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The Blog Archive -- Dec. 15, 2006 to May 1, 2007 -- Go to lazyhome for most-current entries

Kasher in Billboard; Starlight Mints tonight… – May 1, 2007 –

Very little to report today. Billboard posted a semi-interesting interview with Tim Kasher (here) where he sort of talks about the future of Cursive ("We chat a lot about where we're going to practice so that seems to suggest that we want to write some songs and stuff."). They're trying to avoid another hiatus after this Mastodon tour. And apparently he's titled the new Good Life album Help Wanted Nights, which I believe was the proposed title of his screenplay. What could it mean for the future of that film project?

Tonight at Sokol Underground its Starlight Mints with Ryan Lindsay. I lost track of these guys back in 2000 with Dream that Stuff was Made of on SeeThru Recordings. They've changed a lot since then, and these days are recording for Barsuk. $10, 9 p.m. Meanwhile at The Waiting Room its punk rock with Daughters, Prostitute and Wasteoid. $8, 9 p.m.

Happy May Day.

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Live Review: Casados, Thunder Power!!!; Electric Six tonight, head's up for the rest of the week… – April 30, 2007 –

Ah, O'Leaver's. The whole world could be changing around you, spinning off in all directions, but Omaha's favorite hole-in-the-wall neighborhood-bar music venue never changes (and never will). It's become somewhat renowned as a destination location for small-scale punk or indie rock shows. But not so much for acoustic-driven music like Champaign, Illinois' Casados. A boy-girl, guitar-harmonium duo, their specialty is heartfelt indie-folk ballads that highlight their pretty harmonies. A perfect fit for Mick's or an urban coffee house, but not Saturday night at O'Leaver's. Especially after a drunk-bus pulls up and dumps off a dozen suburban meatheads who aren't in the mood to feel Casados' pain. After about 15 minutes of yelling to hear some Segar, the booze hounds stepped back on the bus and left. So did Casados.

The evening's headliners, Norman, Oklahoma's Traindodge, cancelled, I'm told because they were offered a higher-paying gig in Kansas City. That left only Thunder Power!!! Last time I saw these guys, they were a full-out indie rock band that included Lazy-i intern Brendan Greene-Walsh. Well, Brendan's no longer in the ensemble, and Thunder Power!!! no longer is a full-out indie rock band. Their sound is low-key, low-fi, indie acoustic music (guitars, keyboards, drums, clarinet) in the manner of, say, early Sebadoh. As I said last week, making a clarinet work within the confines of a rock band is next to impossible, and Saturday night's set proved my point. Whereas the clarinetists were talented, their toot-toot-tooting was out of place and too out front in the arrangements, just the opposite of Midwest Dilemma's use of clarinet, which was subtle and merely supporting. A member of the band told me they only had a handful of practices before this gig, and are still searching for their sound. More to come.

Tonight at The Waiting Room, Detroit rockers Electric Six with Test Your Reflex and Night Kills the Day. Electric Six first made its mark with its critically heralded debut, Fire, on XL/Beggars in 2003. $13, 9 p.m.

Just an early heads-up that this is a particularly strong week for shows. I'll be highlighting the best of them on the mornings of the gigs, but a quick rundown includes: Tuesday -- Starlight Mints at Sokol Underground; Wednesday -- Junior Boys at The Waiting Room (and Fromanhole at O'Leaver's); Thursday -- Mark Mallman at The Waiting Room. And it continues right on through the weekend. Expect to lose some sleep.

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Live Review: Bright Eyes; the weekend… – April 27, 2007 –

I got down to The Holland Center last night just as Bright Eyes went on stage at around 10. The house didn't look sold out, but it looked pretty close, at least from my perspective in the front of the first balcony. Standing center stage was Conor Oberst, dressed in a white suit with white shoes, his long black hair draped over his shoulders, parted in the middle Michael Jackson style (the long-haired Michael from the past few years of utter craziness). The rest of the band also wore white, except for Andy Lemaster, who wore a Dalmatian-spotted white hoodie.

It sounded as good as you'd expect in the Holland, with the band backed by a 6-piece woodwinds/strings ensemble and two drummers - Janet Weiss and Rachel Blumberg. Off to stage left, behind a couple keyboards wearing a white suit, was Bright Eyes full-timer Nate Walcott. I spent the first 20 minutes trying to find the third full-timer, Mike Mogis. That guy with the beard, that couldn't be him, could it? Of course not, he has too much hair. Oberst announced from the stage that Mogis couldn't make the show last night because he was at a prenuptial dinner for his brother AJ, who's getting married today. Filling in were two guys from Oakley Hall.

So those were the players. The only other notable stage presence was the projected visual effects, which consisted of Lincoln artist Joey Lynch (according to The OWH) using an overhead projector to cast images - dots, flowers, Cassadaga artwork, toy wooden blocks, Etch-a-sketch scratchings, marker scribblings - but mostly drops of watercolor paint, which spilled and flowed in psychedelic color collages. The images were projected across the entire back of the stage wall and onto the band, substituting for typical stage lighting. Was it effective? Well, sometimes.

They played most of the songs off Cassadaga, but also worked in a few numbers from Wide Awake. I don't have a playlist and wasn't keeping track, but I know that it differed from what he played in Minneapolis the night before.

A few observations:

-- Oberst said he liked the Holland, but that it looked too damn new. It lacked that lived-in feel. He then invited the crowd to get rowdy. "This is a rock and roll concert after all" he said, and then suggested they go write some graffiti on the walls. Knowing better, he quickly added, "No, no. Don't do that, I'm only joking."

-- It took about 40 minutes before people got out of their seats and made their way to the front of the stage, which quickly became packed with people standing and waving the arms. Most of the front section was on their feet for the last third of the show.

-- The woodwinds/strings section was an inspired idea, but sounded like an afterthought on most of the songs, adding only subtle accouterment to the overall arrangements. It would have been interesting to hear the set backed by the entire Omaha Symphony.

-- They didn't play my favorite song from the new album, "I Must Belong Somewhere." Other Cassadaga songs left out of last night's set: "If the Brakeman Turns My Way" and "Coat Check Dream Song."

-- The highlight was a rendition of "Cleanse Song" (which, btw, he didn't play the night before in Minneapolis). He dedicated it to "Nancy" - his mother.

-- He finished the set with a moody version of "Lime Tree," then dropped his guitar and quickly said, "thanks" and shuffled off the stage. It was abrupt and kind of strange. They came back a few minutes later in classic encore style and played three songs, including an especially noisy version of "Road to Joy," which I guess is going to become his signature encore number, probably because he and the band have fun playing it -- kind of like hearing a Junior High concert band goofing off playing their instruments as loud as they can while the band director is out of the room.

All-in-all, it was a straight-forward 90-minute concert, well-played and well-sung. Oberst was in fine voice, sober (he drank a beer between songs) and not a bit nervous. Like he said in his interview, if you go to his concerts in hopes of seeing a train wreck, you're going to be disappointed. For better or worse, those days are behind him.

Let's get to the weekend...

Tonight at The Waiting Room it's Cap Gun Coup, Bear Country, Eustace and The Answer Team. Here's an interesting tid-bit about Cap Gun Coup: When I interviewed Oberst in February, we talked about up-and-coming bands. The only local act that he mentioned that he liked (that wasn't already on Saddle Creek or Team Love) was Cap Gun Coup. The show, which is sponsored by the Douglas County Democratic Party, starts at 8 p.m. and is free.

Meanwhile, down at O'Leaver's, it's Brimstone Howl with Box Elders (featuring local legend Dave Goldberg on drums and keyboards), Buffalo Killers and Blind Shake. 9:30, $5.

Saturday night at The Waiting Room it's punk trio The Dollyrots with The Coffin Killers (their second and final performance before drummer Jeff Heater heads to San D.), Roman Numerals and Flurry. 7, 9 p.m.

Meanwhile, over at O'Leaver's it's Thunder Power!!! with Casados, Tea Ceremony and Train Dodge, $5, 9:30 p.m., and over at PS Collective it's Outlaw Con Bandana and Miracles of God. $5, 9 p.m.

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Junior Boys dig Omaha; Bright Eyes brings the strings; Clayface reunion tonight… – April 26, 2007 –

Just placed online, a profile/interview with Junior Boys (read it here). Jeremy Greenspan, one-half of the duo that also includes Matt Didemus, chatted from Seattle via cell about his hometown of Hamilton, Ontario, and how it resembles Omaha and inspires his music, about shunning NYC and the DJ lifestyle, and the making of their most recent album, So This Is Goodbye.

What didn't make it into the article was our discussion about their just-released Dead Horses EP, a 5-song collection that includes remixes by such well-known artists as Hot Chip, Kode 9 and Carl Craig. Greenspan said the EP was their record label's (Domino) idea. "The record label knew we were going to tour some more," he said, adding that So This Is Goodbye's sales are a slow-burn process, "not a massive explosion. From the label's perspective, we need to be visible as long as possible, and that means touring a lot. So it's a good idea to get new things out there."

Since Greenspan and Didemus are a product of the DJ culture, they had no problem coming up with their list of remixers on their own. "Kode 9 and Hot Chip are both personal friends of ours," Greenspan said. "Carl Craig is a legend in the world of dance music, so that was a no-brainer. The others are up-and-comers who we don't know personally, but heard and were excited about the music they were doing. It was a way to showcase new talent."

There is one drawback of having your music remixed, however. "It's somewhat unpleasant when what they've done is better than the original song," Greenspan said. "We've had that happen countless times." Tickets to Junior Boys show next Wednesday are still available from the One Percent Productions website.

So are tickets to tonight's Bright Eyes concert at The Holland Performing Arts Center. The $30 price tag may have scared a few people away from this show, which is a shame because fans will never see the band locally on a better stage. It's certainly worth a few more bucks to hear Oberst and his crew in a venue that is renowned for its acoustics. The line-up tonight is Bright Eyes full-time members Mike Mogis and Nate Walcott, along with Andy Lemaster (Now It's Overhead), Janet Weiss (ex-Sleater-Kinney), drummer Rachel Blumberg (M. Ward), violinist Anton Patzner and a small strings and woodwinds ensemble. The show starts at 8 p.m. with McCarthy Trenching and Oakley Hall.

It's not the only landmark show this evening. Tonight at The Waiting Room there's a reunion of Omaha hardcore music heroes Clayface. From the insert to their 4-song single, "Regular," released on Corn Pie Records and recorded in March 1994: "In March, we went to our friend's house, Jim (Bogensberger), and recorded this record on an eight-track he has set up in his basement." Listed as "Clayface Regular" were Jeff, Kelley, Kirk, Robert, Ross and William. I believe Jeff was Jeff Heater, Will was William Thornton and Robert was Bob Thornton. I'm not sure of the rest of the lineup on this single, but I'm sure someone can fill in the blanks (here). They'll probably all be there tonight, along with a large contingent of characters from Omaha's mid-'90s golden age. Also on the bill are Race for Titles and Bombardment Society. $7, 9 p.m. Bring your earplugs!

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Update soon; Lazy-i in The Gateway… – April 25, 2007 –

Sorry for the delay in updates. The last couple days have been dominated by hospitals and family. Look for an interview with Junior Boys online tomorrow, along with any necessary catch-up work. Until then, here's a fun story about yours truly in this week's issue of UNO's Gateway student newspaper. That's right, for some reason they decided to do their alumni focus on me and this website. Writer Charley Reed did a cracker-jack job (my only quibble -- Charley, I'm 41, not 44, but then again, I guess I look like I'm 54 so it all works out). Check it out.

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Slowdown pic; Andrew Bird, Matt Whipkey tonight… – April 23, 2007 –

Well, no shows for me this last weekend. I'm told by someone who went to the Creighton-only Cursive show at Sokol Auditorium Saturday night that their drummer, a former member of Engine Down, was pretty darn good. We'll have to wait until the end of May to find out.

It's been awhile since I placed photos of Slowdown online. As you can see (click on the thumbnail) it's coming along. What you're seeing is the corner where the Filmstreams theater is housed, actually. The music hall is further north. Judging by the activity around the jobsite, they'll have it up and running in time for their official opening the first weekend of June. It also appears that Slowdown has a new logo, judging from their website: http://www.theslowdown.com/

Tonight at Sokol Underground, Andrew Bird w/The Apostles of Hustle. Bird is out supporting his new Fat Possum release, Armchair Apocrypha, which debuted at No. 76 on the Billboard charts. $15, 9 p.m. Meanwhile, Matt Whipkey is opening for touring band The Alternate Routes at The Waiting Room tonight, along with 10 O'Clock Scholars. Whipkey's doing a solo set with the help of Sarah Benck and her drummer from The Robbers. $8, 8 p.m.

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Live Review: Midwest Dilemma, Paper Owls, Winter Blanket, Hot Sick; Joyner/Hoovers, tonight… – April 20, 2007 –

I'll be blunt. I wasn't looking forward to Midwest Dilemma's set last night at The Saddle Creek Bar. The last time I saw Justin Lamoureux perform was a couple years ago at either The 49'r or O'Leaver's. It was just him, his guitar, and a set of slow, mournful folk ballads that put me to sleep. So when I showed up at SCB at 9:15 -- the only one there other than the bands and the bar staff -- and found out Justin was first up I thought "Jeeze, I just hope it doesn't drag on forever." To say I was pleasantly surprised would be an understatement. Lamoureux has retooled his sound since that sleepy night at the Niner, with an up-tempo style and a solid supporting cast featuring Elizabeth Web on clarinet and vocals and David Downing on cello. I've seen clarinets used in folk/rock bands before, always with embarrassing, toot-toot-tooting bar-mitzvah-flavored results. Web is the first to really pull it off, aware that she's supporting Lamoureux and not the center of attention. Downing's cello work is subtle and engaging and fits seamlessly within the constructs of Lamoureux's earthy, up-tempo folk ballads. Together, the cello and clarinet are in perfect balance, and Web's vocal harmonies are gorgeous. Lamoureux's vocals have become more straightforward, almost aggressive, with a slight Oberst overtone at times that I hope he isn't doing on purpose (what causes that quiver?). He's got a good voice that's well-showcased on new material that bounces between rural 4/4 folkies and laid-back waltz-time ballads. Lamoureux says he's in the studio working on a new record.

I thought Paper Owls was a duo -- April Twist on vocals, keyboards and guitar and Cricket Kirk on drums. Nope. The band now includes a six-string bass player, which, because of the poor mix, was all I could hear last night. Twist's slight voice, which kind of resembles Natalie Merchant's, was lost in the throbbing din, as was her guitar on the first few songs. She switched to a Korg halfway through the set. I think their songs -- indie rock bordering on FM alternative -- are probably pretty good, if I could only hear them. At the very least, they need to ratchet down their rhythm section (Kirk plays on a massive Gretsch kit) and find the right balance with Twist's vocals and guitar.

Headliners The Winter Blanket is a Minneapolis 4-piece who records for Chairkickers, a label owned and operated by the fine folks in Low. Stephanie Davila's vocals were in line with Hope Sandoval's on a couple moody numbers that resembled Mazzy Star songs. It was guitarist Doug Miller, however, who handled most of the leads on the heavier indie rock songs, which also featured Dave Campbell on bass and keyboards/effects (that were ear-shattering at times). I liked them best on the more restrained material vs. their over-the-top rockers.

Finally, at around 12:30, there was Hot Sick a.k.a. Sarah Xiong along with a friend of hers on a second guitar. If Davila's voice resembled Sandoval's, Xiong's is a dead-on match, especially on her moody, simple acoustic numbers that dripped with a broken-hearted loneliness. Xiong has a sweet, indie-acoustic style that's a throwback to women I loved back in the day (Joni, Suzanne Vega) and would be interesting to hear backed by a full band. Could she pull it off with that delicate voice of hers? She's probably better off with just her talented sideman.

The weekend is upon us.

Tonight at The 49'r, the debut of The Coffin Killers featuring Lee Meyerpeter and the soon-to-be-gone Jeff Heater on drums -- along with School of Arms and The Danger. It's a preview of the band's farewell gig next Saturday at The Waiting Room. Tonight it's $5, 9:30 p.m.

And speaking of The Waiting Room, tonight its stage hosts Simon Joyner, Bill and Renee Hoover and Tim Perkins. $7, 9 p.m.

Saturday night it's Elf Power with Tomato a Day at The Waiting Room. $8, 9 p.m., while over at The Niner it's old-school punk re-engineered for the '00s with Speed! Nebraska bands The Monroes and Domestica (ex-Mercy Rule). $5, 9:30 p.m.

Speaking of Lee Meyerpeter, one of his other bands, The Filter Kings, is playing at Mick's Saturday night with The Mercury's. $5, 9 p.m.

If you're out and about Saturday afternoon, swing over to Elmwood Park for the annual Earth Day concert, this year (like last year) featuring Anonymous America (2 p.m.) and Sarah Benck (3:50 p.m.) and the Robbers. Jazzwholes close it out at 5.

Then, Sunday, two huge shows: Brooklyn-based afrobeat band Antibalas is at The Waiting Room with Krudas Cubensi, $15, 9 p.m., while down at Sokol Underground it's Aqueduct with What Made Milwaukee Famous and Canasta. $7, 9 p.m.

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Column 122 -- Don't Look Back; Landing on the Moon at TWR, 2 Non Blondes and 2 Blondes at SCB... – April 19, 2007 –

Musicians come and go from our fair city all the time. I usually find out after they've moved back that they've been living in Chicago for the past year or just recently returned from a summer in LA or whatever. It's almost become a non-event, but it wasn't always that way...

Column 122: The Defectors
Tim Kasher's move to LA is met not with a bang or a whimper.

Let me take you back, back, back in time. Back to the summer of 1998. Before 9/11 paranoia, before midtown expressways, before MySpace and YouTube.

One of the biggest music stories of the year was a cover feature written by yours truly about local band Grasshopper Takeover and their announcement that they would soon be leaving their hometown to test the waters in El Lay, to "make it big" in the music business.

"Omaha is too easy," said GTO frontman Curt Grubb in the article. The occasion was marked with a jam-packed going-away concert at Sokol Auditorium, where more than 1,200 fans tearfully waved goodbye to Grubb and Co. "Don't forget us," they said. "Don't forget where you came from."

Their defection to the West Coast left a bitter taste in the mouths of other bands that didn't have the chutzpah (or the cash) to make a similar leap. GTO was following the footsteps of 311, who had turned their backs on Omaha five or six years earlier, and who -- to this day -- are still considered turncoats by the few who insist that 311 isn't from Omaha, when in fact, they are. They just don't live here anymore. You see, no matter where you end up, you can't outrun your roots.

The situation was repeated again just a few years ago, albeit with much less fanfare, when Conor Oberst of Bright Eyes fame became known as a New Yorker after signing a lease for an apartment near Tompkins Square Park in 2003. A couple years later, Oberst made the "NYC Hot 25" list in Time Out New York, where he appeared on the cover as one of the "New Yorkers who will make their mark in '05." Some gnashing of teeth could be heard over Oberst's departure. He was, after all, the cornerstone for both Saddle Creek Records and the nationally recognized "Omaha music scene." How would his move be viewed by outsiders?

And wasn't Saddle Creek supposed to stop all these defections? Bands on the label had said over and over in magazines and newspapers around the country and the world -- you don't need to move away from Omaha to make a living making music. Not anymore. Yet, there was Oberst flying the coop.

Then last Monday morning, an item appeared in Pitchfork -- the bible of online indie music news and criticism -- reporting that Tim Kasher had moved to Los Angeles to pursue a career as a script writer while remaining an active member of bands Cursive and The Good Life. This just a few weeks after a major feature about "Omaha's Culture Club" ran in The New York Times Magazine by Kurt Andersen -- yet another Omaha defector. Andersen ended his piece with a quote from Sarah Wilson, Kasher's girlfriend, stating that the couple had considered moving to New York, but decided to stay put because "the charms of Omaha are starting to wrestle me down to the frosty ground."

Well, there's no question that the ground along Sunset Blvd. is much warmer than the frozen tundra along Happy Hollow.

In the past, someone as important to the scene as Kasher moving away would have been met with much fist-shaking and cries of "Ingrate! Turncoat!" This time there was matter-of-fact acceptance. It's actually old news around town. After the Pitchfork item appeared, someone asked why I hadn't written about it before. I guess the idea hadn't occurred to me. Cursive drummer Clint Schnase leaving the band seemed much more significant. Kasher, after all, wasn't leaving Cursive. Just a month earlier, Cursive bassist Matt Maginn quit his job at Saddle Creek Records because he and his wife also plan on leaving the city. The response to that news by fans and friends was the same response voiced about Kasher's departure: Godspeed and good luck.

Sure, it sucks that we won't see them drinking Old Styles down at Sokol Underground or The Waiting Room on any given weekend, but with their constant touring schedule, they're not around much anyway. Starting in May, Cursive will be on the road for a month with Mastodon, winding up the tour with a date at The Waiting Room. It'll be like they've never been gone. The difference is that afterward, Kasher will be flying back to Hollywood, while Maginn will be driving back to wherever his wife will be attending grad school.

People grow up; people move on. And though they may live in California or New York or Lawrence, the artists who created Omaha's music scene will always be identified with the city where they got their start. They may move away, but they won't forget Omaha. And Omaha won't forget them.

And chances are they'll be drawn right back, anyway. This city has a way of doing that. Just ask Curt Grubb and Conor Oberst. (And as for 311, well, good riddance).

Two interesting shows worth checking out this evening. Over at The Waiting Room it's Landing on the Moon with The Hero Factor and Baby Walrus. $7, 9 p.m. While down at The Saddle Creek Bar is a four bands, each sporting a female lead singer: Minneapolis band The Winter Blanket, Hot Sick (featuring Sarah Xiong), Omaha's Paper Owls and Midwest Dilemma. $5, 9 p.m.

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Update: Cassadaga weighs in at No. 4 – April 18, 2007, 12:30 p.m. –

Saddle Creek label chief Robb Nansel AIM'd me this morning to say that the final first-week number for Cassadaga was 58,354 units sold, enough to place it at No. 4 on the Billboard charts. The album will no doubt top the "alternative/indie" chart when that data is released. An hour later, Billboard placed its coverage of last week's sales online, with the headline "'NOW' Remains No. 1 As Bright Eyes Debuts High." The article (here) goes on to state that I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning has sold 394,000 copies to date. Still waiting on an official press release that will detail the European numbers...

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Cassadaga in the top-5? – April 18, 2007–

Hits Daily Double, an industry website, is reporting that Cassadaga sold 53,271 units last week to finish No. 5 in the sales charts just beneath Timbaland, Akon, Tim McGraw and Now 24, which topped the chart with 86,572. Says HDD, "One bright spot is the rise of Conor Oberst's nom de band, Bright Eyes, whose critically kudo'ed Cassadaga debuts at #5 for Omaha indie Saddle Creek, by far the best chart performance in the history of the young troubadour most often compared to Bob Dylan and Neil Young."

When I'm Wide Awake came out a couple years ago, HDD reported that the album sold 40,784 in its first week. Later that day Saddle Creek reported sales of 56,167. So I suspect that the number will be higher than HDD currently is reporting. Saddle Creek and Press Here Publicity (Bright Eyes' publicist) will likely release the official numbers later today. If I get them before lunch, I'll update the blog.

