's column in conjunction with The Reader's cover story on Obama, a collection of where-were-you comments from writers and others, limited to 150 words. Here's what I submitted:

We'd talked about the possibility that he might actually lose. It resided there in the back of our heads, an inkling of dread. Teresa was worried that the pundits, who had ordained him weeks earlier, had in fact jinxed him, like a sports announcer confidently proclaiming only moments before the field-goal kicker takes the field: "He's made 49 in a row, and if he makes this one -- at a distance no further than an extra point -- a perfect 50 and a new NCAA record!"

We all know what happens next.

Well, it didn't happen this time. Nothing was going to jinx this outcome -- even though our worst fears seemed validated when "that other one" led for about a half-hour as the very first results came in from a southern-tier bible-belt state. As the night wore on, the networks' multi-million-dollar JumBoMaps turned blue along the northern edges, dripping slowly downward, and it became obvious that there was no stopping it.

That comment leads into this:

Column 198: Next Big Thing
What does Obama sound like?

Seeing as our cover story this week is about the new president, I wanted to write something in the spirit of the moment, but at the same time, blend music into the equation. Unfortunately, it's not that easy.

While watching the holograms on CNN last Tuesday night, having tired of the gee-whiz back-slapping on MSNBC, I wondered what the soundtrack for an Obama administration will sound like. Certainly it couldn't be any worse than what we've been suffering through for the last eight years. It used to be that troubled times produced great music that defined a generation, while good times produced flaccid, empty pop. Or maybe that's just a cliché.

The turmoil of the '60s and Viet Nam gave us Dylan and Hendrix and all that "freedom rock" that lingers today in Cadillac commercials and on classic radio stations.  When Viet Nam ended, along came the go-go '70s and disco -- a coke-fueled thump-thump-thump-a-thon that coaxed people into polyester and onto the dance floor. It was, essentially, brainless and disposable.

But as the decade waned and the economy began to tank -- not only here but around the world -- a nation woke up with a coke hangover, broke and jobless and angry. The next generation looked at all that polyester and excess and was rightfully sickened. Punk rock was born, with its snarling fuck-you lyrics and gruesome safety-pin fashion. Punk was revolutionary, if not short-lived.

After its initial shock wore off, punk quickly became passé. The world moved on to the '80s and the conservative comfort of Reagan and Wall Street and the self-centered Me Generation. With it came vacuous, neon-colored faux-glam hair metal. Meanwhile, a '70s phenomena called hip-hop slowly began to build a following and invade the national culture, never really being taken seriously by critics who thought "rapping" was a gimmick and a fad that would fade before the end of the '80s. How very wrong they would be.

So, with the market crash of '87, the dismantling of the Berlin Wall and the rise of another recession, America grew tired of Reagan's conservative bullshit. Hair metal was torn from the screens of MTV by grunge -- a kinder, gentler punk drenched in self-loathing and nihilism. Shortly after the arrival of Nevermind came the arrival of Clinton. Happy days were here again, and with it came the Backstreet Boys and N'Sync and the slow decline of America's taste in music.

As the century came to a close both fat and happy, GW showed up to lead us from 9-11 and into a "war on terror" fought on two fronts -- three if you count the war fought against his own citizens' personal freedoms. These last two years should have been the time when this generation's version of protest or punk or grunge emerged to give voice to anger and dissent. But it never happened. Sure, grampa Neil did his usual anti-government album, but no one listens to Neil anymore. Our own Conor Oberst briefly caught the nation's attention on The Tonight Show with his rant "When the President Talks to God," but it, too, was cast aside and ignored. If you listened to the radio, it seemed like no one cared what was going on, as long as they could tune into American Idol and cast their vote for this week's haircut.  

Where was the revolution we all yearned for? Why didn't anything happen? Maybe it was because this next generation never felt the pain. They didn't know anyone fighting "over there." Iraq is a television show that people quit watching after the first few seasons. Economic downturn? Other than the market crashing every other day and the price of gas rising to ridiculous heights, then falling again, no one noticed. Or no one cared. The next generation is stooped in comfort and convenience. It's too easy to isolate the world's problems into sizable, media-friendly chunks that can be turned off and ignored with the push of a Playstation button.

Or maybe they just decided to take matters into their own hands… and vote.

Obama is this generation's protest song. He's the new punk, the new grunge, the new Dylan we've been waiting for. His lyrics have galvanized today's youth better than any song ever could. He's got the words down pat, now he just needs to find a tune to go along with it. Let's hope it has a beat you can dance to.

An addendum to last week's column: Reports are circulating about the 7 percent cut in Omaha World-Herald staff that went down yesterday. The layoffs include 15 newsroom staff. I haven't been able to confirm any names. These are dark days for folks in print media... 

* * *

Tonight at The Waiting Room, Brooklyn folk-punk band O'Death plays with Lincoln band Triggertown and a 4-piece version of Midwest Dilemma fresh from the road. Here's a rave review of a recent O'Death show. Sounds pretty good to me, especially for a measly $8, 9 p.m.

* * *

Also, for those with Twitter, Lazy-i is now Twittering at Consider it a social media experiment. I know I do. Comments will be mostly music in nature -- brief reports from live shows, micro-comments on music playing on the iPhone, tinyurl links to relevant content, etc.  Follow me by clicking the "follow" button.

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Live Review: Ladyfinger, Little Brazil; and *yawn* Oberst on Conan last night… – Nov. 12, 2008 –

Nothing like a charity event to bring out a crowd on a Tuesday night. Actually, I didn't talk to anyone who really knew who Lori Wirth is, though all sympathized with her horrendous plight. With around 200 on hand and folks throwing extra green into the pot she'll at least have a little more cash to help get the bills paid. 

I got there just before Ladyfinger took the stage (Notice that, anymore, no one mentions the "NE" that's supposed to be tacked onto their name? I doubt that anything "legal" has been resolved, just a general reticence by the fans to acknowledge the ridiculous lawyer tag). The set was mostly (if not all?) new material that they just recorded as the follow-up to Heavy Hands. As much as I liked that record's plodding, crack-of-doom indie-metal, this one will be a better. The songs are more focused melody-wise and riff-wise, while maintaining their singular devotion to the head-pounding rhythms. There was some strange (as in different) stuff going on as well -- a clear shift from their usual straight-four shriek rock -- drop-outs and breaks, parts where only Mach and drummer Oakes were playing, insidiously sexy riffs by Massey layered beneath the melee. I assume the separation will be more noticeable on the recording, and hopefully, so will the vocals. Machmuller's voice was mired in the mix, its anonymity helped along by his own mumbling way of singing that can twist instantly to shrieks when everyone comes in on the chorus. We'll see. Saddle Creek will be putting out their new record probably early next year.

Little Brazil frontman Landon Hedges has successfully entered the ranks of the "Beard-o's" -- his scraggly facial hair now fully, crazily realized into something that only Gimli the Dwarf would be proud of. I'm sure he was tired of being mistaken for a 14-year-old version of Bobby Brady. Now Landon looks like a less-bald version of AJ Mogis or like a wizened clock maker (or bomb maker) thanks to his tiny eyeglasses that hang on the very tip of his nose. I've always fancied LB as an indie-pop band defined by a traditional emo style (yes, I said emo) and Hedges' boyish croon. Like Ladyfinger, last night they played new material just recorded at ARC for a release on their new label, Anodyne, in February. Also like Ladyfinger, this record will probably be better than the last one, thanks to simpler song structures.  Though there's still a lot of Sturm und Drang, I have a feeling that Son (that's the new album's title) will consist mostly of simpler pop songs, pulled together into a concept arc about fatherhood, or so I'm told. We're going to have to wait for a lyric sheet to find out. Even though Hedges sings more clearly than the majority of Omaha's harder rocking acts, it all gets lost in the mix, except for a brief moment during one song when the music broke to nothing and Landon speaks the lyrics. But even then, I don't know what he's talking about. I can't wait to find out.

Ladyfinger and Little Brazil make a great pair. Members of both bands are longtime friends, almost like family. If I was a booking agent, I'd figure out a way to get them on the road together -- a dynamic double bill consisting of two acts from successful indie labels. You'd think it would be a sure thing.

* * *

After I got home last night I watched a DVR'd rebroadcast of Conor Oberst and the Mystic Valley Band on Late Night with Conan O'Brien (If you missed it, it's online here). Conor wore his new trademark Panama hat, surrounded by the usual cast of long-hairs. Overall, the appearance was uneventful, other than the fact that whatever song they played isn't on the new album, a vinyl copy of which O'Brien held up during his rushed introduction. Oberst's TV appearances are so numerous these days that they've become matter-of-fact, no longer gee-whiz events (no one I talked to at the bar last night even knew he was going to be on). It's these numerous appearances that probably will keep him off Saturday Night Live. I've been told that SNL has an exclusivity arrangement with their "special musical guests." I don't know if I believe that, but I do know that they strive to present something unique. Looks like my annual SNL predictions will never come true...

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Ladyfinger, Little Brazil together again tonight (for a good cause)… – Nov. 11, 2008 –

I don't know who Lori Wirth is but she sure has a lot of talented friends. Wirth suffers from cystic fibrosis and needs a lung transplant. Proceeds from tonight's show at The Waiting Room -- featuring Ladyfinger, Little Brazil, It's True and Kyle Harvey -- will help pay for the surgery. Great show, great cause. $7, 9 p.m.

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Live Review: Matt Cox, Between the Leaves… – Nov. 10, 2008 –

Matt Cox has managed to pull together a solid following for his acoustic singer/songwriter balladry. About 20 of those followers showed up Friday night at The Barley Street Tavern where Cox was backed by a full band -- bass, drums, electric guitar. This was the first time I've seen him with or without a band. Cox has a bluesy style and a voice that reminded me of Eric Clapton's Unplugged album -- laidback and tuneful. The band sounded like it's played together for years, with guitarist Ben Zinn adding gritty slide licks that made everything sound that much bluesier.

Seems like The Barley Street is trying to fill a void that's opening with O'Leaver's doing fewer and fewer shows (There are only three O'Leaver's dates in November, according to their myspace page). Both rooms have a similar capacity and PA set-up. The difference lies in what they book -- O'Leaver's has always had an indie / garage / rock history, while BST seems to focus on acoustic singer/songwriters in the Kyle Harvey / Brad Hoshaw vein. I like going to both clubs for the same reasons -- the relaxed vibe. Plus, it's cheap.

Last night Between the Leaves played for around 30 people at an early show (8 p.m.) on Slowdown's small stage. BTL consists of vocalist Stephen Sheehan (ex-Digital Sex), guitarist Richard Schultz, and the newest leaf, noisemaker Evan Blakley. It's been a couple years since I've seen the original duo on stage. Not a lot has changed. They played a few songs from their debut album as well as covers by Dead Can Dance, Tim Buckley, Jefferson Airplane and Depeche Mode. Blakley's feedback machine/noise box (I have no idea what it's called) provided a layer of atmosphere without getting in the way of the music -- a nice, needed addition. Schultz's acoustic guitar (and keyboards) were first rate, and Sheehan's voice has managed to stand the test of time, sounding as well as it did when I saw him in DS back in the early '90s. Overall, the set was cast in dark tones and shadows -- as if Sheehan was reliving moments best remembered alone and with eyes shut. Instead, here he was surrounded by friends who likely lived these moments alongside him. Not a bad way to spend a Sunday night.

* * *

NYC rockers Earl Greyhound returns for an under-the-radar show tonight at Sokol Underground with Wasilla band Portugal. The Man and Halifax band Wintersleep. $12, 9 p.m.

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Oberst in Filter; The Weekend… – Nov. 7, 2008

There's a feature story on Conor Oberst in Filter (here). I mention this only because this is the first detailed story with Oberst since his solo record came out earlier this year. He talks about all the usual stuff, UFOs, Mexico, the new album, but also mentions Britney Spears, Omaha and again reiterates that there has been no falling out with Saddle Creek. I've never read the printed version of Filter. Actually, I've never even seen a copy. I might try to find one this weekend. I've had a subscription to Rolling Stone for eons, and have put up its shift to celeb-gossip just because it's Rolling Stone. But I can't put up with its recent print-format change from its classic slightly oversized print edition to a new standard-size slick format. If I wanted to read Us magazine I'd buy Us magazine. So I'm searching for a replacement. Maybe it'll be Filter

* * *

Speaking of rumors… I'm hearing that there's a new music venue being put together -- down in the Mutual area -- by a guy with a history of opening successful restaurants. More to come when I find out more…

* * *

All right, let's look at the weekend music calendar…

Friday night (tonight!)

Danielson is at The Waiting Room with Cryptacize -- both bands are affiliated with Sufjan Stevens (Sufjan apparently was once part of Danielson). Opening is our very own Talkin' Mountain. $10, 9 p.m.

Meanwhile, down at Slowdown Jr., it's the return of Capgun Coup with Boo and Boo Too, and Perry H. Yuppies (they explain it here). $7, 9 p.m.

Over at The Saddle Creek Bar, it's Chicago folk/bluegrass/rock band Haywood Yards with Lincoln acts Tsumi and Son of 76. $5, 9 p.m.

And finally, over at The Barley Street Tavern, it's The Matt Cox Band. $4, 9 p.m.

Saturday night

The Diplomats of Solid Sound -- including The Diplomettes -- will be playing at The Waiting Room with Satchel Grande and The Third Men. Expect a flat-out party. $7, 9 p.m.

Also, Scott Severin's band is playing at The Barley Street with Western Electric. $4, 9 p.m.

Sunday night

Stephen Sheehan (ex-Digital Sex) has rejoined with Richard Schultz as Between the Leaves, a project that self-released a collection of songs earlier this decade. Joining them for the reunion Sunday night at Slowdown Jr. is filmmaker Evan Blakley. BTL plays at 8 p.m., opening for Kansas City accordion combo Alacartoona and Schultz's other band, the Miracle Men. $5, 8 p.m.

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Column 197: The Music Writers; XYZ Affair tonight… – Nov. 6, 2008 –

The rumors of Niz's departure from the music section of the Omaha World-Herald actually began at least six months ago. I flat out asked her about her status back then, and she denied that a change was imminent. And then a few months ago, I started hearing about people "from the outside" applying for her job. It seems none of them passed muster. I don’t know anything about Kevin Coffey except that publisher John Heaston told me Coffey did a brief internship at the Reader and used to edit The Creightonian (He graduated from Creighton in 2006). He got his start at the World-Herald in '06 working on their online media. And now he assumes the position of Music Reporter. Will we be seeing him at shows (other than those at The Qwest)?

Column 197: Chasing Ghosts
A changing of the guard at the OWH.

I heard from a friend of a friend that Niz Proskocil has left the music beat at the Omaha World-Herald.

I couldn't get an actual, dyed-in-the-wool confirmation from Niz because she had to run it past her editors, and after almost a week, still nothing. These kinds of staff changes aren't reported by the paper unless the position in question is editor-in-chief or a rung beneath it. Changes in lower-rung jobs, like beat reporters, are treated as gossip. It's the kind of inside poop that the editors figure no one would -- or should -- care about. They're wrong, of course. The politicians and businessmen who are studied and dissected by these journalists obviously care. As for the rest of their readers, well, unless it involves the Huskers, does it matter who's writing the stories? Not really. Other than the name on the masthead, news is anonymous. Readers remember the headline, not the byline. An exception to the rule is columnists and critics, who are defined by their unique style and opinion. But that guy covering City Hall or the western Iowa education beat -- he's a ghost.

The music beat must be a thankless job at dailies, looked down upon by the reporters doing "the important stuff," whatever that is. The type of reader who wants to know about this weekend's CD release shows probably doesn't read the World-Herald. The editors know this and act accordingly, which is one of the reasons why we only get the weekend edition at my house.

There are those among us, however, who have followed the World-Herald's music criticism for a long, long time. For me, it started with Steve Millburg, who mainly wrote about movies. He was a critic during -- or just after -- the downfall of Peter Citron, a guy remembered more for charges involving child porn than for his years and years of writing restaurant and movie criticism, something Citron did well, though no one will ever admit it. I guess it doesn't matter anymore, now that he's dead.

Millburg held a place of prominence in the long-defunct World-Herald Sunday Entertainment section -- a smart, self-contained weekly guide that included movie, music, book and art reviews, travel information, a TV guide and a crossword puzzle. Later in the week, long after the rest of the Sunday paper had been thrown away, the Entertainment section remained on the coffee table. Whether it was economics (maybe) or just a bad decision (probably), the World-Herald did away with the Entertainment section years ago, integrating some of its contents into the rest of the Sunday paper, while placing the weekend listings and band features in Thursday's wispy Go! section.

So while my dad painstakingly studied the want ads and mom read the Living section (the sports section went unread), I grabbed Entertainment from the Sunday stack. Millburg usually had a column and a page of capsule reviews. Sometimes he wrote about music too, but that was rare. Though the rest of the OWH was a blank recitation of facts, Millburg wrote with a voice. Along with Citron's, it was the first voice I ever read in a newspaper. It would be a voice that would be in the back of my mind throughout college.

A quick Google search reveals that Millburg is now living in Birmingham, Alabama, writing novels and doing the occasional freelance assignment.

After Millburg was Roger Catlin, a younger guy with plenty of attitude who wrote about bands like Elvis Costello and The Cucumbers. Roger didn't last long at the Herald. Today he writes a television column for the Hartford Courant.

Next in the barrel were Jim Minge and Tony Moton -- the first OWH reporters that I remember seeing at rock shows. Moton left the World-Herald in '99 and went on to write screen plays. Minge, as we all know, now runs the City Weekly.

They were followed by Christine Laue. Though Minge and Moton tried to cover local music, it was Laue who really made it a focus and a cornerstone of the just-created Go! section back in '01. Niz took over after Laue was moved to the fashion and pop culture beat. Today, Laue writes about condos and shopping centers.

Niz continued to cover local music even after the World-Herald pointed her squarely in the direction of the Qwest Center and its county-fair touring bands -- which are, after all, what the editors assume the majority of their readers care about. They're probably right, even though the real story -- the one that defines Omaha nationally as an indie music Mecca -- is taking place in small bars and local venues where tomorrow's stars are honing their craft.

A couple weeks ago, the rumors about Niz became reality, as her byline disappeared from Go! and reappeared in the Money section. Her replacement appears to be Kevin Coffey.

There is significance to this changing of the guard. As a musician once told me after an interview -- it's nice to get featured in the alt weeklies, but to be in The Omaha World-Herald, well, "my parents read the World-Herald." It's a "big deal." So while that musician will use my Reader story for packaging material, the World-Herald story will be cut out and framed; it will be read 20 years from now by his children.

Whether he knows it or his fellow reporters know or his editors and publisher know it, Coffey has one of the most important jobs at the World-Herald, at least in the minds of the army of musicians, club owners, record shop proprietors and everyone else who makes a living in this town from music. All eyes are on you, Kevin. Let's see what you've got. Don't let them turn you into a ghost.

* * *

XYZ Affair tonight at The Waiting Room. I really dug their recordings. Their live set? Well, when they came through here in February, it was somewhat disappointing. Here's my review of that show:

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.

I wonder if they've down-scaled their cheesiness over the past year. We'll find out tonight. Opening the show is Omaha/Des Moines/Omaha transplant Adam Haug. $7, 9 p.m

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'Ballot Result' or The Politics of (our) Time… – Nov. 5, 2008 –

Yeah, I know this is a music blog, but really, how do you not talk about what happened last night? I skipped Malkmus at Slowdown because I didn't want to miss O's speech, which I assumed would take place right in the middle of a set. Maybe Malkmus would have let them cut in or even wait to start, but I didn't want to take the chance.

Though it won't make a difference to the outcome, Nebraska's Second District (Omaha, me) is still up in the air ( McCain is a few hundred votes ahead, but there are thousands of provisional ballads yet to be counted. Could there be enough last-minute mailed-in early votes to push Obama over the top? Like I said, ultimately it doesn’t matter to anyone but me and everyone else who pinned their hopes on this guy. We want the rest of the country to see a blue dot amidst the sea of Nebraska red.

Now comes the business of reinventing a country and repairing its reputation among the world's nations. I fear that too much hope has been placed on Obama, that no one can live up to the demands that have been placed on his shoulders. We're all aware of his list of "honey-do's" -- end a couple wars, fix the economy, figure out healthcare. It ain't gonna get done in one term. It took eight years of neglect by an absentee landlord to get where we are today. Slapping on a coat of paint isn't going to cut it. Will this country have the patience to let him do his job (and finish it)?

Tomorrow, back to music with this week's column: A look back at the Omaha World-Herald's music reporter lineage, and a look ahead.

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Vote even if it's a pain in your ass; Stephen Malkmus tonight… – Nov. 4, 2008 –

The hot question of the day: Should I vote now or wait until after work? Will there be lines at the polls? Just how much of a pain in the ass is this going to be? You'd think with so many people pre-voting that the lines wouldn't be that long. Right.

I'm waiting until after work. Maybe I should bring a change of clothes, eh...

So obsessed am I with this election that I'm considering not going to Slowdown tonight for Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks. I want to watch the returns as they happen. But just now I received an e-mail from Jason Kulbel at Slowdown saying that there will, in fact, be a big-screen television in the bar tuned to the election results. I wonder if it'll be running during Malkmus' set. Opening is Blitzen Trapper. $15. Doors are at 7, the rock show starts at 9.

Get ready to watch history being made.

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Live Review: It's True, Coyote Bones goodbye; Wolf Parade tonight… – Nov. 3, 2008 –

So, I stayed home on Halloween.

Thankfully all the costumes were gone by Saturday night, at least at O'Leaver's where the walking wounded told turgid tales of their night-befores involving fake blood, make-up and booze. The mood was definitely low key.

Adam Hawkins' new band, It's True, opened the show right after the close of The Husker game. Hawkins sounded nice even in O'Leaver's. He and his band played a short set (6 or 7 songs?) of laid-back indie folk rock that was pretty and, at times, lush in a Tears for Fears sort of way. Someone told me afterward that they'd make a nice prom band -- sure enough, one couple slow danced during their set.

Among the world's injustices is that Coyote Bones never gained traction locally or nationally. Gentleman on the Rocks was one of '07s best local releases, which I was reminded of during their set. CB is the closest thing Omaha will ever get to a band as tunefully dynamic as Spoon. Matysiak was one of the city's better songwriters. And now he's gone, headed somewhere else to try again. I have no doubt that Coyote Bones will continue in some form, just not around here. Perhaps it was the nostalgia, but it was one of their better sets and included a handful of new songs that I'd like to hear recorded. In what is a rarity for O'Leaver's, the band was "called back" (though they never really left) to do a two-song encore that included the best song of the evening and featured solos from each member of the band. Matysiak will be sorely missed, not only for Coyote Bones but for all the work he's done for the local music community including his co-op label Coco Art and his Telephono project, which brought musicians together and helped spark new ideas. Ah, David, we hardly knew ye…

* * *
Tonight at The Slowdown Sub Pop band Wolf Parade takes the stage with fellow touring act Listening Party. I like Wolf Parade (they remind me of Eagle*Seagull, or Eagle*Seagull reminds me of them) though I haven't been following the band for the past couple of years. Expect a nice crowd. $17, 9 p.m.

Live Review: Klemmensen, Pregnant, 1090; Halloween spooktacular and the rest of the week… – Oct. 31, 2008 –

Here's the rundown from last night at The Waiting Room:

John Klemmensen (along with his band, The Party) took the evening to exorcise his personal demons. Backed by a large-ish band that included all the usual instruments plus a two-man horn section and keyboards, Klemmensen, with his trusty acoustic guitar, divulged a set full of his private confessions, snapshots of a man lost and struggling along a crossroads that is wholly his own. The indie rock songs weren't so much somber as downcast, with a tendency to build to a theatrical climax. Klemmensen has a voice tailor-made for soul and funk, though last night the style was similar to what he does in Landing on the Moon -- arty self-referential acoustic rock. Covers included songs by Iggy and Maria done up in Klemmensen style. Good crowd response.

The contrast with Dance Me Pregnant was, well, bracing. DMP is sort of a supergroup of indie punk featuring some familiar faces from other local bands including John Vredenburg and Jeff Ankenbauer from The Shanks, Cory Broman (Art in Manila) and Chris Machmuller (Ladyfinger). The end product was cleaner than The Shanks (no surprise there) but heavier than The Dinks. All eyes were on Ankenbauer, who stood center stage, wrapped the microphone cord around his head and screamed. It's as turbulent as you'd expect. Unfortunately, their set was cut short when Vredenburg broke a bass string. The opening bands' bass players apparently had already left the building to grab some dinner, and of course there is no bass in 1090 Club. Without a replacement (or a replacement string) Dance Me Pregnant called it a night, a true case of coitus interruptus.

I only hung around for the first few songs by 1090 Club. A four-piece -- drums, guitar, keyboards, violin -- their style was sometimes pretty, sometimes slightly dissonant low-key indie rock heavy on drama. Not bad, though by the time they played, half of the 30 people on hand had left for the evening.

* * *

There are about one million things going on this rare Friday night Halloween. I'm not a Halloween kind of guy, which means I don't dress up in costume, which means there's a high likelihood that I'll be staying home tonight instead of going out to mingle with the drunken masses. As I say every year, when did Halloween become New Year's Eve become St. Patrick's Day? The bars have got to love it, as do the cops. It's only a matter of time until Easter and Columbus Day also become just another reason to tie one on. (Thank you, East-da Bunny.)

So anyway, here are the highlights as I see them:

Tonight at Slowdown Jr., it's Rig 1 a.k.a Team Rigge headlining a show featuring Little Brazil, Dim Light, and Fortnight. My pseudo survey of last night's crowd indicates that this is where most of the music folks will be hanging out. $7, 9 p.m.

Over at The Waiting Room, The Song Remains the Same headlines a show that also features Satchel Grande and The Lizard King -- a Doors tribute band. This being Halloween -- when people just want to unwind/get drunk -- expect a large, rowdy crowd. $7, 9 p.m.

The Barley St. has a big line-up with Thunder Power, Sleep Said the Monster, Brad Hoshaw and the Seven Deadlies, Malpais, and Kid Theodore. If all these bands show up at the same time, there won't be any room for anyone else. $4, 9 p.m.

Cover band Secret Weapon will be tearing it up over at The 49'r. $5, 9 p.m.

While The Saddle Creek Bar is featuring a night of metal with a bunch of bands I don't know, along with a costume contest. No idea on the cover.

The good times just keep on rolling Saturday night -- expect to see people eking out every last bit of "hilarity" from their costumes. There's a rare show over at The Brothers featuring The Coffin Killers and The Dinks. Cover is $5, with all money going to help pay the bills of a young woman in need of a lung transplant. It'll be a good time for a good cause.

Meanwhile, over at O'Leaver's, Coyote Bones is playing with It's True. Rumor has it this could be the last-ever Coyote Bones show. $5, 9 p.m.

Finally, on Sunday, it's The King Khan & BBQ Show, this time at The Waiting Room with Women and Box Elders. $10, 9 p.m., while down at Slowdown Jr. it's Margo & the Nuclear So and So's with Wild Sweet Orange and Skypiper. $8, 9 p.m.
Happy Hallow…

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1090 Club, new John Klemmensen band tonight… – Oct. 30, 2008 –

Tonight at The Waiting Room it's Billings Montana indie band 1090 Club with Bay Area singer/songwriter Michael Zapruder (Sidecho Records), and locals John Klemmensen & The Party and Dance Me Pregnant. You might remember Klemmensen from Landing on the Moon and Satchel Grande. His new project involves material he's been writing for awhile backed by an all-star band that includes Mike Deages, Ben Zinn, James Cuaato, Jason Ferguson, Matt Hall, Meg Morgan, Eric Harris and more. $7, 9 p.m.

Also tonight, Iowa City's Samuel Locke-Ward (Miracles of God) and Las Vegas act The Bassturd are playing at The Attic, 3231 Harney St. (Note, this show is listed on Locke-Ward's and Bassturd's Myspace pages but isn't listed on the Attic page, so buyer beware.

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Column 196 -- The Return of Rigge; The Acorn tonight… – Oct. 29, 2008 –

The Rig 1 recording just seemed to come out of nowhere about a week ago, as did the Rig 1 CD release show slated for this Friday night (Halloween) at Slowdown. Ian McElroy is living in New York these days, specifically Bushwick, Brooklyn, where he says he's making a living as a prop assistant for fashion shoots. It's a hustle, but he says it pays the bills. As mentioned below, he'll be following in the footsteps of Mars Black, another Team Love MC, who went on the road opening for a Conor Oberst project. Will that valuable opening slot translate to new fans and CD sales? Time will tell. But one thing's for certain, McElroy has his work cut out for him. I'm assuming Conor will be playing on stages as big or bigger than the one he performed on at The Anchor Inn last month. That's a lot of space to fill for one guy with a microphone (backed by two musicians). The only way Rig 1 is going to work on such a large stage is if McElroy can get the crowd "into" his set and his music -- a challenge for even the most seasoned MCs.

Column 196: Rig 1 Rising
The return of Team Rigge.

These days, Ian McElroy's hip-hop crew goes by the name Rig 1. It used to be called Team Rigge, the secret endeavor of Omaha's indie rock elite, a project that remained secret to everyone but the few in on the joke.

It all began almost 10 years ago with McElroy and a handful of Creighton Prep juniors that included his cousin Conor Oberst. "We used to clean the Rigge Science Center," McElroy told me from somewhere in Brooklyn. "We were really bad workers. Our first raps were about cleaning the halls."

Rigge became a sort of side project, whose first recording was heard as a pretrack on Criteria's 2003 debut. The only way to find it was by dropping the CD in the player and hitting the "rewind" button to discover -- voila! -- something preceded the first track. At the time, Oberst lived next door to Criteria's Stephen Pedersen in a small house just north of Dundee. The two shared recording equipment along with a copy of Pro Tools. "That (recording) was me and Conor, and the girl was Jenny Lewis," McElroy said. "Conor was the last verse; the first two are me."

Oberst and McElroy had already emerged in an above-ground rock project called Desaparecidos. But quietly and in spare time, Rigge lived on with a crew that included everyone from fellow Desa member Denver Dalley, Little Brazil's Dan Maxwell, Son Ambulance's Joe Knapp and The Faint's Clark Baechle.

It was with Baechle that Team Rigge appeared on stage for a one-off gig opening for Broken Spindles Oct. 24, 2003, at Sokol Underground. The two-man crew's rapping over prerecorded tracks was stiff, suburban and downright goofy, with McElroy telling the crowd, "You can bob your heads to the beat if you want to." A few did.

McElroy and Baechle ended up doing some recording, which showed up as mp3 files on the just-launched Team Love website in 2004. And then Rigge disappeared. Baechle became too busy with The Faint, and the duo parted ways.

McElroy said his life also got too crowded for Team Rigge. "I would still mess around with songs and stuff on my own in the basement," he said. "And then I just kind of started realizing, 'If you're going to do this, do it now.'"

So a couple years ago, McElroy found new collaborators including Mike Bloom, a.k.a. Caveman, who played in The Elected and Rilo Kiley; a guy called Nez Beat, and finally, Andy Lemaster, the Athens, Georgia, wunderkind whose projects include Now It's Overhead.

"I've known Andy for over 10 years," McElroy said. "He would be in town and I got to hang out with him. I trusted his ear and he told me he wanted to do a hip-hop project."

Though A.J. and Mike Mogis worked on the recording, it was Lemaster who put his signature production on Tree Line West of the Periodic, the 10-track debut released Oct. 7 on Team Love Records -- credited not to Team Rigge, but to Rig 1.

With its dense production, the CD sounds atmospheric, layered in cinematic drama. McElroy's flow is urgent and nearly rhythmless, like someone being chased by the cops trying to leave a desperate message on an answering machine before the noose drops over his head. There is rhyme, there is alliteration, there is emphasis on certain words that hit atop the beat. But unlike, say, Beastie Boys or Eminem, McElroy's style doesn't swing as much as spit. Birmingham MC The Streets comes to mind in comparison, a guy known for his stilted, sometimes-funny rhymes laced in British brogue. But while The Streets' lyrics deal with everyday class struggles in bonny ol' England, McElroy's messages are more cryptic, even quasi-spiritual.

Take "Dirty Little Sica" with its free-verse opening lines, "The filthy glittering doubling of helixes / The crossbred orbits marriage among flesh fluids," and then add the chorus, "You slimy, grimy, dirty little sica / You scum-ridden, soiled, no-good piece-a / Should have had a shower seven times over / Unzip the epidermis, I'm out of my body…" The last line floats away in a ghostly echo.

Sica? I hit Wikipedia first. Maybe it was Latin for "whore" or "thief;" maybe it was a street term. The answer was not so sinister. "I had this car, this Corsica, it became the 'sica," McElroy said. "It was a totally terrible car." The "out of my body" line has to do with getting into a zone. "It can be like writing or partying or hitting on a girl or having a really intense conversation with one of your bro's."

As for the rest of the translation, you're on your own. America will get a chance to decipher Rig 1 when it opens a 17-date tour for Conor Oberst and the Mystic Valley Band starting Nov. 5 in Boston. The locals point enviously to McElroy's Oberst connection as the reason behind any success. McElroy responds this way: "That kid has been my best friend forever. He's a huge influence, regardless of the music thing. He didn't financially help me with the record at all. I asked him to put it out on his label, but it's been my thing. He didn't write my rhymes for me. It stands alone."

The bottom line: Oberst won't be on stage with him when he performs on tour or this Friday at The Slowdown. But McElroy won't be by himself. He'll be joined by Dustin Bushon a.k.a. Trust (and locally a.k.a. Fathr^) on guitar and backing vocals, and Retisonic's Jimmy Kimball a.k.a. Jimmy Utah on bass. Unlike that ancient Sokol gig, McElroy knows just standing there and rapping won't cut it.

"I'm not nervous about it," he said. "I just want the crowd to get into it and have a good vibe on stage. That's the goal."

Tonight at The Slowdown Jr. it's Canadian indie folk combo The Acorn. The band just returned from a UK tour with Akron/Family and are on the first leg of a cross-country US jaunt before they join up with Calexico (who are coming to Slowdown Nov. 23. No idea if The Acorn will still be with them). With Ohbijou & Shaky Hands. $8, 9 p.m.

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CD Review: Land of Talk… – Oct. 28, 2008 –

Yet another CD review from intern Brendan Greene-Walsh. OK, Brendan, time to send some more…

Land of Talk, Some Are Lakes (Saddle Creek) -- Land of Talk is a three-piece outfit from Montreal and a recent addition to the Saddle Creek roster. Fronted by singer and guitarist Elizabeth Powell, the trio takes a quirky approach to their music, with the song writing and structures combining into an amalgamation of genres that results in a cohesive final product. Drawing primarily from up-tempo folk and rock, the band uses dance beats and jazz chords to fill out their sound. The driving force is the rhythm section, with Powell's sparse, jangling guitar added at the right moments. It's her voice, however, that makes the album work. I was reminded of Blonde Redhead's Kazu Makino -- the two share a light, unforced style. At times she sounds willing to relinquish tonal control only to rein it back before the notes turn sour. My only complaint is the odd stops and starts on the first two tracks disrupt the flow and make it difficult to dig into this interesting album. Rating: Yes. -- Brendan Greene-Walsh

Tim Sez: Its shimmery, mid-tempo indie rock feels influenced by '70s-era Fleetwood Mac thanks to a well-grounded rhythm section. That said, frontwoman Elizabeth Powell sounds more like Carol van Dyk (Bettie Serveert) than Stevie or Christine. It's pleasant-going until "Give Me Back My Heart Attack" breaks through the monotony, only to slide back into mid-tempo gear with "It's Okay," a song whose bass-drum combo would sound good at your next prom. There is a middle-of-the-road quality to a lot of this, which could cause it to get lost in an ever-growing, ever-homogenized sea of indie music. Rating: Yes.

Tomorrow: An interview with Rig 1's Ian McElroy...

Live Review: Dinks, Last Vegas, Whipkey 3; CD Review: IfIHadAHiFi… – Oct. 27, 2008 –

My take on The Dinks is that they're a very different band than The Shanks, a more focused, more musical (and much tighter) band that still has the same punk energy but without the violent dross. That's a fancy way of saying that The Shanks were a Molotov cocktail that could explode with a spray of violence at any moment during their shows, and half the fun was waiting for the meltdown. While 3/4's of the Shanks are in the Dinks, there appears to be no threat of flying bottles/knocked-out teeth as the band is too busy trying to make music. That, of course, is a good thing. though we'll all miss the Shanks' nights of chaos (except those innocent bystanders who got caught in the blood spray). So I guess The Dinks are a real band, which puts them in a whole different category. It's no longer about "performance;" it's about songwriting and what level of creativity they can bring to a genre that was mined bone dry 20 years ago. What can The Dinks bring to the table that we haven't already tasted before? That's the challenge. I dug what I heard Friday night at O'Leaver's (and so, apparently, did the 50 or so on hand), but I'm waiting to see where it goes next.

The Dinks were followed by Guitar Hero II band The Last Vegas (Guitar Hero is becoming this generation's MTV as a vehicle for unknown bands to get their music heard by a new -- and huge -- audience), I don't know what was more hilarious, the Last Vegas' '80s hair-band histrionics or the level of disgust heard from some of the folks who were there to see The Dinks. For me, it was like stepping into a time machine that took me back to Fat Jacks circa 1986. This band would have fit right in on their red-carpeted stage -- pure G 'n' R / LA Guns / Aerosmith hair rock, and done quite well (this from someone who saw more than his share of it after years of Tuesday night buck pitchers). If you like that sort of thing, you would have loved these guys -- they had the riffs and the moves, even the right clothing. Of course there was nothing original about any of it, nor (I assume) was there intended to be. In fact, The Last Vegas would probably do just as well if they just played Ratt covers.

Saturday night was the Whipkey Three CD release show at Slowdown Jr. I saw a movie before the set (W), which caused me to miss the opener, It's True, Adam Hawkins' band (which is generating quite a buzz from a handful of local musicians). Whipkey and Co. played a spot-on set that included as much new material as stuff from the new CD to a crowd that appeared to number just over 100.

* * *

Here's another Brendan-Greene Walsh CD review. You'll just have to take his word for it, as I haven't heard it:

IfIHadAHiFi, Fame By Proxy (Latest Flame) -- The fourth full-length from this Milwaukee group and their first release on Latest Flame, the 11-song album is comprised of an all-out barrage of noise, synth and guitar riffs. To say that the songs are jumbled doesn't do justice -- spastic is more accurate. Dissonant melodies are connected to jangling guitars and space-age sound effects to create an awkward sense of a song. Frequent and unwarranted changes in tempo and time signature only add to the overall confusion and lack of continuity. While at some points the band reminded me of the raging sounds created by Shellac, more often than not they sounded like a musical train wreck. Through the mess, only one song stood out above the rest and stayed with me for more than a few minutes, the 10th track, suitably titled "Success! Success! Success!" While I am not willing to offer conclusions about the title having anything to do with the music, the chorus is the closest the group came to a unified and cohesive sound. The vocal melody is coupled with concise song writing and a strong rhythm section to create what could actually be considered a decent song. Rating: No. -- Brendan Greene-Walsh

Live Review: Amy Ray; CD Review: Brimstone Howl; The weekend… – Oct. 24, 2008 –

First, Amy Ray last night on Slowdown's big stage. They had the balcony closed; and you know why. Fewer than 100 were in the "alternative" crowd to see one-half of the Indigo Girls. I've got a couple of IG albums from back in the day, an era when there were a lot of new female singer-songwriters taking over the scene -- Tracy Chapman, Edie Brickell, 10,000 Maniacs, Suzanne Vega, The Sundays, Sinead O'Connor, Blake Babies, Throwing Muses, Cowboy Junkies, Mazzy Star, and so on. Where'd they all go? It was IG's folky numbers that I liked, not so much the Melissa Etheridge blues rock stuff. Ray hasn't gone in that direction; her new stuff sounds more like hard rock, not really bluesy at all. I just wanted to hear her play an acoustic and leave the electric in the rack. And it was during the very few acoustic moments that her set shined brightest.

* * *

The Reader's monthly CD reviews are in the current issue. Here's my contribution:

Brimstone Howl, We Came in Peace (Alive) -- Brimstone Howl is part of the Midwest's garage rock retro revival that bows down to the '60s and '70s by way of Detroit and NYC. And as with any genre exercise, too much of a good thing can get pretty dull. Someone should have told that to The Howl when they decided to squeeze 15 tracks onto this disc, especially when so many have an inescapable similitude, which, combined with the flat production (from White Stripes producer Jim Diamond) and tiresome, over-reverbed vocals, makes this a challenge to sit through from beginning to end. Back-to-back, previous album Guts of Steel had a bigger swagger and a wider stance. And the vocals on Guts merely sounded cheap and dirty vs. this endless echo chamber from yesteryear. Still, taken in small doses (like their superior 7-inch singles) Brimstone Howl provides big rewards. Rating: Yes. (Reader rating: 3 stars).

