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The Show is the Rainbow: One Man Army

 
story by tim mcmahan


 

 

Lazy-i: October 15, 2003


The Show is the Rainbow
w/ I Am Spoonbender, Young People
Thursday, Oct 16
9 p.m.
Sokol Underground
13th & Martha
$8

Is America ready for the bizarre hip-hop hi-jinx of The Show is the Rainbow?

Darren Keen, formerly with pop-rock trio Musico, has transformed himself into a one-man-rap act that's storming the country with a strangely unique yet catchy brand of hip-hop that's presented like an interactive, in-your-face freak-out.

He practically stole the show a couple weeks ago opening for I Am the World Trade Center and Mates of State at Sokol Underground. The red-headed, slightly overweight Keen -- dressed in an ill-fitting striped velour shirt and funky '70s Blue Blockers -- performed from the floor, running around with a microphone, screaming his stories of Midwest depravity over music that sounded like a cross between Atom & His Package, early Beastie Boys and Har Mar Superstar.

His personal confessions include stories about getting tripped-out on Valium and having sex with a man, being in the corner at an indie-rock boxing match and an unflinching personal attack on local hero Conor Oberst of Bright Eyes fame.

Born and bred in Lincoln, Keen's musical career started in a high school rock band that played Incubus covers. He moved up to playing in Musico, a now-defunct power-pop trio, when the band's guitarist (and his guitar teacher), Pluto, quit and suggested Keen as his replacement. After lots of local gigs and a few recordings, Musico broke up, but by then Keen had already started The Show is the Rainbow.

"It began as a space-pop recording project with a pro-gay message," Keen said while munching on fish and chips at the Dundee Dell. "The Show is the Rainbow is an examination of one side of my life -- the very sexual, loudmouthed side."





 

 

Armed only with a Walkman and a couple pre-recorded CDRs (one for a 20-minute set, the other for a 30-minute set), Keen hit the road this year playing more than 100 shows throughout the South and Pacific Northwest, sometimes finding himself at the business end of a broken bottle or clenched fist.

While playing at Tokyo Joe's in Lubbock, Texas, Keen became annoyed when the opening band, Dirty Virgin Deluxe, decided to tear down their gear during his performance. Keen climbed atop the band's bass drum, and was quickly shoved to the floor six feet below the stage. "I then poked one of them with a lightbulb I used as a prop and he kicked me," Keen said. "Then I slapped the bass player in the penis and he hit me really hard."

Problems continued at Lenny's Bar in Atlanta. "This punk-rock dude stood right in front of the stage," Keen said. "I said, 'Thanks for standing up front. You're my new favorite guy,' and he hit me in the face with a beer bottle. Everyone in the room was laughing. I was afraid someone was going to yell, 'Quick, lock the door. Get him!' I stopped the set, unplugged my gear and got out of there. I can take a beating from a guy or three, but not from everyone in the room. I won't play Atlanta by myself again."

Like a hip-hop Andy Kaufman, Keen knows that he's going to piss some people off and expects confrontation. "At some point in the set I'm probably gonna pump your face and tackle you to the ground," he said. "I'm not worried if people like it or not. This isn't for everyone."

But as he continues to tour, Keen is winning over more and more fans. While he booked his first tours himself, pestering club owners with e-mails and phone calls, he's now fielding requests for return engagements. The Oct. 16 Sokol Underground gig will kick off a tour that will meet up with Chicago punk band Troubled Hubble and The Gunshy for a tour that runs through Nov. 8.

"I started this just to get a rise out of people. I would play sports bars and say stuff like, 'This song is about the first time I ever sucked d***,'" says Keen who admits to being neither gay nor straight, only "a very liberal 20-year-old dude."

"It's gone from that to being more honest," he said. "I got sick of being viewed as a joke band."

The turning point came in June when Keen recorded an EP with Dustin Donaldson and Marc Kate of electronic post-rock band I Am Spoonbender at their San Francisco studio. "It was a super-definitive time," Keen said. "They helped me take it more seriously. Dustin said, 'Do this because you love it; not to be ironic.' I don't see this as a joke; I do it because I believe in it."

Keen tried to shop the EP to record labels to no avail, adding that he'll probably release it himself. His very Beck-like debut EP, Barry sure wrote a lot of songs about the girls he loved, was released on Lincoln's Suckapunch Records, and a split 7-inch with Troubled Hubble, available only at live shows, came out last week.

 


"The Show is the Rainbow is an examination of one side of my life -- the very sexual, loudmouthed side."

 

 


 

 
"Suddenly I was getting calls and e-mails telling me that I'd been called out by Conor. I thought, 'This could be my meal ticket.'"

 

 

A prolific songwriter, Keen constantly works on music, including a new song that targets a local celebrity. Though he's never confirmed it, Keen insists that he was name-checked by Conor Oberst on a hip-hop track that appears on the pre-reel (a track hidden before the CD starts) of Criteria's En Garde CD. The line which he says is rapped by Oberst goes "The destruction is apparent / You won't last here, Darren."

"Suddenly I was getting calls and e-mails telling me that I'd been called out by Conor," Keen said. "I thought, 'This could be my meal ticket.'"

Keen said his retaliation rap, performed at the recent Sokol show, is a tongue-in-cheek attack on Oberst, with lines like "Troubled child actors sing the best poetic songs / But you're 22 years old my man, that part's been played too long," and "Haligh, a lie, one line to feel fit / It's too bad that when I take that stage I'm not snorting that shit."

"The song is as much a slam on Conor Oberst as it is a reflection of me being jealous of him," Keen said. "It's a playful stab in the back. I figured with his joke rap band, Team Rigge, we could have a nice rivalry and hate each other's guts."

If anything, it'll probably only alienate the folks at Saddle Creek Records, a label that Keen admires and calls "the only game in town." If he's been hampered by anything so far in his short career, it's his lack of friends in the industry.

"I don't know anyone in this business. No one's going to help me," he said. "That means I'm going to have to work 10 times harder to carve out my niche. Something will hit eventually, and when it does, it'll be on my own terms.



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Published in The Omaha Weekly-Reader October 15, 2003. Copyright 2003 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved. Photos coutesy of Sunday Best Records.