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Some early Cassadaga data; Minmae, Drakes Hotel tonight… – April 17, 2007–

Well, the sales numbers for Cassadaga -- and its chart position -- won't be available until tomorrow. What I can tell you is that the album is currently No. 5 on the iTunes download chart, down from its spot at No. 3 that it held most of last week. iTunes now has a page that reflects top downloads in other countries, here. It's kind of cool to see what people are downloading in Japan, for instance. Anyway, countries where Cassadaga ranked in the iTunes top-10 for album downloads last week:

Canada -- No. 8
Denmark -- No. 8
Germany -- No. 9
Ireland -- No. 7
Netherlands -- No. 10
Sweden -- No. 8

When you filter it for only alternative albums (here), the result is even more impressive.

Label chief Robb Nansel said sales numbers for Cassadaga at Best Buy and Target were higher than for Wide Awake, which is a good indication that the CD will land in the Billboard top-ten tomorrow. We'll see.

Tonight at The Waiting Room, it's Minmae with Drakes Hotel & Honeybee. $7, 9 p.m.

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Live Review: David Bazan/Will Johnson; Jennifer O'Connor/Little Brazil tonight... – April 15, 2007–

I've seen Pedro the Lion two or three times, and though I love all of the albums, I always thought the live show was somewhat blah. Maybe it was the redundancy of the rhythms or the static nature of the arrangements, but I was always bored, and felt the strongest feature of the performance -- Bazan's under-rated voice -- was left hidden beneath the thunderous buzz. I honestly wasn't expecting much better last night at The Saddle Creek Bar. I certainly wasn't expecting anyone to be there since there seemed to be hardly any promotion of the show -- nothing in the weeklies, nothing in the OWH (unless I overlooked it). In the end, there was around 80 people on hand last night -- a respectable crowd, though the place looked empty because most of the tables that usually fill the floor in front of the stage were gone -- I guess someone expected a much larger crowd. It's a shame because it really was more of a sit-down type performance -- you're just not going to get a bunch of people standing in front of the stage for two solo singer-songwriters.

Anyway, Will Johnson of Centro-matic and South San Gabriel was up first, alone with an electric guitar. Johnson's voice is rich and dark, but spiked with range and nuance and plenty of character, like drinking a hot cup of strong, sweet tea. Not since Eddie Vedder has there been a singer with such a unique, brassy voice, the kind that you're satisfied just hearing. It doesn't really matter what he's singing. And that was case last night -- there was so much delay and pedal effects in the mix, I couldn't understand a word Johnson sang, but it didn't really matter. His voice was merely another layer of beautiful sound melted over his solemn chord progressions. Songs like the Centro-matic classic "Flashes and Cables" were retooled as heart-broken dirges, quiet moans over an open prairie at sunset. A little of that moan, however, went a long way, and I was beginning to nod off toward the end of his set. He kicked it up at the end with a couple tunes that featured a repeated, sampled guitar riff -- I've never seen that before. He played a riff and recorded it with a foot-pedal sample device, and then played another guitar part on top of it -- essentially doubling his guitar power. Pretty cool. The set ended with Johnson bent over the foot pedal, slowly turning down the volume on the riff until it disappeared.

I only recognized one or two songs from Bazan's solo set, but then again, Achilles Heel is the last album I've heard from him. I haven't heard any of the Headphones recordings or whatever else he's been up to since 2004. That said, it was the most interesting set I've seen him perform. Bazan does a lot of things with his guitar to fill out his sound. He didn't need a band to cover up his voice, which never sounded better. As strange as it seems, his range, style and song structure reminded me a lot of Elvis Costello (but without EC's characteristic choking gasps at the end of ever phrase). You could imagine EC singing a Bazan song, just as you could image Bazan singing one of EC's ballads. Unlike Johnson's set, every clever, sardonic, cynical and true lyric was understood, and though Pedro songs have an undercurrent of depressing realism, these tunes showcased a dark humor, as if Bazan was sharing secrets about his world with an audience that already knew them. His between-song patter was dry, funny and upbeat (so was Johnson's). He often followed a song with "Does anyone have any questions at this point in the evening?" Inevitably someone shouted out something:

"What do you like best about Omaha?" Answer: Some Thai or Japanese restaurant where he dined earlier in the evening. "I'm going to have what they call 'fire in the hole' tomorrow."

"What would you do if you won $3 million?" Answer: Buy a new Kia Rio to replace his family's current model, which has over 100,000 miles on it. "I'd try not to be a dick about it."

"Do you know any good jokes?" Answer: What kind of bee gives milk? "A booby."

It was that kind of an evening. And as good as the music was, after an hour of Bazan, it did get a bit long. Bazan seemed to know this, saying that it's a constant struggle to provide audiences with enough material so they think they've gotten their money's worth, while leaving them wanting more. I think he and Johnson managed to do both last night.

Tonight at The Waiting Room, Matador Records artist Jennifer O'Connor takes the stage with Little Brazil and The Holy Ghost Revival. O'Connor's style is often compared to early Liz Phair (back before Phair sold out). I don't think O'Connor's style is nearly as confessional or naked, however, it's still among the best stuff out there in this style of singer-songwriter fare. $8, 9 p.m.

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Live Review: The Family/Eagle/Coyote; Virgasound (and Heater) tonight, Centro-Pedro tomorrow, Urban Outfitters and Slowdown... – April 13, 2007–

Compare and contrast the version of The Family Radio I saw last night at The Waiting Room with the version I saw at O'Leaver's a year ago (almost to the day) and you're talking about two completely different bands. Nik Fackler and company are now a fully realized rock band vs. the thrown-together twee ensemble from '06. The music is completely different. Instead of run-of-the-mill indie folk, he's put together a sound that is ambitious if not theatrical in its intricacy. The music goes outside the boundaries of linear song structures, bordering on baroque indie prog, with influences that range from '70s sunshine folk rock to Stravinsky to ornate chamber pop. That unbridled, unstructured approach can be rather challenging, but Fackler and Co. hold it together through sheer exuberance and a first-rate rhythm section that includes drummer Craig D. and bassist Dereck Higgins, whose own lively style adds to Fackler's devil-may-care approach. If you're looking for standard indie rock fare, you're not going to find it here. Fackler's confidence as a frontman has grown steadily without losing site of the fact that he's really doing this for fun. He's got a serious film career in front him, which allows him to walk that tightrope on stage without a net. That said, The Family Radio obviously has become more than a side project for Fackler. From what I saw and heard last night, it could become his main thing, if he wanted it to.

Just returning from a lengthy European tour, Eagle*Seagull was road-hardened last night, and maybe a bit road weary. I think I've mentioned before that they seem to be evolving into a Franz Ferdinand-style dance band. That certainly wasn't evident during the first couple songs, which bore the same piano-driven ensemble feel that can be heard on their debut. But as the night wore on, the back-beat dance grooves kicked in. There were at least three songs that could -- and should -- be career-defining club hits (and that will likely be on their new album), including a simple dance number with the line "We came to dance" that will eventually find itself onto a lot of mix tapes (if that new record is ever released). Their other highlight was the set-closer, a love-song anthem with a killer chorus that was angelic.

Finally, Coyote Bones. I told you yesterday how good their soon-to-be-released debut is, and the music translates just as well live, even without the all-star contributors that flesh out the disc. Stripped down, the music is more straight-forward, cutting through the fat to reveal the songwriting meat and bone that propels this band. They could (and probably will be) the next big thing to come out of Omaha. You heard it here first at Lazy-i. I mistakenly said that their CD release show will be held down at Sokol May 5. In fact, it'll be held at The Waiting Room May 5, with Dereck Higgins and Flowers Forever. Mark it on your calendar.

And speaking of calendars, this weekend is looking pretty solid for shows, starting tonight with Antelope, The Stay Awake and Virgasound at The Waiting Room. The real draw is that this will be the last time you'll get to see Jeff Heater behind a drum kit with Virgasound, as one of our city's best drummers will soon be moving out of Omaha for good. If you've never seen Heater before, you won't want to miss it. Get there early. $5, 9 p.m.

As the result of a booking log-jam, a show that would normally be booked at Sokol Underground or TWR is headed for The Saddle Creek Bar on Saturday night -- David Bazan of Pedro the Lion is playing with Will Johnson of Centro-matic. I'm not sure why Centro-matic has never played in Omaha before -- they're one of my favorite alt-country/indie rock bands. Johnson will be bringing a different, more introspective sound to The SCB than what Centro-matic fans are used to. Regardless, his amazing voice will still be center stage. Bazan is one of the most important indie singer-songwriters of this decade, with an intense Christian message that is never preachy (and believe me, if I thought it was preachy, this devout non-Christian would tell you). In fact, a lot of Pedro the Lion fans don't even realize that his music is non-secular in nature. This show has gotten almost no publicity, which is a crying shame. $10, 9 p.m.

Trumping Bazan and Johnson at Sokol Underground is hip-hop artist Brother Ali, who has emerged as one of the more popular MCs of the underground hip-hop movement. Performing with him is Psalm One, BK One and Trama. $10, 9 p.m. Meanwhile at The Waiting Room it's Sarah Benck and the Robbers, with Zack Hexum and Matt Whipkey. $7, 9 p.m. Last but not least, over at O'Leaver's it's Tomato a Day with Whatever Happened to the Dinosaurs; $5, 9:30 p.m.

Finally Sunday, Matador artist Jennifer O'Connor takes The Waiting Room stage with Little Brazil and The Holy Ghost Revival. $8, 9 p.m.

One last bit of news -- The Omaha World-Herald announced what most people who have been following The Slowdown project (or who read Eomaha.com's message boards) have known for weeks -- Urban Outfitters is going to be the anchor retailer at a complex that already boasts the Film Streams theaters, The Slowdown Music Hall and bar, The Blue Line coffee and booze shop/bar, and -- though it's not been confirmed -- Yia Yia's Pizza (the anonymous restaurant referenced in the OWH article). Urban Outfitters specializes in a lifestyle clothing line that epitomizes the indie music scene -- slacker chic. We're talking pre-washed, faded T-shirts and jeans, Castro hats, all kinds of hip stuff that has the appearance of having been found in a thrift shop. The popularity of their T-shirt line alone has resulted in Target and Old Navy ripping off the style, especially in the faux pre-worn T-shirt market (though they don't seem to "get it."). See for yourself at their online catalog. Saddle Creek gurus Robb Nansel and Jason Kulbel had been trying to get Urban Outfitters involved in the project for over a year, and finally succeeded over a month ago, but have kept the news (mostly) under their hats. The retailer could be the final piece in the puzzle that makes The Slowdown project complete.

I assume that the folks at Village Point and other shopping centers will be bummed, but they never had a shot at Urban Outfitters anyway. Anyone who's ever been to one of their stores knows that they only go into old-school well-established urban areas with a lot of history, like downtown Chicago, downtown Lawrence, NYC, etc. That's the reason why Nansel and Kubel had to struggle so hard to convince them to buy into Slowdown. There was no way that Urban Outfitters was ever going to open a shop at Village Pointe or any of the new "shopping villages" popping up in the suburbs. Those places will now cast their gaze toward acquiring an American Apparel storefront. American Apparel is arguably more popular these days than Urban Outfitters with the indie music crowd, thanks to their policy of selling clothing that is three or four sizes smaller than what's printed on their labels. A men's XL T-shirt, for example, is equivalent in size to a typical Youth Medium. Bright Eyes T-shirts that are being sold on tour are American Apparel garments. That said, American Apparel's market is lazer-targeted to 16-21 year olds -- they're sort of the Hot Topic of the indie crowd. Anyone over 25 would look odd wearing one of their shirts or any of their club-wear items (gold lame pants, anyone?).

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Coyote Bones, Eagle * Seagull, The Family Radio tonight... – April 12, 2007–

Coyote Bones is playing tonight at The Waiting Room with Eagle*Seagull and Nik Fackler's The Family Radio. Coyote Bones' new CD, Gentleman on the Rocks, is the first release on the Omaha-based collective Coco Art, whose roster includes Flowers Forever (featuring frontman Derek Presnall of Tilly and the Wall), and legendary bassist/singer-songwriter Dereck Higgins. Gentleman includes guest appearances by Maria Taylor, Neely Jenkins, Nick White, Andy Lemaster, Orenda Fink, Matt Baum, Dan McCarthy, Presnall and Higgins among others, with recording credits that include Joel Petersen's basement.

The all-star support team is bound to get plenty of attention. Yesterday Pitchfork -- the arbiter of all things indie -- posted a story about the record and its cast of contributors (here), which is bound to up the audience size at Coyote Bones tour stops. The bottom line: Thom Yorke, Beck and Michael Stipe can bang a tambourine on your new CD but it won't mean a pile of doo-doo unless the songs are there. And Gentleman delivers. It's hands down the best locally produced non-Creek CD that I've heard so far this year, based purely on the song writing. Check it out tonight at TWR for just $7 or wait until their CD release show at Sokol May 5.

Cassadaga update: Cassadaga has moved up to No. 4 on the iTunes charts. Hits Dailydouble reported yesterday that Cassadaga "is the week's most impressive debut, with early numbers indicating it could hit the 50-60k mark, powered by big fan-site sales and a solid iTunes number."

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Column 121 -- Conor's leftovers... – April 11, 2007–

This week's column is leftovers from last week's Bright Eyes feature, stuff that didn't quite fit in the story. Will Bright Eyes top out on the Billboard charts for the week? Very unlikely, especially if it took 125k for Modest Mouse. The fact that Cassadaga currently sits at No. 5 on the iTunes downloads chart, below albums by Timbaland, Amy Winehouse, Linkin Park and Mika, is another unfortunate sign. My prediction for first week sales is 75k, taking into consideration that Wide Awake did 56,167 in scans its first week two years ago. One would hope that two years of touring and the added muscle of Polydor would grow first-week sales by at least 33 percent. But you have to remember (as it was pointed out to me) that Wide Awake and Digital Ash did receive a lot of hype, and that Oberst was coming off a tour with Springsteen and Michael Stipe at the time. We'll see...
Column 121: Oberst Overflow
What didn't make it into last week's cover story.

Here are some leftovers from last week's Bright Eyes cover story/interview with Conor Oberst.

Oberst explained why he and producer Mike Mogis built ARC Studio -- which stands for Another Recording Company -- in Omaha instead of, well, anywhere else in the world. The complex, located on the edge of Fairarcres, includes Mogis' family residence, a house for visiting bands and the studio facility. "We chose here because it's home," Oberst said. "Our friends and families and our friends' bands are here. For a long time Mike was looking outside of Omaha, in the country, but it obviously was much more convenient to be inside the city limits. The idea behind building the studio is that this is what Mike is going to do for the rest of his life, so let's make something that can't be improved upon. The hope is that a million amazing records will be made there by all kinds of people. Mike will produce some of them, and hopefully others will as well."

Another outside venture is Oberst's record label, Team Love, which, since its launch in 2005, has grown to a 10-artist roster that includes Tilly and the Wall, Rilo Kiley's Jenny Lewis, Dave Dondero and Simon Joyner. Oberst said he's satisfied with the label's growth.

"We keep putting out records that we love and looking for new bands," he said. "Part of the reason we started it was as a reaction to how slow Saddle Creek can move sometimes, and the lack of risk-taking. There have been a lot of missed opportunities. We're a much leaner operation. It's going really well. We had a lot of success with Jenny's album, which allowed us to expand and hire more people. We're excited about this year, with new records by McCarthy Trenching, The Berg Sans Nipple, a Gruff Rhys (of Super Furry Animals) solo record, a new Dondero album and a 7-inch by Portland band A Weather. We're just keeping our eyes and ears peeled. We have a couple pseudo A&R people with Eric Dimenstein (who runs Ground Control Touring) and Sean Foley, who travels with me a lot."

Last year, Oberst toured with singer-songwriters Matt Ward and My Morning Jacket's Jim James, and their influence can be heard on Cassadaga. "I admire their song writing," Oberst said. "Jim is a very subtle song writer, lyrically anyway. His melodies carry a lot of the emotional weight, but he has a way of using very simple language that packs a pretty mighty punch. In the past, I've been guilty of over-writing a song and trying to cram too much into it. A sort of 'less-is-more' approach is what I've learned from him. From Matt, and more recently from Gillian (Welch), I've learned a great respect for the craft of song writing and the evolution from folk and blues to this modern version of what we all do. That's something that I was just completely ignorant of when I started playing music. I started retracing the steps, back to where those basic concepts of music came from. Folk means functional. Folk art is what people make in spite of economic resources. It's a functional form; and that's what attracted me to it. You don't need to go to Julliard to write a good folk song."

And now, the real burning question: What's the status of Desaparecidos, Oberst's five-man punk band that released the explosive Read Music/Speak Spanish in 2002? There had been talk of a new recording and possible tour back in '05.

"There are no immediate plans for the band," Oberst said. "It's just one of those things where it was timing, and where I and everyone was in our lives. It was a great moment in time. I have very fond memories of it. I think at this point we have to wait and see if it comes together again in a natural way. If we tried to force it, it would take the fun out of it. The one record we made was pretty inspired and good for what it was. The window's already closed for what other people were encouraging us to do. Everyone was surprised with the success of the record, and told us that we have to make another one and capitalize on it. I didn't want to do it, and maybe that disappointed my band mates."

Still, Oberst said he likes collaborating with other musicians outside of Bright Eyes. "One thing we talked about, which I hope some time will become a reality, is a studio record with Matt (Ward) and Jim (James)," he said. "But once again, it's not something I would ever want to force. If it works out, that would be a dream come true, but I'm not going to put any demands or feel negative toward anything if it doesn't come naturally."

Finally, there's Slowdown, the entertainment complex being built a block west of the Qwest Center in downtown Omaha. Will Oberst be involved in its grand opening? "I'd love to be around for it, but at this point it depends on where the schedule works out," he said. "We have obligations all summer for festivals in Europe, but maybe a window will open the last week of July where I could try to do it. I'd obviously love to be there. I think it's a great thing for Omaha. I've been watching it all not happen for so long, and then finally it happened. I'm excited to see it become a reality."

Cassadaga went on sale Tuesday. Will it reach No. 1 on the Billboard charts? It's not impossible, considering that Modest Mouse topped the charts last week selling only around 125,000 copies. We'll know next week.


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Happy Cassadaga Day, Simon Joyner on Team Love, Man Man tonight... – April 10, 2007–

That enormous thud that you heard reverberating around the world is Cassadaga dropping today. I heard Oberst on NPR's Morning Edition this morning, talking about how much he loved that Florida town, how magical it is. Meanwhile, The OWH ran another story about the artwork, again featuring supertalented artist Zack Nipper (read it here). I wonder if Creek has come up with a stock answer when people e-mail saying that they've lost their "decoder thingee" and want a new one. Will they be selling extra decoders in the online store?

I noticed writing my column before work this morning (it's online tomorrow) that Simon Joyner has joined Team Love Records, at least as far as his digital assets are concerned. You can now download early Joyner records from iTunes, including Room Temperature, The Lousy Dance and Songs for the New Year, thanks to Team Love. Missing, my all-time favorite Joyner album, The Cowardly Traveller Pays His Toll. Why?! Anyway, read about the Simon/Team Love connection here.

Tonight at The Waiting Room, it's the fun-loving dirges of Man, Man with Icy Demons and Omaha's own Black Squirrels. $10, 9 p.m..

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An uneventful non-Irish weekend; early reviews on Cassadaga-eve… – April 9, 2007–

This weather is killing me. Look, we've come to expect warm temperatures in April. After all, didn't Prince sing "Sometimes it Snows in April," to point out the rarity of the meteorological event? It's too frickin' cold, people, and it doesn't look like it's going to get any better.

With that in mind, I did go out and see one band this Easter weekend. Every year after St. Patrick's Day I complain about the band that plays down at The Dubliner, swearing that I'll never sit through their country-fied God-Bless-America set again. When I tell people this, they always respond with: "You really should check out The Elders. They're an Irish band out of Kansas City and they're INCREDIBLE." Well, last Friday The Elders played at The Dubliner, and I figured, why not? It'll be something different from the usual indie/punk rock stuff that I get on weekends.

So we made our way down to The Dubliner at 9 p.m., paid $10 each and squeezed ourselves into the packed stage room. The Elders apparently have garnered a strong rep for themselves among middle-aged women and country music fans. The reason would be obvious after the first song.

While the six-piece outfit does sport a fiddle player as well as a middle-aged frontman with an Irish brogue, that's about it for tradition. The rest of the band consists of an electric guitar, bass, keyboards and set of rock drums. The result: the kind of Irish music you might expect to hear at a Michael Flatley clogging show on the Vegas strip, or Irish by way of Mannheim Steamroller. The Elders play a variant that resembles Irish-country more than traditional Irish music. You can thank a backbeat rhythm section that made every song sound like a bland, modern-day FM country rock tune. That said, they're uber-talented, and the crowd ate it up. It was weird seeing a guy in his late 40s sing along to every one of their originals while about 30 middle-aged women shouldered themselves in front of the stage Engelbert Humperdinck style. A major label would be wise to sign these guys post-haste and get them on the road with The Dixie Chicks. They could be huge.

We, however, didn't make it past the sixth song. So far, the best Irish music I've heard in Omaha has been performed by The Turfmen, who, incidentally, are scheduled to play at The Dubliner this weekend.

Moving on…

The early reviews of Cassadaga are floating onto the Interweb, and the comments are quite a mixed bag.

The king of music critics and my personal writing mentor, Robert Christgau, wrote the Rolling Stone review that just went online here. "Oberst's prog and jam-band tendencies are both subsumed by a sensibility that's Americana in a winning, all-embracing sense. Americanapolitan, let's call it," says Christgau in his 4-out-of-5 star review, where calls "Classic Cars" "as fine a reflection on the love of an older woman as Rod Stewart's 'Maggie May'…" and concludes with "In Cassadaga, Oberst hoped to commune with the dead. On Cassadaga, he shows he can still tell us something by communing with himself." Nice.

Not so nice was the Pitchfork review (right here). "'Four Winds,' with its squealing guitars and fiddles, sounds like a honky-tonk version of 'Santa Claus Is Coming to Town,' and the otherwise affecting 'If the Brakeman Turns My Way' is held back by its overwrought roots-rock chorus," says writer Brian Howe, who concludes with "If he would address the political through this personal lens, exploring his own complicity in the military-industrial complex he currently lambastes from a false outside perspective, he might arrive at commentary that's more about insight and confrontation than moral flattery." Which is a fancy way of saying he didn't like it, giving it a 6.0 out of 10.

Newsday's Glenn Gamboa might have the most insightful comments thus far (right here). "…the focus on Oberst's lyrics is so overwhelming that the musical arrangements bend to accommodate them," he says in the review. "His phrasing and vocal approach is basically the same from start to finish, covering the same short path over and over again, like he's pacing instead of creating something new." He concludes his "B-" review with "In short bursts, Cassadaga can be moving, even brilliant at times. But, taken as a whole, it is repetitive, grating and paints Bright Eyes as more of a one-trick pony than he really is."

There are a couple other notables.

In a rather wandering review (here), All Music gave Cassadaga 4 stars, calling it "the band's fullest and most developed record to date."

While the most gushing comments (so far) come from The Independent out of the UK (here). "With Cassadaga, the prodigiously talented Conor Oberst confirms what many have thought for several years now, that he is the most gifted and intelligent lyricist under 30 working in America - and possibly anywhere - today," says writer Andy Gill. His verdict: 5 stars.