The weekend is upon us. Here's what I have on my radar screen.


-- Sokol Underground has a good punk show with The Yuppies, Columbia Vs. Challenger and UUVVWWZ. Starts at 10. No idea on the cover.

-- Meanwhile, The Dinks (three ex members of The Shanks) have a show at O'Leaver's with The Last Vegas and Noah's Ark Was a Spaceship. $5, 9 p.m.

-- Up the street at The Waiting Room, Shiver Shiver opens a show with It's True, The Great Atomic Power and headliner The Pendrakes. $7, 9 p.m.

-- Finally, down at The Barley St, the Big Al Band uncorks some It's War You Die on your ass. No idea on the cover, but the openers start at 9.

Saturday night

-- Down at Slowdown Jr. it's The Whipkey Three CD release show with It's True. $5, 9 p.m.

-- The Barley St. has a five-band bill featuring A Tomato A Day and Thunder Power. $4, 9 p.m.

-- And The Waiting Room is having a "zombie ball" in conjunction with Benson's Zombie Walk. Bands include Social Distortion tribute act Somewhere Between Heaven and Hell and Fremont/Lincoln punk band Officially Terminated. $7, 7 p.m.

-- On the Lord's day of rest, Fromanhole tries to burn down O'Leaver's with touring band Prize Country. $5, 9:30.

Now is it ever going to quit raining?

Column 195 -- Remembering Coco; CD Review: Her Space Holiday; Amy Ray tonight … – Oct. 23, 2008 –

This column is a companion to yesterday's Whipkey Three feature (which, if you haven't read yet, you should right now. Go!). We rarely consider the role pets play in the creative process (or in our lives). Now it's Sage's turn...

Column 195: Remembering Coco
What's more inspiring than a dog?

Coco Benck sits in a guitar case.

There's a dedication in the liner notes of the new Whipkey Three CD. Among the thank yous to family and friends is this message:

"For Coco, who heard these before anyone."

Coco wasn't a brother or sister, but she was still a member of Matt Whipkey's and Sarah Benck's family. Coco was a Boston Terrier. "She was my dog," Sarah said.

Their relationship began two-and-a-half years ago. Sarah had been living alone in an apartment and needed a friend to keep her company. "After my family's dog died, I felt like I wanted a pet in my life, a dog in my life, a companion," she said. "I tried to rationalize all the reasons not to get a dog, that I wouldn't have enough time for her, but in the end, it worked out."

Sarah found Coco through the Midamerica Boston Terrier Rescue, an organization that helps find homes for the breed after they've been liberated from puppy-mill hellholes. Coco was one such survivor, a breeding dog that outlived her usefulness to the human filth who run such operations. After seven years spent in a cage (no one really knows for sure how old she was), Coco needed a new home.

"I remember seeing her and feeling like 'Wow, that's my dog,'" Sarah said. "Her hair was the same color as mine. She was just my dog."

And just like that, Coco found herself embedded into the rock 'n' roll lifestyle, taking on a new role as Sarah's faithful companion and creative muse. She was a tiny patchwork of auburn and white, with the classic squished-up Boston Terrier face that looked like Ernest Borgnine in Marty, offset with batlike ears and wide, staring eyes. Wherever Sarah went, there was Coco, surveying the landscape from an ankle-high vantage point.

It didn't take long until she worked her way into Sarah's music. No, that baby girl that Sarah sang about on the title track of her last album, Neighbor's Garden, wasn't her daughter. It was Coco.

"I started writing that song one day sitting in my apartment, just me and her," Sarah said. "I didn't know what to write about, and looked over at her and started writing. It's a song about knowing that I wasn't going to have a lot of time with her. seeing how old she was. It's about what I wish her life would be like ideally, or what her life will be like in heaven."

The song's chorus: "I wish you could run through the tall grass / Swim with ease / Stand the tallest / And I'll do what I can to make you happy."

As soon as Matt Whipkey began dating Sarah, Coco became his muse as well, or at least an impartial sounding board. "She was sitting right next to me when I was writing the songs on the new album," Matt said. "She would listen. She played a part in the writing process, as much as a pet can."

Coco would accompany Sarah when Matt played acoustic shows at Soaring Wings Vineyard in Springfield. And when Sarah would join him on stage for a song, Coco would sit between her legs "like a member of the band," Matt said.

Eventually, Coco even followed Sarah and the band downstairs into the basement for practices. Matt said he was concerned that the noise was too loud for a dog. "Most dogs would run out of a room with the sound of a snare, but not Coco," Matt said. "Sarah thought she liked the music." But the fact was, by the beginning of this year, Coco already was stone deaf, no longer even able to hear the tinkling sound of the treat-jar lid. Toward the end, Coco would stand next to Sarah's bass cabinet while she played.

The seizures started coming in May; their frequency and severity increased daily. Finally, on Memorial Day, Coco found herself in a pet ER. The vet diagnosed a brain tumor. The next afternoon Coco went to sleep for good.

"She was always around," Sarah remembers. "Matt put her in the liner notes because she was the first one to hear his songs. She wasn't the kind of dog that would come and sit on your lap, but she was always right there by you, following you from room to room. When she wasn't there anymore, the house just seemed empty. It was kind of scary to come home without hearing the little sounds she makes."

Less than two months later, on the Fourth of July, Matt and Sarah adopted Sage, another Boston Terrier rescued from a puppy mill. At only four years old, Sage already is helping Matt test new material. "She sat right there the other day while I played, and tilted her head a little when the harmonica came in," Matt said.

Will Sage become The Whipkey Three's new mascot? "If she wants to be," Matt said. "She's scared of (drummer) Zip (Zimmerman). She runs away from the sight of him."

Matt said she's still adjusting to her new life. Sage knows that she's got some big paws to fill.

* * *

Here's another review from intern Brendan Greene-Walsh:

Her Space Holiday, Sleepy Tigers (Mush Records) -- Marc Bianchi is the mastermind behind Her Space Holiday, a band that traditionally has been tethered by a short leash to the world of computer composition. Bianchi decided to cut the cord that bound him and attempt to get back to some of the more simple things in music; guitars, banjos, live percussion and even glockenspiel. Sleepy Tigers is a four-song EP that doubles as the lead up single to HSH’s next full length. The music is a vast departure from Bianchi's previous efforts. In place of synth-heavy dance songs, Bianchi took to the guitar to write light-hearted pop folk tunes. The EP is bouncy and jovial by nature, setting your foot a-tapping and bringing a smile to your face. It's pretty difficult for a band to go in a new creative direction and do it well, but Bianchi shows no sign of struggle here. Rating: Yes -- Brendan Greene-Walsh

Tim Sez: Listen as former electro-tech-mechanic Bianchi trades synth-beats for hand claps, tambourine, whistles and acoustic guitars -- as if someone locked him in a room with Tilly and the Wall or Lightspeed Champion or Michel Gondry. It's cute. Almost too cute. Which makes for an ironic counterbalance for lyrics draped in everyday loneliness. As an EP, it works, but anything beyond four songs (in this style) could get mighty tedious. Rating: Yes.

Tonight at Slowdown it's Indigo Girl Amy Ray, out on the road with her band supporting her new album Didn't It Feel Kinder on Daemon Records. Ray takes the tunage into a heavier direction than on her albums with Emily Saliers (the other Indigo Girl), at times pushing it into Melissa Etheridge territory. The best track is an upbeat acoustic number titled "Cold Shoulder" that could be a hit if radio had the cajones to play a song about a gay woman hoping to seduce a straight woman, where Ray sings about hanging with "the deviants and the tranny nation." Opening is Arizona, a band that actually hails from Asheville North Carolina and plays rootsy indie psychedelic rock. $15, 9 p.m.

Also tonight, LA-based indie band The Little Ones (who sound like a lite version of Tokyo Police Club) plays at The Waiting Room with Sleep Said the Monster. $8, 9 p.m.

Feature Story: The Whipkey Three, CD Review: Brightblack Morning Light; Live Review: Ian Moore… – Oct. 22, 2008 –

Just posted: An interview with The Whipkey Three. Matt, Sarah and Zip talk about the origin of the band, the new album and the trials and tribulations of balancing a relationship with a music career (read it here). The trio celebrates the release of their self-titled debut LP this Saturday at Slowdown Jr. with It's True. Could this be the album that finally takes Whipkey to the next level? Tomorrow, pt. 2 of the story in the form of this week's column. Bring a Kleenex.

Lazy-i intern Brendan Greene-Walsh finally has come through with some CD reviews, which I'll be sprinkling into the blog over the next few days. Here's the first one:

Brightblack Morning Light, Motion to Rejoin (Matador) -- The best way to describe it is to offer up an unlikely (if not impossible) set of circumstances and ask that you come along on a short journey. Imagine it's the late '70s and we're in Tennessee. We stumble upon an opium den where a house lounge act is performing. This band -- the only band that could ever fit this incredulous place in this dubious time -- is Brightblack Morning Light. The air is dense and motionless, like the majority of the apathetic clientele. The band plays through the haze of smoke, barely noticeable. Their sound is subdued and sparse. A vintage Rhodes piano stands at the center of the music along with ambient drums and horn swells that come and go as they please. Nothing about this album seems forced, and that's a bit deterring. With songs averaging around the six-and-a-half-minute mark, things eventually become monotonous. Rating: No. -- Brendan Greene-Walsh

Tim Sez: Yeah, it does feel like a '70s drug jam played in slow motion submerged under water. The only thing missing is Chan Marshall stoned out of her mind, mumbling the lyrics. Instead, give praise to the super-high gospel singers testifying to what, I don't know, since it all sounds like one long slur. I assume it has something to do with dope. And like any good narcotic, it's guaranteed to put you right to sleep. Now where did I put those black light bulbs? Rating: No.

Speaking of reviews, I went to see Ian Moore last night at The Waiting Room. I knew virtually nothing about him other than having listened to his most recent CD on LaLa yesterday. I come to find out that he's a guitar virtuoso, a legend that built a following in his youth as some sort of blues guitar messiah who once opened shows for the Rolling Stones, Dylan and ZZ Top, among others. I guess that reputation was what drew so many older folks to the show -- the place looked like a Cialis commercial, and I halfway expected Moore to break out a cover of "Viva Viagra." I will say this for these older blues fans -- they get into the music a helluva lot more than the standard slumped-shouldered indie rock slacker who looks like he just woke up before the show and only went because someone promised him he could go back to sleep right afterward. A couple of these blues fans were actually dancing (again, Cialis commercial). After spending years watching young musicians who barely know how to tune their guitars, it was a pleasure to watch Moore tear it up, spurred on by whoops from the crowd. He's a master musician, and his songwriting isn't bad, either. While I enjoyed his take on pop rock (reminiscent of Big Star and Tommy Keene), the songs were eclipsed by the performance, which included a guy on keyboards who also played trumpet at the same time. While I left the show impressed with what I'd just heard, I couldn't tell you what a single song was about, nor did I have any interest in finding out.

Tonight at Slowdown Jr., it's Boston psyche-rock band Apollo Sunshine with Vinyl Haze. $8, 9 p.m.

Ian Moore, Matt Sweet tonight… – Oct. 21, 2008 –

Tonight at The Waiting Room, it's Ian Moore and His Lossy Coils with The Black Squirrels and Mitchell Getman. I'm listening to Moore's 2007 album To Be Loved, released on Justice Records, and I'm liking it. It's upbeat pop rock with lots of sweet harmonies and hook-filled riffs that recalls bands like The Raspberries, upbeat Big Star even The Hollies. $10, 9 p.m.

Also tonight, Lincoln's favorite forgotten son, Matthew Sweet, returns home for a show at The State Theater with The Bridges. Sweet's got a new album out, Sunshine Lies, released on Shout Factory. $20, 7 p.m.

Live Review: David Byrne, SLAM jam; The Notwist tonight (shhhhh, it's a secret)… – Oct. 19, 2008 –

What did we really expect from the David Byrne concert? Well, a chance to hear Talking Heads songs sung by the chief Talking Head. And not just any Talking Heads' songs, the ones that were co-created with Brian Eno -- the darker, odder tunes, the ones that sounded like they were written by aliens, that upon first listen (to Fear of Music or Remain in Light) felt awkward or purposely dissonant and uncomfortable. It was only after listening to those albums a few times that they became ingrained in my psyche, that they made sense.

We got plenty of those songs last Friday night -- it was, after all, a sort of tribute to that music, some might say the most substantial music that Byrne has ever created. Not me, of course. I like non-Eno Heads/Byrne music as well, though not as much of it. I never had a chance to see Talking Heads when they were still kicking around; this would be the closest that I'll probably ever get, and in that light, will have to suffice. And suffice it did.

Byrne and his band strolled out dressed in white -- Byrne himself wearing white slacks and a white short-sleeved polo shirt, launching into the best song off his new solo-with-eno album, "Strange Overtones," a track that harkens back to the best funk-beat rock from his old days. It wasn't until the next song, "I Zimbra," that the crowd stood up and began a style of ritualistic groove that's only danced by middle-aged white people who are a little too uptight to really enjoy themselves -- it was like watching an older couple that's not used to (or approving of) public displays of affection awkwardly make out. In all honesty, it's not natural (or possible) to create a dance-party vibe in the sterile confines of The Holland Center, a place as inviting as a high school assembly hall -- where any spontaneous act would be met by a stern teacher bearing a ruler and plenty of cold chastisement.

The set list also didn’t help loosen the oldsters up. Byrne interlaced hot TH dance songs like "Houses in Motion" and "Crosseyed and Painless" with the more mundane songs off the new album, songs that seemed mopey and formulaic and that immediately eased people back into their seats, where they waited, poised to leap for the next afro-beat-infused hit from yesteryear.

Regardless of the restraints, the show was still immensely entertaining in a theatrical sort of way, thanks to the three modern, interpretive dancers that spiced up half the songs. My favorite parts of TH concert films is watching Byrne's own pseudo-improvised dance routines -- who can forget such classic Byrne dance moves as "hand-chopping-arm" or "slap-myself-in-the-forehead"? The three dancers -- two woman and a guy, also dressed in white -- built on Byrne's quirky choreography, with Byrne joining in when he wasn't shredding a guitar. It was mesmerizing and made the concert feel like something you'd see on a Broadway stage.

Byrne is not exactly a master of stage patter. He mentioned that he rode his bike over the new pedestrian bridge and found himself impressed to be in Iowa. He mentioned that there was a change coming to the political landscape, which was met with big applause. But that was about it. He clearly was lost in having a good time on stage, and with the audience, who by the end of the set, was standing in a mob crowd that took up the first few rows of the auditorium. Whether it was the nearly sold-out crowd or the fact that the band was performing after having a day off, they sprang a few surprises, including a stab at playing "Air" off Fear of Music -- a song that Byrne said this band had never tried in front of an audience before. And during the 7-song encore (according to Wiki, he only did a 3-song encore on the tour's opening night) Byrne played non-Eno Talking Heads hit "Burning Down the House," and then capped off the nearly 2-hour show with the title track from his new album. A very entertaining night.

* * *

About 150 appreciative music fans, drunks and computer geeks showed up at The Waiting Room Saturday night for the SLAM Omaha benefit show. It was sort of like being at a class reunion of Omaha's proud non-Saddle Creek, non-indie music crowd. The highlight was a reunion of The Movies -- an Omaha four-piece rock 'n' roll band fronted by Whipkey Three frontman Matt Whipkey and featuring Mike Friedman on guitar, Bob Carrig on bass and Doug Kabourek on drums. It felt like 2001 all over again, with the band playing spot-on renditions of all their old favorites as if they never broke up. I am only to believe that this was a "one time only" deal. Based on the crowd reaction, The Movies have been sorely missed. Friedman said afterward that another reunion wasn't out of the question, but it probably wouldn't happen for another six years. Buy your tickets now.

The show was the first chance for me to experience the shock-and-awe power of Bloodcow, arguably Council Bluffs' best band. Only one word can describe the sheer power of their metal madness: Majestic. They bring everything you want and expect from a punk-metal band -- the glistening harmonizing mercury-fast guitar riffs, the Hand of Doom rhythm section, the crazy metal frontman who, well, didn't look metal at all with short hair and slender build (I thought all metal guys were mop-headed (or mullet-headed) fat boys). Legends have been told about previous Bloodcow shows -- about the mayhem and violence -- which leads me to believe the Bloodcow boys were purposely restrained on the Waiting Room stage last night. What hell could they have wrought at, say, O'Leaver's or Sokol Underground? That remains to be seen.

* * *
Yesterday, the illustrious Val at Slowdown announced a not-so-secret "secret show" being held at her club tonight at 10 p.m. -- The Notwist, a German indie-electronic band, whose 1998 album Shrink, was one of my favorites from that year (here's my review of the disc). I've lost track of Notwist since then. Maybe it's time to catch up -- especially at this price: FREE. Get down to the club early and catch some Jim Esch, who is hosting a benefit rally that starts at 6 p.m. Your $10 "donation" goes straight to his campaign.

Live Review: Dim Light, Voodoo Organist; David Byrne, Ladyfinger, Little Brazil tonight… – Oct. 17, 2008 –

Tonight is one of the busiest music nights of the year, but before we get to that, a brief recap of last night's show at O'Leaver's. I tapped out four notes on my iPhone during Dim Light's set: "whiskey swagger," "swing/waltz," "Mark Lanegan (Gutter Twins)," "peeling black paint on metal pipes." "Whiskey swagger" was how someone sitting next to me at the bar (Brady) described Dim Light's dirty, bluesy, just-rolled-out-of-bed-with-a-hangover rock. It's tired and anxious but ultimately carefree (or care less). Their brutal sound has a natural swing, which swings even farther when married to a waltz-time rhythm (as it was on a few numbers). Frontman Cooper Moon's stature and tone reminded me of Mark Lanegan singing dead-end rock songs that conjure visions of broken factories and industrial blight. With Boz Hicks on drums (Domestica) and Rhodes on bass, it all works with a gut-stabbing efficiency. I saw these guys at The Waiting Room in January and thought they sounded like sludge-core (but the headache I had that night might have had something to do with that). Last night, they were much more refined, and even (dare I say it) downright catchy. This is a band to watch out for.

Voodoo Organist, who has played at O'Leaver's -- what, 100 times? -- was exactly what I expected: A guy playing an organ (and Theremin) handling vocals backed by a guy on drums. It was loung-y, kitschy, horror-billy rock. Good for what it was. Not something I'd seek out a second time, but judging by the crowd reaction, I'd say most of the 20 or so on hand would (and have).

* * *

There are a lot of shows going on tonight, most of them simultaneously. The early show is David Byrne at The Holland. Judging by the set list, this is the closest you're going to get to hearing a Talking Heads concert until their next reunion (which may never happen). It is not sold out, and at that price point ($48-$78) probably won't be. Starts at 8 sharp with no opening act, so get there on time.

The late shows are many. Two of them I mentioned yesterday -- Ladyfinger at Slowdown with Mountain High and Techlepathy ($7, 9 p.m.), and Little Brazil at The Waiting Room with Crooked Fingers and Uglysuit ($10, 9 p.m.). You'll find me downtown, as I just saw LB a month or so ago.

Also tonight, Tomato a Day is slated to play at The Saddle Creek Bar & Grill with Boy and It's True. 9 p.m., no idea on the price.

At The Barley Street, Darren Keen plays along with Talkin' Mountain, Physics of Meaning and Western Electric. $4, 9 p.m.

And finally, at PS Collective, Midwest Dilemma kicks off its fall tour that will take them to New York City and back, finishing up Nov. 2 in Des Moines. No idea who or how many will be tagging along in the van(s). Opening is Anniversaire, Tim Wildsmith and Kyle Harvey. $5, 10 p.m.
Saturday is dominated by the SLAM Omaha benefit show at The Waiting Room featuring the reunion of The Movies, as well as Sarah Benck & The Robbers, Bloodcow, Filter Kings, Icares, Ground Tyrants, Two Drag Club, Kill Bosby and Brad Hoshaw, all for a $10 donation. Show starts at 6:30.

New Ladyfinger in Feb.; Little Brazil joins Anodyne… – Oct. 16, 2008 –

Here are a couple newsy bits received from my e-mail…

Ethan Jones wrote to say that Ladyfinger's show at Slowdown tomorrow night will feature mostly new songs from their new album, which is slated for release in February on Saddle Creek Records. "We recorded in July/August with Matt Bayles (the guy that recorded Heavy Hands) at his studio in Seattle," Jones said. Bayles, as most of you know, also produced albums by Mastodon, Isis, Russian Circles and Minus the Bear, among others. Jones said Friday's show is Ladyfinger's "first real Omaha show since April." Also on the bill is Philly band Mountain High and Techlepathy.

* * *

Little Brazil guitarist Greg Edds informed the media yesterday that his band currently is bunkered down at ARC Studios with engineer/producer AJ Mogis. "Our third full-length record, tentatively titled, Son, is due to be released in early 2009," Edds said. "We're also proud to announce that our new album will be released on Anodyne Records (Kansas City, MO). Anodyne is the home to many acts that we admire, including The Architects, Roman Numerals, The Valley Arena, Meat Puppets and Shiner."

I've been hearing about Anodyne for what seems like forever. Sounds like the band finally inked the contract a few weeks ago. In another departure for Little Brazil, early word is that Son will be a concept album. Three tracks from the record already are online at (complete with comments/explanations about the lyrics). Or you can hear them performed live tomorrow night at The Waiting Room when Little Brazil opens for Crooked Fingers and The Ugly Suit. The show kicks off a two-week tour that will take Little Brazil to Ohio, Illinois and Minnesota before heading back home for a gig at Slowdown on Halloween.

Too bad these two shows (Ladyfinger and Little Brazil) will be competing with each other on the same night, but these things happen…

* * *
Tonight, Voodoo Organist , the favorite band of my slacker Lazy-i intern Brendan Greene-Walsh, plays at O'Leaver's with Dim Light. $5, 9:30 p.m. Where are all those CD reviews, Brendan?

Column 194 -- David Byrne; Mountain Goats, Murs tonight… – Oct. 15, 2008 –

There appears to be plenty of seats available for David Byrne Friday night, ranging from $48 to $78. Score your tix here. Should be a blast. I'm also told that Byrne has Thursday off, so keep your eyes peeled for him and his entourage around town...

Column 194: Thinking Outside the Head
Byrne-ing Down the Holland

David Byrne is a genius. Or at least he seems like one to me.

I remember reading a cover story about him 20 years ago -- I can't remember if it was in Time or Newsweek -- but the blurb said it all: "Rock's Renaissance Man." On the cover were multiple headshots of Byrne brought together as an art collage in a Warholian sort of way -- the message: Byrne was the new Andy Warhol. The story talked about his background as a member of Talking Heads and his performance art projects. But by the late 1980s, he'd already grown well past his Heads identity, having launched his own world-beat record label -- Luaka Bop (where I was first introduced to Brazilian and Cuban dance music). Byrne was becoming known as much for his creative vision as his cool, cooing vocals.

Today, Google "David Byrne" and you'll find as many websites describing his art as his latest album. When I mentioned to a couple friends that I was thinking of writing a column about him, they quickly sent me their favorite Byrnian links. One went to a page at that described his bike rack project for the New York Department of Transportation and PaceWildenstein art gallery. Fabricated from metal, the nine bike racks installed throughout Manhattan and Brooklyn resembled everyday icons -- a mudflap girl, a dollar sign, a woman's high-heel shoe, a dog. The art looked so cool in the photos that I couldn't imagine chaining my Bianchi to one, and then I wondered if this functional art project would encourage cyclers to begin chaining bikes to other art never intended to be used as anchors to stave off thieves.

Then there was "Playing the Building," an installation at Färgfabriken, Stockholm, in 2005 where Byrne taught an old factory how to sing. He did it by figuring out ways to make sounds using the building's structural elements. "Everyone is familiar with the fact that if you rap on a metal column, for example, you will hear a ping or a clang, but I wondered if the pipes could be turned into giant flutes, and if a machine could make some of the girders vibrate and produce tones," Byrne says on his website. "After thinking about how girders vibrate when a truck or a train goes over a metal bridge, it seemed just a matter of working out the mechanics of playing a building."

Hook it all up to an old church organ and you've created a building-sized musical instrument suited for the largest compositions. Before this tour began, Byrne applied the same concept to the Battery Maritime Building in Lower Manhattan. Even Andy never thought of anything like that.

And there's more, like how he made dull business software PowerPoint into an art medium, or his series of self-portrait dolls, one of which wound up on the cover of 1997 album Feelings. Had I been given a chance to interview Byrne, I would have asked how he manages to do everything he does. I'm sure he would have given the same answer that Omaha artist/poet/philosopher Bill Farmer gave when interviewed shortly before his death: The question wasn't when he had time to do art, but how he could possibly not do art. Every moment of his life was dedicated to some form of creative expression, because that was who he was. In that way, Byrne reminds me of Bill.

Like all good artists, Byrne invents new ways of seeing and using everyday objects. And he does it with a natural ease, without an ounce of pretension or angst -- unless you're talking about psycho killers or the sound of gunfire in the distance.

Oh that's right, Byrne's also a songwriter and musician. Sure, folks may know about his art, but the reason they're headed to the Holland Performing Arts Center Friday night has more to do with giant suits, celebratory dancing and music.

Billed as a collaboration between David Byrne and Brian Eno, his latest album Everything that Happens Will Happen Today isn't a huge departure from Byrne's other solo outings. If you like those, you'll probably like this, too. Byrne calls it "folk-electronic-gospel," but doesn't that describe just about everything he's done with Eno over the years?

For me, the album's high points don't happen until the second half. Trotting out on a disco riff, "Strange Overtones" is the peak -- my favorite Byrne song since the salsa-flavored, horn-heaven track "Make Believe Mambo" from 1989's Rei Momo. There's nothing similar about the two songs really, except both own remarkable melodies and are irresistible dance-floor fodder. Too bad there's no room to dance in the Holland, because trippy groove-scape "Poor Boy" is laser targeted at getting your hind-side shaking. And it won't be the only song that'll make you want to move, judging by the set list from the first night of the tour, which included Heads' classics "I Zimbra" "Houses in Motion" "Once in a Lifetime" and "Crosseyed and Painless," all taken from albums produced by Eno (the entire evening is dedicated exclusively to Byrne/Eno collaborations, though Eno won't be there).

Expect a spectacle, and get there early -- there's no opening act. Who needs one when you've got a 7-member back-up band, a small dance troupe and all the visual magic we've come to expect from an artist who once taught a building to sing. Friday night he's going to teach a building to dance.

Tonight, everyone's favorite indie rapper, Murs, is playing at The Waiting Room with Kidz in the Hall and Isaiah. $12, 9 p.m. At Slowdown it's Mountain Goats and Kaki King. Note that the show time on the Slowdown site is 8 p.m. -- that's to facilitate the debate-watching party. Kaki King won't go on until afterward (9:30) $15.

Broken Social Scene, Land of Talk tonight… – Oct. 14, 2008 –

A couple people have pointed out that the bass player in Techlepathy whose name I didn't know (see yesterday's blog entry) was none other than John Kestner, a former member of Sound of Rails and Fullblown along with drummer Eric Ernst (though Kestner played guitar in those bands). In fact, it was Mike Tulis, also a former member of Fullblown, who told me Saturday night who Ernst was. I should have asked about Kestner. And that's more information than you ever wanted to know. Go see Techlepathy Friday.

Tonight at The Slowdown it's the Omaha debut of Saddle Creek Record's most recent signing, Land of Talk. Their new album, Some Are Lakes, is a shimmery, mid-tempo indie rock collection that feels influenced by '70s-era Fleetwood Mac thanks to its rock-solid well-grounded rhythm section. That said, frontwoman Elizabeth Powell sounds more like one of the Azure Ray women or Carol van Dyk (Bettie Serveert) than Stevie or Christine. It's pleasant-going until "Give Me Back My Heart Attack" breaks through the monotony, only to shift back into mid-tempo gear with "It's Okay," a song whose bass-drum combination makes it the perfect prom dance ballad (think Foreigner or Journey, I'm not entirely kidding). There is a distinctively middle-of-the-road quality to Land of Talk. I'm told they caught the attention of Creek-folk after making a big splash at SXSW two years ago. As one person who was there told me, "You couldn't go anywhere in Austin without hearing something about Land of Talk." Will the hype continue? Well, Pitchfork gave Some Are Lakes a 6.9 (just a tenth of a point away from breaking through that 7.0 glass ceiling that holds back most Creek artists). I like the album, though I don't think Land of Talk will get to the same level as Creek's big swingers (Tokyo Police Club, on the other hand, probably will).

Land of Talk is opening tonight for Canadian supergroup Broken Social Scene, who played a secret show here almost a year ago. Wonder who will be playing with Drew and Canning in this version. Tickets are still available for $20. Show starts at 9.

Live Review: Techlepathy; Deerhoof tonight… – Oct. 13, 2008 –

Lots of aimless driving Saturday night; lots of lost opportunities. After seeing Elegy at The Dundee, I high-tailed it over to The Waiting Room hoping to catch Coffin Killers. No luck. For whatever reason, they were the first band up, and had left the stage by the time I arrived. I didn’t bother to go in. Instead, I drove down to The Saddle Creek Bar. Omaha's punk authority and information hub (Mean Dean) had let me know via e-mail the day before that The Dinks canceled -- something to do with their drummer being unavailable. Still, I wanted to see what was going on; if anyone even showed up. Damn few -- maybe 18 -- were there. I hung out in front while The Lepers and their soundman tried to figure things out. Having just caught their set last week, I drove to O'Leaver's thinking I might get lucky and catch Techlepathy. And for once my timing was right.

Techlepathy is a trio that includes über-guitarist Lincoln Dickison and drummer Eric Ernst. I don't know the bass player's name, but he was good, too. Their style is post-punk noise rock in the same vein as Fromanhole and The Stay Awake. Dickison doesn't so much play guitar as do weird things that look like he's giving it a massage -- strange upper fretboard fingertip hocus-pocus. Vocalwise, Lincoln screams more than sings -- quite a contrast to his solo acoustic balladry, where he croons like an angel. Here he's chasing out demons or other frustrations over intricate time changes, key changes, mood changes. Like all good bands that play this style of music, after the initial install it becomes strangely hypnotic. Techlepathy's trick, however, is a willingness to blend the unexpected tonal melody amidst the din, coming in and out at the most fractious moments. The contrast will make you say out loud, "Wow, that's pretty." It doesn’t happen too often, but when it does, it feels like a headache going away. That said, the overall Techlepathy experience is brutal and bruising. Find out for yourself Friday night when they open for Ladyfinger at Slowdown.

So Deerhoof's tonight on The Slowdown main stage, and I'm tempted to go even though it means a painful Tuesday morning, and it looks like it's going to rain all night (which means no hanging out on the patio between sets). Opening is Experimental Dental School & Au (They should have had UUVVWWZ open) and tickets are a mere $10. Maybe I'll see you there? Also tonight at O'Leaver's it's The Lepers with Minneapolis AmRep band Heroine Sheiks. $5, 9:30 p.m.

Tegan & Sara, McCarthy Trenching tonight; punk rock Saturday night… – Oct. 10, 2008 –

This one has been flying under the radar, probably because it's not a 1% show, but Tegan and Sara are playing tonight at Sokol Auditorium. Just more proof of how out-of-touch I am. I wasn't even aware they had a new album out (Do they?). I also didn't realize that their fanbase had grown enough to warrant booking this show upstairs at Sokol -- a 1,400-capacity room -- and to demand a $25 ticket. Ah, I still remember the last time I tried to interview these fine young ladies, and the fallout that ensued. I have a feeling they won't be dedicating another set to me, nor that they even remember who I am. Opening is City and Color and Girl in a Coma. $25, 7 p.m.

Also tonight at The Waiting Room, McCarthy Trenching celebrates the release of their new CD, Calamity Drenching released on Team Love Records. Joining them are Neva Dinova and Ted Stevens (of Mayday and Cursive). Only $7. 9 p.m. This one will be a hoot.

Tomorrow night Ben Kweller plays at Slowdown with Whitley. I know a lot of people headed to this show. I've never been a Kweller fan, however. $15 today, $17 tomorrow, 9 p.m.

As mentioned in this week's columns, The Dinks are playing Saturday night at The Saddle Creek Bar with the incomparable Perry H. Matthews and The Lepers. 9 p.m., $5.

Meanwhile, over at The Waiting Room Saturday Night , the Coffin Killers open for School of Arms, Paria and The Matador. Coffin Killers, for those who may not know, is the punk project by Filter Kings' frontman Lee Meyerpeter. Leave your cowboy hat at home. $7, 9 p.m.

Also Saturday, Dereck Higgins Band plays a set at The Goofy Foot with Agronomo and Paper Owls. $3, 9 p.m.

Column 193 -- Local Rebellion; UUVVWWZ, A Place to Bury Strangers, Chinese Stars(?), tonight… – Oct. 9, 2008 –

Missing from the comments below is a review of Box Elders, who were playing before the Shanks at O'Leaver's. I didn't get there early enough to hear their entire set; I was outside in the O'Leaver's "beer garden" when they were on stage and didn't even recognize them -- they sounded like a different band, tighter, more put together then the raucous garage band from a few months ago. I guess touring has had its impact on these guys, or maybe it's just Jeremiah's new haircut.

Column 193: Out of Control
Punk in the 21st Century

Is it time for another emergence of punk rock?

After all, punk has been dead since the '80s, right? I mean, think about why punk rock existed in the first place. It was a rebellion against the mainstream. It was social economics and booze. Which makes these solemn, teetering-on-the-edge of financial disaster End Days perfect for another fist-rising experiment in anger therapy. There is no better time than today for punk rock to bleed through the culture and take as many drunk, drugged and penniless prisoners as possible. But it can't sound like the old stuff. It can't feel like nostalgia or tribute or costume-y deification of days gone by, because no one will believe it. The problem with performing punk is that if done without a sense of honest hostility, it becomes novelty; it turns away from angst and becomes fashion, an entirely different type of desperation than what The Dead Kennedys and Black Flag and originators like The Ramones and The Sex Pistols had in mind.

I like punk as grand anarchistic theater, as an outlet for those who have nothing to lose. Which is why I liked the Shanks so much. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

This weekend I saw a few flavors of the current state of punk in our fair city. Friday night featured two bands at Saddle Creek Bar -- The Upsets and Officially Terminated. Fronted by the amazing Jade Rocker, who embodies the hubris of early-day Joan Jett and latter-day Wendy O Williams, The Upsets blow-torched a set of heavy stuff that wasn't so much punk as guttural garage rock, capping their set with a Black Flag cover.

Between sets, folks stood outside and talked about days gone by, including Omaha hall shows of the '80s and '90s that could draw a hundred or so angry, idealistic kids. No chance of that these days, right? I even wondered out loud why no one moshed anymore.

"Because it's kind of gay," said one guy wearing a backwards baseball cap. Viewed from the sidelines, there is something sort of gay about a group of young guys, half of them shirtless, purposely slamming into each other, knocking each other down, and pulling themselves back up with sweaty grips to push-shove-rub against each other some more. Rough love. A shared tribal experience that bordered on the homoerotic, even though there was nothing sexual about it. At least there never seemed to be at the very few '90s punk shows that I attended. I never got into the pit. I was way too old for that sort of thing, and I could never get to that level of exuberance or drunkenness to let myself become part of the fray.

Moshing today -- 20 or 25 years after its invention -- seems cliché and derivative. Today's youth appears way too cultured and cool for that sort of thing, and I guess too cool for punk in general.

But just as I thought that, a small mosh pit -- maybe 10 people -- formed in front of where Officially Terminated was exploding. It was slow-motion mosh, a kinder, gentler version that looked like a friendly shoving match by fans who couldn't help themselves, driven by the band's ear-bleeding ferocity.

Featuring guitarist Sam Morris -- a vision in teased blond hair and make-up a la Poison -- and tiny frenetic frontman Eric Hansen, who looked like he weighed 75 pounds soaking wet, Officially Terminated uncorked a set that bordered on hardcore, with songs like "Martini Time" and a twisted cover of Dr. Hook's "The Cover of the Rolling Stone." It was fun. Too fun to be punk, though a million miles removed from pop-punk garbage like Blink 182.

To find what I was looking for, I had to go to O'Leaver's Saturday night for the last waltz of Omaha's The Shanks, one of the most lewd, crude, out-of-control bands in recent memory. When The Shanks were on stage, you instinctively kept your head on a swivel alert for flying bottles or fists, never quite certain if what you were watching was rock 'n' roll or performance art (or both). The Shanks were guttural. They were angry -- with each other, with themselves, with the crowd. Or so it seemed. Maybe it was only an act. We'll never know. But one thing's for certain, they did an admirable job trying to hoist the long tradition of punk rock on their t-shirt-clad shoulders.

And they did not disappoint Saturday night. The band erupted in a drunken visceral assault, complete with insults for everyone in the room. Frontman Smutt Rodd Todd looked like a pit-bull, bracing against a choker chain only inches from your face, while drummer Jeff Damage teetered on the verge of attacking either the crowd or fellow band members. By the end of the set, Jeff was balancing on one of O'Leaver's cheap tables, shirt off, covered in sweat, eventually falling into the drum kit. It was ugly and beautiful, an expression of hopelessness by four guys who could give a shit what you thought. I don't know if it was punk or not, but it felt right. And now The Shanks are gone forever. Or at least until this weekend, when three of the four members re-emerge at The Saddle Creek Bar as The Dinks.

Maybe it's too early for punk's return. Sure, we're in the midst of economic crisis, but other than the media telling us about it, have we really felt its effects? Not yet, not here. And who knows if we ever will, especially with a change of administration just around the corner. If punk was truly destined to re-emerge in an angry new form, it would have happened at the end of the Bush era, but even then, rock was too fat and happy to find anything worth complaining about.

Tonight at The Waiting Room, personal fave UUVVWWZ is opening for Brooklyn's A Place to Bury Strangers (They market themselves as "the loudest band in New York." Really?) and Sian Alice Group. $10, 9 p.m. Meanwhile, down at Slowdown, it's Philly electronic dance band Lotus (sort of Rapture meets LCD minus the cowbell) and Somasphere. $15, 9 p.m.

Also tonight, according to their Myspace page (so this hasn't been confirmed with the venue), Chinese Stars (ex Arab On Radar, ex-Six Finger Satellite) plays at The Brothers with Awesome Brothers. Thanks to Kevin in Lincoln for the head's up.

Live Review: Monotonix, Silver Jews; STNNNG, Perry H. Matthews tonight… – Oct. 8, 2008 –

The music was turned off when we arrived at The Waiting Room last night at 9:20 to allow for the Obama/McCain debate. Surprisingly, many were glued to the TV sets, as if watching a boxing match… or a trial. The droll spectacle couldn't put a damper on what was ahead, though. The stage remained dark after the final handshake (or lack of one), and from my vantage point sitting at the bar, as the clock struck 10, I began to wonder what was going on. Then from nowhere came a shrill wave of feedback, and I realized that, of course, Monotonix was set up on the floor. I vaguely remembered hearing about the last time these long-haired Israelis came through town, how their equipment had a way of wandering throughout the club. We were in for the same thing as the band began ripping through its rowdy, punkish garage rock, barked with an accent from in front of the stage, surrounded by 150 grinning fans. You couldn't see anything from the floor unless you were in the 6'5" range. I wound up watching from the stage. Frontman Ami Shalev was carried above the fray in a large plastic trashcan, I'm not sure by whom, as the band was having a riot of its own. Ami kept moving the kick drum and the rest of the kit further and further away from the stage, eventually into the main bar area, then the entrance, then finally outside on the sidewalk in front of TWR, frantically waving the crowd to follow him. And they eagerly did -- how often these days do they get a chance to watch a live band and smoke at the same time? Outside, drummer Ran Shimoni banged on a snare while Ami climbed a traffic signal pole. Hanging from a piece of the girding he told the crowd to count down from 10 and then count up to four, upon which time he launched into the crowd to surf back to the sidewalk. Never a dull moment.

I'm not sure you can say the same thing about Silver Jews. David Berman and wife Cassie were joined by four other band members including drummer Bob Nastanovich (of Pavement fame). Hanging from Berman's microphone was a unit of blood that swung to and fro -- it was creepy, and disappeared halfway through the set (vampire?). Though this reference will be lost on almost every reader of this blog, Berman looked just like my old communications professor from UNO, Hugh Cowden - he had the same glasses, the same beard, the same shaped face, and probably the same wardrobe -- a thrift-store western-cut polyester suit jacket. It was Hugh only 30 years younger, holding a mic.

