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August 17, 2001
Sokol Auditorium, Omaha
Was the Aug. 17 Faint CD release show at the Sokol Auditorium as amazing as everyone's been saying? Well, yes and no.
It was certainly a triumph from a promotional and attendance perspective. Though not a "sell out," 1,300 people pushed through the door, according to the show's organizers. You would have thought it was a sell-out judging by how hot, smoky and crowded the usually cavernous hall was. Or by glancing at the eternally long bar line, which stretched 30 yards to the venue's front door and was almost as long as the line to get into the place.
Up first was Cursive, who had played in the venue's basement just a week or so earlier for their own CD release party. Of the three bands on stage this night, Cursive had the strongest performance. Taking full advantage of the auditorium's larger stage and fuller sound, Tim Kasher and company were confident and composed as they tore through songs from their new CD, Burst and Bloom, as well as some favorites from their previous efforts. Lead vocalist Kasher spent most of the set with his eyes clinched shut, squeezing out each heart-felt word while his band flailed in ecstasy beside him. Music that generally is a tortured confession became an emotional affirmation. The band closed their set with a rousing version of Dexy's Midnight Runners classic "Come On Eileen," that featured a cameo by The Faint's Todd Baechle and got the crowd to the boiling point.
They would cool down considerably when Bright Eyes took the stage. Fighting sound problems their entire set, including what sounded like a blown, buzzing amplifier stage right, Bright Eyes' mastermind Conor Oberst appeared agitated with the world, seated like a spoiled brat in the center of the stage. When he wasn't complaining about the bad mix or the insufferable crowd chatter, he was throwing wine bottles or chairs overhead. "This song is called, 'Me, me, me, me, me, me, me,'" he repeated before crashing into another poignant, personal number. Was it all an act? Who knows, but certainly those who have never seen the usually intimate and charming band before will think it wasn't. This configuration of Bright Eyes featured Mike Mogis on pedal steel, giving the songs the twangy foundation they deserved, while Cursive's Ted Stevens tunelessly tooted a clarinet next to an oft-times flat oboe. After finishing his last (and best) song of the night, Oberst stormed off the stage, leaving Stevens to lean into his microphone and say, "Thanks."
Finally, the curtain rose to a blackened stage and a roaring crowd for The Faint. The auditorium presented a different perspective to a band that's used to playing smaller clubs. Their floor strobes, for example, which usually add a sense of intrigue and drama, were virtually ineffective in such a large setting, and completely lost for those stuck in the balcony.
The band seemed obligated to play longer than their typical 30-minute set, pulling out a number of Blank Wave Arcade songs as well as two brand new songs not on Danse Macabre. At times the music sounded slow (an impossibility, of course, because of the click track) and sloppy, not nearly as tight as their past Sokol Underground sets. While problems with the mix were overcome, Todd Baechle struggled with a vocoder that worked only half the time.
Ah, but the people on the floor could have cared less. The sweaty mass of humanity bounced to every beat of The Faint's infectious dance music. The band seems to have the same effect on crowds as 311, taking away all inhibitions and creating a group vibe that's inescapable to even the most rigid listener. You simply must move to this music. As the band played two encores (another first for The Faint), dancers took the stage in what looked like a scene from an Alan Parker film.
While it's impossible to not view the show as anything but a victory for the Saddle Creek label and local music in general, there is a downside. The near sell-out of the Sokol Auditorium all but guarantees that The Faint will no longer be playing down in the Underground. Those who showed up this night, many of whom had never seen the Creek bands before, will never want to miss a Faint show again, making the 350-or-so capacity Underground obsolete. And that's a shame, because The Faint shines brightest in a club setting. There is something delightfully sinister that happens when they play in the intimate club's confines that can't be captured in a hall. Success, it seems, does have its drawbacks.