There are about a dozen reviews online, and the consensus is 3.5 to 4 stars, about what Wide Awake rated when it came out. I think you'll continue to see higher ratings in the more commercially targeted press vs. the indie critics who look at Bright Eyes with a slightly suspicious eye, and who have been listening to Oberst and Co. since the old days. They've heard these songs before -- only a less tuneful, more confessional version, a version that probably marked a distant time in their lives that they remember with fondness. I've never been one of those critics. I struggled through Oberst's early self-referential recordings and prefer the new stuff from Wide Awake on.

Anyway… Cassadaga drops tomorrow. What will it bring in its first week of sales is anyone's guess…

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31 Knots, Whipkey tonight, Maria Taylor/McCarthy Trenching tomorrow… – April 6, 2007–

Those looking for the Bright Eyes article, it's here. For everyone else (around Omaha, anyway)...

Looks like a decent weekend of shows. Too bad the weather is so shitty and cold. Tonight at O'Leaver's it's the noisy, quirky rock of Polyvinyl artist 31 Knots with Kill Rock Stars' act Two Ton Boa and Omaha's own Kite Pilot. Should be a nice night of big-beat post-punk. $5, 9:30 p.m. Meanwhile, over at The Waiting Room, it's Matt Whipkey and Anonymous American's first time on TWR's stage, with Vinnie Bronx and 10 O'Clock Scholars. $7, 9 p.m.

Saturday night is dominated by Maria Taylor down at Sokol Underground with McCarthy Trenching, Eerie Choir, & Apollo Sunshine, all for $8. Warning: Scenester Alert! Meanwhile, over at The Saddle Creek Bar it's Kyle Harvey with Reagan Roeder's new band Reagan and the Rayguns, The Doochies and Chalee. $5, 9 p.m. and over at The Waiting Room it's Scott Severin with Soul Plexus and Thunder Power featuring Lazy-i intern Brendan Greene-Walsh. $7, 9 p.m.

Happy spring-centric holidays to everyone.

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Bright Eyes goes to Cassadaga; Monotonix, Rent $ Big, Lepers tonight… – April 5, 2007–

Just posted, a profile/interview with Bright Eyes' Conor Oberst. In this nearly 5,000-word story (yeah, it's really that long) Conor talks about the place Cassadaga, the record Cassadaga, the meaning behind a handful of its songs and how they tie to his life (from panic attacks to colon cleansing), politics (including the politics of talk shows), Mike Mogis and Nate Walcott and orchestras, Rolling Stone and (possible) gold records, and being comfortable right here in Omaha. Read it here.

As amazingly long and drawn-out as this story is, there's still thousands of words that didn't make the cut, which I'll be compiling as an addendum (or a Pt. 2) for next week's column (look for it here next Wednesday). Thanks go out to Robb Nansel and Jason Kulbel at Saddle Creek Records for helping arrange the interview, and of course to Oberst for doing it. In all honesty, I didn't think I'd get a shot at talking to him this time, especially after his publicist declined the initial interview request, saying that Conor was only taking international press this time. There are advantages, it seems, to being from Omaha as well as having written about him for a decade. In all honesty, he ain't that much different from the 18-year-old college guy I talked to back in '98. The stage is bigger, his sound is bigger, his life is bigger, but he's basically the same.

Tonight at The Waiting Room, coming straight to you from a garage in Tel Aviv, it's Monotonix with Lincoln's Rent Money Big and Omaha's The Lepers. Monotonix is a trio of Israeli dirt-heads who grew up with Sabbath and Deep Purple and who have a reputation for doing the unexpected on and off stage. It should make for some colorful hi-jinx. $7, 9 p.m.

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Elvis goes sailing tonight… – April 4, 2007–

With a name like Elvis Perkins, I figured this guy for a twangy rock-a-billy dude when in fact he's more of a Neil Young/Dylan folk rocker complete with acoustic guitar, harmonica, subtle organ, and spare back-beat drums. Further research reveals that he's from New York and that his CDs come out on UK label XL Recordings. He plays tonight at The Waiting Room with Let's Go Sailing, a band that crows that it's had two songs played on the March 22 episode of Grey's Anatomy, including one during the end sequence! That's sales gold, just ask The Frey. Their music is breathy female vocals (a la Azure Ray) sung over kicky, laid-back, cello-powered indie rock, perfect for that very special episode of, well, Grey's Anatomy, a show that I've never seen before because I have this aversion toward any cop/lawyer/doctor dramedy inhabited by fashion models who wind up sleeping with each other by the end of the first season. $8, 9 p.m. That's it for today. No column this week, as all that space was eaten up by the Bright Eyes feature, which goes online here tomorrow.

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Creek (graphic) artists get noticed; the intern goes to Good Life; Neko Case tonight… – April 3, 2007–

You spent the weekend going to hot shows and drinking lots of booze and enjoying hip indie rock bands. I spent the weekend writing a cover story for The Reader about Bright Eyes, which will go online Thursday (but the out-takes could go online tomorrow). Cassadaga will be huge, whether Conor thinks so or not.

And speaking of Bright Eyes, here's the first article that I've seen that references Bright Eyes as a "Polydor Records band," which seemed somewhat strange. The story's about the CD's cover art, which is super-cool. It's a stereogram design, which means Zac Nipper's illustrations are only viewable with a cool decoder device that comes with the disc -- yet another reason to buy the hard copy rather than download it from iTunes. Thankfully, they didn't use the same technology for the lyrics book. I smell Grammy... for the design.

Zac isn't the only graphic artist at Saddle Creek feeling the love. Wired online just published a Q&A with Creek designer Jadon Ulrich about album art and digital vinyl (the story's here). So just how important is album artwork when it comes time to make a buying decision, Jadon? "Ten years ago, I might have bought a record I never heard of based on the look of the cover and packaging, I don't think I'd ever do that now." Jadon obviously never saw the cover of Cactus Nerve Thang's debut.

Intern Brendan Greene-Walsh went to The Good Life show at The Waiting Room last night. His comments about opener Berg Sans Nipple: "They played an interesting set revolving around samples, keys and drums. The beat was strong throughout and offered some needed continuity to it all. The highlight of their set was a toss-up between the steel drum and mbira. Very reminiscent of Kid A/Ok Computer-era Radiohead. My only qualm was with not being able to differentiate between songs and the lack of any real vocals. None-the-less, I can see why Team Love picked this duo up." The only thing Brendan said in his write-up about The Good Life set was that they played some new songs -- but he forgot to tell us if they were any good. I was planning on going to this show, but fell asleep during the second half of the Florida/Ohio St. game (I finished second in the office pool, btw).

Tonight, one of the most talked-about shows so far this year -- Neko Case at Lincoln's Rococo Theater with Jon Rauhouse. Surprisingly, tickets are still available for $18. Show starts at 8 p.m.

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Saturday show update… – March 31, 2007–

A couple quick updates. First, I'm told that Bad Luck Charm is not playing at The 49'r tonight, as I said yesterday. Guess that was a calendar snafu.

Second, a last-minute show has been announced tonight at Mick's featuring Lawrence singer-songwriter Arthur Dodge, Midwest Dilemma and multi-band songstress Adrianne Verhoeven. $5, 9 p.m.

Third: I completely forgot about one of the most interesting shows of the weekend: Lightning Bolt, Shinyville, Vverevvolf Grehv and Fathr^ (featuring The Faint's Todd Fink) at The Magic Theater, 16th & Harney. $5, 8 p.m.

Finally, Steve Bartolomei of Mal Madrigal has been added to Monday's show at The Waiting Room featuring The Good Life and Team Love recording act Berg Sans Nipple. Playing alongside Steve will be Mike Saklar and Ben Brodin $8, 9 p.m.

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Explosions in the Sky tonight, Tilly tomorrow, Shanks Sunday, The Good Life Monday… – March 30, 2007–

Here are my picks for the weekend... and beyond.

Tonight it's Explosions in the Sky with The Paper Chase and Eluvium at Sokol Underground. I've listened to the new Explosions CD a few times and it's pretty hot, downright epic, and The Paper Chase always puts on a good show. Unfortunately, if you don't have tix by now, you're SOL because it's sold out and has been for quite a while. You're other option for this evening: Lincoln's Forty Twenty at The Waiting Room with The Nedrecks & Lonesome Lloyd And The Hard Acres. $7, 9 p.m.

Tomorrow night it's Tilly and the Wall down at Sokol Auditorium with Page Francis and Headlights. Tickets are $13 and proceeds go to support ALS in the Heartland. Champaign Illinois' Headlights is on Polyvinyl and is a solid indie rock act with a jonze for My Bloody Valentine. Terrific melodies, great band. Get there early if you want to catch them -- the show starts at 8. Also Saturday night, Bad Luck Charm is at The 49'r, punk band Planes Mistaken for Stars at The Waiting Room with Cancer Bats and Sin.

Sunday night it's Brimstone Howl with The Shanks and Son of Yeah at O'Leaver's. $5, 9:30.

And finally, Monday. I got a phone message from drummer Roger Lewis earlier this week asking if I could pimp his Good Life show at The Waiting Room Monday night, opening for the new Team Love band Berg Sans Nipple. I don't think The Good Life needs my help to pack a room. To my knowledge, this will be the first time Tim Kasher and his crew will have performed on the massive TWR stage. I expect this to sell out. $8, 9 p.m.

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Mew vs. The Reverend vs. Sondre/Willy; CD Review: Maria Taylor; Column 120 reprise… – March 29, 2007–

Just about everybody I know is headed down to Lincoln this evening for Mew w/Oh No! Oh My! at Knickerbockers. That said, the show is still not sold out (according to the 1 Percent website). There's no way I could drive to Lincoln tonight for a show that will wrap up at around midnight, drive home and get up at 6 tomorrow. Those days are long gone, folks. Instead, if I go out to a show tonight it'll be the one at The Waiting Room featuring Norwegian songster Sondre Lerche with former Team Love recording artist Willy Mason and Thomas Dybahl. I haven't seen Mason since he played here back in November 2004. His star has continued to rise... in Europe, but not so much in this country. Was the leap from Team Love to Astralwerks a smooth move? Time will tell. That show is $12. Also tonight, The Reverend Horton Heat is playing at Sokol Underground with Murder By Death and The Tossers. $17.

Here's a review of the new Maria Taylor disc, which also appears in this week's issue of The Reader:

Maria Taylor, Lynn Teeter Flower (Saddle Creek) -- The former half of Azure Ray, Taylor is becoming recognized as the more reserved of the pair, the more musically pure, the more emotionally naked. And while the debut (11:11) was a strong beginning, this one takes her closer to where she's headed, but doesn't quite get there, probably because she still can't quite let go of her sepia-toned past. She certainly tries. Opener "A Good Start" would be a hit in any other era; the back-beat rocker that recalls Buckingham/Nicks would fit right in between other AOR staples if it didn't sound so good. "Clean Getaway," an acoustic weeper about escape, isolation and regret, epitomizes the Azure Ray sound sans the harmonies. When there are harmonies, it's Maria on Maria, the edges so close together that you lose sight of the overlap that makes them necessary in the first place. Stylistically, there are similarities to Aimee Mann (and producer Jon Brion), Suzanne Vega, and McLachlan. It's Taylor's melodies that set it apart, along with the experiments, some successful (the rural-flavored "The Ballad of Sean Foley," co-written by Conor Oberst and Dan McCarthy), some failed ("Irish Goodbye," with it's Team Rigge rap). Rating: Yes

Who is Team Rigge these days? Weren't they supposed to be putting out a record on Team Love? I know that a couple of tracks were once available from the TL site, but they mysteriously disappeared...

This week's column compiles comments from last week's Lazy-i blog entries about Cursive, The NYT and Little Brazil and Monroes show reviews, so if you're a regular reader, you've already seen this. I include it here for posterity's sake.

Column 120: Happy Hollow Offramp
Cursive, NYT, Li'l Brazil, Monroes…

This week, a hodgepodge starting with some Cursive news. I got an e-mail from a reader named Adrian who asked about Clint Schnase's status with Cursive. "I saw them on Saturday at their SXSW showcase and they were playing with a different drummer," she wrote, "and today I look on Wikipedia and apparently he's a former member now."

Wikipedia, as we all know, is notoriously inaccurate when it comes to things like this, just ask Sinbad. So I checked cursivearmy.com and, of course, saddle-creek.com. Both listed Schnase as being in the band. Still, I went ahead and asked Saddle Creek Records executive Jason Kulbel. His response: "No, he has definitely left the band," he wrote, adding that there was no drama, that Schnase merely decided that touring wasn't really all it was cracked up to be. "The band has had a few different drummers for the shows in the past few months. No permanent replacement yet, if ever."

Schnase is one of the most under-rated and underappreciated musicians in the Nebraska music scene. His drumming is at the core of Cursive's explosively rhythmic music, the bedrock along with Matt Maginn's bass on which all of the band's bombastic sonic freak-outs are built. He won't be easily replaced, and those of you who never had a chance to see and feel his white-knuckled stickwork live on stage are the lesser for it.

* * *

Once again, The New York Times has published a feature about the burgeoning Omaha arts and music scene. "Omaha's Culture Club," written by author and Omaha native Kurt Andersen for the Travel section of the Times' Sunday Magazine, includes descriptions of The Old Market, Bemis, and of course, Saddle Creek Records. There's even a photo of Robb Nansel looking like he just rolled out of bed the morning after passing out in his clothes.

"We're just sort of doing things the way we want to do them," Nansel said in the article. "I like to believe in the concept of putting out a record because it's good, not to sell records." Andersen also quotes Orenda Fink, Sarah Wilson, and documentary filmmaker Rob Walters about Creek, and sums it all up with: "In short, Omaha's cultural moment is all about the application of the great Midwestern bourgeois virtues - thrift, square dealing, humility, hard work - to bohemian artistic projects. On this, everyone agrees." Well, not everyone. Beyond hard work, there are these little things called talent and creativity that also play a factor. Still, it's a well-written piece and good publicity for the city, even though it continues to galvanize the idea that Omaha's music scene is defined solely by Saddle Creek and its bands. Guess that's the way it's always going to be.

* * *

Finally, some thoughts on last weekend's best live shows. Friday night was Little Brazil's CD release party -- complete with balloons -- at Sokol Underground. Frontman Landon Hedges proved he's a crooner, an Omaha-style indie singer cut from the same cloth as Tim Kasher (a la The Good Life, not Cursive). Every time I see him with his just-woke-up hair and cheap wire-frame glasses I think of Corey Haim as Lucas or a bespectacled Bobby Brady, age 13. His voice matches his appearance -- an unpretentious caterwaul that has no problem reaching for the high notes at the peak of a heart-wailing phrase. Little Brazil's music isn't exactly a bold, new direction in the world of indie rock. You got your cool guitar riffs, your lean bass lines, your thunderous drums (Oliver Morgan is always at his best every time I see him on stage -- he has no second gear), all coming together to form a verse-verse-verse song (whatever happened to the chorus?) that builds to a predictable -- if satisfying -- "big ending." But it's Hedges' Bobby-at-13 voice, in all its simple honesty, that makes the band stand out.

Saturday night was spent at O'Leaver's experiencing The Monroes, a band that doesn't get better or worse -- they just keep doing what they've been doing for what seems like forever, reaching back to Pioneer Disaster and Frontier Trust a decade ago. At the core is ageless wonder Gary Dean Davis who has lost none of the high-jumping panache that he had when he was bouncing around The Cog Factory and Howard St. Tavern stages back in the '90s. If you've seen them before, then you've seen them, and there's a certain satisfaction to their consistency, as well as when they deviate from the norm. The deviation comes in the form of Lincoln Dickison, whose guitarwork is as unpredictable as it is bone-jarring. There's an almost athletic quality to Lincoln's playing that -- to me -- raises The Monroes slightly above Gary Dean's former projects. Frontier Trust was always fun-loving tractor punk. The Monroes, on the other hand, rumble through their set in darker shades of John Deere green, a metallic green at that.

<Got comments? Post 'em here.>

Bright Eyes and the Polydor deal explained (sort of); Spring Gun, Dereck Higgins tonight… – March 28, 2007–

A new article in Billboard -- published online yesterday -- asks the question, "Has Bright Eyes sold out?" Oberst, of course, tells the writer to draw his own conclusions. And I've certainly drawn mine.

In an article titled "Bright Eyes Frontman Taking Care of Business," (right here) Bill Werde writes a brief history of the band and the new album, all focused on the business discussion that anchors the piece. At the core, there may be more to that Polydor deal than it appeared on first blush when it was first announced in January. According to Werde, Oberst began sniffing around for a label in Europe after some unsuccessful tours over there.

"We were going on these tours, and we weren't coming home with any money," Oberst said in the article. "It was just this really frustrating cycle. The first times you go to Europe, it's exciting -- you don't really even care if you get paid. But then ... it's hard to go be freezing in Germany in the winter, playing mediocre shows to people that haven't heard of your band."

The two-album deal, reportedly signed in August, was born out of contract negotiations that pitted Polydor against XL, with Polydor coming out on top. Billboard said Oberst recorded Cassadaga with his own cash (but then goes on to say that Polydor money fueled the orchestra heard on the record), and that Oberst didn't sign the album to Saddle Creek, but rather, licensed it. "It's a not-so-subtle distinction with business and personal implication. For one, the label no longer shares in sync licensing opportunities," Billboard says, adding that the deal has apparently resulted in hurt feelings. "He probably did feel hurt, ya know? And it wasn't the easiest thing to bring up obviously," Oberst said in the article, referring to Saddle Creek label chief Robb Nansel. "But the situations with Saddle Creek changed ... all decisions were done by committee . . . it just wasn't practical. That was kind of the impetus to start Team Love. I felt we were missing opportunities."

The above statement appears to be mixing apples and oranges. Oberst has said in the past that he began Team Love because Creek was too slow out of the gate signing acts that Oberst thought should be signed, including Matt Ward and Tilly and the Wall. I'm not sure what that has to do with Bright Eyes signing to Polydor. To my knowledge, Creek never signs multi-record deals with artists, so all the bands on the label always have a chance to fly the coop whenever they wish.

So what does it all mean? I'm not sure. Cassadaga will still be released on Saddle Creek in the U.S. and by Polydor outside of the US -- old news. Saddle Creek UK appears to have had trouble working with Bright Eyes -- more old news. Creek will not share in sync licensing opportunities for Cassadaga. That appears to be new news, but I'm not smart enough to understand exactly what it means. Did Oberst sell out? Sounds like he'll be making more cash in Europe, but that hardly means he's "sold out." It doesn't sound from this article that he's had to compromise his artistic vision in any way to sign with Polydor... How will it all impact Saddle Creek financially? That's yet to be seen.

* * *

Two good shows tonight: At The Waiting Room, it's Jagjaguwar artist The Besnard Lakes with Brooklyn's Dirty on Purpose and Lincoln's Spring Gun. $6, 9 p.m. Meanwhile, just down the street at PS Collective, it's A Tomato a Day with Dereck Higgins and John Watt Band. That one starts at 8:30 and is $5.

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Omaha in the NYT, again… – March 26, 2007–

Once again, The New York Times has published a feature about the burgeoning Omaha arts and music scene. "Omaha's Culture Club," written by author and Omaha native Kurt Andersen for the Travel section of the Time's Sunday Magazine includes descriptions of The Old Market, Bemis, and of course, Saddle Creek Records. There's even a photo of Robb Nansel looking like he just rolled out of the rack the morning after passing out in his clothes.

You can read the article here, though the link may not work. It works for me, for some reason. An excerpt from the article:

"'We're just sort of doing things the way we want to do them,' Nansel said. Because Omaha is a cheap place to live - a 1,300-square-foot loft in the Old Market rents for $575 a month - he and his musicians are spared the financial anxiety of places like New York and L.A. 'I like to believe in the concept of putting out a record because it's good,' he said, 'not to sell records.' Saddle Creek releases six albums a year and has repeatedly turned down offers to be acquired by a big label."

Andersen goes on to quote Orenda Fink, Sarah Wilson, and documentary filmmaker Rob Walters about Saddle Creek. Andersen sums it all up this way: "In short, Omaha's cultural moment is all about the application of the great Midwestern bourgeois virtues - thrift, square dealing, humility, hard work - to bohemian artistic projects. On this, everyone agrees." Well, not everyone... Beyond hard work, there is this little thing called talent and creativity that may also play a factor...

The article then goes on to talk about Slowdown and Film Streams and the Omaha Lit Fest, before Andersen identifies his "local essentials," including NODO (even though Slowdown isn't open yet), The Brothers and The 49'r (nice!), and Homer's (which he calls "HQ for Saddle Creek musicians and vintage vinyl." Vintage vinyl?).

Ah well, it's still a pretty good piece and good publicity for the town, even though it continues to galvanize the idea that Omaha's music scene is defined solely by Saddle Creek and its bands. Guess that's the way it's always going to be.

<Got comments? Post 'em here.>

Live Review: Robot, Creep Closer, The Monroes… – March 25, 2007–

Over the years, O'Leaver's sound system has been spotty at best. Let's face it, there's not much to it, really, a couple speakers hanging from the ceiling, a couple monitors that may or may not work. And on any given night, it can be good, bad, crappy, adequate, lacking, etc. The fact is, they don't need much in there to make it work. And for whatever reason -- maybe it was the sound guy, maybe they tweaked something that I don't know about, maybe it was the bands -- the stars aligned and it sounded pretty damn great last night.

Regardless of the sound system, Robot, Creep Closer sounded about a 100 times better last night then when I saw them a month ago at The Saddle Creek Bar. The Lincoln-based 5-piece plays crisp, chunky grunge-flavored punk inspired by Nirvana and The Pixies with a heavy dose of power chords. The lead singer was clearly more confident than at their SCB show. In fact, everyone was. I just wish they played their songs faster -- they seem to chug along in one plodding speed, pushed along by a drummer that could use an extra helping of Wheaties. This type of music deserves some serious pounding. All night I imagined their tunes sped up, and liked with I thought. The songs also seemed to go on too long. Hey, I like a long song as much as the next guy, as long as something interesting is going on. RCC songs jump right out of the gate, but just when you think you've had enough here comes another repeated verse or melody. Still, they were pretty durn good.

The Monroes don't get better or worse -- they just keep doing what they've been doing for what seems like forever, reaching back to Pioneer Disaster and Frontier Trust a decade ago. At the core is ageless wonder Gary Dean Davis who has lost none of the high-jumping panache that he had when he was bouncing around The Cog Factory and Howard St. Tavern stages back in the '90s. If you've seen them before, then you've seen them, and there's a certain satisfaction to their consistency, and in where they deviate from the norm. The deviation comes in the form of Lincoln Dickison, whose guitarwork is as unpredictable as it is bone-jarring. There's an almost athletic quality to Lincoln's playing that -- to me -- raises The Monroes slightly above Gary Dean's former projects. Frontier Trust was always fun-loving tractor punk. The Monroes, on the other hand, rumble through their set in darker shades of John Deere green, a metallic green at that.

And man, was it loud. O'Leaver's will never have a sound system that matches The Waiting Room or Slowdown, but it has exactly what it needs for its size and stature and place in the Omaha music scene. It's the hole-in-the-wall with the low-down vibe where good bands who don't need nothing fancy are always welcome. In other words, it's exactly what we need.

<Got comments? Post 'em here.>

Live Review: Little Brazil, The Photo Atlas; Monroes tonight … – March 24, 2007–

The thing I noticed about Little Brazil that I just barely touched upon in this most recent article about the band: Landon can sing. Of course he can sing, but he actually does sing when he's on stage. Notes. Words. Everything. Unlike Alan Andrews, the guy who fronts The Photo Atlas, who opened for Little Brazil last night at Sokol Underground in front of 250 or so people. Andrews did that ol' atonal yell/sing/staccato/shrill/screech vocal thing that we last heard on the first Rapture album (back before the Rapture became a "dance band"). Andrews' voice was a young voice, younger than Landon's even though Landon is probably older than him. It's an emo voice (neu emo vs. real emo) and it's probably exactly what the kids want to hear over this punky, percussive music where the angular riffs are repeated atop a quick, straight-up 4/4.