I've been enjoying the Jews' latest album, which is dotted with touches of western swing. Well, there was no C&W influence heard during last night's set. The band sounded like well-played though run-of-the-mill indie (Pavement in their final years). Even Berman's voice sounded different, not so much like Johnny Cash as Kris Kristofferson. A couple people complained about the monotonous, medium-tempo pace of every song as well as Berman's flat vocal delivery. It didn't bother me at all, and there were times where it provided a necessary contrast to the more ethereal portions of the set. Though they're out supporting Lookout Mountain, Lookout Sea, they only played maybe three songs from it. No "Party Barge." No "San Francisco BC." I assume the rest of the set was older material, which I will be downloading from Lala later this evening. Those kooky Monotonix guys joined the band for the last of the three-song encore -- Ami sitting on his drummer's shoulders. Silver Jews were great, but Monotonix will be the band most people are talking about the day after.

Looks like you'll have to wait until tomorrow for that weekend-review punk column. I'll have it online in the morning.
Tonight at The Waiting Room it's STNNNG (minus the gloves) with Omaha's current "It Band" Perry H. Matthews, Mother Pile and Child Bite. All four for a mere $7.

Silver Jews tonight; a week of greatness at The Waiting Room… – Oct. 7, 2008 –

The live review for this past weekend's shows (Upsets, Officially Terminated, Shanks) will appear tomorrow as this week's column (which means they'll also appear in this week's issue of The Reader). Look for that.

But tonight, get your ass to The Waiting Room for The Silver Jews. I can say without restraint that their new record, Lookout Mountain, Lookout Sea, is one of the best albums of the year. For those of you who missed it, here's my Aug. 20 review:

Silver Jews, Lookout Mountain, Lookout Sea (Drag City) -- The album can be summed up in one perfect song: "San Francisco B.C.," where drawling frontman David Berman croons a story of a break-up with a "local martyr in the vegan press," a crime story that finds our hero "in the possession of burglary tools" only to confront the bad-haired murderer who orphaned his true love. Along the way there's plenty of "fist cuisine" and "insignificant shit" and other tossed-out genius that makes this one song better than Tarantino's last three films. Musically, it's laid-back, rolling, countrified slacker rock, with Berman sounding like the second coming of Johnny Cash, and wife, Cassie, providing the June Carter harmonies. Rating: 4.5 stars.

Silver Jews rarely tour, rarely play live. The couple are notoriously private and in years past rarely did interviews (Here's Chris Aponik's e-mail interview in the current issue of The Reader). It's very likely that you will never get another chance to see this band in Omaha. A very good chance. Don't miss it. $14, 9 p.m. Get there on time to catch the return (since April 2007) of Israeli garage band Monotonix representin' Tel Aviv.

Tonight is day one of a week filled with amazing shows at The Waiting Room. The STNNNG plays tomorrow night, UUVVWWZ plays Thursday opening for A Place to Bury Strangers, McCarthy Trenching has its CD release show Friday with Neva Dinova and Ted Stevens, Coffin Killers open for School of Arms Saturday, then the place gets burned down Sunday night by Bloodcow and stoner rock kingpins High on Fire. Get the details at The Waiting Room website, and thank Marc and Jim the next time you see them, which better be tonight.

Black Squirrels tonight; The Shanks finale tomorrow… – Oct. 3, 2008 –

The band of choice for opening CD release shows has a CD release show of its own tonight at The Waiting Room. The Black Squirrels is self releasing its 12-song sophomore effort, Paying for Your Pleasure, recorded by fellow squirrel Tim Cich at Bassline Studio. Considering all the bands they've opened for, I expect there to be a huge crowd for this one. Opening is The Great Atomic Power (with the great Mike Friedman, Anderson, Dunwoody) and Brad Hoshaw and the Seven Deadlies. 9 p.m., $7.

Also tonight, Seattle instrumental outfit Joy Wants Eternity has moved its show from O'Leaver's to The Saddle Creek Bar. Also on the bill are local punk faves The Upsets and Officially Terminated. No word on the cover. Starts at 9.

Speaking of punk, tomorrow night is the long-awaited final show ever for The Shanks, who will go down in the history of Omaha music as one of the most lewd, crude, out-of-control bands the scene has ever known. When The Shanks were on stage, there was never a dull moment. You instinctively kept your head on a swivel watching for flying bottles or fists, never quite certain if what you were watching was rock and roll or performance art (or both). The Shanks were guttural. They were angry -- with each other, with themselves, with the crowd. Or so it seemed. Maybe it was only an act. We'll never know. But one thing's for certain, they did an admirable job trying to hoist the long tradition of punk rock on their t-shirt-clad shoulders. They shall be missed.

As part of their farewell, the band is cleaning house. According to Shanks' Todd:

"All of the remaining 45s will be given away for free. Also, a 7-song CDEP of unreleased songs will be available for free. Only 50 made, any left over from the show will be available at the Antiquarium. Opening the show will be The Intelligence from In The Red Records. They're from the West Coast and use to be the A-Frames.

Box Elders play second, just returning from Gonerfest in Memphis.

The Shanks play last. May play old stuff, maybe unheard of stuff, maybe all covers from Sesame Street. No one knows 'cause we don't either. We're still going thru all our recordings and may release one more 7" and with everything else, it's going up online at LastFm and Soundclick for those who IPod and who don't have turntables."

$5, 9:30 p.m. Get there early if you want in because this will be a madhouse.

Also Saturday, Talkin' Mountain, Honeybee and Tim Perkins are playing an afternoon gig (4 p.m.) at Urban Outfitters. It's free.

Speed! Nebraska site update; Slowdown knows flooring; MavRadio benefit… – Oct. 2, 2008 –

Speed! Nebraska Records launched a new, improved website this week that not only let's you find out about some of the coolest bands in the area and hear some samples, but also buy S!N product online, thanks to their exciting new shopping feature. Man, this Interweb technology is amazing! Check it out.

* * *

Did you notice that Slowdown is closed next Monday through Wednesday? Jason at Saddle Creek tells me that they're installing new flooring (It's about time they replaced that old shit! What's it been, a year?). Slowdown will reopen next Thursday, just in time for electro-dance band Lotus and Somasphere.

* * *

Tonight at The Barley St. Tavern, it's the UNO Mavradio fundraiser. Your $3 cover will go toward station upkeep and the purchase of a new soundboard. No, you still can't hear Mavradio in your car; only on the internets (launched at But who knows, some day… The show's line-up is Benny Jones, Spiders for Love, Platte River Rain, and Ragged Company. Starts at 8.
Also tonight, Nashville Pussy returns to The Waiting Room with Grady. $12, 9 p.m. And down at Slowdown Jr. (on those ugly old floors) it's Sing It Loud, You Me and Everyone We Know, Take Cover and Get Down. $10, 9 p.m.

Column 192 – A Faint Rainbow; Yuppies, Kayo Dot, Catfish Haven tonight… – Oct. 1, 2008 –

This week's column is some new stuff combined with rehash from last week's blog entries. Pick and choose, etc. The big news is at the top …

Column 192: Faciinatiing Opportunity
The Show Is the Rainbow added to Faint tour.

The last time we checked in with Darren Keen he was discussing the 5-year anniversary of his project, The Show Is the Rainbow, while dining on CiCi's over his lunch break at Homer's.

Despite such low-rent eating habits, Keen has carved out an impressive career in music, thanks to a solid discography and a willingness to live for weeks at a time on the road playing his unique brand of trippy, experimental indie rock as only he can -- on the floor and in your face.

His persistence is paying off in what may be the biggest break of his career. The Show Is the Rainbow has been asked to be the opener for The Faint, who are on the road supporting Faciinatiion, their new self-released album currently sitting at No. 7 on the CMJ radio top-200. Keen's leg of the tour begins Oct. 19 at The Blue Note in Columbia, Missouri, and takes him to Nashville, Athens, New Orleans, Memphis, Oklahoma City, Boulder and Albuquerque, before ending Nov. 1 in Tempe, Arizona. It's the kind of tour every Omaha band dreams about -- playing in sold-out, medium-sized venues filled with The Faint's insanely rabid fans. Keen said his booking agent, Panache Rock out of California, lined up the tour with The Faint's booking agent (presumably Brian Cohen of William Morris Agency).

The timing couldn't have been any better. Keen just finished recording his new album, Wet Fist, at his storage-room studio inside The Faint's Enamel Studio. Mixed by The Faint's Joel Petersen, the full-length will be released on Retard Disco Records. "They are from L.A., home to really good like-minded weirdo shit," Keen said of his new label. The vinyl version of the album will be released on S.A.F. Records, who released Keen's last album, Gymnasia. To help get momentum rolling for the February release, Retard Disco is pressing a sampler of new material to be given away at shows.

Keen said money made from the tour will help offset debt he's accumulated from booking flights for his European tour that begins the day after he gets back from The Faint tour. The Europe shows will feature These Arms Are Snakes, Russian Circles and Bad Dudes, "plus my own headlining shows in Norway, where I now am a total pimp," he said, adding that he snagged the same Scandinavian booking agent as Metallica and KISS after playing a festival there.

Could this upcoming Faint tour be Keen's ticket out of CiCi's buffet line? "I don't know what it'll mean for my career, but it will be really fun," he said.

* * *

Looks like Lincoln Calling had its most successful year ever. The five-day event held in Lincoln the weekend before last featured arguably the best line-up at any local festival. Lincoln Calling organizer Jeremy Buckley said the numbers were impressive.

"We had attendance of close to 2,300 overall, with 10 shows having attendance of more than 100," he said. "Band payout was in the neighborhood of $8,500, and sound guys made $1,300 last weekend. I wish I could do the math and see what kind of money the crowds generated for downtown Lincoln, because if everyone spent $20 on top of the cost of their ticket on food and beer and such, that's 40K. Big numbers."

Indeed. Buckley, who has been doing Lincoln Calling since 2005, said he intended to "slow down" after this year's festival, "but it was the first year that I genuinely felt that a lot of non-regulars supported shows at all of the venues involved," he said. "It was a very community-oriented event, and I think rather than tone it down next year I'll just figure out how to involve a group of people (to be) in charge of different aspects of the weekend." Here's to Lincoln Calling '09.

* * *

Speaking of noteworthy tours, while glancing at the Saddle Creek Records tour schedules on their website, I noticed that there's an Azure Ray concert scheduled for The Troubadour in Los Angeles on Nov. 30. The duo of Maria Taylor and Orenda Fink had played together for 13 years prior to their split in 2005. Now three years later, they're back together again, at least for one night.

Saddle Creek Records label chief Robb Nansel said the concert is a "one-off for now," but added, "Hopefully it leads to more stuff." While I've enjoyed Maria's and Orenda's solo and band projects, none of them reached the level of their Azure Ray output. Could this be the beginning of a long-term thing? Only time will tell. Hey Robb, when are we going to get that reunion on Slowdown's stage?

* * *

Finally, a bit of nostalgia: My all-time favorite concert film was released for the first time on DVD this past Tuesday -- U2's Live at Red Rocks. And with it comes an accompanying live album, a remastered version of Under a Blood Red Sky, a record that captured U2 at its creative zenith, when the band was still young and angry and everything they did felt important. Filmed during a rainstorm at Denver's Red Rocks Amphitheater on June 5, 1983, the DVD captures a break-neck performance of their best songs from the pre-Unforgettable Fire years (Boy, War, October) including five previously unreleased live cuts, a director's commentary, digitally re-graded pictures and a 5.1 mix. Never has this material sounded so good, and never again will this band be so relevant. Some things, it seems, don't improve with age.

* * *

There's a handful of interesting shows going on tonight.

The Waiting Room is hosting a trio of dusty psychedelic bands including Secretly Canadian act Catfish Haven, Athens band Dead Confederate and Awesome Color. $10, 9 p.m.

Meanwhile, The Barley St. has a trio of punk acts headlined by The Yuppies, with The Dinks and Black Time. $?, 9 p.m.
And finally, down at Slowdown Jr., it's the return of Kayo Dot with Omaha noise rock duo The Lepers and the sound art of Fathr. $7, 9 p.m.

Live Review: Dr. Dog; CD Review: Department of Eagles; Dave Dondero tonight… – Sept. 30, 2008 –

I knew little about Dr. Dog before last night's show at The Waiting Room. I had listened to one or two of their songs on Lala and just wasn't feeling it. Still, their publicist put me on the list -- and I got my column in early -- so how could I resist? I'd like to tell you that I was pleasantly surprised, but DD sounded pretty much how I expected -- a cross between Gomez and Nada Surf, a little too mainstream for my tastes. The band sports two lead singers -- the bass player who has an in-your-face Roger Daltrey style, and a guitarist/keyboardist with a high, slightly nasal tone who sounded like a cross between Doug Martsch and Neil Young. It was the nasal guy who I dug the most; his subtle approach effectively sanded down the edges of the band's over-the-top rawk that more often than not, suffered from trying too hard. Try telling that to the 180 screaming fans on hand, however, who soaked in every minute of it.

Another reason I went last night was because Teresa wanted a Dr. Dog T-shirt -- not because she likes the band, but because she's dog crazy. Unfortunately, there weren't any dogs on Dr. Dog's shirts, and they cost $20. I'll buy just about any band's T-shirt if it has a halfway interesting design and costs $10. For $20, it has to have either been a life-changing show or an AA shirt with a jaw-dropping design. Or have a dog on it.

I've got a lot of T-shirts.

* * *

Here's the latest and greatest from intern Brendan Greene-Walsh:

Department of Eagles, In Ear Park (4AD) -- The story of how Department of Eagles came to be is as interest as its music. In what could have been a dreaded situation, Fred Nicolaus and Daniel Rossen were assigned as roommates their freshman year of college without first meeting. As luck would have it, their friendship flourished. They began writing together, combining their different influences and ideas. Even though separated while Rossen was on tour, they continued to record and email ideas to each other. It was this cross-country collaboration that helped create the backbone of this album, which comes out next month. The recording is as eclectic and scattered as the methodology that went into writing it. While most songs on the album are down tempo and subdued -- like "Phantom Other" and the title track -- others take the same restrained song structure and couple it with uplifting and whimsical instrumentation, such as on the fourth track, "Teenagers." This feat is achieved thanks to an eclectic selection of backing instruments -- guitar, upright bass, piano, synthesizers, oboe and handclaps. The band keeps an even keel throughout the album, but manages to ensure that the songs don't become repetitive and boring. Rating: Yes. -- Brendan Greene-Walsh

Tim's take: More often than not, DOE sounds like pre-synthpop, pre-Outback Steakhouse Of Montreal -- i.e., earnest. echoing chamber pop . But whereas pre-bloomin' onion Of Montreal tended to wander and bore, DOE's ethereal quality is infused with enough hooks to make you stand and listen and wonder. It's dream pop that isn't interested in putting you to sleep. Rating: Yes.

* * *
Team Love recording artist and Conor Oberst's biggest vocal influence Dave Dondero returns to Omaha tonight at The Waiting Room. Dondero's sets either mesmerize or stultify, depending on his mood and yours. Opening is singer-songwriter and guitar wizard Lincoln Dickison. Definitely worth the $8. 9 p.m.

Live Review: Wagon Blasters, Filter Kings; Dr. Dog, Fortnight tonight… – Sept. 29, 2008 –

Well, The Filter Kings have to be pleased with the turn-out Friday night for their CD release show. I didn't get an official count, but my eyeball estimate would be at least 200. The crowd was about half that when the Wagon Blasters went on at around 9:30, probably because of debate.

I didn't realize that both Thornton brothers were in the Wagon Blasters -- Bob and Bill playing bass and guitar. As such, it was sort of like a Frontier Trust reunion. We were even treated to a couple classic FT songs, including all-time favorite, "Swimming Hole." Even the new stuff had that slightly country-fied (fried?) twang that FT was known for, more so than the faster, harder, guitar-burning stuff that makes The Monroes so special. The common denominator: Gary Dean Davis, who sports the same hollerin' auctioneer vocals regardless of whoever's playing guitar.

Next, Black Squirrels did their usual laid-back set of homemade bluegrass -- always pleasant. Then it was the Filter Kings' turn. The band seemed properly amped for the show, much more revved up than the last time I saw them just a few weeks earlier. The overall vibe felt chaotic and rough-hewn. Out of the box they had trouble with the stage sound -- frontman Lee Meyerpeter frantically pointed at his microphone and guitar, then pointed skyward. Feedback ensued, and was a problem throughout the set. Still, the band sounded on-point playing songs off the new album along with a cover or two, including a gut-punch tribute to Jerry Reed via a scorching version of "East Bound and Down," which we all remember from Smokey and the Bandit. Guest vocalists came and went all night, including Kat from Cloven Path and Kat from Black Squirrels. The crowd did its share of hootin' and hollerin', and for one night, The Waiting Room was transformed into a Midwestern version of Gilly's.

* * *

Tonight at the Waiting Room, the red-hot Dr. Dog (currently at No. 6 on the CMJ Triple A top-20) plays with openers Delta Spirit and Hacienda. $12, 9 p.m.

Meanwhile, down at Slowdown Jr. it's Birdmonster and local heroes Fortnight (Jenn Bernard of Park Ave.). $8, 9 p.m.

Crazy Friday night, not so crazy Saturday… – Sept. 26, 2008 –

We've got another logjam of quality shows tonight. Choose wisely.

I'll be at the Filter Kings CD release show at The Waiting Room, with openers Black Squirrels and Wagon Blasters. I saw the Kings a few weeks ago and it was a rather milquetoast event. I'm told by Gerald Lee himself that the Filter Kings will be at their edgy, boozy, watch-out-for-flying-chairs best tonight. Get there early to see what kind of trouble Gary Dean Davis is up to these days. $8, 9 p.m.

The FK show has fierce competition at Slowdown Jr. from Brimstone Howl, who will be celebrating the release of their new disc, We Came in Peace, on Alive Records. Opening is The Stay Awake and Father of the Year. The show starts shortly after Slowdown's Obama/McCain debate party. $7, 9 p.m.

Also tonight at brand-new music venue The Attic at 33rd and Harney, it's Yuppies, The Cave Kids, Lipstick Homicide and Lincoln legends Domestica. $6, 9 p.m.

And at PS Collective it's the hard stuff by way of Paria and Fromanhole, with The Zach Heath Band and DJ Plan 9. $6, 9 p.m.

There's not so many choices tomorrow night. The only show on the list is the final reunion of Lincoln band Mr. 1986 at Slowdown Jr. Opening is Eagle*Seagull and Darren Keen. $7, 9 p.m.

Feature: Filter Kings' Finer Things; Lincoln Calling wrap-up; Azure Ray reunion; Midwest Dilemma, Thunder Power tonight…– Sept. 25, 2008 –

Just posted, a feature/interview with Lee Meyerpeter of the Filter Kings (read it here). Actually, Lee says he goes by "Gerald Lee" these days, even though for all those years in Cactus Nerve Thang and Bad Luck Charm he was simply "Lee." I'm guessing the name shift is a tribute to his late father, Gerald Lee, Sr. The story covers the origins of the Filter Kings and their new album, Finer Things, which will be available at a CD release show tomorrow night at The Waiting Room.

I'm not a country music fan, but just like any god-fearing red-blooded American, I like Johnny Cash and Hank Williams and some of the "old country" bands that were around in the '50s, '60s and '70s, before C&W got slicked down and commercialized. I can say unconditionally that I love this new Filter Kings record. Meyerpeter and his band have made an album of rocking country music about booze and broken hearts that stands tall next to anything played on country radio. There's meaning behind every song, whether it's the story of Meyerpeter's parents' divorce ("Passion Lingers") or Lee Jr.'s love of Rumplemints ("100 Proof Man"). It's one of the top-five locally produced records this year, and has potential to take off if the band can get it into music programmers' hands at so-called "Outlaw Country" radio stations, and if the band can get out and tour. Anyway, read my account of the band, then go to The Waiting Room tomorrow night. Opening is Black Squirrels (who have become the band of choice for opening slots at CD release shows) and The Wagon Blasters -- a new project that reunites The Monroes' Gary Dean Davis with Bill Thornton, both former members of Frontier Trust. Monroes' drummer Jesse Render also is along for this break-neck hayrack ride.

* * *

Tomorrow night's show is the Wagon Blaster's Omaha debut. Their first gig ever was last week at Lincoln Calling, which had its most successful year ever. LC organizer Jeremy Buckley said he was pleased with the attendance numbers. "We had attendance of close to 2,300 overall, with 10 shows having attendance of more than 100," he said of the 5-day event. "Band payout was in the neighborhood of $8,500, and sound guys made $1,300 last weekend. I wish I could do the math and see what kind of money the crowds generated for downtown Lincoln, because if everyone spent $20 on top of the cost of their ticket on food and beer and such, that's 40K. Big numbers."

Indeed. Buckley said he intended to "slow down" after this year's festival, "but it was the first year that I genuinely felt that a lot of non-regulars supported shows at all of the venues involved," he said. "It was a very community-oriented event, and I think rather than tone it down next year I'll just figure out how to involve a group of people (to be) in charge of different aspects of the weekend." Here's to Lincoln Calling '09.

* * *

In other news, while glancing at the Saddle Creek Records tour schedules on their website the other day, I noticed that there's an Azure Ray concert scheduled for The Troubadour in Los Angeles on Nov. 30. The duo of Maria Taylor and Orenda Fink had played together for 13 years prior to their split in 2005. Now three years later, they're back together again, at least for one night. Saddle Creek Records label exec Robb Nansel said the concert is a "one-off for now," but added, "hopefully it leads to more stuff." While I've enjoyed Maria's and Orenda's solo and band projects, none of them reached the level of their Azure Ray output. Could this be the beginning of a long-term thing? Only time will tell. Hey Robb, when are we going to get that reunion on Slowdown's stage?

* * *
Tonight at The Barley St. it's Thunder Power with Midwest Dilemma (there is no way that their full ensemble will fit on Barley St.'s tiny "stage") along with Bad Folk and Spiders for Luv. 9 p.m., $4.

Column 191 -- Lit Fest recap... – Sept. 24, 2008 –

A friend of mine read the following column and said, "That's a nice story, but what happened on your panel? Who was there? What'd you talk about?" Well, I didn't bother recapping the dialog between myself and the authors because it was only interesting at the moment -- or as they say, you had to be there. It was mostly back and forth about how music kind of influenced the panelists. Carleen Brice's novel probably had the most direct link to music, having written Nina Simone into the story line. But all the writers said they don't really draw directly from music when they write, and like me, can't write while there's music playing in the background, especially music with lyrics. It's too distracting bordering on impossible. Even when I'm reviewing an album, I might have the record playing when I get started, but eventually I grab the remote and turn it off. Charles Bock uses music to mentally set a tone before he writes. So the underlying theme was, yes, music influenced the authors' creative process, but really, how could it not? I've never met a creative person that isn't inspired in some way by music or art.

The most interesting part of the panel was hearing Dana Rasso discuss her love for The Minutemen and the film We Jam Econo, and hearing Bock complain about Pitchfork and other online music review sites. Part of his comments are below. I had a great time, and from what I can tell, so did the 30 or so people in the gallery.

Column 191: Book Learned
Confessions of a Lit Fest moderator

The (downtown Omaha) Lit Fest was last weekend at the Bemis Center. It was an opportunity for local writers and people who like writers (readers?) to meet and discuss the art of writing with people who do it for a living.

This year I was asked by Lit Fest organizer, novelist Timothy Schaffert, to moderate a panel discussion about music and writing. "Taking Notes: Music and Writing," the panel was titled. "Reader music critic Tim McMahan discusses the role of music in writing fiction, criticism, and screenplays."

The panel included three professional writers. Novelist Carleen Brice, author of "Orange Mint and Honey," is an Omaha native living in Denver who featured the spirit of Nina Simone in her novel, acting as sort of a guardian angel/guiding light to the main character. Charles Bock, author of "Beautiful Children," lives in New York, though he was raised in Las Vegas, where his novel takes place. His music connection involved a promotional website with a rock soundtrack that serenades readers as they browse. Finally there was D.E. (Dana) Rasso, the guy behind defunct music blog #1 Hit Song (, or so I thought. The final scheduled panelist was Omaha's own Nik Fackler, writer/director of the film Lovely Still and frontman for the band The Family Radio. Unfortunately for us (but fortunately for him), Nik's film was chosen for screening at the Toronto Film Festival, which meant he had to be in Toronto.

Then there was me. I've never moderated anything before let alone a panel. While I've been known to read books -- usually two or three at a time -- I have a disability that prevents me from finishing them. If you go into my home office you'll find hundreds of books with deposit slips, matchbooks, Metro cards, concert tickets, torn bits of toilet paper, anything that can be used as a bookmark, sticking out of them. My problem stems from forcing myself to fruitlessly read the Foundation Trilogy in high school. I promised afterward to never subject myself to finishing a boring novel again. And as for good books, I can't bear the thought of finishing one knowing that there was nothing left to enjoy. Better to stop a few chapters before the end and keep something for later. As a result, I had to wait for the movie to find out what happened to Frodo and Miles Roby ("Empire Falls") and James Leer ("Wonder Boys") and Rob Fleming ("High Fidelity").

Well, Dana turned out not to be a guy, but a cute, smart, funny lady with an intense love of The Minutemen. Carleen was pleasant and interesting. Charles Bock, on the other hand, was intense and serious, the portrait of a young East Coast novelist with something to say. I found out later that he's sort of a celebrity in New York. "People recognize him on the street," Dana told me afterward. It was Bock who also had the most on his mind during the panel.

"Online music criticism in general is just ass. It's insular and it's smarmy and everyone has an opinion on something," he said. "It's going to make it really difficult to the point of impossible for anything to be heard genuinely or experienced in a genuine way because there's already a short-handed answer."

Bock went on to say that an album is meant to be taken at face value. "If you're bright you can hear overtones of this and that and come up with something," he said, "but to have a smarmy little fuck tell you in 200 words whatever. And then Entertainment Weekly gives you a grade. Like really? Thumbs up?"

Bock was hitting a little too close to home, especially considering that The Reader just relaunched CD reviews. Each with a 200-word limit. And a 5-star rating.

Afterward, Bock said he was headed back to his hotel room, to write, because "that's what I do." I intend to seek out his book and enjoy it, at least up 'til the ending. Hopefully he's already sold the movie rights so I can find out what happens.

Carleen disappeared to another panel, while Dana and her friend, New York publicist Lauren Cerand, were curious to find out about Omaha outside of The Old Market. So we hopped inside my Mini Cooper, dropped the top, and I gave them a whirlwind tour through midtown, Benson, the faceless West Omaha suburbs, past landmarks like Boy's Town, the Gold's Gym that used to be the Kmart where I worked my way through college, and Von Maur, the scene of last year's tragic shooting and a fine place to buy shoes.

It was the second time in less than a month that I showed a New Yorker around Omaha, and just like the first time, Dana and Lauren seemed genuinely thrilled. Or maybe it was just the fact that, as New Yorkers, they hadn't ridden in a car in months. I hope they flew back to New York having made a few new fans at Lit Fest, and thinking that Omaha would be as good a place as any to end their next novel.

Tomorrow: The Filter Kings

Felice Bros. tonight… – Sept. 23, 2008 –

Team Love recording artist The Felice Brothers are bringing their down-low saloon-friendly jams to The Waiting Room tonight with AA Bondy. $10, 9 p.m. Do it.

Live Review: Jenny and Conor and The Anchor Inn… – Sept. 22, 2008 –

The best news about Saturday night's concert: The Anchor Inn. Where has this place been all my life? Why aren't there more (non-redneck) rock shows hosted here?

I admit to having been a little tenuous about driving down there after a long day, and almost didn't. Where exactly was this place? Would we have to park in a field? Would I have to wait in long lines to 1) get in, 2) buy a beer, 3) take a leak? Do I really have the patience to withstand such an enormous hassle? And what about all the bikers that The Anchor Inn is famous for?

I decided not to sissy-out and Googled the place on my iPhone. It wasn't too tricky to find -- get on Abbott Drive and follow the trail of tail lights headed to the concert. At the end of a long, uneven paved road was the marina-like bar/restaurant and a team of yellow-shirted security guys who directed me to a parking spot only a few yards from the entrance. Despite the concert having started two hours earlier (I missed Son, Ambulance and Matt Focht) there was a long line to get in. Ah, but a plethora of security guys checking IDs shortened the wait. Too bad they couldn't do anything about the swarm of Obama people asking if we were registered voters (The whole event felt like an Obama rally from the moment we arrived).

After about 10 minutes, we were in. Walking around the restaurant revealed the huge permanent outdoor stage, large enough to handle almost any performer. Just beyond the restaurant's patio were dozens of picnic tables that led down to an open space in front of the stage. Getting a beer from the outdoor bar took only a couple minutes (no lines, but that might be because a can of Bud Light cost $4). In back was a tent that sold McKenna's Barbecue, while a row of portajohns sat tucked away left of the stage area. Despite a crowd of 2,000, it never felt crowded. The owner said the venue has handled crowds exceeding 6,000, thanks to a huge field south of the stage that leads down to the river. Add to all that the fact that it was the best sound I've ever heard at an outdoor event and this place has the makings of an outdoor music Nirvana. I was blown away. So was One Percent, who said they're considering hosting more shows there next year. The Anchor Inn certainly has my vote.

Which brings us to the musical portion of the review. While Conor was the headliner, Jenny Lewis and her band was just as much of a draw. Looking like a band of hippies (everyone on stage wore hippie hats, the bass player wore a pseudo American flag vest that looked right out of Easy Rider), her six-piece outfit sounded like the second-coming of the Allman Bros complete with boogie-woogie country rock vibe. The sometimes flaccid songs off her new album, Acid Tongue, roared to life in living, psychedelic color. Lewis, who has one of the best voices in indie music today, belted out one song after another, backed vocally in duets by Jonathan Rice (who sang the Elvis Costello part on "Carpetbaggers" and also shared in the unfortunate cover of "Love Hurts" "dedicated to Barack and Hillary"). Lewis appeared to be having a much better time at this show than the last Rilo Kiley concert down at Slowdown. Something tells me that this band and this music could take over everything in her career.

I had the same feeling about Conor Oberst and the Mystic Valley Band. The six-piece came on at around 11:30 dressed in matching dark-blue satin jackets with their band logo embroidered on the back. Oberst went through two guitars during the first song, a testimony to the equipment problems the band was having -- they had to use Lewis' gear as theirs didn't show up until minutes before the concert. No matter, the band sounded great ripping through a set of country rock songs that had new life when performed live with this crew. Like Lewis, Oberst looked like he was having the time of his life. He was much more animated than at the usually staid Bright Eyes shows where he's playing in front of a stringed quartet or brass section. Here it was simple, all-out country rock, loose and fun, eager and relaxed. I left wondering how Oberst could possibly go back to the indie straight-jacket that is Bright Eyes. The answer: He won't, at least not anytime soon. As I said before, Mystic Valley will continue through the end of the year, and then Oberst will focus on his M. Ward/Jim James collaboration, a band that will likely be as free-wheelin' as this one was.

But after seeing this show, the thought of Bright Eyes never coming back at all crept into my mind. Oberst is ever moving forward. He's always looking at the next project, the next opportunity, rarely looking into his rear view mirror at what he's accomplished. Certainly he'll continue to work with folks from Bright Eyes -- Nate Walcott is a member of the Mystic Valley Band, and Oberst and Mike Mogis will always be joined through ARC and other projects. So could Bright Eyes become this year's Desaparecidos? Every time I asked Oberst in interviews if Desa was happening again, he'd say, yes of course, it's just a matter of scheduling. Until the last time I asked, when he said Desa represented a time in his life that has long passed. The same could be said of Bright Eyes and that project's catalog of forlorn classics perfectly designed to make the little girls cry. Looking around the crowd at Saturday night's show, there wasn't a tear to be seen…

* * *

Tonight at Slowdown Jr., those ever-lovin' muppets known as Talkin' Mountain with Love Like Fire, Robert Adam and DJ Kobrakyle. $6, 9 p.m.

Lincoln Calling continues; Lit Fest, Conor Oberst tomorrow… – Sept. 19, 2008 –

The hot ticket tonight is once again Lincoln Calling. In fact, tonight is the hottest night of the festival's five days and definitely worth the hour-long commute to the star city. The standout shows are at Box Awesome and Duffy's. The two-story BA extravaganza might be the best one-venue one-night line-up this year. And of course the Speed! Nebraska showcase at Duffy's is an absolute can't-miss spectacle. Figure out a clever way to split yourself in two so you don’t have to miss a minute of anything. Here's the Friday night LC schedule:

Box Awesome

(Upstairs): Columbia vs. Challenger, Baby Walrus, Bear Country FTL Drive.
(Basement), UUVVWWZ, Capgun Coup, Honeybee, Conchance. 9 p.m., $8, 18+

Duffy's: Speed Nebraska Fall Demolition Derby -- Domestica, The Mezcal Brothers, The Third Men, Wagon Blasters. 9 p.m., $5, 21+

Zoo Bar: Son of 76 and the Watchmen, Matt Cox, Tijuana Gigolos. 9 p.m., $5, 21+

State Theater: Academy of Rock Showcase, Straight Outta Junior High, Exit 48, Dodging Bullets, Emergency Entrance. 6 p.m., $5, all ages

Knickerbocker's: The Allendales, Ed Gray, Cameron McGill and What Army, The Whipkey Three. 9:30 p.m., $5, 18+

12th St. Pub: Darren Keen, Heligoats, MWMBLES, Orion Walsh. 6 p.m., $3, 21+

Saturday night

Duffy's: Boss Martians, Tenth Horse, Volunteers, Little Brazil. 9 p.m., $5, 21+

Zoo Bar: Tatsuya Nakatani, Volcano Insurance, The Mighty Vitamins. 9 p.m., $5, 21+

Knick's: The Show is the Rainbow, Pharmacy Spirits, Boo and Boo Too. 9:30 p.m., $5, 18+

Box Awesome: The B Foundation, Andrews Ave., Vibenhai. 9 p.m., $5, 18+


Duffy's: Matt Focht (Head of Femur), Son Ambulance. 6 p.m., $5, 19+

Box Awesome: Pattern is Movement, Marianas w/special guests. 9 p.m., $7, 18+

Meanwhile, back here in Omaha, there are plenty of good shows going on if you don't feel like making that drive.

Tonight at The Waiting Room it's the yee-haw sound of Forty Twenty and The Mercurys. 9 p.m. $7.

Saturday night is, of course, Conor Oberst and the Mystic Valley Band at The Anchor Inn with Son, Ambulance, Matt Focht and Jenny Lewis. Tix are $20 and the show starts at 8 p.m.

Also Saturday night, The Song Remains the Same plays at The Waiting Room with The Ground Tyrants. $7, 9 p.m.

And yours truly will be hosting a panel discussion at noon Saturday down at the Bemis Center as part of the (downtown) Omaha Lit Fest. As described on the Lit Fest site:

Taking Notes: Music and Writing -- Reader music critic Tim McMahan discusses the role of music in writing fiction, criticism, and screenplays. With novelists Charles Bock (Beautiful Children, which included an accompanying alt music mix) and Carleen Brice (Orange Mint and Honey, in which Nina Simone plays a role), filmmaker Nik Fackler (director of music videos and the locally shot film, Lovely, Still), and D.E. Rasso (music writer for #1 Hit Song and the defunct Brooklyn dirty-mag for women, Sweet Action).

I'm told Nik probably won't be there on account of The Toronto Film Festival, where Lovely Still was screened.
Yes, this whole Lit Fest thing is absolutely free, but the organizers are looking for donations, so give up some cash if you go (or even if you don't).

Lincoln Calling Day 2; Paper Owls, Jake Bellows tonight, CD Review: Jenny Lewis… – Sept. 18, 2008 –

It's Day Two of Lincoln Calling's 5-day music bonanza. Tonight's schedule:

Duffy's: Jodie Loves Hinckley, Machete Archive, Black Hundreds, Techlepathy. 9 p.m., $5, 21+

State Theater: Forty Twenty, The Killigans, Triggertown. 9 p.m., $5, 18+

12th St. Pub: Dan Jenkins (Ideal Cleaners), Nick Westra, Pat Bradley, Matt Martinosky. 6 p.m., $3, 21+

Box Awesome: Academy of Rock showcase -- Damnit Dolls, The Story Killers, Learning to Fall. 6 p.m., $5, all ages. Late show: Revival of the DJ. 9 p.m., free 21+, $3 18+

Knickerbocker's: Pomeroy, Sarah VanderHaar, Golden. 9:30 p.m., $10, 18+

The Zoo: Lucas Kellison and the Assembled Soul, Mo Izreal, 9 p.m., $5, 21+

Full sched and details are at

Also tonight, Paper Owls are hosting a CD release party at The Waiting Room with Shiver Shiver and Midwest Dilemma. The $8 cover gets you a copy of their full length, Myths, recorded at ARC Studios by Ian Aeillo. Starts at 9.

A last-minute show has been put together tonight at O'Leaver's featuring Jake Bellows (Neva Dinova), Nicole LeClerc and Reagan Roeder. $2, 9:30 p.m.

Meanwhile, down the street at The Barley St. Tavern, Darren Keen (a.k.a. The Show Is the Rainbow) takes the stage with Stolen Kisses and Heligoats. No idea if there's a cover. Things get rolling around 9 p.m.

Finally, here's a review of the new Jenny Lewis CD, Acid Tongue, that was supposed to run in this week's issue of The Reader along with three local CD reviews. They all got pushed back to next week, so hear's a sneak peek, just in time for Lewis' opening slot for Conor Oberst Saturday night at The Anchor Inn.

Jenny Lewis, Acid Tongue (Warner Bros) -- Her debut, Rabbit Fur Coat, was a lark that ended up being one of the best albums of '06 -- far better than any current Rilo Kiley output. This one isn't so much a sophomore slump as a flat spot on the shopping-cart wheel of life she so accurately captures in her music. We get Lewis' usual femme fatales -- the used-up should-have-known-better vamps confessing their indiscretions with downcast eyes and a wry, secret smile. The slow songs are the best; the rest sound like experiments in genre appreciation (or nostalgia). Trailer park neighbors include a twangy Elvis Costello sounding like a gawkish Tom Petty. Overall, more evidence that Lewis is this generation's Nancy Sinatra wearing boots not of shiny, shiny leather but of the silver-toed variety. Rating: Yes (Reader rating: Three stars)

Column 190 -- Early Riser; Lincoln Calling starts tonight… – Sept. 17, 2008 –

Here it is, my annual column where I laud one person's heroic efforts while commenting on the gloomy state of local radio. These columns usually result in readers writing in to say, "If you don't like it, buy an iPod" or something equally as mundane. I'm not naive. Actually, maybe I am. I know radio will never change, but I can't help dreamin'. In the end, did Omaha's lack of a radio station that plays quality local music really have a negative impact on the scene? Did the lack of a real college radio station matter to the fate of Saddle Creek? Probably not; or maybe it did in ways we'll ever know.

By the way, whatever happened to KIND?

Column 190: Daylight Savings Time
New Day Rising rises a little earlier.

There continues to be one dim, lonely light burning in the dark, lifeless chasm of local radio. And now that light just got a little bit closer, a little bit brighter.

A couple weeks ago, local FM "alternative" rock station 89.7 The River moved one if its few valued assets -- the 2-hour indie-music program New Day Rising -- from 11 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Sunday nights, making it slightly more within reach to all of us who have to work in the morning.

Since its inception in December 2004 (yes, it really has been almost four years) New Day Rising (named after a Husker Du song) has been the sole source of College Music Journal-style programming on the Omaha FM dial, a fact that goes beyond irony to imbecility, considering that our city has been recognized in the national and international press as one of the most vital music scenes in the country. Omaha radio's non-support of our lauded local talent is nothing less than embarrassing.

But I digress.

New Day Rising host, producer and originator, Dave Leibowitz, said the show's shift to an earlier time slot came as a result of gaining more listeners. "It's an award for being successful," he said a few hours before last Sunday night's show. "I believe the ratings were up. Also over the years (a percentage) of the bands that started out on New Day Rising found a place in the station's regular rotation."

He pointed to bands like Silversun Pickups and MIA that somehow found themselves nestled between The River's seemingly endless supply of cookie-monster neu-metal goon rock, one assumes to the consternation of the station's mullet-haired listeners.

A typical episode combines just-released indie rock with older underground standards and a sprinkling of local offerings. Last Sunday's show included tracks by such indie stalwarts as Jenny Lewis, Neko Case, Conor Oberst and The Shins as well as not-so-familiar acts like The Action Design, The Spinto Band and The Black and White Years, along with a track by local geniuses Little Brazil. Every episode is capped with a classic track from Sonic Youth. "They epitomize what I think the indie or alternative world is supposed to be about," Leibowitz said. "They're this generation's Velvet Underground."

Leibowitz creates his playlist by scanning what's hot on the CMJ and FMQB (Friday Morning Quarterback, another industry magazine) charts, then adds new music received from record labels, promoters and bands. It's all filtered by his personal music taste. "I won't play something that I don't like," he said. "That wouldn't benefit anyone. I try to make (the show) as well-rounded as possible, but I can't be all things to all people. Our goal was never to 'out-indie' anyone; it was to play music that you can't hear anywhere else on the radio."

