Show is the Rainbow: One Man Army
story by tim mcmahan
Lazy-i: October 15, 2003
is the Rainbow
w/ I Am Spoonbender, Young People
Thursday, Oct 16
13th & Martha
America ready for the bizarre hip-hop hi-jinx of The Show is the
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,
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
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."
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.
Show is the Rainbow is an examination of one side of my life
-- the very sexual, loudmouthed side."
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.'"
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
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.
Published in The Omaha Weekly-Reader October
15, 2003. Copyright © 2003 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.
Photos coutesy of Sunday