Landon, on the other hand, is a pure crooner, an Omaha-style indie singer cut from the same bolt of cloth as Tim Kasher (a la The Good Life, not Cursive). Every time I see him with his just-woke-up hair and cheap wireframe glasses I think of Corey Haim as Lucas or a bespeckled Bobby Brady, age 13. His voice kinda/sorta matches his appearance -- an unpretentious caterwaul that has no problem reaching for the high notes at the peak of a heart-wailing phrase. Little Brazil's music isn't exactly a bold, new direction in the world of indie rock. You got your cool guitar riffs, your lean bass lines, your thunderous drums (Oliver Morgan is always at his best every time I see him on stage -- he has no second gear), coming together to form a verse-verse-verse song (why are there never any choruses these days?) that typically builds to a predictable -- if satisfying -- "big ending." The differentiator -- Landon's Bobby-at-13 voice, that is both honest and simple and, well, good enough to cut through the din. It's kind if quirky, but perfectly on pitch. And it follows a melody that rises and falls -- unlike Andrews' atonal, one-note, auctioneer bleatings that are more about rhythm then melody.

Landon held back on a couple songs, and I'm not entirely sure why. On "Southern Florida" off You and Me he clearly was trying to get the crowd to sing, waving for them to bring it on, and many of those huddled around the stage did. It wasn't exactly a soccer chant, but it was still pretty impressive. A couple other times, though, he seemed to be singing off the side of the microphone, and throughout the evening he complained that his glasses were fogging up in the Sokol heat and humidity. Two or three times he said "I can't see." Once he said "I can't breath." I was ready to call a doctor. For the most part, though, he sounded pretty good, while the rest of the band sounded road-hardened and ready for another six weeks on the road.

By the end of their one-song encore, all of the Photo Atlas guys were on stage with their shirts off, as one by one, friends and fans joined the band on stage, jumping around and popping balloons (yes, there were balloons, released halfway through the first song). It was a fitting victory lap after a long tour. Now it's off to Denver to return the Photo Atlas' favor by opening for their CD release show. And then…?

Tonight at O'Leaver's it's The Monroes with Lincoln's Robot Creep Closer and Denver's Flobots; Bad Luck Charm and Jaeger Fight at The Niner and Such Sweet Thunder and Bad Canadians at The Waiting Room. Stay dry.

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Little Brazil tonight; The Monroes tomorrow… – March 23, 2007–

Here's what we got for the weekend:

Tonight at Sokol Underground, the glorious return of Little Brazil as they celebrate the release of their new CD, Tighten the Noose, along with Cap Gun Coup, The Photo Atlas and Dance Me Pregnant. Considering the press, you'd think this show would be MASSIVE, with stories about LB in The City Weekly, The OWH and right here in Lazy-i and The Reader. It's the holy triumvirate of local media! Will it sell out? Find out. $7, 9 p.m.

Also tonight, the always entertaining Now Archimedes! (featuring Bob Thornton, rock god/punk god.) is playing at O'Leaver's with Blackhorse. $5, 9:30 p.m.

Tomorrow night's hallmark show: The Monroes at O'Leaver's with Robot Creep Closer and Denver's Flobots. Tractor punk hi-jinx. $5, 9 p.m.

Meanwhile, over at the 49'r it's legendary punkers Bad Luck Charm with Jaeger Fight (featuring The Reader's managing editor, Andy Norman). $3?, 9:30 p.m.

While over at The Waiting Room it's Such Sweet Thunder (who also are doing an acoustic set at Duffy's Sunday night) with Bad Canadians (yet another musical odyssey by the mega-talented Matt Rutledge). $7, 9 p.m.

Have a good weekend.

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Cursive news, Live Review: Satchel Grande, Column 119 -- better, simpler times; McCarthy-Drootin-Hoover tonight… – March 22, 2007–

Before we get onto what happened last night and this week's column a bit of news (perhaps old news, but news to me, anyway): I got an e-mail from a reader named Adrian who asked about Clint Schnase's status with Cursive. "I saw them on Saturday at their SXSW showcase and they were playing with a different drummer," she wrote, "and today I look on Wikipedia and apparently he's a former member now." Wikipedia, as we all know, is notoriously inaccurate when it comes to things like this, just ask Sinbad. I checked cursivearmy.com and, of course, saddle-creek.com. Both listed Clint as being in the band. Still, I went ahead and asked Saddle Creek Records executive Jason Kulbel. His response: "No, he has definitely left the band," he wrote, adding that there was no drama, that Clint merely decided that touring wasn't really all it was cracked up to be. "The band has had a few different drummers for the shows in the past few months. No permanent replacement yet, if ever." Schnase is probably the most under-rated and underappreciated musicians in the Omaha music scene. His drumming is at the core of Cursive's explosively rhythmic music, the bedrock along with Matt Maginn's bass on which all of Cursive's bombastic sonic freak-outs are built. He won't be easily replaced, and those of you who never had a chance to see and feel his white-knuckled stickwork live on stage are the lesser for it.

Sadly, moving on...

Satchel Grande is nine white guys in Blue Blockers, short-sleeved office shirts and ties who have an uncanny jonze for impassioned, Caucasian funk. Think of them as Omaha's modern-day version of KC and the Sunshine band but without the spangles and most of the brass. Last night they turned The Saddle Creek Bar into a '70s dance palace (sans dancers) cranking out one infectious party jam after another in all their wood-paneled glory. The nine pieces include of two keyboards, two guitars, bass, trumpets, sax, drums, bongos (front and center) and a bucket of hand-held percussion equipment. It's the keyboards that drive their sound, providing just the right syncopated rhythms that you remember from every '70s-era cop show, while the nasty guitars play that scratch wah-wah that proceeded every porn movie money shot. Everyone in the rather dead full-house crowd was feeling it, though only a few showed it last night, and I wasn't feeling it either when they started their set with four covers, including FM cuts by Boz Scaggs, Greg Kihn and Joe Jackson that simply didn't belong. There's nothing funky about '80s radio fodder like Kihn's "Jeopardy" and Jackson's "Stepping Out." The band should, instead, just play their originals -- a collection of white-boy funk bordering on disco capped off with plenty of group singing. The perfect house band? Someone should snag them.

Finally, this week's column is a sentimental look at the music of 1957

Column 119: The Hits of 1957
Simpler times, better times.

When it comes to pop music, it was all about love in 1957. There was no "why me?" mourning and personal despair, no self-reflective self-important aggrandizements. No gnashing of teeth and clenched fists held to the sky. Certainly no calling out of personal demons -- yours or theirs. No dopey political tripe or nuanced hidden (or obvious) messages that reflected sad and/or bitter images of Our Broken World.

And certainly no irony.

The music of 1957 was laser-targeted (before there were lasers) directly and solely at one subject and one subject alone, with utmost sincerity and without hang-ups and hard-ons (in fact, fully clothed, with both feet on the floor at all times, please. Thank you.).

A couple weeks ago I submerged myself in the music of 1957 in an effort to capture the mood of the era. The reason: My parents' 50th wedding anniversary and the party held to celebrate their unbelievable achievement. The fact that my mother put up with my father for that many years is an unmatched testament to the potential of human tolerance as well as her lack of common sense (You know I'm just kidding, folks. Really.).

Because I write about music and because I know how to use iTunes, I was placed in charge of gathering the appropriate collection of songs for the soirée. The goal was to create as much of a mood as one could within the fluorescent-lit linoleum-tiled confines of the St. John the Baptist reception hall in Ft. Calhoun.

Google was my first move. Picking up the phone and calling my parents was the second. I ran down the list of hit-makers of '57 to see who they liked, didn't like or simply recognized.

Quickly cast aside was The Bobbettes (Huh?), Pat Boone (Uh, no) and Elvis. Back then you were either an Elvis person or you weren't, and my parents didn't seem like Elvis people to me. I don't remember hearing many Elvis records growing up; instead, there was lots of Herb Albert and the Tijuana Brass.

Other casualties of memory loss were Jill Corey ("Love Me to Pieces"), The Dell-Vikings ("Come Go With Me"), The Hilltoppers ("Marianne"), Danny and the Juniors ("At the Hop") and on and on. Reading off those names was met by silence on the other end of the line.

How about Perry Como? Oh yes, they liked him, and Nat King Cole, Andy Williams, Sinatra and Johnny Mathis. By the end of our conversation, a solid list of artists revealed itself, along with a new and different image of my parents and the simple, innocent, and fun world that they grew up in. The play list looked like this:

Perry Como, "Just Born (To Be Your Baby)"
The Ames Bros., "Melodie D'Amour (Melody of Love)"
Perry Como, "Round and Round"
Nat King Cole, "Send for Me"
Johnny Mathis, "It's Not for Me to Say"
Andy Williams, "I Like Your Kind of Love"
Sonny James, "Young Love"
The Rays, "Silhouettes"
Andy Williams, "Butterfly"
Johnny Mathis, "Chances Are"
Sam Cooke, "You Send Me"
The Crickets, "That'll Be the Day"
Patti Page, "Old Cape Cod"
Billy Williams, "I'm Gonna Sit Right Down And Right Myself a Letter"
Jimmie Rodgers, "Sweeter Than Wine"
Harry Belafonte, "Jamaica Farewell"
The Everly Brothers, "Bye Bye Love"
Louie Armstrong, "A Fine Romance"
Frank Sinatra, "All the Way"

The music generally fell into two categories: hip finger-snappers like Williams, Como, Rodgers and The Everly Brothers that you could imagine playing in the background as my dad waved my mom to jump on into the convertible we're headed to Tiner's for a shake; and the sweet, romantic, head-on-your-shoulder slow-dancers like Patti Page, The Rays, Sam Cooke, Sinatra and of course Johnny Mathis. Little did they know that the silly grin that Mathis was wearing was meant for a guy, not a gal, but then again, gay people didn't exist in 1957. At least not in popular culture.

The one thing every song had in common was its dedication to true love, pure and simple, for each other, completely selfless. It was a time before the Beatles and the Stones, when rock 'n' roll was just emerging from the underground, its R&B roots firmly planted decades earlier in a hidden black world.

Imagine what kids 50 years from now will choose to represent the current era of popular music: The Fray, Arcade Fire, Fall Out Boy, Justin Timberlake, Notorious B.I.G., Gwen Stefani. Big, boasting, over-sexed, self-important blow-hards who wouldn't know love if it kneed them in the bling-bling. It's enough to make you scratch your head and wish for a second coming of Como.

Well, the 1957 CD did its job, providing the necessary background music while relatives and friends ate wedding cake and talked about the old days. The better days? Maybe, though there are still plenty of good days ahead for my folks, for my family, for all of us.

Happy anniversary, mom and dad.

Tonight at The Waiting Room, Team Love Recording artist McCarthy Trenching takes the stage along with Steph Drootin and Omaha legend Bill Hoover, all for a mere $7, 9 p.m.

<Got comments? Post 'em here.>

Little Brazil on and off the road; Satchel Grande/Mathematicians tonight … – March 21, 2007–

The interview for this week's feature on Little Brazil (read it here) was conducted way back in January, right before the band headed off on a tour that runs all the way through to this Friday's show at Sokol Underground, and beyond. The Photo Atlas is opening for LB Friday, then LB is turning around and opening for their CD release show in Denver Saturday night. The early interview was the only time available to do a sit-down with the guys before the tour, which explains the odd time juxtaposition in a story that covers the making of their new record, Landon Hedges' connection to two of his former bands (The Good Life and Desaparecidos) and their pessimistic/optimistic views of the future. Check it out and head on down to the show Friday night.

Tonight at The Saddle Creek Bar its local boys Satchel Grande with New York tri-county outlaws The Mathematicians. $5, 9 p.m. Happy spring.

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St. Paddy's Day regrets, an evening with Kyle, Schlissel's Grammy; Rademacher tonight… – March 20, 2007–

St. Patrick's Day was a bust. That's the last time we go to The Dubliner on March 17. Oh, I love The Dubliner and its cavernous confines and indefinable stink. It really is the right place to be on St. Patrick's Day. But the band that's played there the last couple years is intolerable. It's one thing to listen to badly performed Irish music and quite another to hear American music badly performed by a so-called Irish band. The last thing I want to hear on St. Patrick's day is John Denver and God Bless America, but I got both on Saturday afternoon - just like last year. I've learned my lesson. Next year it's off to the big, ugly, sanitized white tent outside The Raisin Head for The Turfman, unless a miracle occurs and The Turfman head back downtown.

So by 5:30 I'd had enough and went home for a much-needed nap, leaving me refreshed for late-evening cocktails at The Waiting Room, where I caught sets by Sleep Said the Monster and Kyle Harvey. SStM played nice, mid-tempo indie rock that bordered on radio pop. What they lacked in memorable melodies they mostly made up for in musicianship. Kyle Harvey poured out another in a series of emotional acoustic sets, this time accompanied by the recently returned Reagan Roeder, who just moved back to Omaha from Wichita. Roeder played some sort of mini-Moog-type keyboard that made lonely sounds to match Kyle's lonely music. The effect was pleasantly haunting, and while I like Kyle's style, he could mix it up a little. I like a mournful ballad as much as the next guy, but after three in a row I'm ready for any slight variation.

A follow-up to this column on Dan Schlissel's Grammy Award: Dan e-mailed yesterday to say he is, in fact, receiving a statuette in honor of his contribution to Lewis Black's Grammy-winning record. Asked what he'll do with it, Schlissel replied, "What do folks do with trophies? I don't know as I've never gotten one before. Put it under glass on my mantle and look at it a lot, I guess." Wonder how much it weighs…

Fresno's Rademacher takes the stage tonight at The Saddle Creek Bar. The band plays gorgeous indie pop reminiscent of laid-back Pavement or early Malkmus solo stuff. I dig it. Take a listen to their Myspace, and then head on down. $5, 9 p.m.

And I just noticed on Slam Omaha that Cloven Path and Paper Owls are playing tonight at O'Leaver's with Jodi Hates the World and Slow Car Crash. Probably $5, 9:30 p.m.

Tomorrow, Little Brazil.

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Briefly… – March 19, 2007–

Two shows tonight: Simon Joyner and Midwest Dilemma are at O'Leaver's with traveling singer-songwriter Paleo. No idea who is backing Simon on this one -- it could be solo acoustic. $5, 9:30 p.m. Meanwhile, down at Sokol Underground, it's a veritable night of Bright Eyes' tribute bands with An Angle and Whatever Happened to the Dinosaurs. Also on the bill, Zach Heath Band and Brad Hoshaw. $7, 9 p.m.

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49 at the '49'r, Domestica at TWR tonight; The St. Patrick's Day onslaught… – March 16, 2007–

My favorite holiday without exception is St. Patrick's Day. It has all the accoutrements for a good time: Good music, good beer and the NCAA tournament. I will be spending my St. Paddy's Day enjoying a pint or two down at The Dubliner, where I've spent it for the past 15 years, even though the better Irish band -- The Turfmen -- will be out at The Raisin Head. I'm sure there's a good story that explains why Douglas County Public Defender Tom Riley and his crew left the smelly, dank confines of Omaha's oldest downtown Irish bar for the swank, Village Inn-like setting of The Brazen Head, located in a West Omaha strip mall. I'm sure it probably involves money, too. Without The Turfmen at The Dubliner, my St. Paddy's Day is a little bit more overcast, but I'll survive.

Anyway…

I'm usually asleep by 7 o'clock on St. Patrick's Day after an afternoon of mucky brown ale. And that will be a shame this year because there are a couple good shows going on Saturday night. But before we get to that:

Tonight at The 49'r Stephen Sheehan, former frontman of Digital Sex, The World, Between the Leaves, Bliss Repair and Missionary Position (included here because the name is so naughty) will be celebrating his 49th birthday with a special concert at The 49'r that will include a bevy of local musicians. They include Matt Whipkey, Sarah Benck, Kyle Harvey, Richard Schultz and Mike Fratt, as well as a number of "special guests" who Sheehan will not disclose. Those expecting to hear old Digital Sex songs will be disappointed. Instead, the band -- which has been rehearsing all week -- will be playing a number of Sheehan's favorites. The fun begins at 10:30 and costs $3.

Meanwhile, over at The Waiting Room, Irish-style (more like Flogging Molly-style) Lincoln band The Killigans are playing a pre-St. Paddy's Day set. Ah, but even more interesting is the opening act -- Lincoln's Domestica, featuring Jon Taylor and Heidi Ore of Mercy Rule, who by themselves are worth the $8 admission. That show starts at 9 p.m.

Tomorrow night, for those of you who will wait until after 8 to imbibe, Kyle Harvey is playing at The Waiting Room with Sleep Said the Monster and It's True. $3, 9 p.m., while Blood Brothers, Celebration and Moon Rats are down at Sokol Underground, $12, 8 p.m.

If I missed any notable shows, post them here.

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Column 118 is a rerun... – March 15, 2007–

If you read the 3,000 words of weekend coverage of the opening of The Waiting Room you've pretty much read this week's column, which is a summary of those comments. I include it here for consistency's sake. But go ahead and read it again while I work on my brackets:

Column 118: Perfect Sound Forever
The Waiting Room sets a new standard

It's overkill. I know it. And I'm sure I'll be told it by the 13 people who read this column regularly (and I love each and every one of you). Three columns devoted to a new music venue is more than a tad too much. I justify it by saying The Waiting Room is perhaps the most important live music venue since the closing of Tre's Capitol Bar and Grill or the shuttering of The Cog Factory. Yes, that important. So I feel no guilt providing the following recap of its opening weekend.

The fun began last Friday night. We ate dinner beforehand at The Pizza Shoppe and didn't get to the club (at 6212 Maple St.) until around 8:30. The venue's biggest question mark -- parking -- wasn't an issue since we left the car in front of the pizza place and hoofed it two blocks to the door. When we left at around midnight -- while the crowd was still mulling -- there were open parking spots all around us. What parking problem?

Once inside, all the tables and barstools were filled, and yet the room wasn't packed. It felt comfortable and lived-in, as if the bar had been there for years (which it has).

First on stage was Black Squirrels, who rolled through a tight set of kitschy blue-grass folk. As clean and balanced as they sounded, their light-hearted tunes weren't a true test of the sound system. That came next with The 4th of July, a Lawrence band that epitomizes the Kansas indie rock sound of the '90s from bands like The Anniversary and Kill Creek.

A warning to all the shitty bands that want to play here: There's no place to hide with this PA -- your suckiness will glow like neon, not merely fade amidst the bright-white noise of other system's distortion. The crowd will hear your every mistake, goof up, and off-tone moment, and see every awkward move and gesture from a stage the quality of which you will only find in places like Austin. The height, the curtain, the stainless steel lighting racks -- it's much more impressive than the old Music Box stage.

Art in Manila came on a little after 11. By then, the show was officially a sell-out (capacity 215) with the entire floor filled. Even with those numbers, you could comfortably fit an additional 100 people into the venue if you wanted to break the fire code, which I know owners Marc Leibowitz and Jim Johnson would never do.

Moving around the room, the sight lines were unhampered through every opening. Moving further back, patrons receive a sort of letterbox effect looking at the stage because of a slight overhang that divides the two rooms. Soundwise, there was a noticeable drop-off in the high and low end toward the bar. Understandable, as the sound was being funneled through the opening between the two rooms and was literally absorbed by the crowd. The advantage: People could carry on conversations without having to yell at each other. But if you really wanted to hear the bands in all their glory, you had to go into the stage room. Perfect sound forever.

Saturday night's all-punk power-trio line-up provided a better test with much, much heavier material. Now Archimedes! and The Stay Awake never sounded better, though I can't honestly say the same for Bombardment Society. I've heard them in wall-of-sound mode down at Sokol Underground, and those sets were unmatched. For Bombardment Society, louder is always better, and it could have been louder. Could the owners be squeamish about really turning it up?

We'd find out at Sunday night's "secret show" -- perhaps the last chance anyone around here had to see The Faint at a club-sized venue, where they're at their absolute zenith.

The over-riding sound element: The bass, which was chest-crushingly loud, literally shaking the walls. I can't imagine what it would have been like without earplugs -- even with them, my head was ringing when I got home. It was impressive, if not painful.

The Faint's set was long, well-played, and familiar. And as always, the floor was filled with writhing dancers sweating to the classics from Danse Macabre and Blank Wave Arcade. The Faint could go on forever merely performing their oldies, but they'd never be satisfied doing that. Who would?

Three nights in a row at The Waiting Room was enough. By Monday, I was exhausted. How do Leibowitz and Johnson do it every night? I guess after a decade of One Percent shows, they're used to it. They better be. They've christened the club of their dreams and have a long, successful future ahead of them, along with a lot of long nights. Is it the best live music venue in town? For now, yes. But that distinction will likely shift to Slowdown when it begins live shows in June. The Waiting Room wasn't originally designed for live music, whereas Slowdown is being built specifically for it, with the finest acoustics and an enormous investment in the highest quality sound equipment available. It should be much better, right? Right?

Still, the one thing The Waiting Room has that Slowdown never will: Every night I left the bar I was sitting in my living room 10 minutes later. Priceless.

It's not unanimous. I have talked to a couple people who were critical of the venue's sound, one saying it was too brash, another complained about the bass at The Faint show, not understanding that it was designed to be that loud. More proof that you'll never satisfy everyone, especially when it comes to something as subjective as a PA. On the other hand, every musician I've spoken with that has performed on that stage has raved about it. The next test will be seeing a touring band up there.

Tonight, Day 1 of March Madness. I've got Creighton bowing out in the first round (they play tomorrow), Kansas making it to the round of 8 then losing to UCLA, Tennessee as my upset special (going to the final four), and Florida winning it all.

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Ladyfinger, Little Brazil tonight; Mission of Burma at O'Leaver's... – March 14, 2007–

That's right, Little Brazil's big CD release show is... well, next Friday night at Sokol Underground. But for some reason the band's decided to also do a show tonight at The Waiting Room with Ladyfinger. Gee, do you think it'll impact the draw for next week's show?

We're going to be seeing this kind of thing a lot more often with all these new clubs. Bands that may have only played once every couple of months will now have the opportunity to play twice as often (or more) as club owners scurry to find someone to perform on their stages during the week. That's not necessarily a good thing. I go back to the wisdom of punk-rock legend and St. Stanislaus School principal Gary Dean Davis. When asked over a decade ago why his band, Frontier Trust, didn't play more often, Davis said, "If you've just seen us play, why would you want to see us again so soon? Nothing's changed. Even I wouldn't want to see our band again if I just saw them a week ago."

Some bands, however, play around town on a weekly basis (sometimes twice a week). For them, it's another way to make some bread while doing what they love. That's fine, just don't expect large crowds at your shows. Other artists who want to play more often do what a majority of the Saddle Creek Records musicians do -- play in multiple bands. It's a trend that goes back to the '90s. Perhaps the most visible example is Kasher's duo projects (Cursive and The Good Life). Today it's not uncommon for musicians to be in as many as four different bands at the same time. Just this last weekend, we saw Adrianne Verhoeven perform in The 4th of July, Art in Manila and Flowers Forever. The only one of her bands missing was Coyote Bones. The problem with that situation is that all four of these bands will have opportunities to do national touring, which could make for an interesting juggling act. The only answer is for two of the bands to go on the road together -- The 4th of July and Art in Manila, for example, mirroring how the two bands played opening night at The Waiting Room. That's a long night -- and a long tour -- for Verhoeven, who hails from Lawrence, not Omaha.