In a way, New Day Rising is Leibowitz's personal weekly two-hour mix tape, lovingly created just for his listeners. That level of creative control recalls the good ol' days when disc jockeys programmed their own shows, before the advent of Darth Vadar-like corporate entities whose goal is to please the greatest common denominator with the most flavorless, colorless and least offensive product.

Actually, with iPods and the Internet, isn't radio in general becoming a thing of the past? Leibowitz doesn't think so. "Just like there's no substitute for discovering new music at a live performance, there's also no substitute for hearing something for the first time on your radio," he said. "It really is the easiest way to access music until you can get the Internet in your car or wherever you're standing. You can get radio anywhere."

Add to that the medium's characteristic uncertainty. The web provides an endless sense of choice, the presumption that users can find whatever they want. Perfectly compartmentalized, their favorite music is always only a click away. Radio -- for better or worse -- takes away that choice. Listeners are forced to sit back and let someone else drive for awhile. Their destination is a mystery, except for the fact that, in New Day Rising's case, the territory will be distinctively "indie," whatever that means.

"Saying if something is indie or not isn't very easy," Leibowitz said. "You know something is metal by the guitar. Metal may have a million different dimensions, but there's that one thing that defines it. Nothing defines indie that way. You may think you know what it is, and then along comes a band like The Faint who doesn't fit the mold. It's a difficult thing to classify, but people who understand indie know what it is."

Back when New Day Rising first rose, "indie" was a dirty word that Leibowitz's original co-host forbade me to use when describing their radio show. "That's one thing that's changed over the past four years -- we've taken indie back," Leibowitz said. "It used to be that the 'I-word' was something that people avoided; now it's a badge of honor."

A badge whose recipient, it seems, will forever be relegated to two late hours on a Sunday night. Well, it's better than nothing.

I blew it by not mentioning all the online New Day Rising resources, such as the website ( and the myspace page ( Go there and find out more, or just tune in on Sunday night. You won't regret it.

Tonight is the opening night of the area's best local music festival -- Lincoln Calling. The main attraction this evening is at The Rococo Theater: Eagle*Seagull with Neva Dinova (coming off a scorching set opening for Okkervil River last Saturday night at Slowdown) and Manny Coon. Show starts at 7 p.m. and tix are $10. See the full LC schedule here. More on the festival as the week progresses.

Landing on the Moon, Jonny Lang tonight; Christgau <3 Conor… – Sept. 16, 2008 –

Tonight at The Waiting Room, never-heard-of band The Reign of Kindo plays with Omaha's Landing on the Moon. $7, 9 p.m. Blues guitarist Jonny Lang (who I also know nothing about) is playing at Slowdown. It's yet another show (like last night's Neko Case gig) that originally was scheduled for Sokol Auditorium but moved to Slowdown because of poor ticket sales. $27, 9 p.m. Note that both shows' tickets exceeded the $20 price line. Is Omaha too cheap for these kinds of quality touring acts, or is it just "the economy, stupid"? I've been told by a number of folks that show attendance is down across the board, not only here but all over the country.

That's all I got, except that personal writing messiah Robert Christgau just reviewed the Conor Oberst CD here. Christgau gave it an 'A,' which I think is the highest grade he's ever given an Omaha band. Sayeth the Christgau:

It's official. Forget Shins guy James Mercer, Spoon guy Britt Daniel, even Arcade Fire fraterfamilias Win Butler -- this vibrato-prone romantic is the greatest melodist in contemporary mega-indie. Whatever his adult solo debut portends for once and future arranger Mike Mogis, the Saddle Creek cartel and his latest girlfriend(s?), its meaning is tunes, with beat enough to carry them forward and no other musical distractions. Unlike Mercer and Daniel, he's about flow -- intricacy is an occasional afterthought. Once in a while a guitar part backs up a tasty phrase, and when the time comes, someone in Bright Eyes will gracefully provide it. And oh yeah -- the best song here, quite possibly the best song of his life, is basically a rocking refrain: "I Dont Want to Die (In the Hospital)."

Live review: Vampire Hands, Okkervil River; Neko Case/Giant Sand tonight… – Sept. 15, 2008 –

Crazy night at O'Leaver's Friday punctuated with some exciting outdoor activities involving furniture and automobiles. I cannot divulge the details other than to say it was entertaining. As was Vampire Hands, who played to a nice crowd of around 50. Their music takes on a slightly more violent, distinctly more rhythmic tone when performed live. Their bushy v-neck-T-wearing frontman played both keyboards and a modified drum set that backed a full drum set and then a third drum on a few songs. With three vocalists who can actually sing -- and with music that's modern and groovy -- these guys will be heading to a larger label near you, which is nothing less than they deserve. Dining note: I declare Worker's chili dogs to be supremely satisfying after a night of Rolling Rock. Do it.

Saturday night was spent at Slowdown where the most pleasant surprise (besides the show nearly selling out) was the ascension of Neva Dinova from a sleepy indie folk band to a full-out rock odyssey explosion. Never have I heard the combo sound so white-knuckle heavy. It was like watching the second coming of Crazy Horse with Jake Bellows taking Neil's place. Huge.

Okkervil River looked like rock stars in front of a floor filled with adoring fans who sang along all night -- something I never thought I'd live to see back when they were playing to 10 people at The Junction. I think they're on the verge of becoming this year's Spoon. At the Dundee Theater earlier that evening Okkervil River was piped through the sound system before the show, only to be heard moments later during a coming-attractions trailer. The audience at Slowdown wasn't the typical indie crowd -- I saw more than my share of backward baseball caps and chummy buzz-headed greeks making out with their girlfriends during the set -- yet another sign that they're on the verge of breaking through the indie glass ceiling, for better or worse. Performance-wise they sounded as good as they always do, but with a new female lead guitarist who pulled the attention away from slouching, slightly spastic Will Sheff. With numerous thank-yous and acknowledgements of shows past (including the infamous California Taco show) the gig had all the makings of a welcome-home celebration from a band that's made Omaha an integral part of its touring life. Let's hope they don't forget us as they continue to climb the ladder.

* * *
Tonight at Slowdown it's Neko Case with Giant Sand. This show originally was scheduled for Sokol Auditorium, and while its shift to Slowdown reflects poor ticket sales and bad news for One Percent Productions, it could mean the difference between a good show and a great one. Sokol Aud is probably my least favorite place to see a band, what with its lousy acoustics and barn-like atmosphere. Let's be honest -- wouldn't you rather see The Faint sell out three nights at Slowdown rather than have to see them at one hot, overcrowded, poorly mixed show at Sokol Aud? Sure you would, though I have a feeling that'll never happen. Tickets to Neko Sand are $22. Show starts at 8 p.m.

Vampire Hands tonight, Okkervil River tomorrow… – Sept. 12, 2008 –

Tonight at O'Leaver's it's the return of Vampire Hands, a dark-groove indie band from Minneapolis that's not afraid to throw a waltz-time number in with the rest of their low-down, bass-driven rockers. There's something cool and hip and at the same time, slightly withdrawn, foreboding and spacey about their music. With Bazooka Shootout. $5, 9:30 p.m.

Also tonight, down at Slowdown, it's a sold-out show by Atmosphere.

Tomorrow night is Okkervil River at Slowdown with Neva Dinova. I tried in vain to line up an interview with Okkervil's Will Sheff, but it just wasn't happening. That didn't stop The Reader from pushing my deadline, however, so here is what I filed with the paper. Who remembers Watch the Stereo?

The Beaten Path
Okkervil River's Omaha journey.

You can sketch the ebb and flow of Austin band Okkervil River's career by tracing where they've performed in Omaha over the past six years.

The band of musical gypsies fronted by yearning, literate vocalist Will Sheff has made Omaha a regular tour stop along their endless journey across America.

Their first gig was at the now-defunct Junction (located at 15th & Farnam) back on March 5, 2002. It also was the first time Okkervil River played outside of their home of Austin, Texas. Back then, no one around here had heard of the band, even though they were supporting their second album, Don't Fall in Love with Everyone You See, the follow-up to their forgotten 2000 debut, Stars Too Small to Use.

Their debut at The Junction was just as forgettable. Only about 10 people were there, stretched out over the bar's second-hand pleather booths as Okkervil and opening band Watch the Stereo performed beneath the falling ceiling tiles and atop the exposed plywood stage, their songs occasionally punctuated by the crisp crack of a cue ball breaking a fresh rack in the back of the room. The Junction was a lonely little dive, a remnant of Omaha's musical past that, despite its wore-torn interior, hosted bands as diverse as Kyle Fischer, Bright Eyes, The Prom, Azure Ray, The Rapture, Dave Dondero and The Places.

Sheff called his first two Omaha gigs -- both at the lowly Junction -- "crappy." But he'd take a step further south as the next Omaha show would be an impromptu gig at the legendary California Taco. Okkervil River would eventually graduate to Sokol Underground. "I said to myself, 'We finally made it,'" Sheff said in a 2005 interview, only to find himself and the band playing at the much smaller O'Leaver's in April 2005. The band would return to Sokol Underground later that November in support of their fourth full-length, Black Sheep Boy, and watched as the crowd ballooned to 200.

Since then, Okkervil River has continued to see its following grow, not only in Omaha but nationwide. Their 2007 album, The Stage Names, peaked at No. 62 on the Billboard album charts and was lauded by everyone from Pitchfork to The New York Times as their best record ever.

Their sound has been compared to a variety of folk-rock acts from Will Oldham to Wilco to Bright Eyes, but the only thing Okkervil River has in common with those bands is their use of eclectic instruments, from accordion to mandolin to Wurlitzer, in addition to the usual guitar-bass-drums rock set up. At the center of it all is Sheff's unmistakable, thin, weary yodel of a voice, the perfect instrument for his lonely song-stories that capture life lived on the stage and on the road -- for better or worse. The popularity of The Stage Names was reflected in last September's capacity show at The Waiting Room (just two weeks after an appearance on Late Night with Conan O'Brien) that saw people turned away at the door.

Now comes The Stand Ins, released last Tuesday on Jagjaguwar Records, the 11-song opus is being marketed as the sequel to The Stage Names since its tracks were recorded during the same sessions as that album's. With it comes a move to Slowdown's big stage, the largest room Okkervil River has played yet and a far cry from The Junction's ratty confines. Where will they go from there, The Holland Center?

Tickets to Okkervil are $14 and the show starts at 9.

Also on Saturday is the Soaring Wings Food Bank Benefit. The vineyard is located at 17111 So. 138th St. (south of Springfield) and features sets by Sarah Benck and the Robbers, The Whipkey Three, Kyle Harvey, Matt Cox, Brad Hoshaw, Scott Severin and the Milton Burlesque and The Wholes. Admission is $15 and it starts at noon.

Live Reviews: Centro-matic, System & Station; The Night Marchers tonight… – Sept. 11, 2008 –

There was a nice crowd of around 60 on hand last night at Slowdown Jr. for Centro-matic. Opening was Mal Madrigal (I heard only the last two songs of their set -- nice), and LA band Broken West, who just released a new album on Merge. A standard 5-piece (two guitars, bass, keyboards and drums), it took BW awhile to get into a place outside of the typical indie-rock groove. Seems like half the bands on Merge these days sound like Spoon, and Broken West was no exception (and that isn't necessarily a bad thing).

Centro-matic came on at around midnight and played right up to closing time. Will Johnson, looking like he weighs all of 75 pounds, continues to own one of the most affecting voices in rock music. There's something about Centro-matic music that feels naturally comfortable, as if Johnson always knows the perfect chord or melody to follow. They played a variety of songs from their past albums, including crowd fave "Flashes and Cables." Johnson commented about how nice it is to be called to sound check while you're waiting for your laundry to finish up -- he was clearly enamored with Slowdown's famous green room accoutrements. Playing there must seem like visiting an oasis, especially for bands that are still rolling around in a van rather than a tour bus.

Before we continue, let me take this moment to introduce our returning Lazy-i intern Brendan Greene-Walsh. You might remember his reviews from last year or seen his stuff in the City Weekly. Brendan will be writing CD reviews as part of this Creighton internship, and because I still have a hard time being in two places at once, he'll also be providing the occasional live review, like the following report about last night's System & Station show at the Waiting Room:

I made it to the Waiting Room last night shortly after Fromanhole had started their set. Their performance was as tight and feverish as ever, but never sounded better. The force coming from the stage was a pure sonic wall, driving me backwards -- the kick drum damn near gave me heart palpitations. Despite breaking a bass string, the band continued without missing a beat. I wish they would have played longer, but my real disappointment came from finding out that Race For Titles would not be playing. Two members were sick --damn flu. System & Station came on shortly after, with a new lineup. I've seen S&S four or five times before -- the current band is the strongest to this point. The rhythm section was borrowed from another Portland band, Kieskagato, but they played as if System & Station was their mainstay. The set was filled with material from their new record, spliced with a few classics. The dueling guitar riffs ripped through the low end and nicely complimented the vocals. Though an entire band had dropped off the bill I still drove home content after an evening of solid rock. -- Brendan Greene-Walsh

Thanks Brendan. More to come I'm sure.

Tonight at The Waiting Room, one of the most talked about shows for the past few weeks: the return of The Night Marchers, the latest project of singer/guitarist John Reis, previously of Pitchfork, Drive Like Jehu, Rocket from the Crypt, the Hot Snakes, and the Sultans. Opening is Colour Revolt and Lincoln's own Ideal Cleaners. This one has "can't miss" written all over it. $12, 9 p.m. Also tonight, Cincinnati band Pomegranates play at Slowdown Jr. with Cameron McGill and Omaha's own Shiver, Shiver. $7, 9 p.m. While over at O'Leaver's it's Malpais with Brooklyn band KaiserCartel and Benson's own Brad Hoshaw and the Seven Deadlies. $5, 9:30 p.m.

Column 189 -- MAMF wrap-up; Centro-matic, Broken West, System & Station tonight... – Sept. 10, 2008 –

A few final thoughts on MAMF:

Column 189: What's the Point?
And in MAMF's case, does it matter?

The day after a night spent at the Mid-American Music Festival -- or MAMF as it's become known -- singer-songwriter David Hurwitz and I pondered the purpose of the festival over drinks at La Buvette.

Hurwitz, who fronts a band called The Boy Bathing (named after one of Aesop's Fables) flew to Omaha from his home on the Lower East Side of Manhattan to take part in MAMF after I tried to convince him not to.

Our correspondence took place a month prior to the festival. Hurwitz, whose band I'd mentioned in a column months earlier, asked if he thought MAMF was worth paying $400 for a plane ticket. I asked what he hoped to get out of the trip. "The same thing I hope to gain by every other gig I play," he responded. "I've never been to Nebraska. They wanted us to do it. I guess I'm hoping to gain exposure. New fans. Maybe meet some industry people who could help us."

I noted that he was booked to play PS Collective at 7 p.m. on a Friday night. He'd be lucky if 15 people were in the audience. I also pointed out that MAMF wouldn't be showcasing his style of indie music. None of the bands from the plethora of Omaha indie labels -- Saddle Creek, Team Love, Speed! Nebraska, Boom Chick, Slumber Party, It Are Good, Ant, or Coco Art -- were taking part. Perhaps if he booked another show while in town -- one that actually paid him -- it might be worth his time. But Hurwitz, god bless him, came out anyway.

My prediction ended up being strangely accurate. Hurwitz played a quiet, soulful solo rendition of his band's music to a dozen pizza-eating patrons, I among them.

Afterward, we spent the evening bouncing from venue to venue catching as much music as we could, including sets by Scott Severin and the Milton Burlesque at PS, Monica Eby at Mick's, Blastronauts at The Musette, Shiver Shiver at The Foundry and Naked Plywood at The Barley Street before hitting what ended up being the evening's highlights -- Kyle Harvey at a packed Burke's Pub and Little Brazil at The Waiting Room. Hurwitz was blown away by both. We had a great time Friday night, but afterward neither of us could figure out what exactly MAMF was trying to accomplish.

We ticked off the festival's possible motives. To gain more exposure for bands? Well, other than the handful of out-of-town acts that no one saw because they were given poor time slots, every band at MAMF plays in and around Benson on a weekly or monthly basis. Did you miss Sarah Benck and the Robbers? Brad Hoshaw? Matt Whipkey? Oxygen? Don't worry. They all will be playing in Benson sometime in the coming days.

What about industry hype? Hurwitz and his band played at South by Southwest this year. That festival originally was designed to help labels discover unsigned bands. These days, SXSW is mostly label showcases -- almost every band performing is already signed. The goal now is to "create buzz" among members of the national music media and other labels. Hurwitz said he hadn't met any members of the national press at MAMF or any label reps.

Maybe the festival was designed to showcase the Benson music district? No, Hurwitz said, not when you consider that Burke's, The Musette, Mia's Bongo Room and The Foundry don't normally host shows. But in the end, it was the venues who gained the most from MAMF financially -- they got four nights of free talent on their stages.

"I don't know what the purpose was to this festival," Hurwitz concluded. "My only expectation was to have an experience. I wasn't expecting to come out here and have a big show."

He said he was pleased with his performance and PS Collective, though "it was early for me to be playing."

"It is what it is," he said of MAMF. "I've met some cool people and had a good time. Maybe if there were other bands here who were on my wavelength, it may have been better. But I would have been let down if I came out here expecting the festival to make me have a good time. I intended to have a good time in Omaha with or without the festival."

He said the trip ended up costing him $300. MAMF paid for $200 of his $400 air fare and paid for part of his lodging. A vegetarian, Hurwitz didn't take advantage of the food vouchers offered. He also skipped most of the seminars.

So would he play MAMF again? "I would want the money up front and not have to do it myself, but sure, if I was available," he said. "I would definitely come here on tour. There's no denying there's a music scene and a subculture that appreciates alternative music."

That subculture, he said, generally wasn't represented at MAMF. "I liked Kyle's set and Little Brazil, but I have a certain taste," he said. "I wasn't into the other bands we saw. There are things I know I like, but that's not necessarily what other people like."

Hurwitz suggested that next year MAMF book four "semi-known bands" along the lines of Jay Reatard or Neva Dinova, something he said that MAMF organizers told him that they'd consider.

Maybe MAMF's purpose was merely to schedule four days for Benson to celebrate itself with its music, or as one performer explained it to me: "Just to put on a kick-ass festival." If that was the goal, then MAMF was a rousing success.

The seminar Hurwitz attended was specifically focused on music licensing -- i.e., selling your music for use in television, films and commercials, etc. He said the presenter's core message was to "make your music sound as generic as possible if you want to attract the widest range of potential clients." While he couldn't argue with the perceived logic, Hurwitz said creating music to appeal to the greatest common denominator wasn't the reason he became a songwriter and performer. I highly doubt that the idea of genericizing music ever crossed the minds of Saddle Creek bands that have had plenty of success getting their music played on television or films.

Bottom line: Hurwitz had a great time in Omaha, and we both enjoyed our evening-long MAMF bar crawl. We agreed that the idea of Benson hosting a music festival is a good one, but that the organizers have to seriously look beyond the city's confines (and their personal tastes) if they want to see it grow to something that could gain national attention. Then again, maybe they don't, in which case, they should stay on their present course.

* * *

The rest of the week sort of has a festival vibe, too -- The Night Marchers tomorrow, Vampire Hands Friday, Okkervil River Saturday, then Neko Case on Monday! And it all starts tonight at Slowdown Jr.,where one of my all-time favorite bands takes the small stage -- Centro-matic. How to describe Centro-matic's music: Imagine Robert Pollard backed by Crazy Horse, or Son Volt sharing recording sessions with Archers of Loaf, or The Grifters bio-merged with The Silos and you begin to get where Centro-matic is coming from. Their gritty, southern fuzz-guitar rock drips with lo-fi Rust Never Sleeps feedback layered like molasses over vista-wide stretches of open dirt road. Frontman Will Johnson's gravel-pit mewing could have made him the Eddie Vedder of our generation if someone outside of the indie music world have ever discovered him or his band. Johnson has come through Omaha a number of times as a solo performer, always threatening to bring the rest of the band along some day. Looks like that day's finally come. Opening is Merge band Broken West whose new album, Now or Heaven, is currently seated on my '08 top-10 list. Add to that local all-stars Mal Madrigal and this show very likely will wind up on a lot of year-end top-10 lists. And it's only $8. Starts at 9.

It's not the only awesome show going on tonight. Over at The Waiting Room, Portland rock monsters System and Station play with Race for Titles and Fromanhole. This will be one loud, rowdy show. Bring your earplugs. $7, 9 p.m

Live Review: MAMF Day 3; Ted Stevens/Alex McManus/Bill Hoover tonight... – Sept. 8, 2008 –

I had a lot of fun Friday night at the Mid American Music Festival. The evening started out early -- 7 p.m. -- with a performance by David Hurwitz (The Boy Bathing) at PS Collective. As I had predicted, there was only about 15 people there to see this guy who flew in from Manhattan to do this show. It seems odd that the organizers would place traveling bands and performers in such poor time slots, but I'll discuss that more in this week's column. Hurwitz did a fine job retooling his band's music for a solo show.

The next two hours were a whirlwind as Teresa, Hurwitz and I checked out sets by Scott Severin and the Milton Burlesque at PS, Monica Eby at Mick's, Blastronauts at The Musette, Shiver Shiver at The Foundry, and Naked Plywood at The Barley Street before hitting what would end up being the two highlights of the evening.

Burke's Pub isn't exactly renowned in the Benson scene as a music venue. It's more of a pseudo Irish/regulars bar with a little nook next to the front door where someone could stand with a guitar, mic and amp. And that's exactly what Kyle Harvey did Friday night, standing with eyes shut in a nook that became smaller and smaller as the room became more and more packed. Unbelievably packed, and for good reason. No one sings a broken-hearted love song quite like Harvey, who had the drunken crowd eating out of his hand with every one of his solo acoustic ballads about booze, love, sex and booze, all painted in dark hues of despair. Harvey is an Omaha original who has no idea just how influential his music has been and will continue to be. The show felt important, and I felt lucky to be there. By the time we left, it felt like Burke's was going for some sort of telephone-booth-stuffing world record, and it took all we had to squeeze out the door.

The night was capped off by Little Brazil at The Waiting Room, with frontman Landon Hedges doing his damdest to look like Dan Haggerty of Grizzly Adams fame (albeit a 125-pound Dan Haggerty with a 3-pound beard). LB rolled out a number of new songs that take their music in a more hook-fueled (and fun) direction. Hurwitz was blown away by both Harvey and LB, as were Teresa and I.

We skipped Day 4 of MAMF. I interviewed Hurwitz Saturday afternoon to get his perspective on the festival from the viewpoint of someone who traveled here to perform in it. His comments, along with my thoughts on the MAMF, will appear in Wednesday's column.

* * *

Two shows of worth checking out tonight:

First, down at Slowdown Jr., it's The Shytburds -- a new project by Ted Stevens (Cursive, Mayday) and Alex McManus (The Bruces) -- along with Bill Hoover and the Barking Boys and Outlaw Con Bandana. $5, 9 p.m. This show will be packed.

Also tonight at O'Leaver's it's an evening of punk by Yuppies, Dim Light and Eat Skull. $5, 9:30 p.m.

Get ready, it's going to be a crazy week…

MAMF tonight, and the missing bands... – Sept. 5, 2008 –

No MAMF for me last night as I wasn't compelled to attend, so let's look at the rest of the festival's schedule. Tonight is strongest of the four days. Bring your walking shoes. Primary on my list is David Hurwitz of Brooklyn band The Boy Bathing, playing at PS Collective at 7 p.m. You might remember that I mentioned his band in my column a few weeks ago (the one that talked about the Magnet Magazine sampler, here). Hurwitz has one of the stranger voices you'll likely to hear at this festival -- it's how I imagine author David Sedaris would sound like if he sang indie folk songs. Still, his songwriting is compelling, especially on his band's new album, A Fire to Make Preparations. I'll be talking to Hurwitz about his overall impressions of festival for next week's column.

The rest of my picks for tonight:

-- Scott Severin & Milton Burlesque at PS Collective @ 8:30.

-- Shiver Shiver at The Foundry at 10:30.

-- Kyle Harvey and the Great Disappearing Act at Burke's Pub at 11.

-- Filter Kings at Musette at 11:30.

-- Little Brazil at The Waiting Room at 11:30.

-- Big Al Band at the Barley St. at 7.

Ironically Saturday, which you'd think would be the strongest night of any festival, is the weakest. The only shows worth mentioning:

-- Dereck Higgins at Mia's Bongo Room at 10:30, and

-- Sleep Said the Monster at The Foundry at midnight.

That doesn't mean that Benson won't be hopping. Festival organizers back-loaded the most popular pop-fueled local bands for Saturday night.

Let's be honest: MAMF isn't an indie-music festival, and I doubt that it was designed to be. The event's line-up underscores the difference between "indie" when it describes a style of music and "indie" when it describes bands that aren't on a record label. For the most part, MAMF simply didn't attract indie-style bands, local or otherwise. Other than Little Brazil, there are no local indie bands in the festival that have done extensive touring. Missing from the festival are bands that represent these local record labels: Saddle Creek, Team Love, Speed! Nebraska, Boom Chick, Slumber Party, It Are Good, Ant, and Coco Art (I'm sure I'm missing someone).

It's not like those bands weren't at MAMF because they weren't allowed to be. I'm sure MAMF would have loved to have had any of them play the festival, but none signed up during the open-invitation phase of the registration, presumably because they didn't see any value in playing another local festival. Fact is, almost all the bands from those record labels tour regionally or nationally, and can't afford -- or simply aren't interested in -- playing for free.

Compensation also is probably one of the reasons why Lincoln Calling has such a strong representation of bands from those labels. Since its inaugural year, Lincoln Calling always has paid bands either a guarantee or a piece of the door, realizing that they're the reason the festival is even happening in the first place. Check out the Lincoln Calling schedule at More on that festival later, and look for more MAMF coverage this weekend.

What else is going on this weekend outside of Benson?
Well, there's the Free Yr Radio concert at Slowdown Sunday night featuring Flowers Forever and Dan Deacon. Admission to the 8 p.m. concert is free with a ticket you can print out from More details at

Live Review: MAMF Day 1; Day 2 recommendations… – Sept. 4, 2008 –

And so ends Day 1 of the Mid American Music Festival in beautiful balmy Benson. I caught Far Beyond Frail at Mia's Bongo Room -- a surprisingly good space for acoustic performances -- before strolling over to The Waiting Room for a pared-down version of Midwest Dilemma (only 9 performers!) and Brad Hoshaw and the Six Deadlies (apparently one deadly was missing, or maybe Whipkey and his amazing hair counts as two?).

Midwest Dilemma frontman Justin Lamoureux said three members of his band were missing for personal reasons. I'm not sure where they would have put them on stage anyway. As such a large ensemble, MD is more of a folk orchestra than a band, boasting such unconventional rock instruments as cello, clarinet and tuba, along with mandolin, guitar, drums, stand-up bass, etc. The product is lilting, geographical, biographical mid-tempo folk waltzes that border on dirges. What Lamoureux lacks in variety (everything was played at the same plodding pace) he makes up for in the compositions, which tried to take advantage of everyone on stage. Yeah, having so many people in the band is impressive, but I personally prefer Midwest Dilemma as a simple trio -- cello, woodwind/vocalist, guitar/vocalist (though it wouldn't hurt to add a drummer to that mix). Unless he's come across a boatload of cash, Lamoureux's going to have to pare down to something more manageable like a trio or four-piece if he decides to take this show on the road -- fewer mouths to feed, less of a money split, etc. While all that extra hardware sounds pretty, he can pull this off just as effectively with a more economical approach.

On the other hand, an already impressive catalog of music by Brad Hoshaw only got better when played by a full band. I've seen Hoshaw three or four times in a solo-acoustic setting and have always been thoroughly moved by the performance. With the "Seven Deadlies" -- two backup singers, stand-up bass, drums, keyboards and guitarist Matt Whipkey (I'm told a trumpet was missing) -- Hoshaw goes from folk-acoustic to folk-rock to alt-country without losing any of his personal edge. Hoshaw's solo acoustic sets can become rather lulling 20 minutes in due to the nature of the ethereal-though-downcast music. The band arrangements remedy this, taking the set from quiet to twangy to rock and back again. One of the highlights was Whipkey. Known more for his own rock projects that he fronts, Whipkey is an ingenious, soulful soloist of the highest caliber. And though renowned for his bombastic drum-set-jumping rock performances -- Whipkey was never overpowering, making sure to hold back when he needed to even though you knew he was dying to burn the house down. I'm told Hoshaw is finishing up an album with this band. As one of the city's best songwriters who's not afraid to tour, a label like Saddle Creek or Team Love would be wise to consider signing this hometown boy who has a sound and style unlike anything on those labels. But if Creek or Conor doesn't, someone else certainly should. It's time for Hoshaw to go national.

Show attendance was respectable for the festival's opening night (and for a Wednesday). Mia's had about 30 people in the house at its peak. There were twice that many in TWR for Midwest Dilemma, and that ballooned to around 75 for Hoshaw and company. I saw a lot of all-access laminates walking around, which makes me wonder how many patrons were paying customers and how many were members of other bands. I suspect the numbers to continue to rise as the weekend approaches.

Tonight's highlights again are mostly at The Waiting Room. At 7 p.m., CB alt-rock buzz band Skypiper plays, followed by Thunder Power at 8:30, while at 11:30 Satchel Grande does another classic set -- seems like these guys play almost every week. The late show is Black Squirrels at midnight at Burke's Pub.

Check out the MAMF website for a full schedule.

Column 188 -- Simplify-ing music; MAMF Day 1 picks... – Sept. 3, 2008 –

I wrote this column on the jet back from New York. While the aspects of Simplify mentioned below are interesting and amusing, it's technology like this that will further erode album sales...

Column 188: Peeping Tom
Simplify your assumptions.

Funny how we draw conclusions about people simply by peeking into their proverbial closets.

For example, let's say you're in someone's home and they step away to fix a drink or grab a phone call, leaving you in the room with nothing to do but snoop. You notice the bookcase and glance at some of the titles and immediately begin putting two and two together. Jacqueline Suzanne soft-core porn, The Poetry of Jim Morrison, Bill O'Reilly "think books," your friend may be dumber than you thought. David Leavitt novels, Tales of the City, a biography of Judy Garland --your friend could very well be gay. Philip Roth, The Iliad, Gabriel Garcia Márquez (not translated) -- thoughtful, literate, your friend is clearly smarter than you. And so on. Sure, it's a stereotype, but isn't everything in life a stereotype, and aren't most stereotypes, in the end, correct?

The same idea works for music.

About two weeks ago, local music software impresario Jimmy Winter, the inventor and CEO of Music Arsenal, posted an item on his Live Journal page asking for folks to "be his friends" in Simplify Media.

Simplify is a new software (downloadable for free at that allows registered users to make their entire iTunes music library available on multiple computers and mp3 players via the web. That means online access to all your music using your iPhone or iPod Touch just as if you'd downloaded it. So much for that 8-gig flash-drive limitation.

Mac users already could share their iTunes library on a closed network, so if I was downstairs in my home I could always access my iMac's music library on my laptop anywhere in the house via Wi-Fi. Simplify moves that idea beyond the walls of your home.

Now here's the good part: In addition to accessing your iTunes library, Simplify allows you to access as many as 30 other people's libraries. All they have to do is invite you to be their "friend" -- i.e., add you to their access list. And that's where Winter's LJ plea came in. Jimmy wanted in on everyone's music library, and in return, he was willing to let us in on his. The caveat, as he pointed out, was that you'd be giving people an unflinching glance into your personal music taste -- or lack of one.

Winter could have cared less what anyone thought out his music. "I have some stuff that might look stupid, but it's nothing to hide really," he said. "I was already made fun of by the amount of Weird Al records I have. Weird Al was the first album I ever bought! I’m not going to turn my back on him now!"

Winter may be the only person I've ever met who can listen to Weird Al without having the barrel of a gun pushed against his temple. To balance this out, he also had a large collection of Rocket from the Crypt albums (über cool), The Pogues (a band I've always been curious about, but never got around to listening to, until now) and Randy Newman, who Winter was a bit embarrassed about, even though Newman is one of the finest songwriters to emerge from the West Coast in the past 30 years. For every pop-punk novelty band and comedy album there was a Stnnng, Stiff Little Fingers and Stooges track to counter-act it. Winter's collection painted a picture of a frustrated punk rocker who grew up watching too much Comedy Central.

I prefaced opening my own music closet by telling Winter that there was a number of albums in my 9,000-song online collection that were downloaded for professional purposes -- for review or research -- and that I just never got around to deleting the shitty ones. But how would I explain the John Denver and Barry Manilow tracks downloaded for Teresa's sake? What about the remastered, rereleased Bee Gees greatest hits? And all the Pavement and Sonic Youth albums weren't going to negate my extensive collection of Pet Shop Boys music.

Winter also subscribes to, a web service that keeps track and reports online what you've been listening to on your computer. also recommends and streams music based on your perceived tastes -- just as if it glanced at your bookcase. "I narcissistically like to keep track of what I listen to," Winter said, "but I also like to see what other people are listening to, and check out the recommendations for bands the site predicts I would enjoy."

Call it research. It's just another way Winter keeps tabs on trends that could impact his clients. He's been doing Music Arsenal full-time for three years, boasting 60 customers who use his high-tech contacts and task-tracking software, a number that he says will grow with the release of the latest version that focuses on individual artists rather than only record labels.

Ultimately, doesn't a tool like Simplify hurt his clients' business by taking away potential album sales? No, Winter said. "Well, bands won’t get paid from it by their label contracts or digital distributor when I hear (their music) on Simplify," he said. "It's similar to when friends used to tell me what they liked, loaned me a CD and then I bought it two weeks later. I still buy plenty of CDs, but I can’t buy everything I like. However when that band comes to town I might go to the show or buy a shirt."

As for what Winter thought of my music: He was surprised at the Nine Inch Nails, that I didn't have more Hold Steady, at the hidden John Denver tracks, at the amount of the local non-Creek bands. But in the end, I was a little hurt that he hadn't mentioned the Pet Shop Boys.

Here are my picks for Day 1 of the Mid American Music Festival being held in Benson. As a reminder, admission is $10 for a wristband that gets you into all the participating venues for one night. You'll have to buy another wristband tomorrow and for each night thereafter. Tonight's can't-miss performances are both at The Waiting Room: Midwest Dilemma scheduled for 10 p.m., followed by Brad Hoshaw and the Seven Deadlies at 11:30. Sure, both bands play around here all the time, but it'll be nice to see them back-to-back. Other performances worth checking out:

-- Kansas City's Far Beyond Frail, a male-female Lilith-esque soft-rock duo, at 9 p.m. at Mia's Bongo Room.
-- New Yorker Matt Pless, an acoustic folk balladeer, at Burke's Pub at 9:30.
-- The Whipkey Three at 10 p.m., followed by Sarah Benck and the Robbers at 11:30, both at PS Collective.

Go here for the full MAMF schedule.

Return from NYC; Reader blogs, Tilly goes Hollywood... – Sept. 2, 2008 –

I'm back from Manhattan with nothing to report musicwise. Labor Day weekend is a bad time for rock shows in NYC as the city tends to empty out for the last holiday of the summer. You can, however, read about my dining experience at Les Halles (Anthony Bourdain's restaurant) here on the Reader's new Dining blog, wherein I go on and on and on about the poor service. Fun! Actually, if you haven't noticed yet, The Reader introduced a whole slew of new blogs a few weeks ago, including blogs for Film, Art, Lifestyle, Books, Theater, and, yes, Music. For the most part, it looks like they've been doing a good job updating them at least a few times a week. It's yet another resource for entertainment info in the Omaha area. Now to really get them cooking, they need is some reader comments. Have at it.

Not much going on around town tonight, I guess that's because everyone's getting ready for the Mid American Music Festival starting tomorrow at all the Benson-area music venues and bars. Details and a schedule are available here. I'll have more on this -- as well as my picks for shows to attend -- as the week goes on.

Finally, Tilly and the Wall are performing on the season premier of the revamped 90210 tonight. Check your local listings for time/channel (in Omaha, 7 p.m. Cox Ch. 11). Now that's what I call marketing. Tilly also just got a slot on the CSS tour later this month.

Column 187: A Cover Story; NYC bound; your weekend ahead... – Aug. 28, 2008 –

This column rides out a riff that I began a week or so ago when I reviewed Brad Hoshaw's solo set at Lauritzen Gardens. It got me thinking about cover songs and what goes into an artist's decision to cover a specific song, and how ultimately stupid it is for anyone other than the artist him/herself to suggest a cover song for him/her to perform.

Column 187: Skipping Boston
When choosing a cover, choose wisely.

The scene was an early evening outdoor concert held in a lovely cove at Lauritzen Gardens featuring headliner Orenda Fink and opener Brad Hoshaw.

We sat in the moist grass surrounded by families and older couples (as well as a few well-coifed hipsters) trying to eek out as much warmth and sunlight as we could in the waning days of summer. For most people there, the concert was a last hurrah before football season and the return of school days. Hoshaw, standing like a bearded griz hunter with a guitar strapped over his shoulder, rifled though his usual set of homemade songs about love, death, booze, drugs and regrets with the conviction of a man making his last confession before being led off to the gas chamber. Hoshaw is one of city's best singer-songwriter, a true craftsman who takes song writing very seriously, and it shows in every heart-felt chorus and verse.

About three-quarters of the way through his hour-plus set, Hoshaw introduced a song by The Twilight Singers -- Greg Dulli's post-Afghan Whigs band. Hoshaw took the typically dark rock song with lyrics about Christ and sex (titled "Last Temptation") and turned it into a somber, introspective, dread lullaby that in no way resembled the original. He made it a Hoshaw song, not that anyone in the thirty-something, forty-something (fifty-something, sixty-something) crowd would know the difference since they very likely hadn't heard the original before.

"It's from one of my top-10 favorite albums of all time," Hoshaw said from a cabin in Sheboygan, Wisconsin. "While watching a live video of them performing it, it hit me that the melody and lyrics were something I'd write. It fits my personality and seemed like a song that I could put myself into. The only way I do covers is to somehow make them my own."

I'm a firm believer that every original band needs to do at least one cover song during their set. It gives the crowd a glimpse into their personal psyche, a clue as to where the songwriter is coming from and where he's headed.

But playing a cover can be risky. Just ask Mike Tulis, bassist for The Third Men, The Monroes and a handful of other great bands throughout the years. The Third Men always manages to work a cover or two into their set without letting them overshadow their own catchy material. Among the favorites, Paul McCartney's smash "Jet," Richard and Linda Thomspon's "Wall of Death," and, of course, Nick Gilder's "Hot Child in the City," featuring Tulis on lead vocals. It was the Gilder song that threatened to eclipse everything. I first saw them play it at The Waiting Room to a frenzied crowd, and then for the next few gigs thereafter, the buzz was whether they were going to play it again.

"That's the risk of doing a cover song," Tulis said. "It can certainly throw a spotlight on the band's own songs. Are they as well-written or well put together? Sometimes that's why bands kind of shy away from doing a cover or they don't do it that often. It can become the song everyone's waiting to hear. Some people sort of take the attitude that I'd rather play our song than someone else's, you know?"

He recalled what Third Men frontman Pat White said about covers. "Pat's attitude is that you're asking an audience for quite a bit to come in and listen to songs they may have never heard before. You've put them through the paces of hearing everything you wrote. There's nothing wrong with playing a song they know. As long as it doesn't become the song you're known for. That can become a problem."

No band wants to be known as "the guys who do that great (fill-in-the-blank-with-your-favorite-band) cover." But maybe I was over-thinking the whole thing. "It's not like a brand you have to carry around with you for the rest of existence," Tulis said. "I don't know if it sums up your whole band; it can if you let it, but I don't think most bands do that. Most bands try a song because they love it."

While listening to Hoshaw that evening, Teresa leaned over and whispered, "He's got the perfect voice for 'Please Come to Boston.'" She was dead right. Anyone who grew up as I did forced to listen to KFAB remembers the classic Dave Loggins hit that starts, "Please come to Boston for the springtime / I'm stayin' here with some friends and they've got lots of room." Remember it now? Had Hoshaw played that song instead of that Twilight Singers tune, the sleepy older crowd would have hoisted him on their shoulders and paraded him around the water lily pond. But I told Teresa there was no way he would ever cover something so completely unhip.

It turned out that Hoshaw had never even heard the song before, and had to look it up on the Internet. The problem with the tune had nothing to do with its cool factor, he said. "The status of a song being cool or not doesn't cross my mind. I've covered Toad the Wet Sprocket before, and that's not cool. I just pick songs I like and then work with them. A lot of them I scrap because I'm not adding anything unique."

After working with the song for an hour, Hoshaw said he finally gave up. And maybe that's for the best. After all, I'm the guy who picked the song, not Brad. Its selection said more about me and Teresa's cheesy taste than Brad's songwriting voice. And after all, who wants to be known as the guy who does "Please Come to Boston"?

Still, someday, maybe? Come on, Brad.