Little Brazil/Ladyfinger starts at 9 p.m. and is $5 (and 21+). Also going on tonight, Mike Tulis' Rock Movie Night at O'Leaver's featuring Not a Photograph: The Mission of Burma Story. The 2006 documentary traces the rebirth of the seminal punk band that called it quits back in 1983. According to the O'Leaver's website, the show starts at 8 and is free. These films normally don't begin screening until 9:30, so you may want to call ahead to make sure about the time.

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Wheels Up for SXSW... – March 13, 2007–

I heard on the news this morning that they're experiencing flooding in Austin today. Forecast calls for thunderstorms through Thursday, then blue skies for all of you lucky enough to be attending SXSW. Every year The Reader offers me passes to attend the conference, and every year I turn them down due to costs, vacation time from work, etc. Actually, the real reason is that I hate hassles, and SXSW sounds like one enormous clusterfuck of a weekend. Do I really want to deal with running from one venue to the next chasing after the evening's hot show, hoping that I can get in and once inside, struggling to get a drink? I don't know, but for some reason, that doesn't sound like fun. Add to that the fact that most of the bands that I want to see at SXSW have or will eventually make their way to Omaha or Lincoln. There are obviously many, many exceptions, but if they don't want to come to me, I can live without them.

Nebraska will be well represented again this year, though don't look to the SXSW site for all the details. Little Brazil will be playing; so will The Terminals and Brimstone Howl, though I can't find these bands listed anywhere on the SXSW site. Perhaps their performances are "unofficial."

Official shows include The Show Is the Rainbow March 17 at Redrum, The Faint March 16 at Eternal with Flowers Forever, and Cursive, Art in Manila and Tilly and the Wall March 17 at Beauty Bar as part of the Memphis Industries/Saddle Creek/Team Love showcase. Is the fact that Art in Manila is playing this showcase a foreshadowing that Creek will be handling their new album, Set the Woods on Fire, recorded by The Faint's Joel Petersen? Time will tell. The real question is why The Faint isn't included in the Saddle Creek showcase.

So inevitably I'll ask someone who went to SXSW who they saw, and the response will be something like, "Well, I caught Little Brazil and The Faint on Friday night, then hung out at the Saddle Creek showcase on Saturday night after catching The Show Is the Rainbow that same day." Why? Why fly a thousand miles, spend god knows how much money on lodging and food just to see the same bands that play here all the time? I asked one guy who did just that last year, and he told me it was interesting to see how well our local bands are received out of town. That's not a good enough reason.

It's been written about in hundreds of publications and blogs -- SXSW has strayed from its original mission, which was to give unsigned bands a stage to show their wares to all the labels. Every Omaha band that's taking part this year is already signed to a label, and the ones that should be there that aren't signed -- folks like Matt Whipkey, Sarah Benck, The Stay Awake, The Filter Kings, Artsy Golfer, Shelter Belt, Dance Me Pregnant and on and on, well, they're stuck back here with us. Something's wrong with that picture.

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Live Review: The Faint, Flowers Forever... – March 12, 2007–

The Waiting Room Day 3: The secret show last night was, of course, The Faint. I don't know how secret it was, actually, though I didn't see anyone outside trying to cage a ticket. The logistics behind admittance: You had to be invited or had to buy one of 80 tickets sold by friends of the venue's owners. So for the first time in recent memory, the crowd at a Faint show wasn't a mob scene.

It could very well have been the last chance anyone around here will ever have had to see The Faint at a club-sized venue, a setting where they're at their absolute zenith. The auditorium or arena-sized shows never really do them justice. It's in the clubs that their music thrives, and last night was no exception.

Opening was Flowers Forever, a new band fronted by singer/guitarist Dereck Pressnall of Tilly and the Wall that includes Adrianne Verhoeven of 4th of July, Art in Manila and Coyote Bones. She's one busy lady. Pressnall's songs border on protest ballads, where he accentuates every phrase with an obscenity (maybe they should be called Flowers Fuckin' Forever). Are they war songs? Songs about personal freedom? I'm not sure, though I know they're rooted in his personal beliefs. As a result, the music has a '60s aesthetic that you'd expect from a band named Flowers Forever, though style-wise nothing they play resembles music from that era. Instead I was vaguely reminded of '70-era NYC punk rock with distinctive folk overtones, as well as aspects of modern-day baroque (a few songs featured trumpet, one, trombone). Artsy, yes, and slightly pretentious, they still managed to pull some rock moments out of their set.

They were followed by The Faint. As is their style, two projector screens were set up on stage to show the usual videos designed to enhance the beat. I said yesterday that this would probably be the ultimate test of the house sound system, and it was - chest-crushing bass (their signature sound these days) literally shook the walls. I was standing on a platform off to the left above the crowd and watched as tiny bits of crud dusted from the ceiling lit by the projector beam. I can't imagine what it would have been like without ear plugs -- even with them, my head was ringing when I got home. It was impressive, if not painful.

What to say about their set? It was long, well-played, and familiar. The dance floor was completely full and Todd only had to prompt the crowd once. "I realize this is friends and family, but you can dance. We can have a party." He needn't have suggested it, as everyone on the floor was bobbing throughout the set.

The band played at least three new songs that weren't much of a stretch from their older material. The last song, a laid-back ballad, sounded like something off Her Space Holiday's last album. Of course it was the classics off Danse Macabre and Blank Wave Arcade that got the crowd pumping. I don't know if The Faint will ever write a song as good as "Glass Danse" (or an album as good as Danse Macabre) again, and I'm not sure they need to. Most people who read this blog have been listening to The Faint since Blank Wave came out in '99 (that's eight years ago for those of you keeping track). We tend to forget that their music hasn't been exploited to its fullest potential. Other than college stations and MTV2, it's never had the national exposure that it deserves, certainly not national FM airplay. The Faint could live off - and grow their fan base - merely by performing Danse and Blank Wave on tour. But they'd never be satisfied doing that. Who would?

Based on the Pitchfork article that came out last week (here) it could be a year until they release a new record. That won't stop them from touring, though. Last night's gig was a warm-up for SXSW, where they will likely be one of the hottest tickets at the festival.

Three nights in a row at The Waiting Room is quite enough. I'm tired. I don't know how Leibowitz and Johnson do it every night. I guess it helps if you can sleep in until 2 in the afternoon. Regardless, they're probably used to it after running One Percent Shows for the past decade. They better be. They've got the club that they've always wanted, and they've christened it in style with a weekend of amazing shows. Based on everything I've seen and heard, they've got a long, successful future ahead of them, along with a lot of long, long nights.

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Live Review: Punk night at The Waiting Room; invite-only tonight... – March 11, 2007–

The Waiting Room Day 2: Last night's all-punk power-trio line-up was in stark contrast to the more acoustic, less intense opening night bill and provided a nice test of the venue's sound system on much, much heavier material. Big surprise: It passed with flying colors. Now Archimedes! and The Stay Awake never sounded better. NA!'s '90s-influenced grind-house punk never fails to impress and bring back memories of days gone by, though their sound continues to grow beyond that narrow description. Thornton is a grinning monster on stage as he belts out the punk in furious, fuzzy chunks. The Stay Awake, on the other hand, is pure, bitterly sharp shards of punk guitar intricacy driven by Steve Micek's mad ravings -- one moment, a mumbled spoken word, the next, vein-popping screaming at some imaginary girlfriend. As tasty as Robert Little's bass lines were (absolutely core to their sound), I could have used more of him out the mains. I can't honestly say that this was the best Bombardment Society has ever sounded. I've heard them in wall-of-sound mode down at Sokol Underground, and those sets were unbeatable. Last night's was impressive, but you may be starting to hear a possible limitation to The Waiting Room's system. When it comes to Bombardment Society, louder is always better, and it could have been louder last night; it probably would have been louder at the Underground. It's probably not a limitation of the sound system as much as the venue subconsciously trying to be considerate of the folks in the back of the room. Such considerations never enter anyone's mind at Sokol Underground. I have a feeling the system's ability to handle ear-bleeding loudness will be realized at tonight's invitation-only show, which I'll tell you about tomorrow morning if I get up early enough.

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Live Review: The Waiting Room, Art in Manila, 4th of July, Black Squirrels; Bombardment Society tonight – March 10, 2007–

Marc Leibowitz said during our interview that the house PA at The Waiting Room was essentially the same as what's down at Sokol Underground, only in a room half the size. So you'd naturally think that the sound would be twice as loud (which would be damaging). Ah, but here's a case where more power doesn't necessarily mean louder, it means better.

The sound quality of the PA last night was absolutely gorgeous, and never too loud. I only wore earplugs during the 4th of July set, which was definitely mixed both louder and bassier (in fact, too bassy). For Art in Manila, no hearing protection was needed. Yeah, it was plenty loud, but it sure didn't hurt.

Let's start from the beginning. We ate dinner beforehand at The Pizza Shoppe and didn't get to the club until around 8:30. Needless to say, parking wasn't an issue, since we left the car in front of the Pizza Shoppe and hoofed it two blocks to the venue. When we left at around midnight, there were open spots all around us. I guess parking may not be a problem after all.

When we stepped inside, the place seemed far from capacity, but it was early. Incidentally, the show was 18+. When I talked to Marc and Jim a week earlier, they weren't sure that they'd be able to do under-21 shows, and asked me not to mention it in the article (after all, they still hadn't received their liquor license.). The doorman explained that anyone over 21 would get a wrist band, while under-21 patrons would have large X's smeared on their fists straightedge style (and under-age folks wouldn't have in-and-out privileges). Problem solved. Now, will they be able to do all-ages shows?

Anyway, everything was in place and a crew was behind the bar serving. I guess the license came through. All the tables and barstools were filled, and yet the room didn't seem packed. It felt comfortable and lived-in, as if the bar had been there for years. They'd managed to retain the room's aged ambiance while adding a few modern touches (and a fresh coat of paint).

Consumer note: Bottles of Rolling Rock are $3 -- that's a dollar less than Sokol Underground's $4, but more expensive than both O'Leaver's and SCB.

Without a place to sit down, we made our way into what I'm going to call "the stage room" (as opposed to "the main room" where the tables and chairs are) and found cushioned seats along the wall across from stage right. That's where I stayed for most of the evening. It was the perfect hiding place, out of the bright lights of the main room. (I would suggest that they turn the lights down in the main room during the sets -- the harsh light and the low ceiling make it feel like an FOE club compared to the stage room).

First up was Black Squirrels -- a trio featuring guitar, keyboards and stand-up bass -- no drums. They ramped through a tight set of kitschy blue-grass folk and sounded better than the last two times I saw them (at The Dubliner and O'Leaver's). Bassist Travis Sing said afterward, 'We really play well when we can actually hear ourselves on stage." What? There's no monitors at O'Leaver's? As clean and balanced as they sounded, their sing-songy folk wasn't a real test of the sound system. That would come next with 4th of July, a band that, to me, epitomizes the Kansas indie rock sound that I remember from the old days, back in the '90s when I drove down to Lawrence every few months to catch bands like The Anniversary and Kill Creek at the Bottleneck. These guys have that same wheatfield college-rock flair that never loses sight of its melodies. The lead singer, however, lost his way a couple times early in the set, which he apologized for later, explaining that they were playing a lot of new material.

Warning to any shitty bands that want to play here: There's no place to hide with this PA -- your suckiness will glow like neon, not merely fade amidst the bright-white noise of other system's distortion. The crowd will hear your every mistake, every goof up, every off-tone moment.

The 4th of July didn't have to worry about that. Anchoring their sound was an amazing drummer. In fact, the drums last night sounded terrific during both sets -- was it the drum set (the same one used by both bands) or was it how the stage picks up and amplifies the drums?

During The Black Squirrels set, the red-and-black linoleum floor in front of the stage was mostly empty as people were content sitting back at the tables. When 4th of July came on, however, the floor filled up with slouchers. A brief word about the stage -- as my companion said, it was like something you'd expect to see in Austin -- the height, the curtain, the stainless steel lighting racks. Much more impressive than the old Music Box stage. It had a serious, professional look and feel that made the performers glow and would be a great place to film a live performance.

Art in Manila came on a little after 11. By then, the bar was at capacity (The night will go down as a sell-out with numbers at around 215, according to the door guy). The entire floor was filled, and I had a hard time squeezing through to get to my spot after getting a couple beers. Even with those numbers, you could comfortably fit an additional 100 people in the venue if you wanted to break the fire code (which I know these guys would never do).

There's a good story in this week's Omaha City Weekly (here) where the reporter talks to Orenda Fink about her new band and life after Azure Ray. What he didn't ask (or at least didn't cover in the story) was who will be releasing the new Art in Manila album. Will it be Saddle Creek? Will it be Range Life, who Creek now distributes and who will be releasing the new 4th of July album? Whoever it is will have gold on their hands. This incarnation of Orenda is by far the best. Better than anything she did with Azure Ray and much more soulful than her solo album, which was pretty damn soulful to begin with. Art in Manila takes Orenda's sweet, breathy voice and surrounds it with rich, earthy instruments. Every element of the six-piece, from Dan McCarthy's keyboards to Steve Bartolomei's searing guitar solos, adds new depth to her songs. Orenda's lucky to have one of the area's best drummers, Corey Broman, playing at the very height of his ability and clearly driving everything forward. Again, the drums just sounded freaking amazing without overpowering the rest of the band. Great balance from every instrument. Terrific work from the sound guy.

Moving around the room, the sightlines were unhampered through every opening. As you move further back -- all the way to the pinball room -- you receive a sort of letterbox effect looking at the stage, because of the slight overhang that divides the two rooms. There is a noticeable difference in the sound as you move around the main room. In fact, there's quite a drop-off in levels the further you go, cutting off the high and low end. This, of course, is understandable as the sound is being funneled through the opening between the two rooms and is literally absorbed by the crowd. That's not to say the sound is bad in the back. On the contrary. Though there's no place in the venue where you can get away from the noise, people are able to at least carry on conversations without having to yell at each other -- something that's impossible at just about every other club I frequent. If you really want to hear the band in all its glory, though, you have to go into the stage room, which has a higher ceiling and is completely unencumbered by barriers. Perfect sound forever.

Art in Manila played for about 45 minutes, finishing up at around midnight by thanking the bands and Marc and Jim for all the hard work they put into the place. Our impression upon leaving was that we'd just been in the best live music venue in the city… for now anyway. That distinction will likely shift to Slowdown when it begins live shows in June. Consider that Slowdown is being built specifically to provide the finest acoustics possible -- and consider the enormous amount of money that's being invested in the highest quality sound equipment available. It should be better, right? Right?

One final thought: I left the bar at around midnight. I was sitting in my living room at around 12:10. Priceless.

* * *

So what's in store for tonight? On top of the list, again, is The Waiting Room. They opened with an evening of mellow(er), rural indie rock. Tonight they're turning things up with Bombardment Society, Now Archimedes! and The Stay Awake. How will punk sound on that big, beautiful stage? $7, 9 p.m.

Will Leibowitz ever get to see a show at his own club? Not tonight, as he'll likely be working the Hella show down at Sokol Underground with Dirty Projectors and Who's Your Favorite Son God? $8, 9 p.m.

According to SlamOmaha, Dance Me Pregnant is at The 49'r tonight (I can't get the Niner myspace to work this morning).

And if you didn't get enough of Black Squirrels, they'll be playing down the street from The Waiting Room at Mick's tonight with Hoots and Hellmouth. $5, 9 p.m..

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'If you're not going to The Waiting Room…' – March 9, 2007–

Throughout the week I receive a number of invitations to see bands perform at the various clubs around this great city of ours. This week, all of them contained the phrase 'If you're not going to The Waiting Room this weekend..." Everyone thinks that the club's grand opening will be the must-do event of the season. As talked about yesterday, on the bill for their opening night is Art in Manila (did anyone notice the evasive, back-in approach that I used to describe that band in yesterday's article?), 4th of July (Adrianne Verhoeven of The Anniversary and Art in Manila) and Black Squirrels (ex-Darktown House Band). I can say with complete confidence that this is the largest crowd that Black Squirrels have performed in front of in their short, illustrious career (in fact, the OWH's pre-coverage of The Waiting Room's opening seemed to focus primarily on the Squirrels rather than the bar).

The only thing that could dampen their opening night is the ol' 'I'm going to wait until the place slows down' syndrome -- i.e., people avoiding opening night because they figure it'll be too packed or that they may not even be able to get in. All three bands have played in Omaha numerous times over the past year, so they're not going to be the intrinsic draw. It's the curiosity over the bar that will bring people in, but the fact is, the bar isn't going anywhere. If all you want to see is its insides, you can always go there Monday night, or Tuesday, or Wednesday...

That said, I'll be among those who will be attempting to cross the velvet rope. We've already made contingency plans if we notice a line of people stretched out along Maple St., standing in the rain waiting in The Waiting Room's waiting line to get in. And speaking of plans, you might need to devise one for parking if you're driving to the club. When I interviewed Leibowitz and Johnson last week, we talked about including a parking map with The Reader article, and I considered outlining all the parking options in the area. Then I thought 'What, am I stupid?' It's going to be hard enough for me to find parking as it is, I'm certainly not giving you any tips. The fact is, there aren't many options beyond the public lot a couple blocks away. I foresee hundreds of people walking the sidewalks of Benson this evening from parking lots as far away as behind Mick's. It would be a good night to have a hotdog cart parked along those sidewalks.

Anyway, the show begins at 9 p.m. and costs $7. Now, if you're not going to The Waiting Room tonight there are other options, such as Kite Pilot, Razz the Kid and Or Does It Explode at The Saddle Creek Bar. Or Does It Explode is Robert Little and Matt Stamp from Mariannes, Tim from Latitude Longitude, and Pat D from RTO and Cactus Nerve Thang. $5, 9 p.m.

Down at Bemis Underground it's the Black Shoe Bash and Dance Party with The Terminals, Brimstone Howl and Denver's The Machine Gun Blues. Show starts at 9 p.m. and you're asked to make a $5 donation at the door. Bemis Underground is the lower level of the Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts, south of the Old Market at 724 S. 12th Street.

Ironically, Marc Leibowitz, co-owner of The Waiting Room, won't even be at the club's grand opening because he'll have his hands full working The Take Action! Tour down at Sokol Auditorium. The benefit tour that focuses on issues surrounding suicide and depression includes bands The Red Jumpsuit Apparatus, Emery, Scary Kids Scaring Kids, A Static Lullaby, and Kaddisfly. Part of the proceeds from the tour supports Youth America Hotline! 1-877-YOUTHLINE. Show starts at 8 p.m. and is Sold Out.

If I missed anything, post it here. I'll try to write an update online tomorrow morning about The Waiting Room (if I get in) and what's in store for Saturday night.

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Column 117: The Waiting Room opens for business; Ladyfinger tonight… – March 8, 2007–

This week's column is actually a feature about The Waiting Room, which was originally slated to be a cover story for The Reader. The editors decided it would make a better "expanded" Lazy-i column. What you'll read in The Reader is an abbreviated version of this story, where Johnson and Leibowitz discuss their new club and the role it'll play in the future of the ever-growing Omaha music scene.

So, go read the story here, now, and consider the following as an afterward:

History points to the challenges these guys face just keeping the place open. One of the persistent questions that keeps coming up about The Waiting Room: Will it be open on evenings when no bands are scheduled to play? Leibowitz and Johnson look perplexed when asked. Clearly they've never had any intention of making The Waiting Room some sort of rental hall. It's a bar, first and foremost.

"We've built a nice place here," Leibowitz said. "We've made it comfortable. People should come just to hang out."

"If we had a show every night, we'd eliminate our bar crowd," Johnson said.

"Other bar owners have tried live music because they think it'll bring people in," Leibowitz added. "We'll bring people in when we have shows, but I don't know if Omaha would support a show here seven nights a week anyway. We're looking at three to five shows a week, which is still a pretty good goal that will require expanding into different areas from what we've booked in the past."

Leibowitz said that The Waiting Room will provide the most comfortable live performance environment for a room its size. "It's not The Music Box, which was clean and all neoned out and too adult," he said. "Some people who haven't gone to shows since the Music Box closed will be coming here."

So could it be that after years of whining that there aren't enough live music venues in Omaha, that for the first time the city actually may have too many venues?

From their perspective, the answer is a resounding 'No.' After all, One Percent will be booking shows at practically all of them. In fact, despite the opening of The Waiting Room and Slowdown later this year, Leibowitz said Omaha still lacks at least one important stage.

"From a One Percent Productions perspective, Omaha needs a 215-capacity club, an 800-capacity club and a 2,500-capacity club," he said, adding that only the largest will be missing. "We really need something like the old Peony Park Ballroom for acts the size of The Pixies, Flaming Lips, The Shins, Modest Mouse and Bright Eyes."

Leibowitz said The Waiting Room is the perfect size to not only grow new talent, but to grow One Percent Productions, which incidentally, will have its offices housed in the same building. "We needed a place to develop new bands and talent," he said. "Not only on a local side, but on a national side, too. This will be a realistic place for a smaller touring band to have a successful show. If you bring in 100 to O'Leaver's, it's too packed. One hundred at Sokol looks horrible -- it's empty. Here, 100 hopefully will be a success. One Percent needs to present as many alternatives to booking agents as possible, and this should help us do that."

Yeah, but what about parking? I assume that Friday night's show will be a capacity crowd, and that most of them will get plenty of exercise walking to the venue as the bar doesn't have its own parking lot. You're looking at street parking, or a public lot a couple blocks away. "I'm a big fan of parking," Leibowitz said. "It's the main reason why I don't go to the Old Market, but my favorite place in Austin was a 1,000-capacity club with no parking. This is an issue that people deal with in other cities all the time. I wish there was a better scenario.

Johnson pointed out that D Dubs used to do a helluva business, "but there would be 100 bikes lined up out front," he said. "If everyone got a Vespa, we could do 90-degree Vespa parking and the problem would be solved."

* * *

Speaking of big shows, O'Leaver's has one of its own tonight -- Ladyfinger and Dance Me Pregnant. I suspect there will be more than 100 people there. $5, 9:30 p.m.

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Bright Eyes at the Holland Center… – March 7, 2007–

Look, I know you're getting sick of all this Bright Eyes news. Every day it's something else. Well, it's only going to get worse. Just bear with me. Today's news is that Bright Eyes announced the first leg of their tour in support of Cassadaga. Among the dates is a gig at The Holland Center April 26. Opening will be local boys and Team Love artist McCarthy Trenching along with Merge recording artist Oakley Hall. Expect a large ensemble on stage for this BE tour, including lots of lush strings. Tickets go on sale March 16.

And speaking of openings, The Waiting Room has opened their actual website at www.waitingroomlounge.com. Look for a long profile on Leibowitz and Johnson and the new bar online here tomorrow. An abridged version appears in this week's issue of The Reader.

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Miserable Conor in the NYT again; Terminals, Brimstone tonight… – March 6, 2007–

Those of you keeping score, Bright Eyes has once again made it into the pages of the great, gray New York Times. In a review by our old friend Kelefa Sanneh, who has penned most of that paper's Saddle Creek coverage, Conor is defined as a 'miserablist.' Since I'm not as smart as the typical NYT reporter (Who is?) I had to look it up in Merriam's, but, alas, I couldn't find it listed. It also didn't show up at AskOxford.com. It must be a word, though, or the NYT wouldn't let Kelefa use it in the headline (The Miserablist, All Grown Up and Hard at Work). Throughout the review, Sanneh comments on how Oberst has been labeled a boy genius, even though he now is in his late 20s. He then goes on to say Conor has earned his rep as a miserablist thanks to songs like "Laura Laurent." Maybe Kelefa thinks the song is miserable and, since Conor wrote it, that would make him a miserablist -- kind of like how a writer of a novel is a novelist? Anyway... Kelefa liked the concert, which went down last Friday at the Bowery Ballroom. You can read the full review here. So far the press on this BE tour has been positive, except for the consistently negative comments about Conor's hair. This Globe and Mail review said he "resembled Anthony Jr. from The Sopranos (the sixth-season Anthony, not the baby-fat Anthony)." Funny. There should be an avalanche of Four Winds reviews hitting the net over the next few days, as the album drops today (as did Maria Taylor's new one, Lynn Teeter Flower). It's all just a mild precursor to the release of Cassadaga in April.

Even bigger news, however, is tonight's show at O'Leaver's featuring The Terminals, Brimstone Howl and their Alive Records labelmates Radio Moscow. The show is listed on SLAMOmaha as starting at 8 p.m., but is listed on the Terminals Myspace as starting at 9. Consider it a warm-up for all the bands' upcoming South by Southwest gigs.

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An anniversary and a late live review… – March 5, 2007–

My weekend was dominated by my parents' 50th anniversary, a joyous occasion that kept me out of the bars Saturday and Sunday night. I did get out to Sokol Underground Friday night for Cap Gun Coup, Baby Walrus and Whatever Happened to the Dinosaurs?

The highlight was Baby Walrus, a trio featuring a drummer and two guitarists -- with the frontman switching between guitar and keyboards. The guy sounded like a young Jim Morrison, especially on songs that had that weird Doors wonky flair. Their music was brash and bluesy and intricate bordering on experimental. They're one of the best new bands I've seen so far in '07.

Friday was Whatever Happened to the Dinosaurs' debut at Sokol, and you could tell. One funny comment from someone in the crowd: "They sound more like a Bright Eyes rip-off than An Angle." There were definitely plenty of Conor-isms to go around, but like An Angle, WHD? also doesn't have anything resembling Oberst's songwriting chops. I'm told all the band members are transplants from Florida who made the trip to be near Nebraska's burgeoning indie scene (or to be closer to Conor, whom I'm told they adore). Take the Bright Eyes adoration out of the equation and they come off as a very young band with a slightly skewed vision, which may or may not be misguided. With their preening frontman and stable of prancing musicians, they were more precious than Tilly and the Wall and would probably be eaten alive at rough-house bar like The 49'r. By the end of their set they exceeded their cuteness quotient when I noticed a young girl -- maybe 17 -- sitting on the floor next to the bass drum. Just sitting there, smiling like a stage prop.

Finally there was Cap Gun Coup, who I really came to see. I was told by someone who has heard them before that it wasn't their finest moment. The set was sloppy and out of sync, and I have to wonder if it wasn't just an off night. That said, the crowd of around 80 didn't seem to mind. In fact, the whole evening had a house party feel to it and you could tell that the crowd consisted mostly of friends having a good time. Nothing wrong with that.

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The day after; Cap Gun Coup, Once a Pawn tonight (probably) … – March 2, 2007–

I have no idea what's going on tonight, the day after the blizzard of '07. Last night I was driving around and the streets were snow-packed but fine. Still, OPS is closed today, as are a number of businesses. That said, check with the venue if you're wondering about a show's status tonight. The only real question mark that I have is whether Once a Pawn makes it from Lincoln tonight for their show with Jaeger Fight and Bent Left at O'Leaver's. Last week I mistakenly said that Paper Owls had been recording with ARC Studio's Ian Aeillo (and that may be the case in the future), but the fact is I confused them with Once a Pawn, who actually has been recording with Ian. That show is $5 and starts at 9:30.

Another notable show tonight is Cap Gun Coup w/Baby Walrus and Whatever Happened to Dinosaurs at Sokol Underground. Cap Gun Coup has the distinction of being name-checked by Bright Eyes' Conor Oberst during a recent interview -- what that equates to, I don't know. I haven't seen them perform live yet, but dig their stuff on their Myspace page. $7, 9 p.m.

Also tonight, rootsy folk band Outlaw Con Bandana plays at Mick's with jazzmen Kevin Pike/John Kotchian and Hot Sick. ($5, 8:30 p.m.).

And for the strangest gig of the evening, according to their Myspace page, New Jersey band Ours, who records on Geffen/Universal, are scheduled to play at The 49'r tonight with Bay Area band The Michetons. Ours, who I've never heard of, obviously are heavily influenced by Radiohead, right down to their vocalist's Thom Yorke aping. $7, 9:30 p.m.

If I'm missing anything, post it here. Look for another show update tomorrow.

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Thundersnow; not the band, the real thing… – March 1, 2007–

I'm about to go outside and shovel -- a pointless endeavor considering the real stuff hasn't fallen yet. So no update, not now anyway. Maybe later.

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Column 116 -- Ink Tank Merch Co.; Apples in Stereo tonight– Feb. 28, 2007–

One important point that I deleted from this column due to space: These days, for most bands, when it comes to tour income, it's not just about selling CDs, not with the Internet and iTunes and MySpace and the industry as a whole suffering its worst January in the history of SoundScan, according to the last issue of Rolling Stone. Do you think a band like Little Brazil has a big, fat royalty check waiting for them when they pull into Mac's Bar in Lansing this week? No. To survive on the road, you gotta have merch, and it better be cool.

Column 116: The Merch Merchant
Saddle Creek opens a new subsidiary.

Question: What is the life-blood of touring bands, from the greenest indie rock trio to the peroxide-blond ice-cream-cone breasted lady we've all seen on MTV?

The answer is merch. Short for "merchandise," merch includes almost any sellable item a band can load into the van and spread out on a table after their set. T-shirts and hoodies are the staple, but it also includes posters, buttons, and yes, even records.

"Merch is how smaller bands eat on the road, and how the big ones buy mansions in Fairacres," said Chris Esterbrooks. The frontman for Omaha punk band Virgasound and former guitarist for the legendary Carcinogents has sold his share of merch over the years. Now he makes a living creating it as the guy behind Ink Tank, a new subsidiary of Saddle Creek Records that screen-prints T-shirts and other items for touring bands.

Esterbrooks isn't new to the business. He worked at the city's largest merch company, Impact Merchandising, for four years handling tour merch for clients that included a number of Saddle Creek bands. Creek left Impact last November, and Esterbrooks left in January to take his new position at Ink Tank.

"Saddle Creek felt they could offer their bands a cheaper product, so why not get into the market?" Esterbrooks said from Ink Tank's world headquarters, located in the industrial ghetto around 88th and H St. Ink Tank is little more than screen-print presses, a dryer that looks like a giant Quizno's sandwich oven, and lots of storage. Add some computer equipment and a website (inktankmerch.com) and you've got yourself a start-up.

Esterbrooks talked shop while his crew mates, including Spring Gun bassist Micah Schmiedeskamp, feverishly produced T-shirts for the upcoming Bright Eyes tour that kicked off the following week. The 11-date tour required roughly 3,000 T-shirts, most of them in size "small" and "medium."

"Indie kids like their shirts too tight, that's the way it is," Esterbrooks said. "If we were doing merch for a metal band, there would be nothing below a 'large' and lots of sleazy girls' tank tops and panties."

Cardboard boxes of brown and gray Bright Eyes shirts and hoodies were stacked along the wall, ready to be shipped to far-off locations including Toronto, Somerville, Mass., and Los Angeles, where they'll arrive at the venue hours before the band (Bright Eyes is flying to locations on this tour). Most bands -- like Maria Taylor, whose shirts will be on the presses next -- simply haul their merch in their van.

Esterbrooks said he depends on the band's touring "merch guy" to count shirts at the end of every night and call if they're running low so he can print some more and ship them to the band on the road. The last thing a touring band wants is to run out of merch the night of a show.

Small runs of 100 black shirts with one-color ink cost $4.25 per shirt, with prices dropping as the volume rises. Most band sell shirts for around $12 on the road. You do the math. Meanwhile, huge artists like Madonna and Tim McGraw sign multi-million dollar deals with merchandise giants like Cinder Block and Bravado who handle every aspect of the artist's merch, right down to sales at shows.

"Saddle Creek Records' 50/50 split of CD profits with artists is unheard of in the industry," Esterbrooks said. "Madonna might only make 20 cents for every CD she sells. She makes a lot more money selling her $45 T-shirts and $100 hoodies."

Esterbrooks said Ink Tank currently prints all the apparel sold on the Saddle Creek website. Each Saddle Creek band, however, chooses where their tour merchandise will be made independent of the label. "I'm trying to make deals to keep their business," Esterbrooks said. "They have the right to go wherever they want. They're on their own."

But Ink Tank is after more than just Saddle Creek bands. "We've set up our pricing to be competitive with all the big boys in the merch business," Esterbrooks said. "I look at Ink Tank like a record label. We acquire bands, retain bands, and take care of their merch needs. That's the way I choose to operate rather than as a typical custom-print shop."

Just like any other record label executive, Esterbrooks will be representing Ink Tank at the South By Southwest music festival later this month, meeting with band management, artists and booking agents, and passing out 12,000 fliers in SXSW goody bags. "It's a matter of convincing people to come to you," he said, adding that he was at SXSW last year, representing Impact.

The long hours have left little time for Esterbrooks' other passion, Virgasound. "I'm taking more work home, but it's a startup, that's the way it goes. I want to see it succeed more than anyone," he said, folding a shirt and placing it in a box. "This Bright Eyes tour is the first thing we've done, and I don't want to screw it up."

Tonight at Sokol Underground, a show that seems to have snuck under the wire, an Elephant 6 showcase featuring Apples in Stereo. Apples is on tour supporting New Magnetic Wonder, their first album in five years that includes contributions from founding members of the E6 collective including Jeff Magnum of Neutral Milk Hotel, Bill Doss and W. Cullen Hart of the Olivia Tremor Control, and John Fernandes, who played clarinet with just about all the E6 bands. Opening is Athens, Georgia, band Casper and the Cookies. $12, 8:30 p.m.

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CD Reviews: Perfect Red, Hot Young Priest, The Evening Episode … – Feb. 27, 2007–

Here's a handful of leftover reviews from '06 from the intern that we need to get out of the way before we move onto '07. Brendan just got another shipment of discs last weekend, and yours truly is working on a few on his own, so keep your eye on the Matrix...

Perfect Red, …Rebuild the Afterworld (self released) -- No no no no no no no! Listening to this was painful. It has nothing new to offer to hardcore music. I wouldn't even classify it as "hardcore" had they not been trying so hard to fit into the genre. This is wuss-rock. And the singer is borderline Geddy Lee. Not to say that there is anything wrong with Mr. Lee (I am, in fact, a big fan), but his vocal approach has no place in hardcore music. Rating: No -- Brendan Greene-Walsh.

Tim sez: Brendan, you're a knowledgeable guy, but come on, this doesn't even remotely resemble hardcore, nor does it try to. What you got here is your typical guitar-fueled goon rock bordering on '80s hair metal. If you're into big, wailing guitars and buckets of riffs -- a la Godsmack -- you might dig it. I didn't. Rating: No

Hot Young Priest, Fiendish Freaky Love (Two Sheds Music) -- It's difficult to find a three-piece that can fully actualize its status as a "power trio." Hot Young Priest is on the verge. Their simple, stripped-down songs allow the lyrics and vocal prowess of Mary Byrne to pull you in. "Soft Focus" starts with "Pregnancy's made a hopeless / Triple-X figure out of me." That's quite a way to look at being knocked up. And in the end, the grunge/punk falls just a bit short. The songs are repetitious and uninspired. Rating: No -- Brendan Greene-Walsh.

Tim sez: With a name like Hot Young Priest, you expect some kinky shenanigans. Instead you get some laid-back indie rock with plenty of fuzzy guitar and a front-woman who reminds me of those ladies in Belly. In fact, the whole thing resembles '90s bands like Hot Rod and Madder Rose (then again, modern day rockers Metric also come to mind). When they add a layer of warm keyboards, like on the lush "Wintergreen," or some backbeat hand-claps (like on "Bear the Scars of Old,") they take it all that much further, but never totally stray from their grungy, fuzz-toned roots. Rating: Yes

The Evening Episode, The Physicist Has Known Sin (Slowdance Records) -- For awhile now every time I hear raspy female vocals I automatically turn off the music. Teresa Eggers has helped me out of this slump. Though raspy, her vocals are pronounced and float beautifully over the top while dripping right back down to create a gentle mix. Piano, lap-steel, keys, theremin and intricate programmed beats run throughout the album. Every aspect is calculated, and the overall product is a wonderfully entertaining. Rating: Yes -- Brendan Greene-Walsh.

Tim Sez: I'm a sucker for breathy women singing about losing their way over fuzzy synths and dub-beat tracks. Pouring some trippy guitar over the whole thing makes it that much better. Overall, a nice way to apply technology to indie rock. They would have been a nice fit on 4AD, back when 4AD was good. Rating: Yes

Look for this week's column on new Saddle Creek subsidiary Ink Tank Merch online right here tomorrow…

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Live Review: Kite Pilot, Adam Weaver and the Ghosts; BE review (in Pitchfork)… – Feb. 26, 2007–

I blame the various local television affiliates for my lack of show-going on Saturday night. At around 8 o'clock I looked outside and it was coming down hard. The fear-mongers said it would continue that way all night, exceeding 12 inches. That was enough to keep me off the roads. The next morning when I went out to shovel I noticed we only got around 3 or 4 inches, that it never snowed much after that initial blast at round 8. Now I now regret not venturing out to either the TSITR show at Sokol or Bright Eyes show at Murphy's. If anyone was at either, let us know how they went here.

Pitchfork weighed in on last night's Bright Eyes' gig in Chicago (here). From the review: "The opening one-two punch of 'Four Winds' and 'Reinvent the Wheel' seemed to indicate that this would be a high-energy performance; alas, that was not the case. Soon, everybody had settled comfortably into a languid country-rock pace that would last for the rest of the evening. Even the show-closing 'Old Soul Song.' which usually erupts into exquisitely controlled chaos, had mellowed." Keep in mind that this is a stripped-down version of Bright Eyes on this tour, featuring core players Mike Mogis and Nate Walcott, along with Neva Dinova's Jake Bellows on bass and guitar, and drummer Rachel Blumberg (ex-Decemberist, Norfolk & Westerner). Expect a much larger, more robust ensemble when he goes out on the second leg of the tour in support of Cassadaga.

I did go out Friday to see Kite Pilot and Adam Weaver at The Saddle Creek bar, arriving just as Spring Gun was finishing their set. Not a bad draw, maybe 50 people? Spring Gun sounded pretty good, and I would have liked to have seen their entire set. Next time.

Kite Pilot ran through their set with the usual panache, though their songs seemed to move a bit slower than the last time I saw them at O'Leaver's. That O'Leaver's set left me thinking they'd be just fine without Austin Britton's guitar. Now I'm not so sure that they don't need someone there to fill in their sound. As a trio, the keyboards and bass alone aren't enough, and even on the few songs where Erica Hanton switched to guitar and Todd Hanton handled the bass lines on his keyboards, something was lacking, especially on the punkier numbers. KP has altered their style to something more beat-heavy that borders on Talking Heads, which I dig. We'll see if they make any adjustments before their next gig at Saddle Creek Bar March 9, which I'll likely miss as it's the opening night of The Waiting Room.

This was my first go-'round seeing Adam Weaver and The Ghosts. Not bad, though the music was a bit too mid-tempo for my mood that evening. Most of the well-performed songs were acoustic droners heavy on layered tones, and felt somewhat maudlin. Beneath the laid-back, acoustic folk rock were some interesting melodies that left me wondering how they'd sound played twice as fast (and twice as loud). Weaver says I'm the only person who's compared his voice (and his band) to Toad the Wet Sprocket, but again, that was the first thing that came to mind on Saturday, along with Joshua Tree-era U2, thanks to the chiming, textured second guitar. All and all, pretty music, though no melody stuck with me to Monday morning.

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Live Review: Aloha, Mewithoutyou, Sparta; Kite Pilot, Spring Gun, Adam Weaver tonight; crazy Saturday... – Feb. 23, 2007–

I've got a feeling that "parking" is going to be on the minds of a lot of people in 2007. Yes, parking. We need a feasible commuter system in this town, folks, just so we can go to shows and not have to worry about parking our vehicles for the evening, wondering if the windows will be busted out while we're at the show, wondering if we're going to survive the long walk through the cold arctic blast...

It took forever to find parking last night because there was some sort of play going on upstairs in Sokol Auditorium. I drove around and around and finally found a place that was only a quarter-mile away. By the time I got to Sokol, I had missed most of Aloha's set, catching only the last song, which was great.

The place, as they say, was packed, and I'm still not sure who everyone came to see. It seemed the most crowded during Aloha, but almost no one left by the time Mewithoutyou came on -- which leads me to believe that they were the main course for last night's ticket buyers. The band started the set by saying this was the fourth time they'd been to Sokol. "This room is my only image of Omaha because I never see any of your town," said lead singer Aaron Weiss, who went on to say perhaps they've worn out their welcome, then quickly added over the chorus of No's "I didn't mean it that way, as if I was trying to get a response or something, but it seems like we've been here 10 times in the last two days."

On their records, gaunt-looking frontman Weiss (with the scraggly beard, he kind of resembled a thin version of Dave Matthews) actually tries to sing, but on stage he turns from "singer" to "vocalist" barking out lyrics like an earnest slam poet with something "really important" to say (the meaning of which, one would assume, is probably Christian-based if the fact that their music is released on Tooth & Nail is any indication). He came off as an emo-hippie version of Craig Finn without Finn's amusing, colorful and dirty anecdotes. When Weiss did sing, usually alone with his guitar, the effect was touching, especially since it was in such stark contrast to the band's blazing bombasts. In fact, the band (or I should say, the music) was top-notch post-punk drenched in shimmering guitars rife with echo and delay. Add the throbbing rhythm section and you've got yourself a first-rate power-rock band, fronted by an evangelist.

After their set, patrons streamed out of Sokol Underground, and I wondered if Sparta was about to be Omaha'd. Most returned (apparently having finished crowding the sidewalk for a smoke), though more than a few never came back. What to say about Sparta… Although I always thought At the Drive-In was an uber-cool rip off of Chavez, I enjoyed their charisma and their afros. ATDI should have stayed together regardless of their so-called creative differences. Well, after the split, The Mars Volta got the afros and the lion's share of charisma. Sparta, apparently got the big-band posturing that was never a part of At The Drive-In's style. Front-man Jim Ward has an arena-rock set of pipes. In fact, after the first couple songs, I expected him to introduce the next one with something like, "There's been a lot of talk about this next song. Maybe, maybe too much talk... This song is not a rebel song, this song is SUNDAY BLOODY SUNDAY" (Only people with a copy of Under a Blood Red Sky will understand that reference). To me, Ward had a few vocal mannerisms that reminded me of early U2, and if this band had existed in the '80s they could have been the precursors to The Alarm or even (god forbid) Big Country, though their style is much too angsty and emo-esque to run with those big-hearted lads. Despite having a full, gorgeous rock sound underscored by a chest-thumping kick-drum, Sparta was kind of boring, thanks to a lack of dynamics and variety. Once you heard one song, you've heard them all. Halfway through their set I was able to walk right up past the poles, the crowd had thinned so dramatically. For a band that's supposed to be the big-label headliner, it was obvious that either people hadn't come to see them or had seen enough after the first 15 minutes of their set, as I had. I zipped up my jacket and headed out the door to my long walk back to the car.

* * *

What a screwed up weekend of shows. Tomorrow night's offering is sheer and utter madness. But before we get to that, here's what's on tap tonight:

-- At The Saddle Creek Bar it's Adam Weaver & the Ghosts, Kite Pilot and Spring Gun. $5, 9 p.m. If you haven't seen the new version of Kite Pilot before, you really should. It's more straight-forward and, frankly, punkier than the Austin Britton version.

-- At O'Leaver's, it's Root Shoot Leaf, Thunder Power and Paper Owls. Thunder Power is intern Brendan Greene-Walsh's band, which is reason enough to attend. $5, 9:30 p.m.

-- Over at Hotel Frank, 3821 Farnam (across the street from The Brothers) it's Cap Gun Coup, No. I'm the Pilot, Articulate and Deep Sleep Waltzing. There is a major buzz going around these days for Cap Gun Coup. Check them out before they get signed.

Then there's Saturday night. Rarely has there been a more crowded evening of shows. I'll go down the list and let you decide which makes the most sense.

-- First off, the benefit for Terrence Moore, which I wrote a column about a couple weeks ago (here). You former patrons of Dirt Cheap Records who will be in Lincoln that evening owe it to yourselves to go.

-- Down at Sokol Underground it's The Show Is the Rainbow (which I wrote about here) with Yip-Yip, Prostitute and Flamethrower. What will Darren Keen have up his sleeve for this show? Add Yip-Yip's costumed antics and it should be a colorful evening. $7, 9 p.m.

-- Meanwhile, over at The 49'r it's The Monroes with The Filter Kings. $3, 9:30 p.m. Rare is the opportunity these days to see the mighty Monroes. And you already know how I feel about The Filter Kings.

-- If you're in Lincoln and aren't going to the Terrence Moore benefit, there's Domestica (ex-Mercy Rule), Robot Creep Closer and Strawberry Burn at Bob's Tavern in ultra-cool Havelock. I don't have a specific address, just ask around. Someone in Havelock is bound to know. Show starts at 9 and is absolutely free.

-- Back in Omaha and over at O'Leaver's it's the All Riot Records launch with CD releases by Jealous Lovers (ex-Snake Handlers) and The Upsets, with Sioux City rockers Dead Man's Hand. $5, 9 p.m.

-- Finally, there's Bright Eyes and Maria Taylor at Murphy's Lounge. I mention this only because it'll be of interest to the 200 or so people who got tickets within the 7-minute window in which they were available before selling out. No reason to rub your noses in it.

I'm sure I'm forgetting something. If you think of it, post it here.

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Column 115 -- Dan Schlissel, Lewis Black and a Grammy; Aloha, Sparta, Mewithoutyou tonight... – Feb. 22, 2007–

This week's column is a reprise of a story I wrote five years ago about Dan Schlissel after he had just released Lewis Black's White Album, which you can read here. Still no word on whether Dan gets a statue or not. You can find the Ismist Records catalog online at ismista.com. Dan's new project, Stand Up! Records, is at standuprising.com.

Column 115: Funny Business
Former Nebraskan Flirts with Grammy.

And now the story of Dan Schlissel and his Grammy.

Schlissel, as followers of Omaha's golden age of punk back in the mid-'90s knows, ran Ismist Records and released music by bands like Urethra Franklin, Frontier Trust, Such Sweet Thunder, Polecat and Wide back when Saddle Creek Records was just a glimmer in Robb Nansel's eye. His music career was somewhat short-lived. Schlissel moved from Lincoln to Minneapolis in '98 and slowly weaned himself from Midwestern punk rock.