As you read this I'm sitting in a jet flying to NYC for the weekend where I'll be enjoying the U.S. Open, The Yankees, maybe something on Broadway, maybe a show on the Lower East Side. You'll be here, enjoying a fine 3-day weekend of music. Here's what's going on:

Thursday night (tonight!) Fromanhole plays at The Barley St. with The Lepers. It's probably free, so you can't beat the price. Start off your weekend a day early.

Friday night's marquee show is, of course, UUVVWWZ (read about 'em here) with The Show Is the Rainbow and Stolen Kisses at Slowdown Jr. The only thing I regret about this NYC trip is missing this show. It starts at 9 and costs $7.

Also Friday night, a loaded bill at The Waiting Room featuring Techlepathy, Ladyfinger, The Stay Awake, Perry H. Matthews and Private Dancer -- amazing line-up. $7, 9 p.m. Over at PS Collective, Panang featuring Orenda Fink plays with Outlaw Con Bandana, $5, 10 p.m. O'Leaver's has The Dinks, Imperial Battlesnake and Droids Attack, $5, 9:30 p.m. (be sure you check out Workers, now open, with a tasty Italian Beef sandwich and damn fine hotdogs (get 'em early, they ran out last Saturday night before they closed). One last show worth mentioning: Over at The Saddle Creek Bar (and Grill) New York band Your 33 Black Angels is playing with The Clincher and a third band. $5, 9 p.m.

Saturday, the Saddle Creek Bar (and Grill) is hosting Laborpalooza featuring 15 bands playing outdoors (2 to 10 p.m.) and indoors (9 to 1 a.m.) Cover is $7 for the whole day. Saturday night it's Fortnight at O'Leaver's with Landing on the Moon and The Dark Circles, $5, 9:30 p.m. Meanwhile, down at Slowdown, it's a battle of the tribute/cover bands featuring The Song Remains the Same and Secret Weapon. $8, 9 p.m.

Sunday afternoon, Eagle*Seagull performs at Heartland of America Park as part of the 2008 Walk for Inclusion. Registration and other event information is available here. E*S performs at 3:45.

Check back over the next few days. There may be an update from the road. Maybe. Maybe not.

UUVVWWZ discusses tour, narcs, vomit; Girl Drink Drunk tonight... – Aug. 27, 2008 –

Just posted, an interview with UUVVWWZ's Teal Gardner (read it here). The band's new album is my favorite local release so far this year (and that includes Saddle Creek and all its affiliated bands). Too bad I can't buy a copy (I have digital files) because Antiquarium and Drastic are both out of stock and have been for awhile. I'm told that they'll be restocked Friday. And you'll also be able to buy this vinyl-only treasure at the UUVVWWZ show Friday night at Slowdown, which I highly recommend you attend.

I'd be there, but I’m leaving town tomorrow for Manhattan, where I'll be cooling my heels through the weekend (just like when I went out there in April, if any of you have any restaurant / record store / fun-things-to-do suggestions while I'm in NYC, email them to me. You really came through last time.).

Anyway, go read the UUVVWWZ story, where Teal reflects romantically about the band's recent tour that included a brush with a narc squad, a naked drummer, NYC hipsters and projectile vomit. After Slowdown, the band is headed to Minneapolis and Des Moines for a couple shows with The Show Is the Rainbow (who's also playing at Slowdown Friday). Their next local gigs won't be until Sept. 19 (Box Awesome for Lincoln Calling) and Sept. 24 (Knickerbockers with Helios Creed). Don't miss them.

Tonight at The Waiting Room it's the return of Girl Drink Drunk -- Omaha's own version of shithook karaoke. The TWR and the band really are trying to get this thing off the ground, but they can't do it without your help. The show starts at 9 and is absolutely free. What else do you have to do tonight other than watch Bill's speech at the DNC convention?

Look for this week's column online here sometime tomorrow, though I'm not sure when (Does the Minneapolis airport have free wi-fi? I doubt it.). There also may be site updates from NYC (if something happens music-related). Keep watching.

The OWH and a matter of perspective…– Aug. 26, 2008 –

Interesting story in the OWH this morning about the perceived decline of Saddle Creek Records (read it here). The story is a reaction to Oberst going to Merge and The Faint self-releasing Faciinatiion, with the premise: "Without a strong Saddle Creek and its nationally lauded stable of groups, Omaha's musical skyline could look just like any midsized Midwest city."

Really? The last time I checked, The Faint still had a studio near downtown Omaha and Oberst still owned a mansion in Fairacres. The bands haven't gone anywhere. The only member of Creek's big three to head for the hills (as in Beverly Hills) is Cursive's Tim Kasher, and I wouldn't be surprised if he ended up right back here. Creek is an important part of the Omaha music scene, but it certainly doesn't define it. Not when there are so many good, successful bands around here that aren't on that label.

The key here is defining what "success" means. For whatever reason, the story didn't provide any sales numbers, which are an absolute must to give OWH readers some sort of perspective. Most people who are only familiar with pop FM radio music (i.e., the vast majority of OWH readers) assume "success" means a million-selling album. That's what they see on E! and Entertainment Tonight and MTV Cribs. Imagine how surprised they'd be if they realized that Saddle Creek has never produced a gold record. Not one. Not yet. Still, in the eyes of the indie music world, Creek is remarkably successful. I've said it a million times, I'm saying it again -- you could take every record that Saddle Creek ever sold and it wouldn't equal the sales of one Eminem album. Eminem (when he was still performing) sold out arenas. Most indie bands (and almost all local bands) live in a world where a successful show is selling out a 300- to 500-seat venue. A huge success is selling out the 1,400-capacity Sokol Auditorium. And the biggest success of all is being able to quit your day job and do music full-time.

I have to believe technology has and will continue to have a bigger impact on Saddle Creek's financials than the loss of The Faint. It comes down to cash flow. How much money has Saddle Creek and every other record label lost due to downloading over the past five years? Forget about iTunes, I'm talking about stealing music right off the net. I continue to run into teen-agers and 20-somethings who tell me they don't buy CDs. They don't have to. Stealing music from the web has become common-place for a large segment of the next generation music "consumers."

As for Omaha's reputation "waning a bit," no one expected the "New Seattle" designation to last forever or even this long. By the way, name the city that's taken Omaha's place on the New Seattle throne. Is there one? (And what about those recent SPIN and NYT articles lauding the city?)

Finally, there's Creek's recent signings. Tokyo Police Club could replace The Faint as a member of the label's Big Three, especially on the heels of the Weezer tour (though Weezer has seen better days). Beyond TPC, well, I have no idea. Before Creek signed them, I never heard of Land of Talk or Sebastien Grainger (though I'd heard of Death from Above 1979). Time will tell if they can break through. Does Creek really expect these or any of their second-level acts to ever get as big as Bright Eyes? Yeah, it would be nice, but those days are probably gone.

Live Review: The Faint... – Aug. 25, 2008 –

So packed were the streets around Sokol Saturday night that I wound up parking on 16th Street. The Underground apparently was hosting a metal show, while upstairs, where I was headed, it was The Faint's sold-out show. It was the biggest crowd I've ever seen in the auditorium, but I talked to a couple people who said they'd seen it even more crowded before. Maybe so, but I doubt that it's ever been steamier. The room felt like a sauna. I showed up at just before 11 after all the openers had finished their sets. Guys were pushing through the crowd shirtless, drenched in sweat, leaving slime marks whenever they brushed against your clothes. Like the Tilly show a few weeks ago, I was still getting used to the smoke-free environment. Without the smoke, the place smelled like hair products, popcorn and body odor. I didn't even try to get a beer; the crowd was so thick around the bar. Instead, I found a lean-to spot behind one of the large, industrial stand-up electric fans, figuring I'd get a breeze from the inflow while the fan pushed everyone else's stink-sweat in the other direction. The plan worked.

Shortly after 11, the lights went down and on stage in a shower of blazing strobes came The Faint. And the crowd went wild. This despite the usual blown-out, over-bassed sound that turned everything into a bowel-rattling, boom-static mess. To be fair, I was standing beneath the balcony overhang -- the wrong place to be at any Sokol Auditorium show. Still, later when I did the cursory walk around the room, the sound was just as bad everywhere including by the sound board. It's a good thing Todd Fink has a voice that -- when powered by the usual special effects -- can cut right through the noise haze. I was told afterward by someone who has seen them at a number of different venues that Sokol really isn't an exception -- they apparently prefer their live sound to be unbelievably dense and throbbing, effectively blurring the lines that define their music.

As disappointing as the sound was, the visuals were absolutely stellar. This was easily the best light and projection show I've seen by any band anywhere. The Faint have finally crafted a suite of visual effects that actually enhances -- rather than distracts from -- the overall show. The trick is the use of a monochromatic projection system fed with by a series of live cameras mounted somewhere on stage. On a curtain, huge duo-tone black-and-white projections of their live performance towered over the band like static images from the film 1984. At first I thought it was a pre-recorded video, until I realized the actions matched what the band was doing on stage. It was an enormous shadow-dance close-up of each performer interlaced with prerecorded graphic images. Add an array of multicolored computer-controlled digital strobes and it was easily the coolest thing I've ever seen The Faint or anyone else do on stage. Dazzling.

The crushed dance-floor bounced for every classic Faint song, the fists rising in the air in unison. The songs from Faciinatiion, however, didn't fair as well -- but isn't that always the way for bands who are out supporting new material? Well, maybe. Still, the new stuff just didn’t seem as rocket-fueled as the old stuff, and fell somewhat flat when crushed between the old standards. Suddenly the biggest Faint punching bag -- Wet From Birth -- sounded cutting edge compared to Faciinatiion. It's going to make people stop and reconsider the album -- maybe it wasn't so bad after all (I never thought it was in the first place). So will we be saying the same thing about Faciinatiion in 2012 when the next Faint CD comes along? Hopefully I'll still be alive to find out.

It turned out to be one of the longest Faint shows I've ever seen. As midnight rolled around the band finished its set and disappeared in back, presumably toweling off before the encore. I didn't stick around to see if they played the only song off the new album that I was dying to hear live, ''The Geeks Were Right." Instead, I started my long march up Martha Street back to my car.
I got there in time to drive to O'Leaver's for last call. Closing out their set was The Lepers, who have switched from being a guitar-and-drum duo to a bass-and-drum duo, for a few numbers, anyway. The change was well-advised, and I'm looking forward to hearing how they pull it off on their new disc.

Mariofest details; Box Elders added to The Faint... – Aug. 23, 2008 –

Here's an update on Mariofest being held today at Mario's in Dundee (part of Dundee Day): The music starts at 6 p.m. with Outlaw Con Bandana, followed by sax-and-drum duo Kotchian & Pike. At 8 it's Shiver Shiver, followed by Satchel Grande at 9. Still no clue on what it'll cost to get in. Also, a reliable source told me yesterday that The Box Elders have been added to tonight's Faint show at Sokol Auditorium. Sounds like I'll be going after all.

Live Review: Filter Kings/FortyTwenty, Faint/Bright Eyes week two; Dundee Day Saturday... – Aug. 22, 2008 –

The crowd was only so-so last night at TWR, maybe 100 people? The biggest problem -- few if any were in the stage room during the performances. Most hung out in the back by the bar, which is a real drag, especially for this kind of music. Five or six women were grooving on the dance floor during the Filter Kings' set. The band's new music seems to skew even more toward country / rock-a-billy than I remember. Even so, I don't think you'll be seeing them at Bushwacker's anytime soon, though I'd love to see these two bands perform there. Maybe it was because they were stone sober or the fact that it was a benefit, but the Kings didn't seem as break-neck buck-wild burn-the-place-down as I remember them at earlier shows. I know bands don't appreciate this, but I like shows where there's a tension coming off the stage that fuels the unexpected. When it comes to the Filter Kings, that means sheer exuberant energy bordering on bar-room brawl. Broken beer bottles. Women dancing on tables. The Bob's Country Bunker scene from The Blues Brothers. That's hard for any band to pull off, especially when you're staring at an empty dance floor. I guess I should have helped things along by buying the band shots.

That same languid crowd energy seeped into FortyTwenty's set. It was the first time I've seen these guys. They are unbelievably talented. They could go either way -- straight-up country or straight-up country rock. Terrific musicians with terrific voices. I tried to imagine how they'd sound in a packed, drunken, steaming-hot room. Maybe next time.

* * *

Here are the Week Two numbers for Oberst/Faint, provided once again by Homer's frontman Mike Fratt. Conor Oberst's solo album moved another 11,077 copies last week, good enough for No. 40 on the Billboard charts. Of those, 3,813 were digital downloads. The Faint sold 3,618 copies of Fasciinatiion, moving the album to No. 172 on Billboard. Digital downloads of Fasciinatiion weren't enough to chart, which means there were fewer than 1,300. Watch these numbers jump as the band continues to hit the road, including this Saturday at Sokol Auditorium. Anyone got a spare ticket?

* * *

Which brings us to the weekend.

Tonight at The Waiting Room it's The Flobots with People Under the Stairs. This one sold out quite a while ago. 9 p.m.

Cloven Path and The Shanks are playing at The 49'r.

Saturday is Dundee Day. There will be the usual main stage set up across from the Dundee Dell featuring a slew of lame bands. Close your eyes and ears, walk past that noise, and go over to Dario's where Dariofest will be happening once again. I'm told the line-up will be Shiver Shiver, Outlaw Con Bandana, Satchel Grande and a fourth TBA band. Sure, it'll cost you something to get in, but both the music and the beer will be well worth it (and better than you're going to get a few paces away). I'm not sure when this gets off the ground. If I find out, I'll update this page.

Saturday night is, of course, The Faint at Sokol Auditorium. Opening is Matador band Jaguar Love and Gengis Tron. Starts at 8. If I can get on the list, I'll give you a full report.

For those of us without tickets, there's always O'Leaver's, where The Lepers are playing with Actors & Actresses, Bazooka Shootout and Giants. $5, 9:30 p.m.
Indie band Fortnight (Ex-Park Ave member Jenn Bernard's band) is playing at hole-in-the-wall-in-the-basement Benson club Incognito, 7024 Maple St. (under the One Lounge, check out their myspace page). 9 p.m. and absolutely free.

<Got comments? Post 'em here.>

Column 186 -- Music in a foreign language; Filter Kings, Forty Twenty for a worthy cause tonight... – Aug. 21, 2008 –

A friend of mine read this and said 'Dude, you're getting old,' missing the whole point of the column. Oh well...

Column 186 -- In Any Language
World Music is cooler than you think.

I spent last weekend driving through the sun-baked streets of Southern France. Sure, it was all in my mind, but from time to time, as I motored down Underwood Ave. and across the slippery, snaky back of Turner Blvd., I also was cruising along a cobblestone street in Dordogne on my way to Sarlat, dodging crepe vendors and an array of French poodles. The fantasy -- or at least its soundtrack -- came courtesy of a record label called Putumayo.

Putumayo recently transported me to Quebec, Africa, Latin America and the discos of Europe via its ongoing series of World Music compilations.

Stop. Did he just say "World Music"? This guy is supposed to be telling us about indie music -- local or otherwise -- and now he's going off on a World Music label? Things must be mighty slow at Saddle Creek these days. Isn't World Music for old people, New Age health-food hippies and bearded, slouching, sadly dressed literature professors?

Yeah, that's what I used to think, too. World Music = New Age = Boring. But there was a time in the late '80s early '90s when World Music emerged as something cool, thanks to ex-Talking Heads frontman David Byrne and his Luaka Bop label. Byrne broke through the New Age preconceptions of World Music by uncovering hip sounds by the likes of Tom Zé, Os Mutantes, Zap Mama, but more specifically (in my case) by releasing compilations like Brazil Classics 1: Beleza Tropical; Brazil Classis 2: O Samba, and Cuba Classics 2: Dancing with the Enemy. Luaka Bop provided a sound and beat that was a million miles away from the Ritual Device, Replacements and Husker Du albums that had been clogging up my CD player. The label was hot for a number of years, then David Byrne left, and it sort of faded from memory, and that old perception of World Music quickly returned.

Now along comes Putumayo World Music. Actually, the label's been around for 15 years, starting up shortly after Luaka Bop, but I'd never heard of it until just recently, when out of the blue Putumayo compilations began showing up in my mailbox.

Kaveh Sarfehjooy, marketing executive at Putumayo in New York, thinks the dated stigma behind the term "World Music" is fading. "Part of selling anything is giving it a certain label," he said. "World Music to me is music from different parts of the world that isn't normally heard. It's a nebulous term. People should make their own definition."

At a time when the entire industry seems to be in an endless downward spiral, Sarfehjooy said Putumayo's sales have remained steady, apparently immune to the forces killing everyone else. He pointed to the label's network of non-traditional outlets that includes book stores, coffee shops, health food markets like Whole Foods as well as the traditional independent record stores like Homer's.

He said Putumayo, a small indie label which has sold more than 20 million CDs, is constantly searching for music that people haven't heard before, and includes both classic and contemporary songs by leading singer-songwriters.

The soon-to-be released Acoustic France compilation (the CD that transported me to Dordogne) is a good example. The 12-song sampler is one of the best indie albums I've heard this year, even though I didn't understand a thing anyone was singing. The collection includes a number of songs that you'd expect to hear on a soundtrack to a European indie film or a France-based Woody Allen flick. The acoustic guitar basso nova whistler "Assidic" by Les Escrocs is pure striped shirt, pencil mustache and beret, and also was a big hit in France back in '94 (according to the liner notes). You'll also expect to hear stuff like the swing guitar rambler "J'Suis Pas d'lci" by Thomas Dutronic and the lilting guitar waltz "Romane" by Passion, dripping with the same atmospheric intrigue found in a French spy novel.

What you won't be expecting is stuff like the trip-hop-inflected "Clash Dans Le Tempo" by Constance Amiot, Sadrine Kiberlain's chugging "Le Quotidiem" and back-beat shuffler "Sombre Con," by Rose, all of which would be right at home on any American indie album if they were sung in English (and believe me, there's plenty of American indie music that would be greatly improved if it were sung in a foreign tongue).

Part of what makes this music so endearing is that I don't have a clue what they're singing about. It's that same quality that makes Putumayo CDs perfect for background music at events like art shows, though relegating it to such a fate would be a mistake -- I found myself listening to this CD over and over last weekend without getting bored.

Sarfehjooy said Putumayo targets "cultural creatives" who are more likely to approach music with an open mind. "They're people who are interested in other cultures," he said. "When we started, our demographic may have skewed older, but with the introduction of our Groove and Lounge series, we're naturally attracting a younger audience."

And that includes followers of traditional indie music. "A lot of scenes, like indie rock, punk and electronica are marginalized and consist of people whose tastes aren't dictated by mainstream tastes," Sarfehjooy said. "We're getting more and more interest from hip-hop DJ's who feel the international flavor of the music naturally fits into their sets. It doesn't matter what you're into if the music's good.

"With the Internet, there are just more outlets to be exposed to good music, whether it's from Greece, Iran, Egypt, Tahiti or Thailand, it's all more readily available on line," Sarfehjooy said. "The world is getting smaller."

Tonight there's a worthy benefit show at The Waiting Room featuring superstar acts Forty Twenty, The Filter Kings and Black Squirrels. The $10 at the door will go toward covering bartender Dave Syslo's medical bills for recent cancer surgery. We all understand how important it is to keep Omaha's best bartenders healthy and on their feet, which means I'll be seeing you at the show. 9 p.m. Wear scrubs.

Live Review: Brad Hoshaw; those CD reviews... – Aug. 20, 2008 –

It was a warm, perfect summer evening at Lauritzen Gardens last night. Their makeshift stage is a patio behind the main building where a two-peaked white tent sheltered Brad Hoshaw from the setting sun. Brad looked like a grizz hunter with a guitar, playing solo acoustic in front of 300 or do picnic-ers sitting in the grass eating grapes and cheese, wine and PBR. The PA sounded remarkably good; so did Hoshaw though his set was back-loaded with a few too many slow, somber numbers, which Brad is known for but tell that to the nearby 2-year-old twins who were getting restless. After 45 minutes, I began to regret not bringing a picnic basket -- the smell of nearby grub was killing us.

Fink came out to sing a duet that Hoshaw said he wrote for her a couple years ago. It was a pretty song that falls nicely within the Hoshaw canon, with a chorus that went "That was so long ago/Now we're growing old/The kids are stealing our rock and roll." Brad played for at least an hour and included covers by both Kyle Harvey (the one he always plays) and Twilight Singers (something I hadn't heard before and though I like Twilight Singers, if you don't have the initials GD it's going to be a real rollercoaster ride). We contemplated what song we'd like to hear Hoshaw cover, and it was my cohort who came up with the perfect tune -- "Please Come to Boston" by Dave Loggins, a song that we both love but that were sure Hoshaw would never sing because he'd think that it's "not cool enough." Ah, but he'd be wrong.

The evening turned out to be more of a Hoshaw showcase than Orenda showcase due to timing. At 7:15 the organizers were still fiddledicking around with sound and staging, and I knew we weren't going to make it through even half of her set. Finally, Orenda came on at 7:25 (the concert, which started at 6, was scheduled to end at 8), accompanied by Art in Manila bandmate Adrianne Verhoeven. We made it through three songs before hunger got the best of us. By then about a third of the crowd had left, including a few that were probably headed to CB for My Morning Jacket at Stir Cove. Overall, a nice night, though we should have brought food along...

* * *

I told you the Reader was going to launch their CD reviews this week, and here they are -- with the first batch written by me. The plan is to have all of the Reader Music All Stars contribute reviews in the coming weeks (I'm told they'll run monthly until the Reader gets its scheduling act together, and then they'll run more frequently). Unlike Lazy-i reviews, these will be rated on a five-star system vs. the usual yes/no rating, which seemed too draconian for The Reader. That said, all five of these albums would get "yes" ratings.

Albums are rated on the usual five-star scale, where you're suggested to avoid those with one star and deify those with five.

The Faint, Faciinatiion (blank .wav) -- It's no wonder that the album's best song, "The Geeks Were Right," also is the most straightforward and least dependent on technology to "make it sound different." You see, I like frontman Todd Fink's voice just the way it is. And with all of the electronic bleep-blooping going on elsewhere, Dapose's opening guitar riff feels downright organic. But a straight-up rock band is not what the throngs of stylish, sweaty youth are looking for. Give them the robot-voiced dance machine with its dense bass and thump-thump-thump rhythms. They want to bounce, not think. What are they singing about? Who cares as long as there's a thick-ass beat and plenty of strobes. Which makes me wonder what would happen if these guys stepped away from the synths, vocoders and effects pedals and picked up traditional instruments once again. They could be that great rock band we've all been waiting for, if they wanted to be. But they never will, not now, not when they don't have to. With a slew of classics already in their quiver, it makes you wonder why they even bother making new CDs in the first place. Rating: 3 stars.

Conor Oberst, Conor Oberst (Merge) -- It differs from Bright Eyes in its more minimal production, though it's far from stripped down (just Mogis-less). Song wise, it's not a stretch at all, though Oberst does seem more relaxed, even resolved to his stricken condition of being ordained the rambling "voice of his generation." Call him that if you want to; he's not listening. Unlike Lifted or Wide Awake, there's no need to block off your afternoon or give it your undivided attention to enjoy it. Like he says on album opener "Cape Canaveral": "There's no worries, who's got time?" No one, Conor, no one. And while there's nothing as striking as, say, "Lua" or "Waste of Paint" or "I Must Belong Somewhere," it has its moments of absolute clarity, including country stomper "I Don't Want to Die (in the Hospital)" and rock anthem "Souled Out!!!" Oberst is too smart to do either. Rating: 4 stars.

Shiver Shiver, Soulless Sex Appeal (self-release) -- I liken their band-nerd music to a warm, soothing embrace by someone you just met -- it's inviting but at the same time, awkward and a little unnerving. Certainly you want to hold onto their sound -- keyboard and drums that have more in common with funk 'n' jazz than rock 'n' roll. Frontman Jordan Elsberry is an Omaha version of Joe Jackson but without Joe's interesting stories. Jordan's voice is soothing, even sexy in a geeky sort of way, but you won't remember a single secret that he whispered in your ear once you've left the dance floor. The honest album title couldn't be more accurate. Rating 3 stars.

Silver Jews, Lookout Mountain, Lookout Sea (Drag City) -- The album can be summed up in one perfect song: "San Francisco B.C.," where drawling frontman David Berman croons a story of a break-up with a "local martyr in the vegan press," a crime story that finds our hero "in the possession of burglary tools" only to confront the bad-haired murderer who orphaned his true love. Along the way there's plenty of "fist cuisine" and "insignificant shit" and other tossed-out genius that makes this one song better than Tarantino's last three films. Musically, it's laid-back, rolling, countrified slacker rock, with Berman sounding like the second coming of Johnny Cash, and wife, Cassie, providing the June Carter harmonies. Rating: 4.5 stars.

Randy Newman, Harps and Angels (Nonesuch) -- At age 64, Newman's voice is starting to wind down, not because he can't sing, but because he's too damn lazy to. By the time he gets to center-point songs like the slice-of-life testimonial "Potholes," he's merely speaking the lyrics Kentucky colonel-style over the usual, lilting rag-time arrangements. Even then, he's a better singer than most of the folks you'll hear on the radio. Besides, songs like the snarky, dead-on "A few Words in Defense of Our Country," with the lines "You know, a president once said / 'The only thing we have to fear is fear itself' / Now it seems like we're supposed to be afraid / It's patriotic, in fact / Color-coded" don't exactly invite listeners to sing along as much nod knowingly. Rating: 3.5 stars.

Hey local bands, want your records reviewed? Send your CDs and vinyl to The Reader c/o "Reviews," P.O. Box 7360, Omaha, NE 68107. While submissions will be considered, space limitations prevent all from being reviewed..

Live Review: Domestica; Orenda/Hoshaw in the Garden Tuesday night... – Aug. 19, 2008 –

O'Leaver's beer garden is deceptively large compared to how it looks from the parking lot. You can easily get 30 or 40 people out there if you stand them up and lean them against the railing. It's so inviting that there were more people outside drinking and smoking than were inside Saturday night while the bands played. Opening was The Third Men, sounding solid despite having not performed in months. Domestica were their usual amazing selves, playing all the hits including songs off their new Mommyhead 7-inch (pressed on luscious orange vinyl, available from Speed! Nebraska Records). There's not much more to say about their performance other than Jon Taylor could have turned his amps up louder (He finally did at the end of the set). I don't remember seeing the old Mercy Rule floor-floodlights the last time they played. It's good to see them back, illuminating Jon, Heidi and Boz like a trio of rock 'n' roll ghosts.

In other O'Leaver's news, I'm told that Worker's, Chris Machmuller's new sandwich shop located right next door to the bar, is slated to open today. I'm also told the weekend hours could be as late as 2 a.m., meaning that I'll no longer have to drive through Taco Johns for grub after the bar closes.


Tuesday at Lauritzen Gardens, it's a special 6 p.m. outdoor concert featuring Orenda Fink and Brad Hoshaw. Concert-goers are encouraged to bring their own chairs, blankets, food and blankets (and booze, which is permitted). The $7 charge also gets you into the gardens, which are open for roaming until 8:30.

Also Tuesday night it's Reagan Roeder, Tomato a Day and Tina Sparkle at O'Leaver's. $5, 9:30 p.m.

And yes, I didn't forget, My Morning Jacket plays Tuesday night at Stir Concert Cove. 7:30, $26. I doubt the show will exceed their performance at Sokol Underground in May 2004. Still, this has all the makings of being one of the best shows of the year.

Thunder Power(!!!), Coffin Killers tonight; Domestica, Peace Center benefit tomorrow… – Aug. 15, 2008 –

So this is how it goes for the weekend:

Tonight at Slowdown Jr., it's the Thunder Power!!! CD release show. I don't know if I ever talked to Thunder Power!!! before, but if I had, I would have asked why the three exclamation points at the end of their name. Boastful? Not if you really have "thunder power." TP!!! is one of those local bands that completely reinvented itself from about a year (or more) ago, adding a vocalist that sounds like Chan Marshall meets Opal Sandoval -- nice. The CD being celebrated is actually an EP titled Love Yourself, and to help facilitate you young-'uns, TP!!! has a notary in the band who can witness the required permission-slip signing by your parents, needed for pre-18ers to attend all-ages shows at The Slowdown. Is having a notary in your band the beginning of a trend? Opening is DC's These United States, Omaha mega-combo Midwest Dilemma and sweet musings of Honeybee. 9 p.m., $5.

Meanwhile, if you prefer something a bit more rough and angry, SST-flavored punk band The Coffin Killers are playing at The 49'r with School of Arms and The Matador. $5, 9 p.m.

Two hot shows tomorrow night (Saturday): Over at The Waiting Room it's the Peace Center benefit featuring Baby Walrus, Orenda Fink, McCarthy Trenching, Outlaw Con Bandana, Bill Hoover, Simon Joyner, Bear Country and the Watch. Every penny of the $10 cover will go toward the Peace Center, which eventually will direct military members and their families to the YWCA Omaha for free, confidential treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder. Get the details at the OWH (here). This one starts early -- 7 p.m.
Later Saturday night (at around 9:30) at O'Leaver's it's the return of Lincoln's Domestica and The Third Men. $5, 9 p.m. See you there.

Blue Scholars tonight... – Aug. 14, 2008 –

Blue Scholars is playing tonight at The Waiting Room. I bring it up only because they're one of my favorite touring indie hip-hop acts. I'm painfully discerning when it comes to hip-hop. There are only a handful of hip-hop recordings that I have in my collection. Beyond the usual staples (NWA, Public Enemy, Beasties) there's Danger Mouse, Evil Tambourines and a slew of Blue Scholars CDs. I know nothing about the rest of the bill, which includes headliner Hieroglyphics, Musab, Tonya Morgan and Knowbody. 9 p.m. $15. Also tonight, classic '90s Omaha punk band Cordial Spew opens for Red City Radio and Bent Left at The Saddle Creek Bar. 9 p.m., free.

Conor Oberst charts at No. 15, The Faint at No. 45; Column 185 -- Reviews return; Deleted Scenes tonight... – Aug. 13, 2008 –

So how did Conor Oberst and The Faint do in their first week's sales of their new albums? Here's the skinny by way of Homer's General Manager Mike Fratt:

Conor Oberst's self-titled album sold 28,546 copies last week, plus 354 copies prior to street date for a total of 28,918 copies. That's good enough for the album to chart at No. 15 on Billboard. Conor Oberst also was the No. 3 best-selling download on iTunes, moving 9,941 digital units.

The Faint's Fasciinatiion sold 11,333 last week, plus 222 copies before street date for a total of 11,584 copies -- good enough to claim the No. 45 position on the Billboard charts. Fasciinatiion also was the No. 15 best-selling download on iTunes, moving 3,250 digital units.

FYI, digital downloads are included in the overall total sales number. Thanks again to Mr. Fratt for the data. Overall, an impressive first week by both artists. I think you could see both albums continue to climb the charts, but especially Fasciinatiion, which has had less pre-release media attention, and is only now getting the notice it deserves.
This week's column combined info about The Reader's introduction of CD reviews next week with Monday's blog-entry review of the Shiver Shiver show. Here's the stuff you haven’t seen yet.

Column 185: Comparatively Speaking
Reviews return…

We're starting up CD reviews again next week at The Reader. It's something that's been talked about for, well, as long as there's been a Reader. But for whatever reason, it just never happened. The last time we tried it, the editor-in-charge passed along a handful of some of the worst local recordings ever made and told the writers to "have at 'em." Not surprisingly, no one wanted the arduous task of subjecting themselves to an hour's worth of the city's most derivative second-rate drivel and then try to glean something meaningful out of it. The music scene has come a long way since then, or so we'll see next week.

Here's a little secret about music journalism -- it's harder to write a concise 100-word CD review than it is to write a 1,000-word band profile. Much harder. Yes, for profiles it does take time to schedule and interview a (hopefully lucid, coherent) band, then listen to their music and come up with a hook to make it all worth reading. But you've got quotes and one-sheets (industry speak for a band's press release) to help piece it together. The hardest part is describing the band's sound without stringing together a list of comparisons, such as "The opening track sounds like up-tempo Pixies meets low-fi Pavement with howling vocals by The Kinks…" It's sloppy, lazy journalism that I'm as guilty of doing as anyone. No good band ever wants to be compared to anyone else, especially if the comparison is dead accurate.

But have you ever tried to sit down and describe music without using comparisons? Think about it. It's like trying to make a sculpture out of mist -- all the tangible elements are all in your head, and when you try to mold them into something concrete, they blur and become unrecognizable. That's how dumb-ass, meaningless descriptions like "angular guitar work," "powerful riff" and "yearning vocals" get created. Clichés become addictive, and fatal. The best critics in the world, like personal writing mentor Robert Christgau (formerly of the Village Voice, now contributing to Blender, Rolling Stone and MSN Music) in the fewest words can make you clearly understand exactly what he thinks about a band's music. For example, his take on the new Death Cab for Cutie album: "Unfailingly melodic, surprisingly dynamic, somewhat overextended love problems, and if he's so smart why doesn't he shelve music and solve them?"

Christgau gave that album an "honorable mention." I have no idea if we'll be using a rating system (I hope so). Our focus will be mostly on local releases, but there also will be reviews of notable national releases thrown into the mix. I write this as an incentive to the editors to actually follow through this time. Think it'll work?

Tonight at Slowdown Jr. Washington/Brooklyn indie-rockers Deleted Scenes plays with local walking muppets Talkin' Mountain, Hyannis and White Elephant Gift Exchange. What I've heard on the DS myspace is mighty good. $6, 9 p.m.

Live Review: Shiver Shiver; Oberst at #37 in UK, 2010 until Bright Eyes returns? – Aug. 11, 2008 –

I've commented to a few people who hang out at Slowdown that the venue's small stage -- a.k.a. Slowdown Jr. -- has all the makings of the perfect jazz club. Actually, Slowdown's bar vibe -- all black tile and shiny surfaces, exposed ceiling and dark, ambient lighting -- doesn't feel so much like punk/indie as much as urban hip (as in an NYC club). Maybe it’s the tables with the glass votive candleholders or the intimate stage with its glimmering, pristine sound. I don't know. I also don’t know if Omaha even has a viable jazz scene these days. I know its history (I've interviewed the late Preston Love a few times), but other than the antiseptic Jazz on the Green muzak festival, I'm not aware of anything going on around town.

I say all this as a lead-up to last Saturday night's Shiver Shiver CD release show at Slowdown Jr. SS, to me, isn't so much a rock band as a hybrid of pop and smooth jazz, not so much Steely Dan as Bob James with Squeeze, Ben Folds and Todd Rundgren thrown in. As I said last week, I'd heard the band perform twice -- at O'Leaver's and at "Dario-fest" -- and neither performance captured the essence of their recordings. Last Saturday night's show did, thanks to Slowdown's jazzy vibe and state-of-the-art sound system. The two-piece of Jordan Elsberry and Chase Thornburg glided through a set of songs off their new album, Soulless Sex Appeal, with the casualness of seasoned road veterans playing yet another gig. Drummer Thornburg is a jazzy Max Weinberg, just an amazing guy on the skins. But it's Elsberry who plays the role of frontman. Looking like a bespectacled Adam Samberg standing behind a pair of keyboards in faux Armani (actually, both wore suits), he got the crowd of 100 or so grooving with his bouncing keys and swarthy vocals. As one member of one of the city's more popular Creek-related bands said from the side of the stage, no one around town is doing anything like this. They've got the market to themselves playing a style of music that has a universal appeal (certainly more so than Slowdown's usual bands). Now we'll see if they do anything with it, as in hit the road and make a name for themselves outside of Nebraska. They certainly have the chops to do it…

I couldn't let the evening get away without dropping by The Saddle Creek Bar for the Big Al 1-year anniversary show. I only caught the last few minutes of the Filter King's roaring set before they packed up and headed off to The Niner for yet another show. Big Al and Metal Barbie ripped into the same set of home-made metal standards (with the volume turned to 11) that they played a year ago. including "Oregano," "It's War You Die" "Cold Hard Steel" and all the rest, along with a second helping of "Oregano" just before 1 a.m. Now it's onto year two, which one hopes will bring with it some new material…

* * *

Billboard reports that Conor Oberst's self-titled solo CD debuted at No. 37 on the UK album charts, where it's competing with the likes of Coldplay, Abba and Rihanna. So how well did it do on the U.S. charts? We'll have to wait and see. For what it's worth, the album currently stands at No. 6 on the iTunes download chart, fueled in part by a massive feature in last Friday's New York Times by Jon Pareles (here). An interesting scheduling comment at the end of the piece: Pareles said Oberst had a year of work lined up outside of Bright Eyes, what with a solo tour that will last well into next year and a new record with M. Ward and Jim James (There's no word what label that'll be released on). If that's the case, don't expect another Bright Eyes album until 2010, maybe longer...

In other Saddle Creek news, DCist reported last week (here) that Georgie James, one of the Creek's more recent signings (May 2007) called it quits. Look for solo efforts by both members in the near future.

Live Review: Tilly and the Wall; Shiver Shiver Saturday... – Aug. 8, 2008 –

Chatting with one of the security guys at the Tilly and the Wall show last night, we talked about why they didn't just have the show at Slowdown -- a natural size-step up from TWR, where they last played. I figured the reason had something to do with the city's new all-ages policy, which wouldn't apply to Sokol. But this guy pointed out that there weren't that many in the crowd under 18, which reminded me that Tilly has been around for seven years, under-age listeners who followed the band from way back when would be well over 18 years old by now. In the end, the Sokol decision probably was based on crowd-size expectations, and as per usual the promoter (and the band) were right. The draw was around 700, according to the promoter -- a nice-sized crowd, but far from the 1,400 needed for a sell out. To help fill the main ballroom, the balcony was closed (though a few people still got up there somehow).

I arrived right at the end of The Ruby Suns and just in time for the painfully loud and distorted between-set "dance music." I moved as far away from the stage as possible, seeking shelter from the bone-rattling bass-noise. Twenty minutes later, someone threw a hundred or so balloons into the audience. Ten minutes after that, the band went on.

The distorto-bass remained a problem for the first three songs. Hats off to the sound guy for getting things adjusted early in the set. You could argue that the biggest change in the band's sound is the addition of bass and drums, though it's really the bass that had the biggest impact last night and not necessarily in a good way. In fact, the whole set got off to a rocky start with a ho-hum version of cuss-fest "Too Excited," as well as some of the band's more droll songs featuring Kianna and Neely singing the same melody lines -- i.e., no harmonies. What's the point of that?

They didn't hit their stride until after a rather flaccid rendition of "Falling Without Knowing" that sounded like the girls were singing the chorus an octave lower than on the recording, sucking the life out of one of my favorite songs on the new CD. Things got rolling after that, though. I continue to be convinced that Tilly's future lies in the style of dance music heard on their single, "Beat Control," which got the crowd dancing (sort of). The remainder of the set was the best I've ever heard Tilly perform, and included "Dust Me Off," "Jumbler," the acoustic ballad "Tall Tall Grass" and B52's-flavored single "Pot Kettle Black."
Staging wise, Tilly has added computer-controlled spots to the usual confetti, balloons and smoke. At the center of it all, of course, is Jamie Pressnall standing like a ballerina atop a three-foot-high tap-dance box. With her gittering wrist bands, it's impossible to ignore her throughout the set. She is the stage centerpiece, even though Tilly clearly has begun to step away from its reliance on tap to provide rhythm.

* * *

A very brief look at the weekend:

Tonight Team Love performing artist Mars Black has a CD release show at Sokol Underground. Guests include Surreal the MC, Articulate and Richie Daggers. $7, 7 p.m.

Tomorrow night Shiver Shiver has its CD release show at Slowdown Jr. with Tim Wildsmith and Brent Crampton. The SS disc, Soulless Sex Appeal, reminds me of a cross between Todd Rundgren and Squeeze -- it's smooth, well produced keyboard-driven rock. I've seen SS twice live and neither time did their sound resemble what's heard on their recordings. Could the Slowdown stage make the CD come to life? Find out tomorrow. $10 w/CD; $5 otherwise. 9 p.m.

Also Saturday night, Big Al is back at the Saddle Creek Bar for a return engagement that also includes The Filter Kings, The Upsets and Dylan Davis. $5, 9 p.m.

And Sunday, The Bodeans return to Omaha, this time to Slowdown. With Ha Ha Tonka, $17, 9 p.m.

Tilly and the Wall tonight; Conor on Leno last night... – Aug. 7, 2008 –

Tonight at Sokol Auditorium it's Tilly and the Wall with The Ruby Suns and Go Motion. 8 p.m., $13. This morning I was discussing whether this show will sell out. One guy said he thought it was a sure bet. I'm doubtful. The last time Tilly played in Omaha was at The Waiting Room in March. I can't remember if that sold out or not. Other than that, they did a show last year at Sokol Underground, as well as a shows opening for The Faint, Rilo Kiley and Bright Eyes at Sokol Auditorium over the past couple years. There's no question that Tilly's popularity continues to grow (Their new album is No. 16 on the CMJ radio charts, right under Conor Oberst's), but selling out the 1,400-capacity Sokol Aud? Hmmm... We'll see tonight.