But he wasn't through with running a record label. Instead, he had in the back of his mind the idea for a new label that focused on comedy. Among his favorite funnymen was an under-the-radar comic named Lewis Black who was just beginning to get national exposure thanks to a 5-minute bit he did once a week on Comedy Central's The Daily Show. Schlissel saw something in Black that Warner Bros. and Comedy Central Records hadn't. Both labels had turned down Black's idea for a comedy album. Not Schlissel, who released Black's debut, The White Album, on Ismist in October 2000. Within a year, the album had sold more than 8,000 copies.

Flash forward seven years. Schlissel still produces all of Black's audio recordings as well as manages the bulk of his tour merchandise, from T-shirts to Zippo lighters. "Plus, I do vinyl for his Comedy Central releases," Schlissel said via e-mail.

Now here's the Grammy part: Last week Lewis Black's The Carnegie Hall Performance -- produced by Schlissel -- took home the Grammy for "Best Comedy Album."

"I don't know if I get a statue or not," Schlissel said, adding that he was the only producer on the project "other than the executive producer, and his job is just to supply the money anyway." Schlissel's role was to ensure that the recording got made the night of the performance, "and then to shepherd all of the raw materials into a final product."

He may not get a golden statue, but he did get thanked during Black's acceptance speech.

"I never win shit, so this is really, um, I'm astonished," Black said. He went on to do a few moments of self-deprecating shtick, the kind of stuff he's known for, before thanking his agents and, "Dan Schlissel, who had the nerve to start producing my CDs before anybody else."

Schlissel says Black is the same laid-back guy he met all those years ago on the comedy club circuit. "He hasn't changed because of fame," he said. "That's why I am still lucky enough to be working with him. He gets it on a level that few would."

Schlissel said Black's growing popularity -- bolstered by his popular HBO specials and film projects like Robin Williams' "Man of the Year" and the kid-targeted farce "Unaccompanied Minors" -- have forced the tour out of the clubs and into 4,000-seat music halls. Just imagine what that could mean for Zippo sales. But despite that, Schlissel says he isn't getting rich. "I am able to not have another day job, though, and that means a great deal to me," he said. "It's nice to not have to split focus on keeping a real day job and getting all the things done that need to on a day-to-day level with the label and merchandise."

Since the first Black record (Schlissel also released his follow-up, 2002's The End of the Universe), Schlissel has created a new label, called Stand Up! Records, whose roster includes comedians David Cross, Doug Stanhope and Jimmy Shubert, among others.

So would he ever consider going back to putting out punk rock records? "I actually just released a music project last year," Schlissel said, "the long-awaited We Will Bury You: A Tribute to Killdozer. That was a band that I loved and had a bond with, since I put out their last 7-inch before they broke up. It took nine years, but it came out as a co-release with Crustacean Records from Madison."

He's also placed the Lincoln/Omaha compilation Linoma, Vol. 2: Riot on the Plains on iTunes last year. The 20-song collection, originally released in August 1999, includes tracks by Ditch Witch, Polecat, Plastik Trumpet, Sideshow, Cursive, Mercy Rule, Opium Taylor, Wide and Porn (ex-Ritual Device), among others.

But as for new music projects, well… "Stand Up! is focused on comedy, not music… I have no interest in dealing with music anymore. I did it for years and learned a lot. It's now up to folks that are younger and have more energy for it than me. I am just glad to still be creative and active. It's an amazing graduating class of folks I am contemporaries with from the Linoma scene." Now that sounds like an acceptance speech.
Tonight at Sokol Underground, Sparta with Mewithoutyou and Aloha. $13, 9 p.m. Get there early. And in case you were wondering, that Bright Eyes show at Murphy's sold out almost immediately.

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The Show Is the Rainbow hits the Gymnasia; Conor and Maria at Murphy's Saturday... – Feb. 21, 2007–

This week's feature/interview is with Lincoln's favorite red-headed son, The Show Is the Rainbow (read it here). The story focuses almost entirely on Darren Keen's new CD, Gymnasia, which will be celebrated Saturday night at Sokol Underground. Among the stuff that didn't make it into the story is why Darren left his last label, UK's Tsk Tsk Records, which released 2005's Radboyz Only!

"Tsk Tsk was never really something I was going to do forever," Keen said. "The record sold fine, I sold a ton of them on tour, but I'm not sure how many we sold in stores or if we sold any in America. It wasn't going anywhere. When I finished Gymnasia, I sent a copy to Kill Rock Stars, GSL, SAF, no more than seven labels. Matt Driscoll of SAF wrote back right away." Keen wanted the label to release it last summer, but SAF wasn't ready and Keen was considering releasing it himself. After a 75-day tour, however, he had a change of heart. "I was shell-shocked," he said. "I told them I was willing to wait until they were ready." That time off was spent finding a booking agent and a company to handle press.

And speaking of press, Darren says he's getting tired of all those Har Mar Superstar comparisons. "I sound nothing like that," he said. "We were just talking about bands being hesitant to compare themselves to other bands. Comparisons are cool, but when someone compares me to Har Mar, fuck that. I could see a little of that in the beginning, but to be honest, a lot of Omaha indie dudes saw me early and wrote me off as a Har Mar wannabe. I honestly really don't give a shit, I don't care who does or doesn't like the band."

I also have heard TSITR compared to Har Mar, but never really bought into it. The only thing they really have in common is that they're both in-your-face one-man performers and they're both somewhat overweight. Har Mar's shtick is being the ultimate lounge-lizard lady's man and is pure comedy. Har Mar isn't Sean Tillman, he's a character that Tillman played on stage (and which he eventually became tired of, though he says HMSS will be back). TSITR was/is Keen in all his over-the-top glory. It's not an alter-ego, it's Darren speaking his mind -- this time mostly about the music industry -- over home-made music, in front of a homemade video, standing amongst the crowd on the floor. Musically, there is no similarity between the two projects. But Darren may never shake Har Mar from his back, if this piece in the Daily Iowan is any example.

One thing Darren has left behind on this record are his attacks on Saddle Creek Records' artists, which highlighted his last couple CDs. This time you won't hear a single reference to Conor Oberst. Ironically, it's Conor who may have sent an unintentional salvo at TSITR's CD release show when yesterday it was announced that Bright Eyes will be performing a last-minute show at Murphy's Lounge this Saturday night. The $15 tickets go on sale this afternoon at 5 p.m. from the One Percent Productions website. Also on the bill is Maria Taylor, who's new album, Lynn Teeter Flower, is the best thing she's ever produced (with or without Orenda). If you want to make it to this 21-and-over-only show, you better click on that One Percent link right at 5. Murphy's, an Irish-themed lounge located at 96th and L, only has a capacity of a few hundred, so this one will sell out quick.

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Fat Tuesday with Whipkey and Benck; Pelle Carlberg reviewed... – Feb. 20, 2007–

Is Fat Tuesday becoming another holiday like St. Patrick's Day and Halloween? If it isn't yet, it's only a matter of time before it does. Deep in the heart of a frozen winter, people are looking for an excuse to drink -- any excuse. Fat Tuesday/Mardi Gras is as good as any. I generally celebrate the day before Ash Wednesday with a festive two-piece dinner with a side of red beans and rice from Popeyes, but tonight I'm thinking of heading to Shag, where Matt Whipkey and Anonymous American are playing with Sarah Benck and the Robbers. No idea of the cost or time (probably around 9?). Wonder if they'll be tossing beads?

And now another CD review from our intern:

Pelle Carlberg, Everything. Now! (TwentySeven Records) -- This album still hasn't completely settled in my mind. After an initial listen, I was dumbfounded by the quality of the music. The songs are well-written, as are the lyrics, and the two come together flawlessly. This is a solid album from beginning to end. And even when writing about more depressing topics like the death of Warren Zevon (CD opener "Musikbyran Makes Me Wanna Smoke Crack"), the mood is still light and pretty. It picks up where Belle and Sebastian went wrong sometime around Tigermilk or If You're Feeling Sinister. This well-substantiated folk-pop will be claiming its place in the mainstream consciousness soon. Rating: Yes. -- Brendan Greene-Walsh.

Tim sez: The Belle and Sebastian comparison couldn't be more on target. Carlberg's sound and style on tracks like the hand-clap driven "Riverbank" and "Summer of '69" so emulate those Scottish lads that it borders on aping. But it's how he approaches his topics that's so perplexing. As sunny sounding as the dour-lyriced "Musikbyran..." sounds, "Telemarketing" -- an ode to irresistible bargains sold over the phone -- is downright funereal. It's Carlberg's peppy shuffles, along with his smart, introspective lyrics, however, that make it a keeper. File this Swede-pop under the easiest, lightest stuff by Morrissey, Lloyd Cole, Kings of Convenience, and yeah, B&S. Rating: Yes.

Tomorrow morning, this week's interview, with: The Show Is the Rainbow. Be there.

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Live Review: The Shanks, Box Elders; Slowdown, Waiting Room sites go live… – Feb. 19, 2007–

The Shanks are this close -- this close -- to being one of those bands that people go to see just to see what'll happen. They're not quite there yet. They still need to push over that little hump that divides confusion and chaos. Ah, but it's a tiny leap. Their set last Friday night at a mostly full Saddle Creek Bar was a big, blurry mess highlighted by ear-piercing feedback that simply would not go away. I asked someone in the crowd if they thought something was wrong with the sound system. No, nothing's wrong, he said, that's what they're going for. I turned around and noticed a half-dozen people with fingers in their ears (thank god for my earplugs). Their brief set was a howling buzz-drone of hardcore-tinged noise-punk thrown together and sloppy. The highlight was when the towering drummer came from behind this drumset to sing the last couple songs leaning into a microphone that was only about 4 feet high while everyone else in the band stumbled around pounding on their instruments. They knew what they were feeding the audience -- an audience that wanted more -- just that much more.

In extreme contrast was The Box Elders, featuring Clayton and Jeremiah McIntyre -- the Brothers McIntyre -- on bass, guitar and vocals, and Dave Goldberg on drums and organ. Unlike the last time I saw the trio at O'Leaver's, I could actually hear Dave's organ during the set. He punched out a counter melody with one hand and played the drumset with his other three limbs. Their music is propelled purely by its rhythms, and if it had been anywhere else but Omaha, the crowd would have been dancing instead of standing in front of the stage nodding their heads. This is fun-loving garage music with a groovy beat and a cutting sense of punk style that would be right at home at the coolest wedding reception in the world.

In other news…

Websites for the two newest, yet-to-open clubs in town went online in the last couple of weeks. Slowdown, the Saddle Creek Records music hall/bar in downtown Omaha, put up this website (at www.theslowdown.com) that is nothing more than a countdown to their grand opening June 8 (if my math is correct, and it probably isn't). Other than the clock, there's nothing to see. Meanwhile, just as cryptic is the new Waiting Room website (at www.waitingroomlounge.com) that sports the message "Keep Waiting." Keep an eye on both sites, I have a feeling they will be updated shortly.

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Box Elders tonight, Vedera tomorrow… – Feb. 16, 2007–

Not a huge weekend in terms of live music, but enough to get by.

Tonight's marquee show is Box Elders with The Shanks (here's a review of their January show) and "The Antiquarium Staff" at The Saddle Creek Bar -- always a great, laid-back place to see a show. Cover is usually $5 and it start at 9. Meanwhile, down the street at O'Leaver's, it's the infamous Blood Cow with Arch and The Filthy Few. $5, 9:30 p.m.

Saturday it's indie band Vedera at Sokol Underground with Lincoln's Tie These Hands. Kansas City's Vedera sounds like a cross between Bettie Serveert and Denali, sung by a frontwoman who looks more than a little like Pat Benatar. $8, 9 p.m.

That about raps up the weekend. If you know of anything going on, post it here.

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Column 114 -- Dirt Cheap's Terrence Moore… – Feb. 15, 2007–

I intended to run a huge introduction to this column, seeing as Terrence and I talked for a couple hours last Saturday, providing me with enough quotes for a 2,500-word feature let alone a slim, 900-word column, but I'll let the following stand alone. The part you need to pay attention to is the date of the benefit: It's a week from this Saturday, Feb. 24 from 4 to 11 p.m. at The Loft at the Mill on 8th and P St. in Lincoln. Be there.

Column 114: Cultural Attraction
Terrence Moore's latest challenge.

I never actually stepped foot in Lincoln's Dirt Cheap Records. Never even knew where it was until I talked to Terrence Moore last weekend. No, I spent my time at Omaha's Dirt Cheap, flipping through bins of used vinyl records just like thousands of others who grew up going to one of Terrence's records stores, looking for buried treasures among the stacks of black plastic.

People like Dirk Gillespie, who back in '75 drove to Lincoln on Saturdays to have lunch at The Palms before digging through the store's records and books. "It was one of the only places that you could find the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali," Gillespie said, referring to a book of yoga philosophy. "And the records… You never knew what you'd find. I always came out of there happy with stuff I held onto for years."

For local music legend and serious record collector Charlie Burton, Lincoln's Dirt Cheap was "a fishing hole, and any fishing hole, to me, is great," he said. "They also had a head shop, too. It was an important pitstop for many musicians."

Yoga literature? Head shop? Sounds like some sort of hippie hang-out. "It was definitely looked upon as a hippie store," Moore said, sounding upbeat and healthy on the phone. "We had parents stick their head into the store and not come inside or let their kids come in. It was a scary time to be a parent. Music brought people together, and they overcame their shyness to hippie stuff because they wanted to hear great music that you couldn't hear on the radio."

Moore remembers it was around September 1970 when he and his first wife, Linda, made the trip back to Lincoln from San Jose, California. At age 21, Terrence had reached a point where he didn't need to be in school anymore -- "my draft eligibility was done." The original plan was to homestead with another couple in Bella Coola, British Columbia, but when that fell through the next logical idea was to open a record store in Lincoln.

"You could do things back then without a lot of capital if you were willing to live a Spartan lifestyle," Moore said. "Three months later, we opened, and it just took off. It was great fun, and the music was exciting."

Dirt Cheap in Lincoln had everything from rare British-import 45s to underground comix, alternative health books to handmade crafts and, yes, head shop gear. "It was a lot of fun back in those early days of the utopian marijuana culture," Moore said, "back when it was simple, before it became something different six or seven years later."

Twelve years after opening, Moore sold Dirt Cheap in 1982. It would be renamed Twisters, and eventually move from its original location at 217 No. 11th St. to 14th & O. The Dirt Cheap name, however lived on in Omaha, when Moore opened a new location at 10th and Jackson in 1986. That incarnation focused on music collectibles, with lots of posters, vinyl and eventually CDs. You could spend hours there, flipping through the bins while Moore or one of his friendly employees spun a variety of music -- jazz, rock, Celtic, you name it. That's where I got my vinyl copy of Graham Parker's Squeezing Out Sparks along with a few hundred other albums.

Most people know Moore from those stores, but in Lincoln he's also known as the guy who helped start community radio station KZUM 89.3 FM, providing $2,500 in seed money generated by setting aside a quarter or 50 cents from the sale of every bootleg record. Terrence sat on the station's first board of directors, and was a DJ in the mid-'70s. Today, KZUM boasts 105 volunteer programmers and a staff of four, one of them being Moore, who returned to organize membership events. It's through KZUM that he has health insurance "which is of great use now."

"Now" refers to his recent diagnosis of an inoperable intestinal cancer. To help pay for costs not covered by his insurance, Terrence's friends organized a fundraiser Saturday, Feb. 24, from 4 to 11 p.m. at The Loft at the Mill on 8th and P St. in Lincoln that will feature performances by The Cronin Brothers, Stringtown Castanets and Charlie Burton and the Dorothy Lynch Mob.

If just a fraction of the people who used to hang out at Dirt Cheap show up, it should be a helluva crowd. Not to mention all those who looked to Moore for business advice. Moore said that when Bruce Hoberman and his partners had the idea for Homer's, he was happy to tell them how he did it.

"One of the things I'm proud of is that if anyone came to me for advice about starting a business, I would tell them what I knew. And my biggest piece of advice was always, 'If you want to do it, go ahead and do it. Forget all the reasons you can't do it, and just get started.'"

It was all about will power. Now with a battery of chemo facing him, Terrence will be relying on that will power more than ever, along with the support of an army of friends. "It's tremendously gratifying, and something I hadn't thought about until this happened," Moore said. "The whole support system has been quite amazing."

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Apologizing to Aloha… – Feb. 14, 2007–

Of the three bands on the bill the night of the Aloha show a week from tomorrow, Aloha is clearly the smallest, the least known and the least successful. The reason I went after Aloha will be obvious when you read the story's lead (in fact, read the whole thing here). It's not the first time I blew a review, and it won't be the last.

Though they've been around for years, a tour with Sparta is still quite a catch for Aloha. "Both bands are much bigger than us," said frontman Tony Cavallario. "Their crowds will not have heard our music. We don't want to win everyone over, just a few." Could be a tough crowd.

A few other things that Tony said that didn't make it into the story:

-- Cavallario isn't exactly enamored with his own voice. "Singing isn't like playing an instrument at all," he said, "especially for your average indie rock singer who isn't the most gifted. It's never been easy for me. Figuring out the melodies is easy, but it takes a lot of work before I'm satisfied."

He made it sound like his voice is pure shit, when in fact it's one of the better voices in indie rock. I mentioned this, along with the fact that there are a ton of mediocre vocalists out there that are hugely successful.

"I'm proud of the stuff I'm able to do, but there's a quality to my voice that I wouldn't recommend for the job that I have, which is being a singer in a band," he said. "I never listen to a band and say, 'The singer of this band bothers me.' There's a certain discomfort you have with your own voice unless you're born with killer pipes. Anyone who writes a good song has a voice people will want to listen to. There's a lot of bad singing out there that's great music. People who are really in touch with music aren't looking for a good voice, they're looking for a good song writer."

We talked about lazy critics' habit of drawing comparisons to bands. "Well, you have to start somewhere," Cavallario said. "It gets even more difficult when you're dealing with a specific readership. People who are into alternative and indie rock will name any band and assume the audience knows that band. But every day I deal with people who don't read Pitchfork, and I wish they did so I wouldn't have to say, 'We sound kind of like Genesis or Simon and Garfunkel or the Beatles.'"

What about comparisons to Karate? "People may hear us and think of Karate, which is fine, because that's where we came from. Karate played house shows at Neal House in Columbus. They were the indie undercurrent in the punk scene. That's what turned us on to playing music. You didn't have to sound like punk to be a punk band."

Anyway, read the whole story here.

Tomorrow's column is a piece on Terrence Moore, the man behind Dirt Cheap Records in Lincoln and Omaha, and the new challenge he's facing.

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It snowed last night… – Feb. 13, 2007–

More later, I'm busy shoveling. On second thought, there's nothing to report today. Look for a nice feature on Aloha tomorrow morning. Maybe it'll make you think of Hawaii, where it's sunny and 75 today.

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Live Review: The Third Men, Virgasound, Filter Kings; those sucky Grammy's… – Feb. 12, 2007–

It was a fun night at Sokol Underground Saturday. Interesting in that none of the bands on the bill had a speck of merch for sale. Nothing. And yet, these bands have been around for quite awhile. In the case of Third Men and Virgasound, for over a year.

The Third Men are trying to make up for that lack of merch by releasing a full-length on Speed! Nebraska this year. I can never quite put my finger on what these guys (and gal) sound like. One minute I'm thinking summer of love, the next, '90s college/indie followed by '70s cock rock. They seem dead-set on bringing back the guitar solo, and that alone separates them from the herd of local indie bands. I think I've seen these guys at least a half-dozen times, and every time I end up comparing them to Matthew Sweet. A more accurate comparison might be to '80s-'90s college band The dBs, another act that seems clearly influenced by Big Star and The Kinks, and that also had a similar dependence on upbeat hooks. Bottom line: The Third Men are the kind of band that would play in the background of a Jonathan Demme film -- the scene where the protagonist is looking for his girlfriend at the club -- that's The Third Men up there on stage playing the role of the house band -- cool and unobtrusive, but with enough umph to make you wait through the film's closing credits to find out who the hell they were. They finished their set with a serviceable cover of Mott the Hoople's/David Bowie's "All the Young Dudes," complete with one of the most recognizable intro guitar solos in the history of rock, supplied this time by Matt Rutledge.

Virgasound has turned into a showcase for drummer Jeff Heater. He is impossible not to watch during the set, fiercely flailing in his throaty, muscular style -- no one in town plays with quite the same intensity, except for maybe Cursive's Clint Schnase or The Box Elders' Dave Goldberg. No, Heater is in a league of his own, and has been for the past decade. The rest of Virgasound is good, too, but Heater is the guy that takes them to the next level.

Finally, there was The Filter Kings, a new group headed by former Cactus Nerve Thang and current Bad Luck Charm frontman Lee Meyerpeter. They bill themselves as sort of a country band, but I don't think you'll ever see them invited over to Bushwackers for a weekend gig. While there' s a distinctive twang to their trot, don't let the cowboy hats fool ya -- they're pure rock. Look under the sleeves of those western-cut shirts and you'll find plenty of tats. More than country, there's a punk aesthetic to what they're doing. Whenever Lee was singing up front, I was reminded of Social Distortion, maybe because his voice and vocal mannerisms so closely resemble Mike Ness'. Add a groovy stand-up bass, some shit-kicker drums and songs about drinking and women, and you've got yourself a comfortable hybrid of punk and western swing. About a third of the 60 or so on hand were doing some sort of improvised punk/country dancing. All were a-grinnin' and all were throwing down the booze -- this is drinking music pure and simple. Like how The Jazzwholes are the house band at Shag on Sunday nights, the One Percent guys may want to consider making The Filter Kings their weekly house band at The Waiting Room. It's just smart business.

Finally, unlike the smarter among you who didn't, I did sit through The Grammy's last night. My take on this year's awards: Today's pop music industry (radio music industry?) has become obsessed with performers - not artists, not songwriters, not musicians -- probably because every last ounce of creativity has been leached out of their Hollywood high rise offices. When American Idol is your farm team -- when even AI losers are honored as genius -- there's something painfully wrong with your industry. So addicted have they become to AI, this year's awards show even incorporated its own version of the lame talent search, selecting a faceless nobody to sing alongside Justin Timberlake (and you, the viewer at home, got to pick who it was!). One assumes that the "winner" had a recording contract by the time she left the stage, and we'll be graced by her cookie-cutter vocal stylings for years to come.

It's pretty sad when the evening's highlight is a performance of a song that's almost 30 years old by a band that's decided to cash in with a reunion tour. Oh, The Police looked and sounded great, but after attending The Who concert, I'll probably skip this retro tour when it comes to The Qwest unless they release some new material. Been there. Done that.

I'm not sure I understand the obsession with John Mayer - a mediocre vocalist who apes all of Clapton's easiest guitar licks. As a lyricist, he blows. But then again, all the lyricists honored last night blew. The most relevant lyricists were probably the Dixie Chicks, whose totality of message is "quit picking on us for hating Bush." Trite? You make the call. At least Mayer didn't win Best Rock Album. That honor went to one of the most over-congratulated, least-talented, over-exposed bands in the history of rock music. It is unfortunate when the winner of the Best Rock Album category is a band that peaked 16 years ago -- and even back then, wasn't very good. They've managed to make a career out of rehashing the same two or three songs over and over again. Someday your children will go online and view some of RHCP's live performances and ask, "Did you guys know back then that the naked guy can't sing?" Yes, dear, we did.