And speaking of Oberst, he and his Mystic Valley Band played on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno last night. Oberst and crew came on at the end of the show after Jack Black and the winner of the Pillsbury Bake-Off. I thought they might do "Souled Out!!!" Instead they did a rollicking version of "Get Well Cards" that sounded surprisingly good for a live network broadcast. Overall, a very straight-forward performance. Now when is The Faint going to get on Letterman?

Column 184 -- Faint watermarks; Darla Farmer, Midwest Dilemma tonight... – Aug. 6, 2008 –

The Faint reviews are starting to trickle in. Pitchfork posted theirs this morning (the usual 6.0 range reserved for all Nebraska acts, except for Oberst, who broken into the 7's). The number of reviews for Fasciinatiion has been nothing near what Oberst has been getting, but what did I expect? Oberst puts out an album a year with Bright Eyes. The Faint hasn't released anything in four years. There's also the issue described below, but it probably didn't impact anyone but me. I've still only listened to the CD only once all the way through -- not enough to form a real opinion about it. I can't listen to it at work, in my car, at the gym, at the grocery store, really nowhere but in front of my home stereo… Another impact of watermarking -- this time on Joe Consumer: You don't want to buy a watermarked promo from the "used" bins at your favorite local record store, not with all the compatibility issues (It's very unlikely that a watermark would end up in a used bin anyway, for reasons described below). With the advent of watermarking and digital services, there will be fewer promo CDs in the used bins in the future. Hey, they're not supposed to be there in the first place. Writers/critics aren't supposed to sell their promo discs (but all of them do, eventually).

Column 184: Diisapoiintment
A Faint distrust…

About a week ago I got a little surprise in the mail: A copy of the new release by The Faint, Fasciinatiion. It's the most anticipated album by an Omaha band that I can remember, even more sought after than the new Conor Oberst solo album. People may like Bright Eyes and Conor, but they love grooving to The Faint even more.

So I took the disc out of its generic promo jewel case (no artwork and only a track listing on the back) and slid it into the ear slot of my aluminum iMac to download onto my iPhone. Because I keep it with me all the time, the iPhone is where I listen to most of my music. My iMac made its usual whirling sounds, bleeps and bloops, etc., then after about a minute, it went silent. On the screen came this message: "The disk you inserted was not readable by this computer. Ignore/Eject?"

I choose eject, then looked at the CD. Along the edge in type font almost as large as the CD title was this message: "FBI Anti-Piracy Warning: Unauthorized copying is punishable under federal law." In font small enough to make me realize I'm getting to the age where I'll soon need reading glasses it said: "WATERMARKED AND COPY PROTECTED CD!" There was yet a third helpful message along the disc's rim: "Acceptance of this CD shall constitute an agreement to comply with the terms of the license," whatever that meant.

Unlike their past CDs, which were released by Saddle Creek Records, Fasciinatiion is being released by The Faint on their own. Wisely, the band is trying to make sure no one uploads it to the Internet, where it could be passed around digitally from one hipster to another without the band receiving a red cent.

No prob. I think it was Bruce Springsteen who said the real test of any recording is how it sounds in your car. So I took the disc and slipped it in my Mini Cooper's car stereo. Blip, bloop, ERROR.

Now what. I finally turned to my ancient Sony 200-CD carousel player. Success. Unfortunately, I didn't have time to sit and listen to the entire CD, and The Faint was going to make me wait until I did.

For an explanation, I turned to Team Love Records executive Matt Maginn (who, by the way, just happens to play bass in one of the greatest bands on earth, Cursive). Matt handles promos for T-L, which puts out music by Tilly and the Wall, Jenny Lewis and Capgun Coup, among others. He said his label has never used watermark advances and has no plans to, yet. "Watermarking encodes the receivers' information directly into the music (every track, start to finish)," he said. "So if John Smith uploads the record to the net and 100 people download it, all 100 will be traceable back to that one disc that was sent to poor old John Smith. This means John Smith's name is now 'mud' and (he'll) probably not get advances for any more releases from any labels or publicists if he is exposed as a leaker."

Maginn said watermarking makes sense to protect against a very early leak -- four to six weeks before the actual release date -- but that watermarked CDs are hard to listen to anywhere other than on a traditional CD player. "If I have trouble listening to something, I give up pretty quickly," he said. "For me, the key to loving a release is giving it enough spins to actually digest it. The harder it is for me to hear a release multiple times, the less likely I can give it a fair critique. You gotta spend time with the music to know if you love it or not." I couldn't agree more.

Watermarking also keeps editors from passing a disc around the newsroom to other critics who the editor may not trust to keep it to themselves.

As a critic, my preferred method of receiving promotional recordings is "digital servicing" -- that’s where a label or a publicist e-mails a password-protected link that allows you to download a recording in its entirety. It's quick, it's easy, it's immediately on my iPhone and as a result I don't have hundreds (thousands) of hard-copy CDs stacked on every horizontal surface in my office. Many indie labels, including Matador, 4AD, Beggars, and yes, Team Love, offer digital servicing these days, with the option of requesting a hard-copy if the writer prefers. Maginn said Team Love has even started taking demos from bands as digital submissions only. "(It makes it) so much easier for people to check out new music immediately," he said.

But some artists are taking it even further. Oberst began publicly streaming his solo album from his website weeks before it was available to purchase (presumably with permission from his new label, Merge Records). Sure, you can't download it, but you can digitally capture it if you really wanted to. And then there's Radiohead and Nine Inch Nails who gave away digital versions of their last albums.

In the end, Fasciinatiion did get leaked. The night I got the disc, a message appeared on the Saddle Creek webboard saying that the files could now be found "in the wild." Days later, Fasciinatiion also could be heard on The Faint's Myspace page. Why not make the tracks available early to the most important critics of all -- the fans?

Early buzz is that Fasciinatiion is the best Faint CD since Danse Macabre. I'll let you know as soon as I get a chance to sit down in front of my old-fashioned home stereo, or buy it from iTunes.

Nashville circus-indie-spazz-cabaret-muppet rockers Darla Farmer, whose record Rewiring the Electric Forest was recorded at ARC Studio and came out on Eagle*Seagull's old label, are playing tonight at The Waiting Room with mega-ensemble Midwest Dilemma (boasting flute, clarinet, tuba, violin, cello, upright bass, pedal steel, percussion, les paul, martin acoustic and vocals). Opening is Where Astronauts Go to Hide and The Audrye Sessions. $7, 9 p.m.

Conor Oberst, The Faint drop day... – Aug. 5, 2008 –

I just counted and there is something like, what, 1,000 reviews of the new Conor Oberst solo CD, which hit the store shelves today (sort through them all here). Taken as a whole, the average rating has been 3.5 stars or B+. The critics like it, and they like Oberst, who's also done a shit-ton of press in support of this release. My take after listening to it for the past few weeks: It's not dramatically different than what you've heard from Bright Eyes in the past, except for the much-needed stripped down production (and I think Oberst could take it down even further). While there's nothing as striking as, say, "Lua" or "Waste of Paint" or "I Must Belong Somewhere," the record still has its moments, including opener "Cape Canaveral," country stomper "I Don't Want to Die (in the Hospital)" and funky-hooked "Souled Out!!!" As a whole, it holds together as well as Wide Awake, and on a certain level, even better. It's gonna be huge... for Merge.

Conversely, using Google News search, I've found considerably fewer (actually almost no) reviews of the new Faint CD, which also dropped today. I'm not sure why all the crickets, though I speculate on one possible reason in tomorrow's column...

Live Review: Fromanhole, Life/Times, Little Brazil; OWH's Furthermore…. The Ergs tonight... – Aug. 4, 2008 –

Looks like all the press paid off. There were more than 100 people at last Friday night's Fromanhole CD release show at Slowdown Jr., enough that every table and booth was filled, with a sizable crowd standing in front of the stage. Fromanhole picked the right time to bring it -- they never sounded better, despite the fact that bassist/vocalist Doug Kiser sliced off a good chuck of his pointer finger on his left hand earlier in the day. This is the second time I've seen Doug play injured (the other was an O'Leaver's show where he again had injured one of his fingers). Maybe he should mutilate himself more often if it's going to result in this kind of bad-ass performance.

The evening's pleasant surprise (for me, anyway) was The Life and Times, a KC band fronted by Shiner's Allen Epley. Prior to the show I had heard nary a note of the LNT's music, though right before they went on one of the local music scholars said, "You're gonna love 'em. They're heavily influenced by Swervedriver." Did they sound like Swervedriver? I don't know since I've never really followed Swervedriver. What we got was a gnashing set of trippy, melodic noise-core that reminded me of My Bloody Valentine -- just grinding, heavy rock that had moments of soaring beauty. Epley's voice is unique in a Cobain sort of way (though he sounds nothing like Cobain), one of those voices that makes you nod your head and think, "This guy is good." For a trio, LNT had an enormous, dense sound. With some luck, they could be the next big thing. They should be.

Little Brazil unveiled a bunch of new material during their headlining set. I initially thought, "These guys really sound poppy these days," but then I listened to Tighten the Noose again over the weekend and rethought it. Drummer Oliver Morgan said after the set, "More poppy? We though we sounded more punky." I don’t think I'd use the term "punk" to describe their sound, however. To me, the new stuff is more melody-focused, with fewer tangents getting in the way. Landon Hedges' voice is amazing, just an amazing range. He's the Freddy Mercury of indie rock. I don't know how he's going to pull off those high notes after a few days on the road. Lots of warming up? Hot toddies? I thought Tighten the Noose was going to be the one to push them to that next level of national indie exposure. But it wasn't to be. If their next album captures the sound I heard Friday night -- and they tour as hard as they have in the past -- there's no reason for them not to emerge at the top of the CMJ charts.

* * *

Well, in last Saturday's edition, the Omaha World-Herald replied to my column from a couple weeks ago where I took them to task for taking The Good Life to task for voicing their support for the Democratic party (read my column here). My point was that the OWH should be encouraging freedom of speech and the First Amendment, not dreaming up ways (including financial penalties) to keep people from voicing a viewpoint that differs from theirs. In their 87-word response that appeared under the "Furthermore…" section of the Editorials page, the OWH said it "understood and contemplated the band's right to say what it wanted. That is free speech." It then went on to say that "critics" misunderstood the difference between free speech and speech free of consequences. "…The city and this newspaper have a right to criticize crudeness and contemplate incentives for better behavior." Incentives? I always thought incentives were benefits beyond basic compensation (a bonus, for example). In the OWH's eyes, compensation for work performed isn't part of an agreement or contract, it's an incentive. Odd way of doing business. Ah well, I have no interest in getting in a pissing war with the OWH. It's surprising that they even read the column in the first place. As is their policy, they didn't reference the source of the criticism (The Reader) or name the band involved. At least they didn't refer to me as a "local blogger " this time.
* * *

New Jersey punkers The Ergs play at O'Leaver's tonight with Hunchback and No Action. $5, 9:30 p.m. Over at The Waiting Room it's The A.K.A.'s with The Frantic. $8, 9 p.m. While over at Slowdown Jr. it's Wild Sweet Orchard with Skypiper and It's True. $8, 9 p.m.

Fromanhole tonight… – Aug. 1, 2008 –

The boys from Fromanhole scored the triple crown of publicity for their CD release show tonight at Slowdown Jr.: They got a Niz feature in the OWH's Go! section (here), a "meet-the-band" interview conducted by former intern Brendan Walsh in the Omaha City Weekly (here) and, of course, a profile by yours truly in The Reader and (here). What more could they do to get people to come to this show? And then, in the end, Fromanhole isn't headlining -- in fact, they're not even playing third. Doug, Daryl and Roach will be playing second, which means they'll be on stage at around 10 p.m. So get down to Slowdown early and see the results of this media frenzy. Also on the bill are Nueva Vulcano (playing first), The Life and Times (Allen Epley of Shiner) and headliner Little Brazil. $7, 9 p.m.

What else is going on this weekend? You tell me on the webboard…

Tilly and the Wall all growed up; Hercules tonight... – July 31, 2008 –

Now online, a massive feature/interview with Tilly and the Wall. The Tilly crew talks about where they've been and where they're going, as well as their new album and their new musical direction (though they say there's nothing really different about O, I say otherwise). Read it here, or pick up a copy of this week's Reader, where it's the cover story. The piece was written in support of Tilly's official CD release show, which is happening at Sokol Auditorium Thursday Aug. 7. Tix are $13, get them now. Opening are New Zealand Sub Pop band The Ruby Suns and our very own Go Motion.

* * *

Tonight at The Waiting Room, legendary Omaha hardcore band Hercules is playing with Alphabet and Capgun Coup. I have heard from, well, a ton of people how amazing Hercules is. I'm told they prefer playing all-ages shows, which is why they haven't played a lot of gigs at the usual places around town. Here's a chance to check them out. $6, 9 p.m.

Fromanhole's epic disc(h)ord; Harry and the Potters, Kevin Devine, Reagan/Tomato tonight... – July 30, 2008 –

Just placed online, a feature/interview with the guys from Fromanhole (read it here). Daryl, Doug and Roach tell us who they are and what they're trying to accomplish playing in one of the most intense bands in the Midwest. The story is a lead-up to Friday night's Fromanhole CD release show at Slowdown Jr. that also features Little Brazil, The Life and Times and Nueva Vulcano. Go read the story, then buy a ticket to the show (it's only $7).

* * *

There's a few interesting things going on tonight. Down at Slowdown Jr. it's cutesy indie rock four-piece Harry and the Potters, renowned for such hits as "Wrath of Hermoine" and "Voldemort Can't Stop the Rock." They fancy themselves practitioners of "Wizard Rock," or WRock, a musical movement (according to their Wiki entry) that consists of at least 450 bands that play songs about Harry Potter. Right. Laugh all you want, but the joke's been going on since 2002 when the band first formed. Musically, it's run-of-the-mill slacker indie rock with whiney vocals about giant spiders and Malfoy. Opening are Math The Band and Uncle Monsterface. $12, 7 p.m.

Meanwhile, over at The Waiting Room, singer-songwriter Kevin Devine opens for a couple fellow singer-songwriters I've never heard of: Jesse Lacey and Brian Bonz. Devine is a first-class Brooklyn-area musician and singer who's come through Omaha a number of times, supporting his last album, Put Your Ghost to Rest, which was originally released on Capitol in '06 before being re-released on indie label Procrastinate! Music Traitors. $15 (SOLD OUT), 9 p.m.

Down the road at The Barley Street, Tomato a Day is playing with Reagan Roeder and Ben Sieff. It's a free show that starts at 9. Word got around yesterday that Barley St. got busted by an ASCAP representative for playing records in the bar -- a no-no for any commercial, public establishment that hasn't paid the licensing fee to the ASCAP organization/mafia. As a result, Brad Hoshaw's Tuesday night Viva La Vinyl showcase -- where anyone could in and play their albums -- is no more. Here's hoping Brad finds a new home for the vinyl showcase.

Live Review: Malpais; and the week ahead on Lazy-i… – July 29, 2008 –

I got very little bar time in this past weekend. I did manage to catch the Malpais CD release show at The Waiting Room -- but only Malpais thanks to the 2 1/2-hour Batman film. It was very well-attended (I'm guessing around 200?), all there to see Greg Loftis and his crew perform songs off a CD that I'm told has received a 4-star rating from Alternative Press -- a rarity for a self-released album. From what I heard on stage (I still don’t have a copy of the disc) AP got it right. The band knows its way around a solid indie rock melody. My quibbles are with the house sound -- very muddy, and Loftis' vocals were lost in the mix. One of the bar's regulars told me that it wasn't the sound-guy's fault -- Loftis just doesn't sing very loudly. Maybe so, but I've heard him do a fine job belting out a tune at O'Leaver's before. As much as I enjoyed the gig, I think Loftis is the kind of guy who could do even better in an acoustic singer-songwriter setting. The title track of the new CD -- "Luke Is Leaving New York," which I've heard on Myspace -- is a sweet little acoustic guitar-fueled ballad. The live rendition -- performed by the full band -- paled in comparison. Or maybe I'm just a sucker for a simple melody…

Lots of content this week on Lazy-i. Tomorrow, instead of the usual column (no column this week!) look for a feature on everyone's favorite noise-punk band, Fromanhole, who are having a CD release show of their own this Firday night at Slowdown Jr. And then Thursday look for a gi-normous interview with Tilly and the Wall (which also will be the cover story for this week's issue of The Reader).

Malpais tonight, Now Archimedes, Stay Awake tomorrow; NOMO Sunday… – July 25, 2008 –

Here's what I see for the weekend:

Tonight at The Waiting Room it's the CD release show for Malpais' new disc, Luke Is Leaving New York. I'm listening to the title track now -- a pretty little acoustic ballad reminiscent of Bookends-era S&G. I'm told that the rest of the CD is much more raucous in an indie sort of way -- we'll find out tonight. Opening is Sleep Said the Monster, The Beatseekers and The Paper Airplanes. $7, 9 p.m.

Tomorrow night, O'Leaver's is hosting a benefit for the Omaha Bike Co-op (also known as the Community Bicycle Shop). Participants in their program earn a bike by refurbishing and repairing one from the shop's donated inventory while completing nine volunteer hours and a basic bike safety course. The shop is located at 525 North 33rd Street. It's a program worthy of a benefit show featuring Now Archimedes!, Ideal Cleaners and the amazing Stay Awake. It'll probably cost $5, but why not double your donation for this worthy cause? 9:30 p.m.

Finally, on Sunday night, it's the return of Afrobeat sensations NOMO at The Waiting Room. I've seen them at O'Leaver's a couple years ago and they blew me away. Then they played at The Waiting Room in June 2007 and while it was still a fun show, it lacked the gritty energy of that O'Leaver's night. Will they be able to match the intensity of their debut performance? Opening is Satchel Grande. Get your booty shaking. $10, 9 p.m.

Play Me, Neil; Copyrights at O'Leaver's tonight… – July 24, 2008 –

I tried to get an interview with Neil Diamond in support of tonight's show at the Qwest Center. Omaha being a songwriters' town, and Diamond now releasing two albums of stripped-down singer/songwriter fare produced by Rick Rubin, the interview would have been a natural. It would have been a chance for Diamond to talk about the thought-process behind his new album and why he's decided to go in a more subtle, less bombastic direction. But there was no convincing his publicist. Neil isn't doing interviews, he said. And think about it, why should he? He certainly doesn't need a story in an Omaha alt-weekly (or one of indie music's most-read online resources) to sell tickets to the great unwashed masses, who could give two shits about how he and Rick worked through the arrangements on, say, acoustic waltz "Act Like a Man" off the new album. In fact, those ticket buyers don't even want to hear "Act Like a Man" or any of the new material. No, they want the Big Stuff. They want "Cherry Cherry" and "Forever in Blue Jeans" and, by God, "Sweet friggin' Caroline." And something tells me that's exactly what they're going to get. But they're going to have to sit through some of the new stuff whether they like it or not, or at least wait until the new stuff comes on before they grab a smoke or a hot dog or return that phone call. Once you've gone Vegas, Neil, there's no turning back. Still, Home Before Dark did chart at No. 1 on Billboard…

I'm not going to Neil. Instead, I've got an interview tonight at eight. And maybe afterward, I might drop by O'Leaver's, where The Copyrights, The Fonzarellies and The Killigans will be kickin' it for just $5 (starting at 9:30 p.m.). Also tonight, Chairlift and Talkin' Mountain are opening for Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti at Slowdown Jr. $8, 9 p.m.

I'm back; Column 183 -- What's killing the forests (and you don't look so good yourself); Apples in Stereo tonight… – July 23, 2008 –

I'm back from Breckenridge. Nothing to report musicwise. I think I said the last time I went up there -- you don't go to Colorado for the music unless you're "into" that sort of lifestyle. All of the radio stations have the same play list -- Jack Johnson, Dave Matthews, Widespread, Blues Traveller, Dead, then repeat continuously until your brain falls out or you're properly stoned. Since I don't smoke the hippie lettuce, that only leaves the music. I listened to the ol' iPod a lot and to the new Silver Jews record, which I highly recommend (along with the new Does It Offend You, Yeah? disc). Nightlife in Breck is the same sitch -- bad local jam bands and/or white-guy blues acts. There is no original music to be found anywhere. It all goes back to the origins of the Omaha music scene -- the founding fathers (Baechle, Kasher, Oberst, etc.) have always said that their music grew out of Midwestern boredom. Conversely, in Breck, with 14k mountains, roaring rivers, skiing, i.e. outdoor entertainment year-round, who has time to write a song? Better to learn how to play the latest Dave Matthews/Jack Johnson bong hit. There is no real culture in the Rockies, but they don’t miss it. You want culture? Move to NYC or Chicago or some other urban dirthole. You want a back-to-nature brain-dead paradise? Move to the coast and become a surfer. Or move to the Rockies and get lost in the ski/mountain culture. It's a nice place to visit, but I wouldn't want to live there. Which brings us to this week's column...

Column 183: Help Wanted, Rights
OWH Gags on 1st Amendment

I write this from Colorado, where the trees are dying in the mountains. You can thank the Mountain Pine Beetle, an industrious insect whose entire life is dedicated to boring under the bark of ancient lodge-pole timbers that, in their effort to fight off the attack, starve themselves by cutting off the food supply to their limbs. They turn brown; they die and the beetle moves on, to the next tree. The beetles are winning. From a distance, the forests in and around Breckenridge, Colorado, look like a middle-aged man's salt-and-pepper hair, the gray slowly defeating the color of its youth, until there's nothing but white, and then nothing at all.

It is from the balcony of a Breckenridge condo while on vacation that I received an e-mail from a member of the band The Good Life with an attached PDF file. It was an article -- an editorial -- that appeared in the July 15 issue of The Omaha World-Herald, a parting shot taken at the band a few days after they opened for Feist in Memorial Park.

Flavorlessly titled "Saturday, in the Park," the editorial is a tsk-tsk indictment of the band's behavior from the Memorial Park stage on the early evening of Saturday, July 12. The writer (who, like all OWH editorial writers, shall remain anonymous as s/he presumably speaks for the entire newspaper staff) was aghast that Good Life frontman Tim Kasher had the audacity -- the utter contempt -- to say what was on his mind concerning the upcoming presidential election.

Says the OWH: "…early arrivals got more than they bargained for when a local band, The Good Life, started its opening set with a two-minute diatribe about being embarrassed by red-state Nebraska and how the crowd should buck their parents and vote for Democratic U.S. Sen. Barack Obama for president."

The editorial went on to say how embarrassed we should feel for Mayor Fahey -- by God, his name is on the marquee as a sponsor for an event that cost private sponsors $70k, not to mention your tax dollars to pay police to patrol the park. But that's not all. Kasher, the OWH said, "proceeded to scream a song with the F-word so prominently that children in Dundee and Elmwood Park probably heard it. What a shame!"

I'm not making this up.

The Omaha World-Herald -- our local bastion of free speech -- actually published an editorial that attacked Kasher for exercising his First Amendment rights, asking in the editorial, "Does (the city) need to specify that on-stage political statements are unwelcome, to the point of voiding pay?"

Would Omaha's great gray lady have been as upset if Kasher had expressed, say, his devotion to Jesus Christ Our Lord and Savior? What if Kasher had gone on for two minutes extolling his pride in the good work of our Armed Forces in Iraq and Afghanistan? Would there have been an editorial printed a few days later criticizing those points of view? One wonders, despite the fact that both comments are very much political statements.

It's embarrassing -- if not bizarre -- that any newspaper would be concerned about someone exercising their First Amendment rights, whether it be spoken to the person next to them or from a stage. God forbid that the minds of our area youth be polluted by thoughts and ideas that differ from their parents' -- or from the Omaha World Herald's -- thoughts and ideas.

The Omaha World Herald has a right to disagree with Kasher in their editorial, but to ask that he and future artists be gagged on stage with threats of voiding their pay should they voice a view that differs from theirs is regretful and sad and very, very small town. Now I know one of the reasons why Kasher moved to Los Angeles.

As for the concerns about use of the "F-word" (How childish does that term sound when read in print?) in a song -- I have to think that someone involved in putting this concert together had to have at least a modicum of knowledge about the artists they were booking. The "F-word" appears in many a Good Life song because that's the language the artist uses to express his art, his ideas. It would be like asking to display Tom Wesselmann's "American Bedroom Painting #25" -- a modern still life in the Joslyn Art Museum collection that depicts a piece of fruit, a telephone and a woman's breast -- but asking to have that boob covered up or removed from the painting. We can't have our kids seeing that. Here's a little news flash to the OWH: Kids use the "F-word" all the time, every day, and you and their parents aren't going to stop it. Certainly curbing Kasher from singing "fuck fuck fuck" isn't going to stop it either.

It's called the free flow of ideas. It's what keeps a culture alive and thriving and moving forward. You may not agree with something someone says, but he or she has to be allowed to say it -- in public, from a stage, to your children, to you. The OWH should be encouraging this type of discourse, not trying to prevent it.

Because once you start cutting off ideas or blocking them from being spoken and being heard, you cut off your culture's food supply. And slowly, the green turns brown, the gray turns white, and eventually there's nothing left.

Stephen Colbert's favorite band, Apples in Stereo, hit the Waiting Room stage tonight with those lovable spazzes from Poison Control Center and Big Fresh. $12, 9 p.m. It's good to be home.

We interrupt this vacation to bring you the following breaking news… – July 18, 2008 –

On the side of a mountain, checking to see if I have signal, I got an e-mail from Jason Kulbel saying Saddle Creek just signed yet another Canadian band -- Land of Talk. I've never heard of the band. Their last album, a 7-song EP released in April 2006 on Dependent Records called Applause Cheer Boo Hiss, got a 4-star rating by AMG. A trio, lead singer Elizabeth Powell's voice has been compared to Chan Marshall's and Sarah Blasko's. I've listened to a couple songs on their myspace page and thought she sounded like neither, more like Emily Haines (of Metric). It's pure, upbeat indie, and I could see these folks touring with fellow Canucks and labelmates Tokyo Police Club. Says Kulbel, their debut full-length, Some Are Lakes, comes out on Saddle Creek October 7. The album was recorded in Montreal with Justin Vernon (Bon Iver). The band spent the better part of 2006 and early 2007 on the road, touring throughout North America and Europe with such acts as The Decemberists , Tapes n’ Tapes and The Rosebuds. I'll see what more I can find out about why/how Creek signed them when I get off this mountain…

Column 182 -- David Matysiak is taking your calls; the missing weekend… – July 16, 2008 –

Interesting fact about David Matysiak: He works as a producer at KETV Channel 7, which requires that he get up at 3 a.m. every morning. It just so happens that I watch Channel 7 for about five minutes every morning when I'm fetching my coffee -- if only to see what Doppler Storm Team Member Andrea Bredow is wearing. It amazes me that Matysiak is able to pull off Telephono, Coyote Bones and maintain a serious, career-style full-time job with demanding hours. You'll never hear me complain about getting up at 5 a.m. again…

Column 182: One Ringy Dingy
David Matysiak goes from Bones to phones.

I know that The Reader just ran a story last week on David Matysiak's Telephono project (in the Arts section), but I still didn’t quite understand how the whole thing worked.

Matysiak, the frontman for local indie band Coyote Bones, created Telephono as part of his residency at The Bemis. It's described as being based on the ol' telephone game, where one person whispers a secret into another person's ear, who in turn, tells another person, and so on. What comes out the other end is totally different than what went in.

Telephono worked off that same principle. Matysiak created an audio track, then sent it off to someone who could either add to it, edit it, or record over it entirely. For me, that's where the confusion came in.

To archive the effort, Matysiak is releasing a limited-edition (of 200) 5-record box set of 10 Telephono tracks on 7-inch vinyl. One track, "Ferret Escapes the Wheel," is credited on the test pressing to Darin Coelho of Placerville California band Loomfixer. But in fact, musicians in the song chain included Matysiak, Alessi Laurent-Marke and Adrienne Beatty of band Coal Beautiere. So why just Coelho in the record's credits? Because, Matysiak said, Coelho scrapped everything that came before him and did his own thing. If you go online to, you can hear the Alessi version, titled "Little Ferret's Fork" as well as everyone else's. (Matysiak wrote me after the interview to say that the final version of the record will, in fact, credit everyone even though you won't hear much of Alessi and Beatty).

Losing a musician's contribution along the way is part of how Telephono works -- collaborative art can be a brutal game. But even if the tracks are wiped, just having heard the previous version influenced the final product. At least that's how it's supposed to work.

The best results came when musicians truly built on each other's contributions. The track "No Souls," for example, started with Matysiak and includes contributions by Dayve Hawk of Philadelphia band Hail Social and Cursive's Tim Kasher. The final version is a trippy rock song with Kasher singing breathlessly into a distorted microphone. "Banning Gold in Suits" is Matysiak, The Faint's Clark Baechle, UUVVWWZ's Teal Gardner and Anderson Reinkordt of Lincoln band Man's Last Great Invention. The record sounds like an urban industrial dance track that evolves into static-noise space sounds.

For every melody-friendly song on Telephono, there's a weird noise-art experiment. And as interesting as the vinyl sounds, it's even more interesting to go to and hear how each track evolved, paying close attention to every nuisance along the way.

Telephono truly is a "labor of love." Matysiak not only coordinated the project, but it was his idea to put out the box set, which he paid for out of his own pocket. "I haven't been out to a show in months because I've put every dollar into it," he said. "It's expensive when you do all the hand-screened stuff and then print a limited run of seven inches. In 10 years, I won't remember that money, but I'll remember the box set."

He's celebrating the box's release Thursday night, July 17, at a free special listening party at The Bemis Underground (Studio C) starting at 8 p.m. Artist Jadon Ulrich (of Saddle Creek Records) will provide visual interpretations of each song. The box will be available for $29, and also can be purchased at The Antiquarium Record Store.

One by-product of Telephono, Matysiak said, was the way it changed how some collaborators approach song writing. "The people who benefited the most are the ones who told me that it broke them out of a writer's block or made them think differently about their own song writing," he said. That includes Matysiak, who said that he and the rest of his band had become "burned out" playing Coyote Bones songs from their album Gentleman on the Rocks.

"I feel disconnected from that album now," Matysiak said, adding that playing the album over and over "took a toll on us. And personally, I feel like if you're not 100 percent feeling it (on stage), you shouldn't be up there. Times are tough. People who are shelling out $8 to $10 to see a show expect it to be great. We had to take a step back and analyze what we were doing as a band."

New Coyote Bones material, which he hopes to record later this year and release early next year, is a reflection of Telephono, Matysiak said, though it builds on the success of Gentleman on the Rocks, which sold close to 500 copies -- not bad for a self-released CD with no distribution. "It was all touring and Internet," Matysiak said. It also was a lot of press. Few Omaha artists have received the amount of attention from publications like Pitchfork, indie music's online authority, as Coyote Bones, which has left a few local musicians burning with envy.

"I spent 10 years not getting press," Matysiak said. "I shoveled every dollar I had into (former band) Jet by Day and touring all the time and nothing happened for us. We worked with (record labels) Kindercore and Future Farmers and it all got f***ed up. People can say what they want, but press is a game. I guess the hang-up for a lot of people is in how you approach it: Do you seek it or do you let them come to you? I sat for 10 years waiting for it to come to me and it never did."

They're coming now. In the past few weeks, Telephono has been featured in USA Today, Paste, The Atlanta Journal Constitution and National Public Radio. And now twice in The Reader.

After all of that, I'm going to miss the Telephono listening show because, as you read this, I'm driving across Nebraska, headed to the Rocky Mountains for some R & R.

That means I'm also going to miss Black Diamond Heavies and Bazooka Shootout at O'Leaver's tonight ($5, 9:30 p.m.), as well as Talkin' Mountain and the rest of the I'm Drinkin' This Records roster performing at Slowdown Jr. ($5, 9 p.m.).

It'll mean I'll miss the OEA Summer Showcase Friday night at music venues throughout Benson. Details and a schedule are at the OEA website. This was a lot of fun last winter and well worth the $10 wristband.

It also means I'll miss two great shows Saturday night: Ladyfinger and Fromanhole at The Barley St. Tavern ($4, 9 p.m.) and Back When, Art in Manila, Paria and Orphan Choir at Slowdown ($8, 9 p.m.).

And let's not forget Ween at the Stir Cove ($25, 8 p.m.), though I've never been a Ween fan.
There may or may not be updates in my absence, though I highly doubt it.

(A little) More on Sebastian Grainger; Jenny Lewis leaves Team Love; Health tonight… – July 15, 2008 –

Here's a little more on Saddle Creek's recent signing of Sebastien Grainger, former drummer/singer of Death from Above 1979. Asked how it went down, Saddle Creek Records executive Jason Kulbel said, "His manager got in touch with us shortly before SXSW. As I recall we had a few rough tracks before going down, liked them and made sure to check out a set in Austin. We liked that, too, and just kept going from there. I think he likes what we do and we like his music. So yeah...kinda boring story but that's how it happened." Boring indeed, unlike the track I heard on the Creek site. Go there and take a listen.

* * *

So one joins the Creek family while another says goodbye. One of the best-selling CD's for a label in the Saddle Creek family in 2006 was Jenny Lewis' solo debut, Rabbit Fur Coat, released on Conor Oberst's Team Love Records (and distro'd through Creek). By the end of '96, the disc had sold more than 97,000 copies. So what about the follow-up? Sorry Team Love. Lewis' press people announced today that the follow-up, titled Acid Tongue, will be release on Warner Bros in September. "Some of Lewis' most steadfast collaborators appear on Acid Tongue: Johnathan Rice, Farmer Dave Scher, Jason Boesel, Jason Lader and M Ward," sayeth the press release. "She also invited other notable musician friends into the fold, including Elvis Costello for a duet ('Carpetbaggers'), Chris Robinson (of The Black Crowes), Benji Hughes, Zooey Deschanel (of She & Him) & Vanessa Corbala (of Whispertown2000) on backing vocals, Paz Lenchantin (A Perfect Circle / The Entrance Band) and her sister Ana provided strings, Davey Faragher (of The Imposters) on bass, as well as Laurel Canyon's own Jonathan Wilson on guitar, and even members of Jenny's own family. Her sister Leslie Lewis provided backing vocals on two songs while her father, harmonica virtuoso Eddie Gordon makes a star turn on rumbling bass harp."

Looks like Conor has no hard feelings about Jenny fleeing Team Love. She'll be touring with Oberst for his solo shows beginning with the Sept. 20 Anchor Inn gig here in Omaha.

* * *
Noise rock LA quartet Health plays tonight at The Waiting Room with The Show Is the Rainbow and Perry H. Matthews. $8, 9 p.m.

Live Review: Son Ambulance, Good Life/Feist; Latitude Longitude tonight… – July 14, 2008 –

Son Ambulance drew a respectable-sized crowd Friday night despite competing with a Conor Oberst/Good Life concert at The Barley St. It didn' t matter that I was standing at the bar at Slowdown at 11 p.m. People still kept coming up, asking if I was going to the Barley St. to see that show. "Well no, I'm here," I'd say. "I mean, hasn't it already started?" It probably had, but that wasn't going to stop people from leaving halfway through to drive cross-town to see Kasher and Co. perform the day before he was going to perform again. I hadn't known that Oberst was going to play an opening set, but it wouldn't have mattered. The Barley St. is hot and packed on any typical weekend for bands that you and I have never heard of. I could only imagine what it would have been like Friday night, especially at 11 p.m. Though it hadn't officially sold out, there had to be a line, and if I'd gone I'd have ended up missing Son Ambulance and The Good Life (That said, I have used my size and demeanor to bully through lines at Sokol before -- stoned indie kids always move out of the way assuming that I'm either a Sokol employee or a cop or an angry parent looking for his daughter. That wouldn't work at The Barley St.).

I managed to catch only one song of Jennifer O'Connor's solo acoustic performance and was distracted the entire time trying to get a beer. O'Connor, who records on Matador, is a super-talented singer/songwriter, and Son Ambulance told me they felt lucky to be touring with her. Later, I found myself talking to her outside between sets, not realizing who she was until someone came up and congratulated her on her performance -- a very sweet, funny young lady.

Son Ambulance came on at around 11:15 and sounded great. The band's secret weapon is saxophonist James Cuato -- just an amazing horn player. Cuato, however, doesn't stop with the saxophone. He switched instruments throughout the set -- actually, throughout songs. There's Cuato starting off with a blazing tenor line, dropping the sax to pick up tiny bell mallets, picking up a flute before strapping on a guitar. On and on. He played at least a half-dozen different instruments, but his strength is his sax playing, which adds a whole new, earthy dimension to Son Ambulance.

Joe's voice never sounded better, but what stood out most during the set were the arrangements. I've been listening to their new CD heavily for the past few weeks, so when the band decided to stray from the record, it could be a bit jarring. Some of the shifts were due to necessity -- there was no other way to recreate the music that had painstakingly been created in the studio. But other times the changes were purely decisions by Joe and the band, which sometimes worked and sometimes didn't, and would probably go unnoticed by those who haven't been living with the CD. Their arrangement of album centerpiece "Yesterday Morning" (played as an encore) was the most noticeable in that Joe curiously changed the vocal lines in a few spots, leaving me wanting to hear them the way they sounded on the record. Chatting with the band afterward, it sounds like no two nights of this tour will be the same, as the band will constantly be trying different ideas. It should make for a fun tour. I'd like to hear them play again after it's over to see what comes out the other side.

Saturday was Feist in the park. I had planned on swinging down there at around 7:30, and then it dawned on me as I was watching news coverage on Channel 7 -- a live shot at around 6 showed a mostly empty field behind the reporter who said the music was about to start. "The openers include a local band called The Good Life." A local band called The Good Life? Of course, that made sense. The people organizing the concert had no idea that Kasher and his crew are one of the more respected indie bands on the circuit these days. To them, The Good Life was just another local band that probably played every weekend at one of the many clubs around town…which meant that they'd play first instead of right before Feist. I hadn't thought of that.

The band was well into their set by the time we got down there and found a spot along the ridge of the bowl. Here are my notes from the show, taken on my iPhone:

Crowd looks like around 3,500. The weather is perfect. The sound is great. The Good Life is playing "You Don't Feel Like Home to Me." The guy next to me has no idea who the band is, nor does he care.

Kasher is a speck from my position up on the hill under a tree. Probably 1,000 people are crushed in front of the stage. Kasher stands out in his green pants. Mr. Green Jeans. He's trying to get the crowd into Obama, admitting that he knows that Obama isn't going to take Nebraska this November, asking how great it would be if CNN could report incredulously how strong the democratic vote had been in Omaha, in the heart of a staunchly conservative state. I have a feeling Mr. Kasher is going to be disappointed.

Their set ends at 7 with "The first time that I met her I was throwing up in the ladies' room stall." The crowd is pleasantly appreciative, even though no one knows who they are. People around me clap aimlessly while they watch their kids play in the grass.

The "Argentinean sensation" doesn't go on for almost an hour. I enjoy some delicious $6 nachos. When she does finally come on, she's doing a solo acoustic world music thing that's somewhat boring and monotonous and is going on way too long. People are restless.

By 8:30 there's about 5,000 people half-filling the bowl. It's another long, tedious hour before Feist finally comes on in pitch darkness singing a cappella from behind a screen -- just her silhouette can be seen. Is she nude, wearing only a hat? We should be so lucky.

The guy next to me who never heard of The Good Life comments: "She sounds just like the Argentinean chick."

She gets to "Mushaboom" third in the set. We have a bet going as to when she'll do the Apple commercial. I say she'll wait until the encore. Others say sometime after the fifth song. One guy says it'll be late in the set.

We're already on the sixth song and I realize just how sleepy Feist's music can be. The guy who said "late in the set" knew what he was talking about. Once she sings that song, there will be an audible roar of lawn chairs folding up throughout the bowl. It's already almost 10 p.m. and the lightning bugs and skeeters and annoying multicolor light sticks are out in force.

Feist's voice, while good, doesn't really stand out to me. There are times when she sounds like Ricki Lee Jones, and other times when she reminds me of Karen Carpenter (but no one sounds like Karen Carpenter really, no one ever could). Her knack is for writing kicky little anonymous pop songs, cute and inoffensive.

The crowd is respectful. Clearly those around me have never heard of Feist but the weather's so nice, why not spend the night in the park? I can't help but imagine what this scene would be like if instead of Feist, the concert would have been someone like The Pretenders (circa 1984). While Feist is a huge improvement over Plain White T's, I have to wonder just how well she'd do if she played at Sokol Auditorium. Hell, she might have a hard time even selling out Slowdown for that matter. The city needs to find a common ground between shitty oldster bands like .38 Special and bands that also appeal to a younger crowd. Seriously, who doesn’t love The Pretenders?

The prettiest song so far is the one sang only with a guitar. After 10 songs I lost count of where we are in the set. Strange. as the night gets darker, the field seems to get brighter, thanks to a glowing 3/4 moon. There's not an ounce of wind, but it's still getting cold.

She's finally singing it at 10:08. Time to go…

We folded up our lawn chairs and listened to Feist and her band as we walked back home down J.E. George Blvd. The plan had been for the concert to end by 10:30 so that the rangers could get people out of there by 11 (when the park officially closes). But I could still hear the concert going strong standing in my back yard watching the dog pee at 10:45. According to the OWH, the show didn't wrap up until almost 11. "Fahey spokesman Joe Gudenrath estimated attendance at 20,000," the article said. "He said it was the largest crowd to attend the city-organized concert since 2004, when the band 311 drew an estimated 25,000 to 30,000."

Joe apparently forgot how big that 311 show really was -- not only was the bowl filled, but so was the field on the south side of the bowl. Feist, on the other hand, didn't come close to filling the bowl. You could walk within a hundred feet of the stage. Others I asked agreed that the crowd probably stood at around 5,000.

As a testimonial to how good our seats were -- that couple in the central photo on the cover of the Midlands section of Sunday's OWH -- seen in silhouette seated in the lawn chairs -- is Teresa and me. It may be the only time you'll see a my photo in print -- even from behind I'm recognizable by my gigantic, melon-sized head.

* * *
It has been ages since I've seen Latitude Longitude. They're playing tonight, opening for Film School at Slowdown Jr. $8, 9 p.m.

Son Ambulance, Good Life tonight; Feist tomorrow; and, uh, Sebastian Grainger joins Saddle Creek? – July 11, 2008 –

So I drove past O'Leaver's last night with the intention of sitting in their fabulous new beer garden, but after I saw how it was packed to the gills, I just kept right on driving. It looks super nice, and I think it'll be a popular addition to the venue. Too bad there isn't a way to connect it via habitrail to the volleyball courts, enabling drinkers to stroll from one area to the other with their beverages. Brendan, Mach, someone, get going on that so it's in place in time for Saturday night's Little Brazil show…

Let's take a look at the weekend:

Tonight's marquee event is Son Ambulance with Jennifer O'Connor and Oui Bandits at Slowdown Jr. I guess the Slowdown folks expect this to be a small show -- hence the small room. 'Tis a shame because Son Ambulance would sound great on that big ol' stage. $7, 9 p.m. This should be a great show.

Also tonight, The Good Life is playing a warm-up gig at tiny Barley Street Tavern in preparation for tomorrow night's park concert. Believe it or not, tickets are still available despite the fact that BST has a capacity under 100 and the show is just $5. Something tells me you're going to get a wee bit closer to the band tonight than you will tomorrow. 9 p.m.

Neither show trips your trigger? There's always Sammy Hagar at Stir. I love me some vintage Montrose.

Tomorrow night, of course, is Feist at Memorial Park with The Good Life and Argentine singer-songwriter Juana Molina. As I said before, if the weather holds out, this will be a big show if only because of the rain-out at the last park show. Music begins at 6 p.m. and should be over in plenty of time to hit one of the many shows going on around town, including:

-- The aforementioned Little Brazil show at O'Leaver's. Opening is The Photo Atlas and DJ Kobrakyle. $5, 9:30 p.m.

-- Tomato a Day at The Barley St. Tavern. The band's new album, The Moon Is Green (released on Public Eyesore) is one of my faves so far this year. With Teddy Boy and Samuel Locke Ward. $4, 9 p.m.

-- Souljourners at The Saddle Creek Bar. SCB soundman Gary gave me a copy of this band's disc a few months ago, and though I'm not a metal guy, even I could recognize this band's talent. Bevis and Butthead would approve. Opener is Savage Rage. Get your metal on. $5, 9 p.m.

-- Also, if you're in Lincoln, Son Ambulance plays at Box Awesome with Jennifer O'Connor and AM Revival. $7, 9 p.m.

* * *

So I'm glancing through the Saddle Creek Records website to find out more about the recent Maria Taylor van break-in (someone stole a bunch of her gear, including six guitars. If you know something, e-mail Creek at, when I notice that the label just released a digital-only EP by Sebastien Grainger, former drummer/singer of Death from Above 1979. Says the Creek site, which now lists Grainger on the label roster: "When Sebastien Grainger, former drummer/singer of Death from Above 1979, set out to make his first solo record he weighed his options – in one hand he held a guitar and a microphone and, in the other, he held everything else. For the last year, amidst sporadic emergences onstage, he’s been in his studio working and reworking a set of songs that have become the EP American Names." Look for a full-length in October. Creek did a good job keeping this one under their hat…

Cover story: Joe Knapp's déjà vu; O'Leaver's airs out, Telephono tonight… – July 10, 2008 –

Just posted, an interview with Son Ambulance's Joe Knapp and Jeff Koster in anticipation of SA's CD release show tomorrow night at Slowdown Jr. (and Saturday night at Lincoln's Box Awesome). Joe and Jeff talk about what happened to SA after the release of Key in late 2004 and how the band slowly regenerated itself to its current glory. Check it out. The marathon interview focused almost entirely on the making of Someone Else's Déjà Vu, which very likely will make my year-end list of favorite albums of '08. Sitting in on the discussion were two new members of SA, bassist Dereck Higgins and multi-instrumentalist James Cuato. I've been a fan of Son Ambulance stretching back to the first time I saw Joe perform (along with Landon Hedges and Matt Whipkey) at McFoster's back in 2000. Here's hoping that this new one gets the attention it deserves.

Last week I posted the Pitchfork review of Déjà Vu (here). Now the good news. All Music posted its review, and gave the disc four out of five stars, declaring it an "AMG Album Pick" (read the review here). Popmatter just gave the CD an 8-out-of-10 rating, here. Crawdaddy also gave it a positive nod, here.

* * *

O'Leaver's is unveiling its new fancy/schmancy beer garden tonight -- a good thing. The new no-smoking policy impacted O'Leaver's more than any other club I've visited since the ban began. It's not affecting their business -- it's affecting their... smell. O'Leaver's needed that smoke to mask the bar's unique, um, aroma. Now with the new beer garden, you can step outside and get some fresh air all over again. I'm told there could be a new routing situation in terms of how you enter the bar -- i.e., the old entrance is now the beer garden entrance, so that entrance by the pool room will be the new front entrance. Don't know if they implemented that yet or not. Guess we'll find out at tonight's show, featuring Dance Me Pregnant, Minneapolis' Vampire Hands and Daughters of the Sun. $5, 9 p.m.

Also tonight, David Matysiak's Telephono Project (described here) is celebrating the release of its 5-record set at the Bemis Underground at 8 p.m. Local artist and Saddle Creek Records designer Jadon Ulrich will be doing live visual interpretations as the records are playing in sequence.

Meanwhile, tonight at Slowdown Jr., Jake Bellows and McCarthy Trenching are opening for touring band I Was Totally Destroying It. $5, 9 p.m.

Column 181: Musical Attraction; The Good Life this weekend… – July 9, 2008 –

I've had a subscription to Magnet for a long time. Over the years, I've also subscribed to Option, Rolling Stone, SPIN, Volume, CMJ, Alternative Press, The Big Takeover, Raygun and a few others that slip my mind at the moment. The only two I still get at home are RS and Magnet. Like the sampler, Magnet also is beginning to outlive its usefulness, thanks to the Internet. But I'll keep my subscription as long as they keep printing it…

Column 181: Audio Polarity
Remembering the glory days of the Magnet sampler.

It's been a slow week with little to report so humor me for a few moments as I rasp romantically on the past and point out yet another way that discovering new music has changed forever, thanks to the Internet.

The journey up to the family farm in Fort Calhoun is 20 minutes of over-hill-and-dell driving. For the trip this past Independence Day, I brought along a CD that arrived in the mail the prior day with the latest copy of Magnet magazine.

Magnet, for those of you who aren't obsessed with college music, used to be the bible of indie rock, the arbiter of all things good in the indie music world, a saddle-stitched signpost that revealed the latest and greatest music that you'd never get a chance to hear on your radio if you lived in a backwards town like Omaha, where the only thing on the FM dial is Freedom Rock and screamo goon metal.

Magnet was the Pitchfork of the late '90s. Getting into the pages of Magnet was like getting into Rolling Stone. Actually, if you were in an indie band, it was even better, because people who read Rolling Stone could give two shits about indie music. Magnet readers, however, were the laser-targeted demographic of every indie band. A good review in Magnet meant CD sales. A feature in Magnet meant you probably were already a well-established band that had toured the U.S. a couple times. Making the cover of Magnet put you on the same league as Elliott Smith, Guided by Voices and PJ Harvey -- the next step was either signing to a major label or breaking up (or going solo).

Like the College Music Journal and the pre-metal version of Alternative Press, Magnet began to mail free sampler CDs to its subscribers, adding real-life Technicolor to their reading material. Look, you can describe music all you want, but no written word can capture the actual audio experience. And back in the '90s, getting a free CD was big deal, a substantial bonus. My how things have changed.

The first Magnet sampler was issued sometime around 1996 or '97. I'm not sure of the exact date because there's no date on the generic cardboard CD sleeve which I hold in my hand. Glancing at the band list is a head-jerk trip back through time. Vol. 1 included Knapsack, Cranes, Ex-Action Figures, Danielson Family, Dots Will Echo and Number One Cup. Things got even better with Vol. 2, which came out a month or so later: Walt Mink, Beth Orton, Novocaine and a little-known Omaha band by the name of Commander Venus -- the track, "Jeans TV," also was the opener for their full-length, Uneventful Vacation, released not on Saddle Creek Records, but on Thick Records. Inclusion of the track on the Magnet sampler was probably the band's biggest exposure to that point.

It was through Magnet sampler CDs that I discovered artists like The Wrens ("Pretty OK" from Vol. 4), Caustic Resin ("Once and Only" from Vol. 5), Eels ("Last Stop: This Town" from Vol. 5), Cobra Verde ("One Step Away from Myself" from Vol. 8) and Pinback ("Tripoli" from Vol. 10). Where else were you going to hear bands like Radar Bros. ("Open Ocean Sailing" from Vol. 9) and Enon ("Believo!" from Vol. 10)?

Sure, there were plenty of duds on each volume. But it wasn't as if the editors of Magnet were painstakingly selecting the tracks themselves. Labels paid to have their bands included on the sampler, and it wasn't cheap. But it was an effective way to get your band heard before they climbed into the van and hit the road. So for every Tom Waits ("Chocolate Jesus") and Friends of Dean Martinez ("Ethchlorvynol") there were duds by Marky Ramone and the Intruders, The Fly Seville and Garmarna. It didn't matter. You made a note of the best songs, and then checked to see if The Antiquarium or Drastic Plastic had a copy of the full length. In my case, I used my computer to send something called an "e-mail" to the label, and lo and behold, they usually sent back a promo copy. Being a music critic had its privileges.

I know what you're thinking -- the Internet was very much alive in 1998 (in fact, '98 was the year that I launched But bands and labels had yet to fully embrace the technology. There was no such thing as MySpace. Today, there's too much MySpace. Free music doesn’t mean anything to anyone anymore, and bands and labels certainly don't need to look toward old-fangled technology like a compilation CD to get their music heard. Or do they?

As we drove through Washington County last Friday, we listened to Magnet New Music Sampler Vol. 49, with Teresa giving thumbs up or thumbs down as we skipped through forgetful tracks by Victorian Halls, The Fervor, Rachael Sage, Hopeless, Mr. Gnome and 15 other bands I'll never hear again. Teresa's thumb stayed firmly pointed in the downward direction.

Except for track No. 10, a quiet, clever folk song by a band with the unfortunate name of The Boy Bathing called "The Questions Simple." We went back and listened to the song again. It was pretty good. The next day I went online to find out more about the band and listened to a few songs on their MySpace page. And I thought to myself, how else would I ever have found these guys? Not by aimlessly clicking through millions of MySpace pages. Certainly, not on my radio. In an era when free music has become the norm, the sampler CD -- as a medium -- still has a few years left in it. Let's hope the same can be said for publications like Magnet.

You may or may not have heard that The Good Life is opening for Feist at this Saturday's concert in Memorial Park, which I predict will have a higher attendance than normal due to the storm that wiped out the .38 Special/Kool and the Gang concert a couple weeks ago. People who would have never gone to this will just to get their fix of free outdoor entertainment. The Good Life also will be playing a warm-up show at The Barley St. Tavern the evening before the park show. Barley St. has a capacity of, what, around 75? Expect this $5 show to sell out quick. You can get your tix here, for now. Unfortunately, it's the same night as the Son Ambulance CD release show at Slowdown Jr. More on that show tomorrow…

Sic Alps tonight… – July 8, 2008 –

My only comment about last weekend: The Song Remains the Same needs to lose the Beatles/Aerosmith interlude in "Communication Breakdown." Go ahead and keep "War Pigs" though. There seemed to be mild concern among TWR staff when it became obvious that the band wasn't going to get through their last-song medley before 1 a.m. The new sound guy ran up and told Weber-Page that they had to stop. They somehow managed to get through it all without Jim pulling the plug…

Glancing at the coming week. There's an early in-store show tonight at The Antiquarium Record Store featuring cosmic S.F. headtrip rockers Sic Alps (Siltbreeze), Iowa City experimental noise band Wet Hair, Omaha screech-punkers Yuppies and Mr. Wizard. Show starts at 7 and you're asked to drop some cash into the hat for the touring acts.

Wednesday The Waiting Room has This World Fair, a Minneapolis indie band that's clearly targeting a major-label alt rock career. Their claim to fame is a song on the Disturbia soundtrack. Opening is Barcelona. No, not the Arlington, Virginia, New Wave band who recorded such classics as "The Downside of Computer Camp," "I Have the Password to Your Shell Account," and "Studio Hair Gel." That band broke up in 2001. This Barcelona is from Seattle and sounds like another run-of-the-mill alt rock band. Too bad. Comedian Todd Barry is at Slowdown Wednesday, and while I don't go to stand-up gigs, I applaud Slowdown for trying it out. Are rock clubs the comedy shops of this generation?

Thursday is coming together shaping up nicely...

Another show-less holiday... – July 4, 2008 –

I don't know nuthin' 'bout booking no nightclubs, but I always think it's odd that there rarely are any shows booked on the night of holidays that are followed by day's off. Tonight is a typical example. It's a Friday night, most of us have had the day off and have tomorrow off, too. Sure, we'll be bushed from lighting off all those fireworks and drinking all that beer, but that wouldn't stop us from seeing a show at one of our favorite nightspots (after we've made sure no stray skyrockets have landed on the roof and caught the house on fire). And yet, tonight there are no shows going on anywhere. Why isn't Ladyfinger -- a band named after a firecracker -- at least playing a gig at O'Leaver's? Instead, nothing.

Well, I guess we'll have to wait until tomorrow night, when Satchel Grande and The Song Remains the Same light up The Waiting Room (9 p.m., $7) or The Whipkey Three and Brad Hoshaw play at Mick's ($5, 9 p.m.).

Oberst/James/Ward collab; Son Ambulance dissed; Billy Corgan talks rock stars; Black Francis tonight... – July 3, 2008 –

Catching up with the Internet:

Billboard reports (here) that Conor Oberst will be recording a collaborative album with Jim James and M. Ward sometime in the near future. Wonder who's going to put it out?

* * *

Pitchfork weighed in on the new Son, Ambulance album. You guessed it -- they didn't like it. Rating: 5.4 -- consistent with just about every other Saddle Creek release Pitchfork has reviewed over the past few years. Oh well. Read it here, and go ahead and skip the review's obtuse, poorly written first paragraph.

* * *

Newsweek has a great interview with Billy Corgan about the nature of rock stars and the lack of them these days. I was never a big Smashing Pumpkins fan. Corgan's voice is what Carol Channing would sound like if she were a man -- shrill and annoying. But you can't deny some of his more catchy stuff ("1979" "Drown," "Tonight, Tonight" come to mind). Or the fact that Corgan is one smart sumbitch.


On the next icon: "What we're going to see now is a different archetype rise up. It's not going to be the Elvis archetype; it's going to be something we can't even imagine. It's going to be someone, maybe, who's more spiritual, somebody who doesn't want anything to do with corporate industry. Somebody who's an Internet star. Some kid who makes tapes in his bedroom and says, 'F---the world. This is my version of it.' And then people will latch on. All the music factories in the world can't manufacture that kid."

On culture: "When everything is everybody's, then nobody owns anything. This culture, I don't think, values the song. It doesn't value the icon. It values the moment and whoever feeds that moment. But we lose that it's human beings creating the moment. And when the culture thinks that it's the puppet master, then, of course, why wouldn't you have 'American Idol?'"

Read the whole thing here.

* * *
Speaking of icons, tonight at Slowdown, '90s icon Black Francis a.k.a. Frank Black plays the big stage. Opener is Omaha icon Brad Hoshaw. 9 p.m. $15. Also, at The Waiting Room, it's the return of Stillwater, Okla., band Colourmusic (you remember, they opened for British Sea Power back in March). Opening is Oui Bandits. $7, 9 p.m.

Column 180: The Spin on SPIN... – July 2, 2008 –

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maria Taylor tonight; OEA Showcase bands named; Oberst, Elliott Smith, Tilly "Nebraska's Best"... – July 1, 2008 –

Some random notes…

Tonight at The Waiting Room it's Maria Taylor with Johnathan Rice and Nik Freitas -- one of the best line-ups I've seen in a while. And for just $9. I'm surprised it hasn't sold out (yet). Starts at 9 p.m.

The Omaha Arts and Entertainment Awards -- or the OEA's -- have announced the bands for their July 18 showcase. Judging by the list, they've either moved away from indie music or indie bands decided not to register for the showcase. Midwest Dilemma and Sleep Said the Monster are the only two indie acts I recognize on the list. Take a look.

Finally, The Boston Phoenix has published its inaugural 50 bands/50 states list, where they select each state's all-time best band, best solo artist and best new band. For Nebraska, Bright Eyes was named all-time best band, Elliott Smith (yes, he was born in Nebraska) was named best solo artist and Tilly and the Wall took best new band honors. The first question that came to mind upon seeing this: Who cares who The Boston Phoenix thinks is the best band in Nebraska? I guess it's time for The Reader to come out with its list of the best all-time bands in 50 states, too. Anyway, see the entire state-by-state list here.

In the dark... – June 30, 2008 –

It was setting up to be a huge weekend for music, maybe the busiest weekend of the year. Too bad I didn't get to see any of it.

I just got power back at my house yesterday. I know, I know… Benson had plenty of power Saturday night -- the street looked lit up like the Vegas strip compared to my darkened neighborhood. But you young folks who live in apartments or still live with your folks will find out that things are different when you own your own place. There was no way I was going to head out with my street still in the black, leaving my dogs to bump around in the dark.

I was too tired to go out anyway. We didn't have any damage to our home, but large branches fell off the silver maple that lives next to our sidewalk. I spent most of the day Saturday hauling away a few hundred years worth of trees to the Locust St. drop-off point. We got the street cleaned up by the end of the day, only to go back inside to no power.

Historically, my street has always come in last place in terms of getting power back. There's no use in complaining. OPPD is like how AT&T was in the '70s -- a service monopoly. You take whatever they give you and say 'thank you' in return. There's no one to complain to even if you wanted to.

And really, after driving around with truckloads of broken branches and seeing the devastation, I had nothing to complain about. Just down the street, a house was covered beneath a fallen silver maple, it's branches and leaves covering the roof and windows like a giant green curtain. Who knows what lies beneath it? Giant holes in the roof? Broken windows? By now, the enormous fallen tree on Saddle Creek just south of O'Leaver's has become legendary. Everyone has seen it and the damage it's done. It's impossible to look at it and not think, 'Well, at least nothing's wrong with my house.'

Still as Saturday night rolled around and we were getting ready for another night without power, I couldn't help but grumble. Without food at home, we sat in Applebee's on North 72nd and watched Billly Preston silently sing on Saturday Night Live over a plate of cold, poorly prepared baby back ribs. Teresa picked through a flaccid bowl of noodles that would go uneaten. Applebees always looks good in the commercials but never fails to disappoint. We got home after 11, driving through hopping Benson, but I was too tired to make my way back to TWR for Broken Spindles.

With the weather being so cool, we didn't miss the air conditioning. And frankly, I've never been much of a TV person, so we didn't miss the flat panel. What I did miss was not having access to music. I still had my iPhone, but without a power source, I didn't want to waste its battery listening to music. On the counter sat an unopened copy of Conor Oberst's new CD, received in the mail that morning. It would have to wait until the lights came back up, which I assumed wouldn't be until Tuesdays or Wednesday.

The last time we lost power was a couple summers ago after a strange wind blew through the neighborhood smashing trees and knocking down power lines. We went five days in the dark -- the whole time, the neighbors across the street had power. We could see them living their lives in air-conditioned comfort while we sweltered in the 80-plus degree night heat and humidity, unable to sleep, cursing OPPD with every breath.

After Day Four, you realize that everyone else has their power back, and begin to think that they've forgotten you. KFAB and KKAR -- your only source of information -- has long since shifted from crisis updates to their usual right-wing talk show programming.

Five days seemed like five weeks. And I figured it would be just as long or longer this time. After all, the damage is much more severe in our neighborhood. But then Sunday morning at around 10, shortly after walking the dog, the lights came back on, while, ironically, across the street, they still didn't have power and wouldn't until this morning.

Funny thing about losing your power. The whole time you sit there in the dark, with food rotting in your refrigerator, the hatred for OPPD goes off the meter. But within five minutes after your power is back up, it's as if it was never off. The rage just seems to disappear. Within an hour, you've thrown out all your rotten food and the temperature in the house is back to normal. You've put away the flashlights and the candles and have headed out to the store to buy more stuff. You go on with your life as if nothing ever happened. And that's all good and fine, but remember one thing: There are still thousands of people around town who still don't have power and are as pissed off as you were just an hour earlier. So for all of you reading this from Starbucks or wherever you've found a wifi hotspot and a power outlet for your laptop, know that you are not forgotten. Your lights will be back on… eventually.

The weekend: Fortnight (Jenn Bernard), The 9's, Latitude/Longitude, 4th of July, park life tonight; Broken Spindles, Bemis rocks tomorrow.. – June 27, 2008 –

There's a crapload of stuff going on this weekend, not the least of which are Kool and the Gang/.38 Special in the park and the Summer Arts Festival (alright, alright, I'm just kidding…).

On top of my list is a performance by a band called Fortnight. Who are they and why is this show significant? Step right into the Wayback Machine and I'll tell you…

Back in the January 1996, there was a little indie-pop band playing around town called Park Ave. Its members included Conor Oberst, Clark Baeche, Neely Jenkins, Jamie Williams and Jenn Bernard. Read about them here. After Park Ave. dissolved, along came the ultra-shortlived Magic Kiss in 2001, a band that included Jamie Williams and Jenn Bernard of Park Ave., along with Kianna Alarid, Matt Bowen and Jeremy Stanosheck. Read about them here. That was followed two years later by a band we all know and love called Tilly and the Wall, which included Alarid and Williams. For whatever reason Jenn Bernard didn't participate in that band (methinks her teaching career may have had something to do with it).

Now Jenn is back in a new five-piece band called Fortnight that includes a handful of fellow teachers. They've already done some recording, have a myspace page and are playing tonight at The Papio Bowl's T.O. Garcias, way out on 204 E. Lincoln St in Papillion. Something tells me that there won't be any tap dancing in this band. Find out tonight at 9. No idea on the cover.

Also tonight, the reunion of long lost Omaha pop-rock band The 9's at The Waiting Room -- $7, 9 p.m.

Over at O'Leaver's it's Techlepathy with No Blood Orphan and Bird in the Rafters -- $5, 9:30 p.m.

At The 49'r it's Race for Titles and Latitude Longitude (who hasn't played in ages) -- $3-$5, 9:30 p.m.

And over at The Slowdown Jr. it's The Fourth of July with Our Fox and Suzannah Johannes -- $6, 9 p.m.

Things are just as busy tomorrow night. The prime show is probably at The Bemis, where they're holding their "Creative Festival '08." Part of the festivities is an evening of performances in "Gallery 3" by Shiver Shiver, Bear Country, Columbia Vs. Challenger and Capgun Coup. The show starts at 7:30 and runs until 10:30, and is free.


At The Waiting Room, Joel Petersen (of The Faint) returns with his Broken Spindles project. According to, Joel has a new BS album in the can (called Kiss/Kick) but doesn't know when it's coming out. Apparently it's not being released by Saddle Creek Records, as he's been moved off the site's main pages and onto their "Alumni/Inactive" page, along with The Faint. Opening is FTL Drive and Lincoln's Pharmacy Spirits. $8, 9 p.m.

At Slowdown Jr., it's Sarah Benck and the Robbers with Landing on the Moon and Caroline Smith. $7, 9 p.m.

Omaha in SPIN; RTX, blood show tonight... – June 26, 2008 –

When Andy Norman left The Reader a few weeks ago to pursue a degree in environmental journalism, his departure was acknowledged in my column (here). Nothing was done, however, to acknowledge when Tessa Jeffers, the paper's super-talented arts editor, flew the coop. Tessa left about a week before Andy's last day. She's got another writing gig now, but among her side projects was a story she wrote for SPIN magazine. The monthly feature, called Rock City, highlights the finer points of a different music scene in every issue. The July installment is focused on Omaha, and in addition to being on your local newsstands it's available online here (see page 118). Tessa did an expert job highlighting the scene's history, venues, bands and people. Jamie Pressnall from Tilly and the Wall provides some personal Technicolor. Check it out. We miss you, Tessa.

Tonight at The Waiting Room it's RTX, the project of Royal Trux co-founder Jennifer Herrema. Opening is Imaad Wasif, Two Part Beast and Omaha's own masters of garage noise mayhem, Box Elders. $8, 9 p.m.

Meanwhile, this evening at The Westside Community Center, 3534 So. 108th St., it's the Music Saves Lives Blood Drive featuring Little Brazil, Brad Hoshaw, Honeybee and Bartlett. The only thing it'll cost you is your blood, apparently. Show starts at 6 p.m.
Also tonight, at The Barley St., it's My Pal Dragon (solo performance by Matt from Thunder Power), with The Night Gallery, Bear the Ghost, and Ghost of the Forest. 9 p.m., FREE.

Column 179: Smoke 'em if you got 'em… – June 25, 2008 –

Up until I got the Brothers angle on this, I was thinking of skipping writing about the smoking ban altogether. What's the point in delving into it? It's a law. There's no stopping it. We all knew it was coming and would get here eventually. How it does or doesn't impact bars and venues is a moot point because it's not going away. Those pro-and-con discussions have been going on for years leading up to the ban. Smokers can grumble and non-smokers can cheer but it won't make a difference.

My only comment is directed to the evangelical non-smokers, the ones who think they're doing everyone a favor by voicing their stern opposition to smoking. Everyone knows that smoking is bad for you. Just like everyone knows that drinking is bad for you, too. Forget about the whole one-glass-of-wine-per-day-is-good-for-your-heart argument -- people don't go to O'Leaver's to have their one glass of wine per day. Here's my point: You can live the healthiest life imaginable -- not smoke, not drink, work out daily, cut out the red meat and sugar and eat a lean diet of grains and hand-blended protein shakes. It doesn't matter. In the end, when your time is up, it's up. All the clean living in the world isn't going to stop it. My mom is a perfect example: didn't drink, didn't smoke, no history of disease in her family, played competitive tennis three days a week, lived on a diet consisting mostly of home-grown vegetables. She had regular check ups. Didn't matter. She died at a relatively young age of 73 due to a fluke heart-related malady. There was nothing she or anyone could have done to prevent it. I remember when my friend Dan, who lives in Santa Monica, quit smoking years ago. Dan loved to smoke -- he loved everything about it -- the smell, the activity, the look. But he was smart enough to know that it wasn't doing him or anyone else any good. So he quit. Dan always told me his greatest fear was being killed in a car accident. His reasoning: He could have been smoking the whole time.

I now await the torrents of non-smokers who have been patiently avoiding going to shows until the ban is in place. They should be here any moment now…

Column 179: Smell Ya Later
The first week of the smoking ban.

Forget about The Waiting Room or Slowdown or The 49'r. Everyone knows that Omaha's most famous rock lounge doesn't even feature live music. The Brothers on 38th and Farnam is recognized as the ultimate musicians hang-out, the Shangri-La of our music scene where on any given night you'll find a sizable contingent of the city's most talented rock musicians drinking, talking and smoking.

Smoking was as central to The Brothers' vibe as booze and the punk rock on its jukebox. The dark, mid-sized club was always enveloped in a haze that hung over the pleather booths like a layer of smog over an LA freeway. Patrons were bent over their stools like little self-contained factories; smoke billowing from thin white stacks held in their yellowed paws. When you got home (or wherever you ended up) after a night at The Brothers, you stripped and tossed your clothes into the hamper (or trash). There was no way to wear those togs again after every fiber of cotton had been permeated in highly condensed tobacco stench.

I couldn't imagine The Brothers without smoke. The thought seemed strange and alien. So when the smoking ban went into effect seemingly overnight last Tuesday, I had to find out what a smoke-free version of the bar would smell like.

I dropped in on Monday evening along with a handful of people who drank pints and shots, ignoring the College World Series playing on the TV over their shoulders. The ashtrays were gone, but the legacy of years and years of smoking remained. The bar smelled like a hotel room that recently went non-smoking -- a strange musk of detergent, mildew, nicotine and dirty orange peels.

Owner Trey Lalley, who is as much a fixture of the Omaha music scene as The Brothers itself, was on the phone with his wife, who was out shopping for ashtrays to place out on the sidewalk. Lalley said even after the law supposedly went into effect, The Brothers continued to allow smoking. Why not? Local bar owners hadn't received notification from the city that anything had changed. The only thing they knew is what they read in the Omaha World-Herald -- hardly an official city document.

So the ashtrays stayed until last Friday night, when a disgruntled customer who'd had a run-in with the bar earlier in the week called the cops. Johnny Law rolled up outside, explained the situation, and shortly thereafter the ashtrays disappeared along with any lit cigarettes (The Brothers still sells smokes behind the bar).

Lalley said police won't be out monitoring the smoking status of bars. Instead they'll react to 911 calls placed from coughing citizens. If the cops show up and catch someone smoking, the person will be cited and fined, along with the venue. Lalley, who isn't a smoker, said he was willing to pay any fines, but said that the repeated recorded offenses eventually would come back to haunt him when it came time to review his liquor license. It wasn't worth the risk.

He's not worried about the ban's effect on his business. The Brothers has a clientele that's willing and able to get up and go outside to smoke. Smaller bars that depend on elderly smoking regulars, however, won't be so lucky. They'll feel the biggest brunt of the new law, he said, along with bars like his that don’t have the luxury of a beer garden.

Lalley's biggest complaint: Bars have always been places where people go to smoke as well as drink. Everyone knows this. Now with the ban, where will people go to get their tobacco fix? Well, they're going to stay home and light up around their family, their kids and in places where no one ever smoked before.

Trey said the ban was designed to protect employees who, advocates say, have a right to work in a smoke-free environment. But the idea that the people who work at The Brothers have no other options for income is insulting to Lalley. He knows better. So do the employees who work there.

The smoke-free Waiting Room had that same lingering old hotel-room stench Friday night. But the first thing I noticed about the ban had nothing to do with my nose. As I walked through Benson on my way to the club, I could hear voices and laughter coming from every direction, as if there was a street festival going on. Looking down Maple St. and the cross-street that runs by Jake's lounge -- people were standing along the sidewalks, enjoying the camaraderie of being in a segregated group probably for the first time in their lives. Smokers are a jolly bunch, but then again, the weather was terrific. How jolly will they be in February?

The ban didn't seem to impact the venue's draw -- The Waiting Room was crushed with people to see Satchel Grande. Outside on the sidewalk, everyone debated the ban. A guy who had lived in NYC when that city's smoking ban went into effect five years ago said the biggest impact wasn't on stand-alone clubs like The Brothers, but on music venues who he said suffered a noticeable drop-off in patronage.

But somehow, New York's club scene survived without smoking. Something tells me Omaha's will, too.

Tunes for Townsend: Harvey, Dickison, Hoshaw, Filter Kings, McCarthy Trenching, Benck all tonight… – June 24, 2008 –

Generally when I'm this late with an update I just skip it, but I would be remiss in not mentioning one of the best benefit shows I've seen scheduled in a long time. Tonight at The Waiting Room it's Tunes for Townsend, a benefit for 12-month-old Townsend Holan. One Percent has all the details, but here's the line-up: Beginning at 7 it's Kyle Harvey, Lincoln Dickison, Brad Hoshaw, The Filter Kings, McCarthy Trenching, Black Squirrels, Satchel Grande and Sarah Benck and the Robbers. Cover is $10, with all the money going to the Holan family. Definitely check it out.

Live Review: Satchel Grande; Brimstone Howl, Bloodcow tonight … – June 23, 2008 –

Heard walking from my car to The Waiting Room Friday night: Voices and laughter coming from every direction, almost as if there was a street festival going on. Looking down Maple or that cross-street that runs by Jake's lounge -- people were standing around on the sidewalks, smoking. It was the first weekend without cigarettes, and the effect was to create a sort of camaraderie. Smokers are a jolly bunch. And the weather was terrific. If it could only be that nice outside all year 'round… but it won't be.

The smoking ban certainly didn't impact the draw at TWR -- it was packed with hippie-folk and middle-aged suburbanites for Satchel Grande -- a band I never figured for having a hippie fan base. Nothing wrong with hippies -- at least they like to dance and have a good time -- which is a stark contrast to the typical slump-shouldered, intense indie crowd I'm used to seeing. SG has emerged as the city's best all-around party band fueled by their own hot original disco-funk songs -- it's hard to not have fun at one of their shows, unless you get slapped in the face by some guy's nasty dreads.

Without smoke, TWR smelled like a hotel room that recently went non-smoking -- a strange musk of detergent, nicotine and dirty orange peels. It's going to take time to air out the place.

So how does O'Leaver's smell? I intend to find out tonight when Brimstone Howl plays, along with Fontana. $5, 9:30 p.m. Meanwhile, over at The Waiting Room, it's the maniacal metal of Bloodcow with Back When, The Clincher and North Carolina's Black Skies. $7, 9 p.m.

Sizzle without smoke? Midwest/Rayguns/Hoshaw Sunday … – June 21, 2008 –

Show-wise, there's not a lot going on this weekend. The show that was listed at O'Leaver's tonight appears to have been cancelled, according to O'Leaver's Myspace, which also says that out-of-town band Leeches of Lore has moved their set to The 49'r. I plan on dropping in at O'Leaver's anyway just to see how the place smells now that the new smoking ban has gone into effect. Same with The Brothers, a bar I can't even imagine walking into without being overcome by a wall of hazy smoke. Biggest show of the weekend is at a place that's always been smoke-free -- Slowdown Jr. -- featuring Midwest Dilemma, Brad Hoshaw, Reagan and the Rayguns and Band of Annuals. $7, 9 p.m.

Tony Bonacci shoots rock stars; Friedman and Roeder, Sleepercar, Javelins tonight… – June 19, 2008 –

Photographer/rocker Tony Bonacci and I recently chatted about his photo show hanging down at the Nomad ultra-lounge. The interview was for a story for The Reader. Here's the outcome:

Natural Light
Photographer Tony Bonacci captures sound with a lens.

If you follow Omaha's celebrated indie music scene, chances are you've seen photographer Tony Bonacci's work before.

Bonacci quietly is becoming a go-to guy for some of the scene's most important musicians, including Saddle Creek Records acts Mayday, Criteria and the long, lost duo Azure Ray.

A collection of 30 of Bonacci's portraits (15 rock subjects, 15 non-rock) is currently on display at trendy Nomad Lounge in the Old Market. Among the show's images are Mayday's Ted Stevens working an exer-cycle, Orenda Fink in tribal face paint, Tilly and the Wall pounding out a tune on piano, and Baby Walrus hidden in a field of cattails.

One of the most striking photos is a black-and-white portrait of Tomato a Day's Brian Poloncic sitting on the front stoop of his South Omaha home while his faithful German Shepherd looks on. The photo was used as the inner-sleeve artwork for Tomato a Day's most recent album, The Moon Is Green.

Among the non-rock portraits (though you'll recognize a few local musicians among them) is a quirky photograph of Bonacci's neighbor smoking a cigarette with lipstick smeared across his lips.

Bonacci, 24, has been taking portraits since he was 18. Largely self-taught (He took one photography class which he never completed), his influences include indie film directors Harmony Korine (Gummo, Mr. Lonely) and Larry Clark (Kids) and fringe portrait photographer Diane Arbus. While obviously constructed, Bonacci's images capture subjects in settings both natural and oddly juxtaposed, rarely altering the surroundings. Using a Minolta XG-M 35 mm SLR, Bonacci depends on minimal fill lighting and performs only the most benign Photoshop post production on his images.

The simple hand's off method is key to his matter-of-fact approach. "I think natural photos are interesting," said the soft-spoken artist. "I'm not interested in altering them after the shoot, and that's something you don't see very often anymore."

Bonacci's role as rhythm guitarist for indie band Hyannis provided a convenient entry into Omaha's music world, though "My photography is the main thing," he said. "The music provides instant gratification. I like the idea of doing both, and wouldn't give either one up."

Still, his goal is to broaden his photography portfolio with national magazine assignments as well as more consignment work for bands. He's also considering commercial photography, "If I can do it in my own style," he said.

The show, titled Mach Shau! The Photography of Tony Bonacci, closes June 26 with a special event from 6 to 10 p.m. featuring a live music performance by one of Bonacci's portrait subjects. Nomad Lounge is located at 1013 Jones St.

You can see an example of Tony's work online at

A slew of shows are slated for tonight:

At O'Leaver's, Reagan Roeder and Mike Friedman open for touring band Little Pieces. $5, 9:30 p.m. Over at The Waiting Room, At the Drive-in co-founder and Sparta frontman Jim Ward's side project, Sleepercar, plays. Sleepercar has been described as "alt country, similar to Wilco." Opening is Flight Metaphor and Civicminded. $8, 9 p.m. Down at Slowdown Jr. it's Javelins with Pomegranates and Honeybee. $7, 9 p.m.

Column 178: Cursive speaks; SCB Sinks… – June 18, 2008 –

More comments about SCB to follow:

Column 178: Cursive and Creek
Cursive hits the airwaves; Saddle Creek Bar hits the skids…

I usually get a chance to hear Cursive's new music performed live in one of the local clubs before the band heads into the studio to record it. Not this time. Something always has been in the way on the evening of recent Cursive shows.

So this time I'm getting my first gander at Cursive's new material via Sound Opinions, a radio show from National Public Radio hosted by esteemed rock critics Jim DeRogatis and Greg Kot. The duo strayed from their Chicago studio the afternoon of May 19 to record an interview with -- and a performance by -- Cursive at The Waiting Room in front of a live audience. The completed episode went online last Friday at The actual radio show is broadcast Sunday nights at 8 p.m. on 91.5 KIOS FM as part of the station's block of rock-oriented programming that also includes KCRW's outstanding Sounds Eclectic series (The only thing KIOS is missing is The Lazy-i Show. Let's get on that, Mr. Neisler!).

Frontman Tim Kasher and crew (actually, mostly just Kasher) talked about how the band got started, their new album and writing music in their twilight years (i.e., their 30s). Kasher said he and bassist Matt Maginn first picked up guitar and bass when they were 13 years old, but only played cover songs before they "realized kids only a few years older than us were writing records," which "really blew our minds."

DeRogatis asked Kasher about living in L.A. and working as a screenwriter. "That's a polite way to put it," Kasher said to a laughing crowd. "I'd say 'working' as in the way a hobbyist works on model planes, I suppose. I haven't made any money out of it."

He let on that, like their last three albums, their next record will again be written around a central concept. Maginn talked about Cursive's states of hiatus suffered after each album. "We've gotten comfortable with leaving it up in the air," he said.

He and Kasher also talked about how difficult it was to follow the success of The Ugly Organ -- how fans wanted them to write the same record again and again. "It caught us off guard and drove us away from music," Maginn said.

"I'm trying to write what a 33 year old rock and roll guy would write about instead of what an 18 year old would write about," Kasher said. "I love the fact that I thought 33 was so old when I was young, and now I'm waiting to find out when I'm going to become an adult."

Join the club, Mr. Kasher.