Last night's big winner, if you didn't already know, was the Dixie Chicks. What the media seems to be missing in the story is how their current success was propelled by one of the better music documentaries I've seen since that Metallica flick a few years ago -- Shut Up and Sing. I didn't give two shits about them before I saw the flick a few months ago. Afterward I became a reluctant fan. The other part of their story that everyone seems to be missing is how Dan Wilson, formerly of Semisonic and Trip Shakespeare, helped them redefine their songwriting style. His influence on the band is much more obvious than Rick Rubin's.

Missing, of course, was any mention of indie music. A couple indie bands did win Grammy's (they just weren't televised). OK Go's "Here It Goes Again," won for best shortform video, while The Flaming Lips' won for best engineered album (nonclassical), and best rock instrumental performance (waitaminit, the Lips aren't indie anymore, are they?). Maybe next year, eh? Not likely.

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Mal Madrigal/Art in Manila tonight, Filter Kings/Third Men tomorrow… – Feb. 9, 2007–

It's a pretty busy weekend musicwise, with the biggest show slated for this evening at PS Collective. Details in the following summary, written for The Reader:

Art and music and literature come together for a celebration of good ol' fashion Nebraska creativity at one of Omaha's newest mid-town haunts. The evening begins at 6 with an art opening of works by Liza Otto. Her canvases are derived from illustrations used for Beneath the Plastic, a novel by her husband, SD Allison. In fact, the evening is actually a publishing party celebrating the book's release, and will include a short reading by Allison at 8. That'll be followed by live sets from Omaha indie folk-rockers Mal Madrigal, Shelter Belt and Art in Manila (the band formerly known as Art Bell) featuring Saddle Creek Recording artist Orenda Fink. Get your culture on.

It's free, and for those who haven't been there, PS Collective is right next to The Pizza Shoppe in Benson (which is actually connected to it, and serves damn good pizza). I suspect there will be an unusually huge turn-out for this show.

Also going on tonight, Adam Weaver and the Ghosts are playing down at Sokol Underground with Race for Titles and Electric Needle Room. $5, 9 p.m.

Also worth noting, Kristen Hersh, ex-Throwing Muses and 50-Foot Wave, is doing an instore at the Old Market Homer's today at 5 p.m. Of course, those of us with jobs which we use to generate money to buy CDs will miss it. Smart scheduling, Homer's.

Tomorrow night at Sokol Underground it's The Filter Kings with Virgasound and The Third Men. According to the latest Speed! Nebraska update, The Third Men just finished intense negotiations with the storied label, and the two parties have come to an agreement that makes way for their debut album to come out on Speed! later this spring. One assumes a world tour will follow but first they have to get through Saturday night's show, which is $7 and starts at 9 p.m.

Meanwhile, at O'Leaver's it's a night of punk with The Shanks, Wisconsin's Gut Reaction and Forbidden Tigers, all for the usual $5 (9:30 p.m.).

O'Leaver's rounds out the weekend Sunday night with some angsty folk by way of Outlaw Con Bandana, The Black Squirrels and Lawrence Kansas' Drakkar Sauna. $5, 9 p.m.

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Column 113 -- Stealing from Conor; Earl Greyhound tonight … – Feb. 8, 2007–

I know what you're thinking: Why does such a well-respected music journalist/critic/columnist like Tim McMahan need to illegally download a copy of the new Bright Eyes EP? Surely a team of couriers was sent by Press Here Publicity (Oberst's flacks) and Saddle Creek Records to hand-deliver a promo copy of Four Winds to Tim's palatial Dundee address. Hell, Conor himself would merely need to drive a few blocks from his Fairacres mansion and drop one off himself. Tim doesn't need to steal, does he?

Well, blame it on laziness. Apparently a promo copy was sent to The Reader instead of my home address. As I tell bands who want to get me a copy of their discs -- if you send it to The Reader, you might as well just throw it away -- the chances of me getting the CD before it falls into the piranha-like clutches of Reader staffers never to be heard from again is nil. And I drop into The Reader's subterranean offices only about six times a year (even though they also reside in my neighborhood). I just happened to come across the download link serendipitously during an evening of surfing, and the results are column 113. That said, I still haven't received a copy of the new Maria Taylor CD...

Column 113: Stolen Winds
Pinching the new Bright Eyes.

A couple weeks ago I was perusing the Saddle Creek Records webboard, an online community where you can find such titillating discussion topics as "What if everybody's hair in the entire world was shaved off and put in a gigantic container and mixed with equal amounts of peanut butter and you had to go swimming it?" and "So my boyfriend wants to buy me a dulcimer…" and even music-related topics like "Bands you wish you could have seen at their peak" (The late Elliott Smith topped most lists).

Rarely do the discussions stray to actual Saddle Creek-related topics, but sometimes fights break out over which is the best Cursive album or if Conor Oberst has "sold out" or what brand of guy-liner The Faint wears. Riveting stuff? Not really.

Still, you can find some entertaining -- and useful -- information reading webboards, and even get pointed toward music that you'd never find on your own (especially if you live in Omaha, where there are no radio stations that play college music). So there I was, glancing through threads about the new Arcade Fire CD and the Cold War Kids when I found a discussion thread named "Four Winds EP" -- the title of the new Bright Eyes album which isn't slated for release until March 6. Included in the discussion was a link to a web server where anyone could download the entire CD free of charge.

Post haste I clicked the link, than clicked a few times more and within a couple minutes I had a pristine quality copy of the EP on my hard drive (and moments later, on my iPod). I had become *gasp* an illegal downloader. I should have felt guilty -- I was stealing directly from Saddle Creek Records and Conor Oberst and everyone who depends on the enormous cash flow that the release of Four Winds will generate come March.

But actually, I didn't feel guilty in the least. After all, I found the link on Saddle Creek's official webboard, where it had been for days. In fact, there were more than four pages of replies to the original thread, with each person presumably having downloaded the CD. Surely Saddle Creek knew all about the link and were using their webboard as a clever form of viral marketing. Get those kids talking about the CD, and then everyone who hasn't stolen a copy surely will buy one in March.

I asked Saddle Creek Records executive Jason Kulbel if I was wrong, and I was. He knew that the EP "leaked" a few days prior. And no, they weren't using their webboard for viral marketing. After pointing him to the discussion thread, he deleted it. "We try to delete anything with direct links for our music before it's released," he said.

Deleting the thread was easy. Why not go after the guy who ran the download server that hosted the CD files? "It's really a losing battle," Kulbel said. "You could spend all day every day on it and not even come close to getting all of them removed/shut down."

Kulbel said everything that Saddle Creek releases gets "leaked" a few weeks before it comes out. "Leaked" typically refers to someone illegally uploading the CD via mp3 into the file-sharing networks. Kulbel said it's the result of the label sending out pre-release copies of the disc. "Funny enough, it's always right after copies go out that leaks happen. Not to nit-pick the press, they just get them first. Watermarked CDs are one method labels are using to combat this. I wouldn't say that leaks are all bad, but they certainly aren't all good, either."

Stopping illegal downloading is like holding back the ocean with a spoon. If the kids want it, they'll find it on the Internet, either through file sharing or online networks where people send files back and forth. By not actively taking on the pirates, Creek is gambling that a few hundred downloads won't hurt their bottom line. At least not too much.

"So did you like the EP or what, you illegal downloader you?"

I had given my illegal copy of Four Winds a few spins, but could only make surface comparisons (Plus, I didn't have a lyric sheet, yet another drawback to downloading). The title track, with its rootsy fiddle, reminded me of an old Waterboys track (off Fisherman's Blues). "Reinvent the Wheel" sounded like "From a Balance Beam" from 2002's Lifted. "Smoke Without Fire" was early Simon and Garfunkel, say around Bookends (especially in the lonely-sounding way it was recorded). "Stray Dog Freedom" was pure Jim James (or Matt Whipkey). I'm still on the fence over the cartoon voice used on "Cartoon Blues," and "Tourist Trap" got me thinking Conor's been hanging with M Ward too much lately. A very eclectic EP.

Imagine how the full-length, Cassadaga, slated for release April 10, will sound. I guess we'll have to wait until mid-March to find out. That's when the promos go out, followed by the "leaks." Anyone got a download?

Tonight at Sokol Underground, Earl Greyhound with Prospect Avenue and Dance Me Pregnant. Here's what I said about Earl Greyhound for The Reader:

Look for signs of head-trauma from NYC rockers Earl Greyhound -- not from banging their heads on the stage, but on their dashboard. The trio were involved in a van accident Jan. 23 while trekking across North Dakota. Everyone's okay, but gigs in Portland and Seattle had to be cancelled to give them time to clear their heads. Often compared to T. Rex and Led Zep (thanks to crash-bash drummer Christopher Bear, who knows his way around them cymbals), one spin of "SOS" off their Some Records debut Soft Targets suggests an odd resemblance to a cadre of ham-fisted FM staples, from The Black Crowes to Lenny Kravitz. Regardless, hop-jump back-beat ditties like "It's Over" throttle back the blues a notch while blistering riff machine "All Better Now" recalls '70s cock rock at its finest. Eclectic? You bet. Better find that neck brace. You'll need it.

It's $8 and starts at 9 p.m. Get there early to catch the grim future of Omaha punk by way of Dance Me Pregnant.

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More BE news, Billboard, RS and Spin, waiting on The Waiting Room… – Feb. 7, 2007–

I do this only because nothing else is going on this week, except this avalanche of Saddle Creek news. It will continue with this week's column (online tomorrow), which is about illegally downloading a copy of Bright Eyes Four Winds EP (and webboards and Creek and a one-paragraph review of the EP that includes a comparison to Matt Whipkey).

Anyway, yesterday's "big news" (released presumably by his publicist) is that Bright Eyes has let loose the flock of doves that is the track listing for Cassadaga, from which eager BE fans will excitedly try to glean the true meaning of the album, which ain't available until April. Press is supposed to get review copies in mid-March. That said, like Rolling Stone last month, Billboard got a sneak listen to the disc, which they wrote about here. Comments include references to swelling orchestras, Phil Spector and The Pogues, summed up with "The album leans heavily toward country-rock territory…" Big wow. Their comments aren't much different than the RS "preview" that went online on Jan. 12, where the gushing writer said "Oberst seems to have solved the split personality problem by layering all of it - the optimistic strings and the gritty, impassioned vocals - together on track after spine-tingling track." Spine tingling!

How did RS get special access to the recording before everyone else? I assume Conor is angling for the cover, and why not? If they can put lame-o acts like Panic at the Disco on the cover, why not feature the guy who they declared was the next Bob Dylan? It will happen. I know that SPIN also is working on a big Conor story. I got an e-mail from the magazine's photo department a couple days ago asking for the source of the photos I used in my '98 Oberst interview. I told them to contact Saddle Creek. This isn't the first time that SPIN has bothered me for photos. Same thing happened last year when they were putting together a story on DCFC and found my blurry, out of focus, poorly lit photos of The Postal Service show from 2003. They wanted everything I shot. I told them, sure, but they suck, they're low-res, they're too dark, they're unusable in your magazine. Just credit Lazy-i. I sent them and of course they weren't used.

Anyway... Like everyone else, I'll be sending in my request for a copy of Cassadaga and an interview with Conor. I'll keep you posted on how well that goes this time.

What other news? Well, I noticed a few days ago that One Percent Productions has begun listing shows for The Waiting Room on their website, and today's One Percent e-mail update also talks about the new venue. Glancing at the schedule, the first show listed at the new club is The Killigans March 16, which is followed by Murphy's Law March 18, Dirty on Purpose March 28, and finally a band that I've heard before, Sondre Lerche with Willy Mason March 29. The prices are $8, $8, $6 and $12 respectively. Will there be a huge, unannounced Grand Opening performance? If I hear anything, I'll let you know.

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Saddle Creek distros Range Life; what's Team Love up to? – Feb. 6, 2007–

In Saddle Creek Records news, CMJ reports that Range Life Records -- home of such acts as White Flight (ex-Anniversary), 1,000,000 Light Years and Fourth of July (again, ex-Anniversary) -- has signed a distro deal with Saddle Creek. The label's first release will be White Flight's debut full-length March 6. Like just about anything involving Saddle Creek, half the fun is figuring out the "six degrees of separation" that underscores the deal: Among the members of Fourth of July is Adrianne Verhoeven, who also happens to be a member of Art in Manila (formerly Art Bell), whose front woman is Orenda Fink, who's solo record (and Azure Ray records) were released on Saddle Creek (along with the records by her husband's band, The Faint). I'm sure there's more to it than that, I'm just saying...

In addition to distributing their own products and now Range Life's, Saddle Creek also distributes Team Love products (all of which, are in turn, distributed by ADA). In fact, if you go to the Saddle Creek online store, you'll already find a link to the Range Life store. Now that's fast. In the process of clicking around while researching this tidbit, I noticed the upcoming release schedule for Team Love includes the debut by Omaha's own McCarthy Trenching (out March 20) as well as Candylion by Gruff Rhys (out March 6), and a 7-inch by Portland band A Weather. Nice.

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Random notes: The cold, The reviews matrix, Prince, KFed and the XLI... – Feb. 5, 2007–

The bitter cold kept me indoors this weekend, missing that Frank's Hotel show and Oxford Collapse and all the other fun things that happened throughout the city. If you went to any, fancy us with a review, would you (here)? The cold isn't about to let up -- it is winter, after all. A quick glance at the various and sundry show calendars tells me that there isn't much to miss until Thursday, when Earl Greyhound is at Sokol.

The reviews matrix finally has been updated with everything received since December (about 64 CDs). I've already begun downloading a few of the new batch and creating a nice pile of discs to hand over to the intern for his sterling interpretations. The grand plan is to refocus this site into something that's more reviews-oriented, retaining the blog (with the usual live reviews, news and gossip) and less-frequent interviews. If you look at the Interviews page you'll notice that I wrote fewer interviews/features this year than last. That's the result of fewer assignments from The Reader (thanks to their ever-growing writers ranks) and fewer bands of interest coming through Omaha in '06. When I started this almost 10 years ago, the plan was to write an interview/feature every other week. That quickly changed to weekly and sometimes two a week. Add writing a weekly column to that and you don't have a lot of time to do CD reviews. Toward the end of '06, I went back to an every-other-week schedule, which I hope to maintain this year -- that means fewer but more in-depth stories (you'll notice that they've become longer recently) and eventually, more CD reviews, hopefully at least two or three a week (with Brendan's help).

Finally, you had to feel sorry for Prince last night at Superbowl XLI. Despite the pouring rain, his purpleness put on a pretty good show. I could have done without all the covers, but the goal (I guess) was to please a crowd of millions. The highlight was his gritty guitar playing -- something that I figured would have been dangerous in all that rain (shows you what I know about electric guitars). Best commercial: The KFed ad. Yeah, I think the guy is marginally talentless, but I actually dug the beats that he was rhyming on (more proof that a good producer can make anyone sound like a genius), and thought that the overall self-deprecating approach made him look human, and funny. Maybe there's some talent there after all? Nah…

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Them house party blues, Ed Grey, Oxford Collapse tonight; Slowdown Virginia reunion? – Feb. 2, 2007–

One of the biggest shows of the weekend is, in fact, a house party being held tonight at "Frank's Hotel" across the street from The Brother's Lounge and starring Cap Gun Coup, Coyote Bones, The Family Radio and Flowers Forever. House parties continue to be a staple of indie music, they're the most convenient outlet for bands and their underage fans to get together without the added cost of a hall rental. It also turns the tables on the whole age issue. Just like those under 21 can't get into bars, those over 21 can become somewhat suspect at house shows. Those over 30 become oddities. And those over 30 who don't know anyone there become the elephant in the room: "Look, someone's dad is here." "Sir, please, take my chair, I'm fine standing up." "How's it going... cop." Or, simply, "Who's the freak in the corner?" I joke, of course. But I have to admit I remember a time when I was in high school and went to house parties (ones where the centers of attention were a keg and a Hal Holbrook party hat*). Whenever you saw an old guy there (say, in his mid-20s) you thought, "Jeeze, I hope I don't end up like that old guy." Music transcends age issues (especially indie music), but that doesn't make it any less uncomfortable for those of us with graying temples. It is, as I've said before, my problem and no one else's. I know I wouldn't be the subject of ridicule (at least not in earshot), but still... Look, if you're wise and mature enough to not have my hang-ups, don't miss this show. Coyote Bones is one of those bands that obviously has "it," and will get signed by a savvy indie label in the very near future. The Family Radio is Nik Fackler's posse and features arguably the best bass player in Omaha in Dereck Higgins (a guy who has no qualms about his age, nor should he). Cap Gun Coup epitomize the Archers of Loaf/Pavement slacker esthetic with an extra scoop of Omaha tuneful(less)ness thrown in for good measure. And Flowers Forever will be celebrating their debut. More info here.

So what will I be doing this weekend?

There are two other good shows tonight. Sokol Underground gets back into the indie swing of things with Sub Pop recording artist Oxford Collapse, Thunderbirds Are Now! and Latitude, Longitude. 9 p.m., $8.

Meanwhile, down at O'Leaver's it's a folk explosion with Iowa City's Ed Gray. Ed's worked with John Crawford (Head of Femur, Grey Ghost), violinist Tiffany Kowalski (Lullaby for the Working Class, Mayday, Shelley Short), and producer Alex McManus (The Bruces, Bright Eyes) as well as a ton of other Omaha musicians creatively linked to Simon Joyner. Also on the bill, the rocking Miracles of God, Petit Mal and The Front. $5, 9:30 p.m.

Saturday night looks wide open. If anyone has any ideas, post 'em here.

Finally, in an interview with Conor Oberst posted on MTV.com, the boy wonder talks about a possible Slowdown Virginia or Commander Venus reunion in honor of the grand opening of the Slowdown entertainment facility this summer.

Says the article: The opening could feature a performance by erstwhile indie rockers Slowdown Virginia. And Oberst said that while nothing's been discussed yet, he thinks reuniting his former band, Commander Venus - which disbanded in 1997 after just two years - would make the night even more interesting.

"It would be very funny if that happened," he said. "I wouldn't imagine there's much of a demand for that reunion, but it's possible. We're all still around, but I doubt [guitarist] Robb [Nansel] would ever get onstage again." But Oberst says that reuniting with his other former outfit, Desaparecidos, is "certainly a possibility. I could see that happening at some point down the line." (Read the whole interview here.)

Conor's talked about a Desa reunion since before Wide Awake came out, and others close to the project all the way back in March 2005 told me that new Desa music had been recorded and only awaited Oberst to add the vocals -- which apparently never happened. As welcome as a reunion would be, I'm not holding my breath on this one. A Commander Venus reunion would be fun, but a Slowdown Virginia reunion would be stellar, and appropriate. Why the original Slowdown CD -- Dead Space -- hasn't been reissued by Creek (or someone else) is a mystery to me, since it stands up today (I just listened to "Whipping Stick" again this morning).bong.

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Live Review: Dance Me Pregnant, Artsy Golfer; Matt Whipkey returns tonight… – Feb. 1, 2007–

Quite an evening at O'Leaver's last night. As expected, the place was packed (but isn't it always packed at O'Leaver's these days?). It's no surprise that everyone was buzzing about the announcement of the new One Percent club, The Waiting Room (see yesterday's blog entry). The consensus: It should be a homerun. The biggest question mark: Parking. I don't know my way around Benson, but I have to believe that there are open lots within a few blocks of that venue -- it can't be any worse than Sokol, where most nights I find myself trekking through snow-covered sidewalks three or four blocks away (constantly looking over my shoulder). The other hot question: What will happen with the other venues in town. Everyone agrees that O'Leaver's size and dirty-basement/vagrant quality make it immune to any threat (other than maybe from the health department).

Back to the show... Dance Me Pregnant was a gloriously sloppy mess of a punk band. As the guy next to me -- who has more music knowledge in his pinky than I'll ever have in my entire thumb -- described them: They sound like a messy version of Ritual Device. It doesn't get any more accurate than that. I like the sheer aggression of their sound, the leveraged anger, the pre-determined, pre-meditated violence of their presentation. I knew that it would be something special when the lead singer was showing off what looked to be a series of purple b-b-gun welts on his stomach prior to the set. Nice. Though I couldn't see it from where I was in the back of the room, I'm told blood was spilled at some point. If there's one thing that could push this band over the top, it's the inclusion of actual rabid violence or perhaps open flames. Without them, you get a sense that they're holding back. It's gutter punk bordering on hoodlumism, and it seems genuine, and I like it, as long as the bottle isn't aimed at my face.

Finally there was Artsy Golfer -- the new supergroup consisting of four musicians with ties to Saddle Creek Records bands. The irony is that these guys (and gal) sound nothing like anything that Creek has ever released (much to the label's detriment). Their style is loud and hazy, throbbing and hypnotic, and 100 percent slacker-approved. Too rural to be considered shoe-gazer, AG gives a nod to the low-fi heavy weights that walked the earth a decade ago, from Sonic Youth to Dinosaur Jr, but without those bands' furrowed-brow angst. Never has a band been more defined by its choice of cover songs than AG's sloppy version of Pavement's "Grounded," whose opening guitar pings were met with cheers. The set concluded with a droning, brooding, almost druggy trance-rock masterpiece that stumbled forward for at least 10 minutes until its trippy conclusion wobbled to a stop. Expect great things from this band, if its members can find enough time away from their other projects to make a serious go of it.

Tonight at O'Leaver's, the triumphant return of Matt Whipkey, fresh from his ice-covered tour of the western United States. Also on the bill, Whipkey's significant other, Sarah Benck with her band, The Robbers, and singer/songwriter Scott Severin's new band -- Scott Severin & The Milton Burlesque. $5, 9:30 p.m.

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Column 112 -- The Waiting Room; Dance Me Pregnant tonight … – Jan. 31, 2007–

For followers of Omaha's music scene, The Waiting Room is big news, and for good reason. The One Percent guys will finally have a place of their own. Add to that the opening of Slowdown this summer, and you've got yourself a very crowded playing field for live music.

Column 112: The Wait Is Over
One Percent to open music venue.

For the guys at One Percent Productions, a long-held dream is about to become a reality.

That dream is called The Waiting Room, a new venue slated for an early March launch at 6212 Maple St., the location of the now-defunct Marnie's Place. The impending opening is bound to send shockwaves throughout the Omaha music scene, sending askew the delicate balance that exists among a handful of clubs that also host indie rock shows.

Why all the hoo-ha? Because The Waiting Room is owned and operated by Jim Johnson and Marc Leibowitz, the dynamic duo behind what is arguably the city's most important promotion company, One Percent Productions -- the folks who, along with Saddle Creek Records, helped forge this city's reputation as a national indie music Mecca.

Anyone who's known Johnson and Leibowitz over the past decade knows that they've spent almost as much time looking for a suitable location to open their own club as they have booking shows. Now they've found it in the heart of Benson.

Though it's been talked about in hushed voices for weeks, Johnson officially confirmed the rumor a few days ago after negotiations with the landlord were signed, sealed and delivered. Details are still sketchy since he and Leibowitz only received the keys on Monday, but here's what Johnson knows for sure:

The estimated 250-capacity club will book a wide range of music in a variety of genres, not just the indie fare that One Percent is known for. Johnson said in addition to local and national indie bands, look for more adult-oriented music, including rockabilly, country, folk, reggae, blues, and yes, even cover bands. Plans call for live music five days a week, with Leibowitz doing the lion's share of booking.

Facility-wise, look for the usual bar accoutrements, including pool tables, pinball machines, a good jukebox, even those stupid bar-top videogames. The establishment will have a full liquor license, but no food will be served, which means -- you guessed it -- smoking will be permitted.