The band only unfurled two new songs on the broadcast -- "From the Hips" and "Donkeys." Both prominently feature horn player Nate Lepine on keyboards. I guess "prominently" is the wrong word -- there are keyboards on both songs, which is sort of a departure for Cursive. Both songs also sound like they'd fit comfortably on a Good Life album. Over the years the sound styles of Cursive and The Good Life slowly have headed toward a natural convergence. They haven't met yet, but when they do, I look forward to the first (and probably last) joint Good Life / Cursive show, where members of both bands perform together on stage. The opening act could be a reunion of Azure Ray. And if you think that'll happen, I've got some lovely beachfront property for sale just off of Saddle Creek Road…

* * *

And speaking of properties up for sale, I received an e-mail Monday night from Saddle Creek Bar owner Mike Coldewey saying he's getting out of the bar business. "While I don’t anticipate immediate closure, I did list Saddle Creek Bar for sale today. Sold or not, I’ll be leaving on or before Labor Day," Coldewey wrote.

The club is listed with a business broker, he said, and the undisclosed asking price would cover whatever Coldewey owes to the former owner. "He doesn't want it," he wrote. "Basically, I sell it and it lives on or I don’t sell it and walk away and he sells the property to someone that bulldozes it and builds condos or something."

Coldewey knows that this announcement will be met with victory cheers from the small contingent of local music folk who view him as nothing less than a salt-block of pure evil. Coldewey is partially responsible for the controversy that led to the passage of an all-ages ordinance that requires anyone under 18 years of age to have written, notarized permission from their parents before being allowed into booze-serving music venues for performances. Had the ordinance not passed, it would have meant the end of all-ages shows at venues like The Waiting Room and Slowdown. As a result, some musicians vowed never to step foot in the Saddle Creek Bar ever again.

But in the end, I doubt that a boycott had any impact on the Saddle Creek Bar. The club just never seemed to take hold for a variety of reason, despite having one of the best locations in the city.

Coldewey blames his own inability to tolerate "slackers and posers" for the downfall of the club, adding that there were "many factors – poor marketing, not enough capital, etc. – but in the long run, it’s me – the dark lord. I’m a failure as dark lord, can’t run a den of evil, and should be demoted to, what? Soldier, I guess."

In fact, among the many career options Coldewey is now considering is a return to the U.S. Army. God bless America.

So why has the Saddle Creek Bar failed to get off the ground? Take Mike Coldewey out of the equation for now and ask yourself what would make the venue successful. It has, in my opinion, a great location, plenty of parking, and I like how the bar is set up. The minuses: The weird built-into-the-wall stage and the PA.

So let's say someone came along and poured a ton of cash into the building, moved the stage back to the east wall and bought a new, finely tuned PA. Would that make a difference? Maybe, maybe not. For me, it's all about the booking. If the new club owner didn't have One Percent involved, SCB would still have a hard time getting the A-list touring indie bands to play there. They might get a ton of local bands, but would that be enough to keep the place going? People point to O'Leaver's and The 49'r as examples of music bars that have weaned themselves from booking a lot of shows by having a strong "regulars" business. But O'Leaver's is tiny compared to SCB, and The 49'r built its clientele over the past couple of decades (Yes, I know that SCB was around in the old days, but it spent a few years vacant before Coldewey came along). After being open almost two years, SCB hasn't developed a "hang-out" vibe like the tiny Homy Inn has just down the street. Maybe SCB is too big for something like that.

One Percent's chief focus these days are The Waiting Room, Slowdown and large venues like Westfair and The Anchor Inn (site of the Sept. 20 Conor Oberst and the Mystic Valley Band concert. Anchor Inn could be an untapped gold mine for 1%). As I mentioned a few weeks ago, Slowdown has asked One Percent to book as many big-room shows as possible. Does One Percent really want to be involved in booking a club the size of the Saddle Creek Bar? I guess it's always a good idea to have options when three or four bands come through town on the same night looking for shows, but how often does that happen? Are there really that many good shows coming through town to support all of these venues? I don't think so, at least not from an indie music perspective.

Which brings us back to what would make SCB successful. I've always said it should focus on booking a completely different genre of music -- country, blues, metal, hard rock, all covers, etc. I have a sad feeling, however, that no one will step up and keep the place open, which would point the way for the wrecking ball. As for Mike Coldewey, I for one will be sad to see him go. He's a tough guy, someone who isn't easy to get along with, and he never hesitates to speak his mind. We disagreed on a lot of things, including music (he doesn't like indie rock), but I always enjoyed talking/arguing with him, and hanging out at his bar. Who knows, maybe he'll change his mind.

Murder Junkies tonight… – June 17, 2008 –

Tonight at The Saddle Creek Bar it's G.G. Allin's former backing band The Murder Junkies with Koffin Kats (Detroit horror psychobilly), Skinny Jim & the 9 Blacktops (Illinois rockabilly), Shot Baker (Chicago hardcore), Filthy Few (the RUSH of pornobilly!), and Officially Terminated (Lincoln punks). The mayhem starts at 7:30 and will run you $10. (thanks to Tuco for the data).

Live Review: Frightened Rabbit; words, music, art @ Pulp tonight… – June 16, 2008 –

There's something about Scottish and Irish bands... whether you're talking about a more straightforward rock act like U2 or a Celtic-leaning band like The Waterboys, something rooted in their heritage always manages to bubble up in their music no matter how hard they rock. It's subtle, but it's always there. Maybe it's the brogue, but I think it has more to do with a natural sensibility toward green-hilled melodies. Frightened Rabbit frontman Scott Hutchison certainly has an unmistakable, charming brogue, which became more pronounced as the band's set wore on Saturday night at The Waiting Room.

Opening was Mal Madrigal. Actually, Techlepathy was up first, but I missed them, just as I missed the first half of MM's set. Steve Bartolomei and Co. sounded their usual folk-rocking self, though they ended their set with a couple South o' the Border-flavored numbers that took Bartolomei's melodies to a whole different (and amazing) place. Maybe they should try an entire album of Latin-flavored music.

Sub Pop trio Oxford Collapse came on next and sounded like someone from that label circa the late '90s -- solid bass-driven college rock that sort of reminded me of Minutemen, though they weren't nearly as heavy.

Frightened Rabbit hit the stage at around 11:30. Their music floats closer to mainstream rock than indie, again probably because of their Scottish heritage. While ringing and loud, there were moments that weren't far removed from, say, Counting Crows. But there also was a rootsy, faraway quality that I recognized from other bands that have called the northern British Isles their homes -- a lonely, heart-aching sound that burns through no matter how loud the guitars are turned up. Part of it is the rapid, rhythmic strumming. Part of it is Hutchison's rich, throaty voice that would sound at home belting out an Irish (or Scottish) folk ballad (just add fiddle). Great stuff enjoyed by a crowd of around 70 (by my estimate).

* * *
Blogger Annie Dilocker mentioned yesterday that there's a special event going on tonight at Pulp in Benson. Called "Runaways," the event features local writers reading their essays about music, with musicians performing in between readings. Hand-made journals designed by local artists will be auctioned off (silently). Writers include Katie Wudel, Christin Goetz and Dilocker herself. Musician participants include Sam Martin (Capgun Coup), Bear Country, Honeybee and Oui Bandits. Artists include Joey Lynch, Tony Bonacci and Jill Rizzo. The free event (which free wine and beer) starts at 7.

Higgins/Severin tonight, Oxford Collapse, Mal Madrigal, Techlepathy tomorrow… – June 13, 2008 –

So, another semi-quiet weekend for shows. The one that stands out tonight is Dereck Higgins and Scott Severin opening for Shinyville at The Barley St. SLAM Omaha says the cover is $4 (there's rarely a cover at Barley). 9 p.m.

Tomorrow night's marquee show is Frightened Rabbit, Oxford Collapse, Mal Madrigal and Techlepathy at The Waiting Room. Frightened Rabbit is a Scottish band that records for Fat Cat Records (distro by Caroline). They've been compared to Arcade Fire, The Shins and The Long Winters (i.e., they sound like an indie band). I halfway expected Brooklyn Sub Pop band Oxford Collapse to be headlining this show. They're certainly more well-known around these parts. Methinks the majority of the crowd will be there for the openers -- Omaha's own Mal Madrigal and newcomers Techlepathy (which features among its members guitar virtuoso Lincoln Dickison). $8, 9 p.m.

You might have trouble finding parking for the above show, as the Benson Summer Festival also is going on Saturday from 8:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. Among the featured bands are Shiver Shiver and Satchel Grande. It's all outside and it's all free.

Also tomorrow night, the Saddle Creek Bar is hosting a night of punk featuring Lincoln Celtic-core band The Killigans with KTP, Vandon Arms and The Upsets. $6, 9 p.m.

And Slowdown's hosting a show Saturday night featuring emo-pop band Cobra Starship, along with three other bands I've never heard of. $14, 7 p.m.

Finally, Sunday night, it's back to O'Leaver's for The Shanks, The Dinks and Minnesota band The Short Cuts. The last time I bumped into a member of the Shanks, he mentioned that they recently had a personnel change. Better see what that's all. $5, 9 p.m.

Live Review: Sigur Rós; Columbia Vs. Challenger, Thunder Power!!! tonight… – June 12, 2008 –

I was talking to a friend of mine yesterday afternoon and asked him if he was going to Sigur Rós last night. "I don't know. What do they sound like?" he asked. We'll, they're from Iceland, they don't sing in English. I guess they're kind of like a wimpy version of God Speed mixed with Bjork. "I'm gonna have to pass. I got some stuff to get done tonight."

I already had my tickets. Caught up in the hype, I bought a pair the day the show went on sale. Omaha was one of only five cities to get Sigur Rós on this tour. They'd never been here before and likely won't be back. And it was at The Orpheum, probably my favorite "large" venue in the city.

Over the last few weeks, the band's publicist had sent me both the most recent Sigur Rós album as well as digital services for the yet-to-be released record, which some have called a "departure" for a band known for its ethereal, ambient drone-tones.

But as 8 p.m. rolled around, the only tones that I'd been hearing for the past 40 minutes was the civil defense blare of the unending tornado warnings that began at around 7. Channel 7 made it sound like the world was about to end. A glance at the radar showed a line of storms that stretched to the Kansas border. The sirens were going to blast all night, and there was no way I was going to drive downtown during a tornado warning, even if the tornado was located way out in Elkhorn. I thought my $60 bucks was headed right down the storm drain.

Then I got a call from someone standing beneath the marquee of the Orpheum. Show goers had been told that they could either stand outside or go down into the Orpheum basement until the all-clear. By 9:15, the warnings began to expire and my caller told me they just started seating people. So I drove downtown (alone), figuring I could at least catch part of the show. I was seated at 9:55; Sigur Rós came on at 10. Perfect timing.

I thought my tickets were in the loge. Instead, I was sitting four rows from the stage. Standing up there beneath a curtain of choreographed laser lights were eight musicians -- a small string section, keyboards, bass, drums and famous yodeling frontman, Jón "Jónsi" Þór Birgisson, playing guitar with a violin bow.

The first song was a typical Sigur Rós droner, then came the submarine-radar tone that heralds the opening of maybe their most famous song, "Svefn-G-Englar." The Slowdown-styled crowd went wild. That was followed by my favorite song of the evening -- halfway through, a tuba could be heard from somewhere. I thought it was a sample, until a five-piece brass section marched onto the stage dressed in sparkling white band uniforms, adding polka swing to the waltz-metered portion of the song.

Next, Jónsi announced that they were going to play some new songs, and that's where the show began to head south. The upbeat numbers (specifically those that used the brass section) bordered on Polyphonic Spree material. One song featured Jónsi on acoustic guitar for what sounded like an Icelandic/American folk hybrid -- a misstep into mediocrity. Sigur Rós is at its best when its doing its Music from the Hearts of Space shtick -- quiet then creepy than bold then quiet. Jónsi's voice really is just another instrument, and an amazing one at that. Since he's singing either in Icelandic or gibberish, there's nothing for him to communicate lyrically with his falsetto yelp, which at times sounded like coyotes baying at the moon, forlorn and lonely.

I'm curious if this was their standard performance of if they were having an off night. From my place in the fourth row, there were a lot of miscues and missteps -- whether it was Jónsi stopping mid-phrase to clear his throat, a slipped piano chord or a miscued sample -- and judging by their reaction, the band recognized every goof. I suppose that's the danger of performing this style of atmospheric, tension-filled music -- it has to be perfect; people will notice the boo-boo's.

The band left the stage after an hour, then came back and did a 30-minute encore followed by a curtain call. Walking back to my car, I called the guy who had called earlier in the evening from beneath the marquee. He's obviously a huge Sigur Rós fan, at least compared to me -- someone who respects what they do but would never casually listen to their music. I told him that, to me, Sigur Rós is this generation's New Age music. Really, other than the bombasts and the samples and the gibberish language, how far was it removed from, say, Enya? He said the statement couldn't be further off base, implied that I was an idiot (something that has been determined long ago) while at the same time saying that the concert was the most moving stage experience of his life. I told him that portions of the concert moved me, too -- to the edge of snoring. I wasn't alone. While trying to block a stage flood light from burning my retinas to ashes, I glanced down my row and notice that everyone was mimicking my stance -- right elbow on their armrest, chin resting on palm.

* * *

Tonight at The Waiting Room, Lincoln band Columbia Vs. Challenger is opening for a show that also includes Thunder Power!!! and touring band The Broken Letters. I've been wanting to see CVC for months, but am probably going to miss them again as I've got a previous engagement that won't be completed until well after they're off stage (assuming that they're the first band). TP!!! says this probably will be their last show in Omaha until their Aug. 15 CD release show. 9 p.m., $7.

Column 177: Goodbye Mr. Norman; Sigur Rós tonight… – June 11, 2008 –

If there's one thing The Reader doesn't do very well, it's keeping its readers up to date as to who's running the paper. Andy's last issue at the helm of The Reader was a couple weeks ago. He's now relegated to watching from the sidelines like the rest of us. He was always a good sounding board both for the column and for feature stories that I pitched to the paper. He also had the advantage of coming to The Reader from outside Omaha's indie music scene, which gave him a more sober perspective about what was going on. Something tells me that when he returns to Omaha, he'll do so a wealthy man, if there's anything to this whole "Global Warming" bugaboo. Incidentally, no one has been named to Andy's old position, and the powers that be at The Reader are still in the process of working out the details as to who will guide its music coverage going forward. Something tells me that you're going to see some more changes at the paper in the near future...

there's one thing The Reader doesn't do very well, it's keeping its readers up to date as to who's running the paper. Andy's last issue at the helm of The Reader was a couple weeks ago. He's now relegated to watching from the sidelines like the rest of us. He was always a good sounding board both for the column and for feature stories that I pitched to the paper. He also had the advantage of coming to The Reader from outside Omaha's indie music scene, which gave him a more sober perspective about what was going on. Something tells me that when he returns to Omaha, he'll do so a wealthy man, if there's anything to this whole "Global Warming" bugaboo. Incidentally, no one has been named to Andy's old position, and the powers that be at The Reader are still in the process of working out the details as to who will guide its music coverage going forward. Something tells me that you're going to see some more changes at the paper in the near future...

Column 177: Parting Shots
Andy Norman exits stage left...

And so, we say goodbye to Managing Editor Andrew Norman.

Why, I remember first meeting Andy three years ago, only days after he left The City Weekly to take on the editing chores at The Reader. He was a wee lad, sprightly in stature with pork chop sideburns and a haircut that made him resemble a small, wide-eyed tree monkey or Frodo from the Peter Jackson film The Lord of the Rings. It seems like only yesterday that throngs of tattooed, ebony-haired groupies breathlessly yelled the battle cry "Save Frodo!" when Andy strapped on a bass with his band Jaeger Fight at O'Leaver's. Writer, editor, rock and roll god. And now… now he's gone.

Waitaminit. This isn't an obit. Norman ain't dead. I mean, his career might be dead, but he's alive and kicking and living in Ashland… for now.

About a month ago, Norman, who's been The Reader's acting managing editor and ad hoc music editor (and, as a result, my editor) announced that he was leaving the paper and headed back to school at Michigan State, where he's pursuing a master's degree in "Environmental Journalism," whatever that is. He's spending his summer taking on the self-flagellating role of a construction worker, cooking in the hot summer sun, far away from the e-mail and the deadlines that will plague him for the next few years in East Lansing, Michigan, where he'll also be the editor of his program's publication, EJ Magazine.

But before we let him go, someone had to conduct the exit interview.

Norman, 28, took over the paper's music section in 2005, shortly after the Omaha music scene had reached its zenith of national notoriety and began heading down the other side of the arc. A graduate of UNL, Norman somehow managed to know next to nothing about Omaha's indie reputation or Saddle Creek Records. I still remember him asking who "this Bright Eyes" was. "The only thing I knew about Omaha's music was that a lot of good punk bands came through town," he said. "There was a lot of metal, and I suppose one of the first things I did was listen to 89.7 The River, which gave me a bad impression."

Ah, the smell of bridges burning.

Anyway. Norman preferred the harder stuff, specifically bands like Lagwagon, Good Riddance, Operation Ivy, The Melvins, just about any band on labels like Fat Wreck Chords and Alternative Tentacles.

He said he learned about the local music scene by reading newspapers and blogs and by going to shows and talking to people. He discovered that Omaha and Lincoln are known for their artist-friendly venues, like Box Awesome, the Waiting Room and Slowdown. "Bands want to come back here because they're treated well," he said. "I don't think that was always the case."

Norman said he discovered a diverse music scene that included "good hip-hop and a strong DJ culture." As for indie, he never bought into the standard definition. "I don't think of indie as a genre, but as a way of doing business," he said. "Record labels like Speed! Nebraska and Boom Chick are indie to me."

So what was the biggest pain in his ass as music editor? Norman first pointed to the bands. "In a cultural scene where you deal with artists of any kind, you realize they're often flakes," he said. "It's hard to get them to call you back or send you a photo. All we want is a decent bio, the actual band members' names, a couple songs to listen to and a photo. It made your work a helluva lot harder if you went online and couldn’t find much about a band, or if they had a ridiculous Myspace page that took forever to load. That was pretty irritating."

Another irritant was trying to find writers who knew about something other than the indie scene. Everyone wants to write about The Faint. Try finding an authority on hip-hop or country music. "Typically, people who could write were too tied to the scene," he said. "They were either best friends with bands or in bands, and couldn't separate themselves. Just as the scene grows and young kids need to start bands, there needs to be kids who want to write about music. Someone needs to document what's going on."

The most rewarding part, Norman said, was watching local bands put out albums and start doing "big things" like touring. "I felt proud to be from Nebraska and Omaha where all this stuff is going on," he said. "I would feel comfortable putting music produced by Omaha and Lincoln bands up against music from anyplace else."

He leaves this veil of tears bearing a significant amount of guilt -- for not listening to stacks of CDs on his desk, for not going to enough shows. "I was never able to devote myself to the music editor thing," he said. "My priority was writing news as far as (publisher) John Heaston was concerned. In my opinion, a music editor has to be fully engrossed in the scene."

But there's no time for looking back now. After three years, Norman said it was time for a new challenge. He moves away Aug. 1, and Omaha loses yet another valuable piece of talent.

"The coolest thing about the job was being this country kid from Imperial, a town of 2,000, and ending up in the middle of Omaha's cultural scene," he said. "I'll miss working with the most creative, smartest people in town -- the many writers and fellow editors and staff -- being around that creative power."

Ah Andy, we hardly knew ye…

Tonight at the glorious Orpheum Theater, An Evening with Sigur Rós. It's the opening night of the band's five-city U.S. tour, and tickets are still available for $30 from Show starts at 8 p.m. I'll let you know how it goes.

And a brief update on yesterday's blog entry, Midwest Dilemma's new album, Timelines & Tragedies, has climbed 50 spots to No. 112 on the CMJ charts. How high will it go?

Midwest Dilemma at 161… – June 10, 2008 –

Here's an item that'll appear in Backbeat in tomorrow's issue of The Reader:

Weeks after its release, the full-length by Midwest Dilemma, Timelines & Tragedies, has landed on the College Music Journal's top-200 chart at No. 161. CMJ develops its chart by compiling play lists from college and non-commercial radio stations.

Midwest Dilemma mastermind Justin Lamoureux sent 300 copies of the CD to radio stations with the help of Minneapolis-based promotion and distribution company Tinderbox Music. He said the service "cost less than $2,000" but was worth it to get the music in front of radio station programmers. Those costs are usually covered by an artist's record label. In Lamoureux's case, the label is his own wallet.

"What I've been told is that it's a good opportunity, especially if you plan on going on tour," Lamoureux said. "It helps build relationships with radio stations in cities you hope to play."

Lamoureux wasn't sure how the CMJ chart will translate into album sales, which, without traditional distribution, he handles online, through iTunes and through Omaha record stores. "I'm hoping it pays off, but I feel that right now, it's cool that these radio stations are getting our music heard," he said. "I'm shocked that so many stations added it to their play lists."

For the week of May 22, Timelines & Tragedies had been added by more than 100 radio stations, according to Tinderbox, and will chart in 13 stations' top-20.

Justin said he should have new numbers sometime today. Here's hoping he continues climbing the charts.

Fiery Furnaces tonight… – June 9, 2008 –

This one appears to have snuck in beneath the radar. The last time the Fiery Furnaces came through town, they were determined to put on a metal show, and they did. From the review of the June 22, 2006, Sokol Underground show:

"I was expecting The Fiery Furnaces' live set to be different from their albums -- no keyboards on this tour, remember? -- but I wasn't expecting the metal-rock-Rush-prog-Talking Head-Zappa-Sabbath explosion that I and about 200 of my closest friends got last night at the Sokol. "Bombastic" doesn't quite cut it. "Mercurial guitar histrionics"? Not exactly. "Anxiety-inducing tension"? Close, but no cigar. I admit to not being a follower of said band, so I can't really tell you how differently they sounded from their previous incarnations. I have only one of their CDs -- their newest one, which Sister Eleanor said they'd be dipping from extensively. From that disc, I only recognized one song -- the surrealistic "I'm in No Mood" and only because there's no mistaking the Russian pastiche melody-line, which when played on guitar instead of keys, was downright Queen-esque. Forget all the pretty stuff on the record, Eleanor has a perfect rock voice that rests somewhere between Chrissie Hynde and Johnny Rotten. Meanwhile, I am now convinced that Brother Matthew is some type of mad genius wunderkind. It's one thing to write this Dali-esque music, it's another thing entirely to play guitar with the virtuosity that he commands. Who needs a synthesizer when you can make your ax create similar (or better) sounds? The bottom line: I like them better as a full-out metal band with punk overtones and a prog jones that comes from listening to too much '70s arena rock (Did I mention Rush?). Yes, their records are interesting, almost quaint. Their live show belongs on a touring festival sandwiched between roaring sets by Cardiacs and The Who." Read the rest here.

I have a feeling they've got something completely different up their sleeves tonight, but if you get a replay of that show, you're in for an ear-ringing good time. Opening the show at The Waiting Room is Grand Ole Party. $15. 9 p.m.

Also tonight, MC Chris is back in town, this time at Sokol Underground with The Age of Rockets. $14, 9 p.m.
If you're wondering, I made it to zero shows this weekend as I spent most of the evenings cowering in the basement waiting for the tornado to strike. Alas, it never did.

Live Review: Capgun, Noah, Viking; Neva/Ladyfinger/Octopus tonight… – June 6, 2008 –

After last night, I'm beginning to change my mind about Capgun Coup. You could tell that these guys have been touring. Very strong. Sounds like they've toned down the keyboard and amped up the guitars -- always a good decision. I think their secret weapon is whoever that is that leans over and sings harmony vocals with Sam Martin. It made all the difference, and took the edge off Martin's vocals. If it's been awhile since you've seen these guys, they're worth another look.

The same goes for Noah's Ark Was a Spaceship, a band that a year or so ago was just another drone instrumental epic-noise band. They've edged their way into my list of favorite local hard/punk rock bands, right up there with Cursive, Ladyfinger, The Stay Awake, Perry H. Matthews, Monroes, Little Brazil, anything Goldberg's involved in, Criteria and on and on. A brief survey of the crowd brought about comparisons to Unwound and Sonic Youth. They remind me of a late '70s early '80s Athens, Georgia band called Pylon, which probably no one remembers. Pylon played a rather stark, narrow but dance-y version of post-punk, much less broad than Noah's Ark's grinding-yet-soaring post-wave style. In other words, Noah's Ark was a bad-ass. And they're a trio -- gotta love that.

Times New Viking is a trio, too. I admit that I compared them to very early Pavement when I reviewed their CD, mainly because of their low-fi tendencies and simple song structures -- a ridiculous, idiotic comparison after you've see them live, where they in no way resemble Pavement. A trio comprised of a guitarist, drummer and keyboard/vocalist, TNV plays blown-out almost tribalistic post-wave punk that at times borders on anthemic. They certainly got the crowd of 100 or so -- especially the 30 folks pressed against the stage -- rolling with their orgy of noise. On about half the songs, keyboardist Beth Murphy walked away from the keyboard and just handed vocals backed by shredding guitarist Jared Phillips and drummer Adam Elliott, who imbibed in a quart bottle of Jim Beam between songs. Very rock 'n' roll.

* * *

The sweet noise returns tonight to The Waiting Room for the Octopus Garden Art Alliance Benefit featuring Neva Dinova, Ladyfinger, McCarthy Trenching and Roseline. According to a post on the webboard, the organization's goal is to provide arts opportunities to everyone in the community. That includes offering classes and workshops that focus on a variety of media: painting, sculpture, theatre, writing, culinary arts, pottery, murals, photography, sewing, puppetry, music, dance, recycled art projects, etc. The services are available to everyone, but with a special emphasis on helping those who are developmentally disabled, mentally ill and of low income.

This is an awesome concept and an awesome benefit that continues tomorrow night at TWR with Mal Madrigal, Baby Walrus, Brad Hoshaw, Slave 1, and April Domet. Admission is a mere $7 each night. Shows start at 9.

Also tonight, one-man performer Dosh plays with Anathallo and Omaha's own Hyannis at Slowdown Jr. $8, 9 p.m.

Other shows tomorrow night include Mates of State at Slowdown -- the venue's ad hoc one-year anniversary celebration (though I doubt they'll pull out any party favors (though they should)). Opening is Judgement Day. Tickets are $12 today, but will cost you $14 tomorrow.
There also are two shows at O'Leaver's this weekend consisting mostly of bands I've never heard of. Tomorrow night it's Bazooka Shootout, Roman Numerals (which I have heard of) and Imaginary Johnny. Sunday night it's It's True, The Haunted Windchimes, The Mexican and The Vivian Girls. Both shows are $5, and start at 9:30 p.m.

More Slowdown; Tony Bonacci, tornadoes and Times New Viking tonight… – June 5, 2008 –

Continuing a look back at Slowdown's first year of business with owners Robb Nansel and Jason Kulbel…

The duo discussed their relationship with the venue's primary booking agent, One Percent Productions. When Slowdown first opened, there were questions as to how well the business relationship would work since One Percent owns what arguably is Slowdown's biggest competition, The Waiting Room. Both venues host a similar style of indie rock music.

But Nansel said competition has never been an issue. "I feel like our relationship with One Percent is better than it's ever been," he said. "We just had conversations with them, telling them we want more shows more consistently, and I think they're trying to figure out how to make that happen."

It's rare for One Percent to book a show at TWR that Slowdown wanted, but it's happened. One example is the recent Night Marchers show. "We had Criteria play with The Cops on the same night," Nansel said. "At first we wanted the Night Marchers. It was a bummer, but it was more of a bummer for the Night Marchers show." That's because the Cops/Criteria show sold out Slowdown's small room and likely hurt the draw for Night Marchers, which didn't do nearly as well.

Nansel said that TWR continues to be more open than Slowdown to host different bands from different genres. "They'll book anything," Nansel said. "I think Marc (Leibowitz) thinks of this as more of an indie rock venue." Something tells me that perception will have to change if Slowdown wants to book considerably more big-room shows than they did last year.

Before the club opened, Slowdown wrestled with the idea of being smoke-free. The club even polled people who came to its website. In the end, they followed their gut instinct and kept the smoke out of the club, a decision that they've never regretted.

"If this had been a smoking bar for the last year, it would be in this facility forever and you wouldn't be able to get it out," Nansel said. "I never used to mind going to bars that allow smoking, but after spending more time here in the last year, I notice it a lot more. My eyes hurt."

"I've had a few people tell us -- from both the customer and bar-owner side of things -- that we would have had more business on off nights if we had allowed smoking," Kulbel said. "But I know people who won't go to shows at The Waiting Room because they allow smoking. Had we built Slowdown in 2000, or even in 2005, that choice wouldn't have been there for us. Now enough people know that a nonsmoking environment is where things are headed."

And speaking of where things are headed, what's going on with Blue Line Coffee and American Apparel? Blue Line's addition to the complex was announced before Slowdown opened, with a target opening date of last fall.

"Blue Line is going to open any day now," Nansel said, adding that the owner is just waiting for some "permits and approvals." Nansel pointed out that construction materials -- i.e., drywall -- had just arrived inside the American Apparel space -- a space that was originally slated for a restaurant.

Both Nansel and Kulbel voiced frustration over their inability to find a restaurant suitable for the location, and by "suitable" they mean locally owned and operated -- i.e., not a national chain. "All the restaurant owners we talked to, said 'I'm busy enough trying to keep this one place going. I don't have resources and time to open another location,'" Nansel said. "I think it's a hard business. Anyone in that business on their own is putting all their time and effort into their existing space. We had a couple people approach us who were not previous restaurant owners, but could never get the financing."

"Any frustration you might have is multiplied by 1,000 for me," Kulbel said when I told him how disappointed I was that the restaurant idea fell through. "We went through so many different options and people. It took months and months of time. At the frustrations' peak, American Apparel came to us and said, 'We want that space.' It seemed pretty crazy right off the bat, but the more we thought about it the more it made sense. We had gotten to the point where we were somewhat bleeding money on that space. We have a gargantuan mortgage payment to make every month, too big to have 3,800 square feet of retail space sitting there empty. I can't imagine what would have happened if Famous Dave's had walked up at the same time. I hoped I wouldn't have said 'yes' to that at any point."

So what's the difference between a chain restaurant and a chain clothing store? Kulbel said he eats at chain restaurants all the time. "We just like the idea of a local restaurant, much in the same way we like the idea of a local clothing store," he said. "Slowly we figured out that a local clothing store wasn't a viable thing. The chance of a local clothing store going out of business was way greater than a local restaurant going out of business. You could have the hippest, coolest clothing store in your development and there's a good chance it won't (attract customers). But people will frequent the hippest, coolest restaurant."

Nansel said part of American Apparel's business model is looking at where Urban Outfitters are opening stores and then opening next to them. "Urban Outfitters was happy about (American Apparel)," he said. "From their perspective, it created a whole mindset. People will now think about this area as a place to go to shop for clothes. The more retailers in the area, the better. When they were on their own, people had to come down here just for Urban Outfitters."

So how has Urban Outfitters been doing business-wise? "They're doing good as far as what they tell us," Nansel said. "They're stoked."

There's another recently announced piece of development that also will affect UO and Slowdown -- a new ballpark to be located just east of the Slowdown complex. As you might expect, both Nansel and Kulbel are pleased about it… sort of.

"I prefer it over nothing," Kulbel said. "I am happy for what it will do for the area and the development in the area. I'm glad a decision was finally made on it. It could have been anything as far as we're concerned. There needed to be that anchor piece of the puzzle. Over the next few years everything around here will change, and that will be good. That empty lot across the street (west of Slowdown) will be retail and residential and will add more bars and restaurants, and that's good, too."

"It's always been on the radar screen," Kulbel said of the ballpark. "It originally was going to be on the west side; now it's on the east. We knew that it was a possibility and almost a certainty. The only thing I don't like about it was that it took so long to get going."

They might have foreseen the ball diamond, but they didn’t foresee the all-ages ordinance fight that they went through earlier this year that now requires that anyone under the age of 18 have written, notarized permission before being allowed into Slowdown on show nights. Nansel and Kulbel both say they're fine with how the controversy ended.

"I don't think it's been that much of a pain in our ass," Nansel said of the ordinance. "If it wouldn't have concluded the way it did and we weren't able to do all-ages shows it would have been disastrous. I don’t know if it would have been disastrous from a financial perspective, but from the fundamentals of why we built this place. I would have been very saddened."

"I'm not sure how viable a 21-plus Slowdown would be in this town," Kulbel said. "It would have forced us to do more Goo-like things and really stretched wide open who we booked. (The ordinance) is worth whatever headaches it causes as long as we can continue to do all-ages shows."

We didn't talk at all about the record label, other than Kulbel and Nansel both confirming that it's still their No. 1 interest. "Yeah, it's where I spend most of my time and attention," Nansel said.

"It has to be (No. 1)," Kulbel said. "It's still the day job; it's still what I do with my nine to five."

That said, Kulbel is "completely totally 100 percent happy with Slowdown. I love how it turned out. I love how people seem to like it. It's more work than I ever thought it would be, but it's fun work, too. It's work that I certainly enjoy. I feel like we're building something we're proud of."

* * *

Jesus, this is a long blog entry…

Anyway, there's a couple cool things going on tonight if we don't get blown away by another tornado. Did anyone go to Modest Mouse last night? How'd that turn out?

Down at the ultra-chic dance club called The Nomad Lounge, 1013 Jones Street, local photographer Tony Bonacci is holding his first exhibit, which opens tonight and runs through the rest of the month. Bonacci's niche is rock-star photos, and his portfolio includes shots of Tilly and the Wall, Orenda Fink, Mayday, Azure Ray, Baby Walrus, Coyote Bones and more. The reception is 6 to 10 p.m., with hor d'oeuvres by The Chatty Squirrel. And it's freakin' free.

So go to the art show, then head on over to The Waiting Room for Times New Viking. These krazy kids are the kings of neu-low-fi indie, the successors to a thrown built by Pavement. Opening is Capgun Coup and Noah's Ark Was a Spaceship. 9 p.m., $8.

Keep your eye to the sky…

Column 176: Slowdown at 1; Modest Mouse tonight… – June 4, 2008 –

So, why no birthday celebration at Slowdown on Sunday, the one-year anniversary of its public grand opening? Robb Nansel and Jason Kulbel said the date sort of snuck up on them. Actually, Kulbel said they had talked about doing something for the occasion, but nothing fell into place. So, Saturday night's Mates of State show will have to do, as there's no show scheduled for Sunday night.

In my mind, Slowdown is and will always be a music venue. Why would you build such a gorgeous performance space and not use it? Robb and Jason had other ideas, however. During the interviews for this column, both mentioned the problems that are keeping people from thinking of Slowdown as a place where you could just hang out and drink. Its location topped the list. But just as prominent is the problem with any duo-purpose lounge. Nansel used The 49'r as an example. He said there were times when he'd show up there with friends to kick back and have a few drinks only to find out that they were hosting a show that night, causing them to turn around and look elsewhere. The same problem plagues Slowdown. With shows three nights a week (and now probably more) people are not apt to drive down there for drinks and quiet conversation only to discover that there's a show and a $7+ cover charge. The perfect set-up: the old Howard St. Tavern, which sported a stage lounge and a non-performance lounge. If you didn't want to go to the show, you could always go upstairs to the White Rabbit. Alas, there's no way to set up anything like that at Slowdown…is there?

Column 176: Slowdown at One
Bar or music venue?

Only weeks before Slowdown celebrated its one-year anniversary (the public opening was June 8, 2007), the club that is the dream of Saddle Creek Records' entrepreneurs Robb Nansel and Jason Kulbel enjoyed one of its biggest weeks ever.

From May 18 through 24, Slowdown clocked in with two sold-out Rilo Kiley concerts in its "big room," along with two more big-room near-sell outs (Tokyo Police Club and DeVotchKa) and two well-attended small-stage shows.

The guys should be happy. But they want more. And they know the only way they're going to get it is by hosting more big-room shows. Lots of them. More than they ever intended to host at Slowdown.

"We need to have weeks like last week more often to be really comfortable," said Nansel from the Saddle Creek Records' Euro-modern conference room. "When we have shows, the bar does well. When we don't, the bar doesn't do well. When we set out to open this place, our desire was to have two or three shows a week, and we hoped that we would have a nightly clientele. But the reality is that we're pretty far off the beaten path, and people only come here when they have a reason to. It's going to be that way until the neighborhood develops a little more."

Kulbel, who spoke via cell phone while driving across town on Sunday morning, agreed. "The highs are higher and the lows are lower," he said of the first year. "The highs are when the big room sells out and it's packed and crazy. The lows are Sunday nights when no one comes in after 10:30."

You see, Slowdown had the same idea that the other important music venue -- The Waiting Room -- had when it opened a little more than a year ago. Music wasn't supposed to be the main thing. The bar was supposed to be filled with customers even when the stage was dark, which they hoped would be at least four nights a week. "We don't want people to think of it as a music venue, but as a bar that hosts shows," Kulbel said a year earlier.

It hasn't worked out that way. Blame the location. Step outside of Slowdown, and you're facing an empty city block covered in weeds and litter. And while there's a handful of condos a few blocks away in every direction, the streets aren't exactly bustling with foot traffic.

"No one lives around here," Nansel said. "In a few years, the development will come and the foot traffic will increase."

But until then, the new business plan is to make Slowdown the music venue that Nansel and Kulbel never wanted. The duo recently met with the venue's primary booker -- One Percent Productions -- asking for as many big-room shows as possible. "But at the same time, there's only a certain number of shows that are going to come through town, unless we really start to branch out in terms of genres. We're not at that point yet."

One example of "branching out" beyond their bread-and-butter indie rock programming was the Feb. 21 concert featuring Slightly Stoopid -- a band known for its legion of backwards-baseball cap wearing meatheads. The sold-out show was the biggest bar night the club has ever had. It's also the show that both Nansel and Kulbel said was their worst concert experience since they opened.

"It drew somewhat of an aggressive crowd," Nansel said. "There was a fight, and that never happens. People who come to shows here are generally passive. Although it was our biggest bar night, if we had shows of that ilk every night, none of the people who work here would work here."

"That was a rough night," Kulbel said. "If we got another hold for them, I wouldn't hesitate to do it again. But we wouldn't want shows like that once a week or even once a month. It’s not what we do."

Another thing they don’t do, at least not anymore, is a brand of DJ-driven theme nights hosted by members of The Faint and Tilly and the Wall called "Goo." In Slowdown's first months, Goo garnered a reputation for being an all-ages dip into debauchery set to strobe lights and a hot club mix. Goo was wildly successful. It also was an enormous pain in the club's ass.

"Goo is challenging," Nansel said. "It's mostly kids. You have to staff it really well and constantly make sure that no one's getting into trouble."

"The real problem (with Goo) was that these people were trying to cram a night's worth of drinking into two hours," Kulbel said. "They drank really fast, got drunk really fast and then everything went crazy. Afterward, the staff would ask, 'Can we not do this any more?'"

Goo is probably gone for good. Like Seinfeld, the DJs wanted to end it on a high note, and the club won't consider hosting another Goo night unless it's 21-and-over, which is a deal-breaker for the organizers.

But Slowdown doesn't need Goo or Slightly Stoopid to succeed. It just needs good shows and good service. Over the past year, Nansel and Kulbel learned how to run a bar. It used to take 20 minutes to get a drink on busy nights. Now it takes less than five. The rest will work itself out, as ballparks and condos rise around them. The foot traffic will come, eventually, and Slowdown will become the bar -- not the music venue -- that they always wanted it to be.

There's tons more with Robb and Jason that didn't make the cut, which I'll put online tomorrow.

* * *
Tonight at the Westfair Amphitheater, it's Modest Mouse with the Dirty Dozen Brass Band. Westfair is about 16 minutes from downtown Omaha in Council Bluffs. $35. Gates open at 6, show starts at 8 according to the Westfair website, where you can find details about the show (parking, what you can bring, etc). If accuweather is to be believed, the weather should cooperate, as thunderstorms shouldn't be rolling into our area until well after 1 a.m., long after the concert should be over.

Live Review: Perry H. Matthews; Old 97's tonight… – June 3, 2008 –

My take on PHM after last night at The Waiting Room is the same as it was before last night -- there's an throw-back quality to their sound that's unquestionable; a throwback to the Omaha/Lincoln scene of the mid-'90s that reminds me of bands like Mousetrap, Sideshow and Opium Taylor, bands that were popular around here when members of PHM were about four years old. It's a punky, dissonant sound, angry and chaotic. The difference last night: It was less messy, more controlled, more refined, but just as brutal. Most young bands these days are playing a brighter-sounding almost tinty cacophonous punk. New Times Viking, who plays at TWR Thursday night, comes to mind. PHM is darker, deeper, more rhythmic (the drums never sounded better). Frontman Paul Hansen's vein-necked screaming continues to remind me of Pat Buchanan but with less flailing and spitting (but just as disturbing). PHM hits the road tomorrow for a two-week tour of the upper Midwest down through Arkansas, Tennessee and Oklahoma. Here's hoping they find their crowd, and that their crowd finds them.

* * *

Tonight at Slowdown its heritage alt-country band Old 97's with Hayes Carll and I Love Math. $17, 9 p.m.

And speaking of Slowdown, in tomorrow's column the club's frontmen talk about the venue as it celebrates its first year of operation. See you then.

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