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The Show Is the Rainbow:
Rainbow Connection

 story by tim mcmahan



Lazy-i: Feb. 21, 2007

The Show Is the Rainbow
w/ Yip-Yip, Prostitute, Flamethrower
Saturday, Feb. 24, 9 p.m.
Sokol Underground
13th and Martha

The Show Is the Rainbow's slave-to-the-beat mastermind Darren Keen summed up his up-to-now music career in one fleeting sentence:

"A lot of bands start off cool and keep getting cool, but I started off so lame and went from there."

Keen's origins as The Show Is the Rainbow were hardly lame, though. The Lincoln, Nebraska native and former member of pop-rock freak-out trio Musico has been crafting his brand of one-man-band electronic hip-hop since before 2003, spreading his lurid beats to the masses via seemingly endless tours that took him across America and the world.

Along the way he's been beat up, spit on, and even hit on, but ultimately won over an open-minded audience who came to the party confused and slightly annoyed, and left true believers. Keen says his infamous live show -- which has included everything from fake blood, gay-themed rants and lots of crowd interaction -- has become embraced over the years.




"I still run around and act like an asshole," he said while driving his touring van across Michigan's upper peninsula, headed to a mostly male college in Houghton for a show he called "the biggest sausage-fest in the world."

"When I started, people didn't know what was going on or why I was opening for my friends' metal bands," he said. "Now I play with bands whose fans are actually going to like me."

Bands like electronic duo Yip-Yip, whose experimental music and costumed live shows are as freaky as Keen's own. It took a few years, but Keen says he's finally found his place in the music world -- right alongside his fellow freaks.

"When I started out, I thought I should be on (indie record labels) Polyvinyl and Saddle Creek. That's all I knew. Now after getting out there, I've met people and discovered record labels that sign weird bands like me that don't give a fuck. I've gone from thinking there was no place for what I'm doing, to discovering communities for dudes and bands that don't quite fit the mold. I know I'm not going to get a support slot on a Franz Ferdinand tour, but I can go out and tour and have fun in this little community."

But one listen to The Show Is the Rainbow's latest offering, Gymnasia, soon to be released on the anything-but-safe SAF Records, and you wonder if touring with Franz Ferdinand isn't such a stretch.

The record's origins go back a few years to a 10-song demo recorded in Keen's home studio. Unlike previous TSITR recordings that leaned more on humor than hooks, the demo tracks featured intricate programming, tuneful bass and guitar, and clever, dynamic vocals that mixed rap and falsetto crooning.

Stand-out tracks "Do the Skinny," "I Am the Decline" and "Safe Art" declare Keen as the natural descendent to "Valley Girl"-era Frank Zappa, and would sound as comfortable on FM radio as "I Don't Wanna Get Drafted" did back in 1980. Meanwhile, audio freakouts like CD opener "Gothic Cajun," bass-groove fueled "Swatting Flies" and the space-waltz title track owe a debt to Beck's more experimental work, though the Zappa influence never quite fades from view.

Among those who heard the demo collection was Joel Petersen (of Saddle Creek Records' bands The Faint, Broken Spindles and Beep Beep), who took the project under his wing. "Joel heard the recording and said, 'This is sweet, but I could make it better,'" Keen said. "He didn't rerecord anything. He remixed it at his house on his huge kick-ass set-up. He added a lot of cool ideas and little production things that made it better."

About half the demos made it onto Gymnasia, along with a handful of new songs and even a trio of instrumentals that border on experimental ambient pop. Petersen's production wizardry gave the tracks much needed depth and redefined the music's underlying pop tendencies. "Joel seems to really believe in what I'm doing musically and esthetically," Keen said.

He said he wants to work with Petersen on his next record as well, but that's still a ways off. Although Saturday's show at Sokol is Gymnasia's CD release party, the disc won't be in stores until April 3 (The vinyl version will be co-released by SAF and Keen's own It Are Good Records). Keen will be spending most of the year on the road, with tours booked through August and beyond, including a pair of South by Southwest dates and a highly anticipated gig in New Zealand with Wellington band So So Modern.

Unlike his early years of touring, Keen says his time on stage as The Show Is the Rainbow is no longer a journey into the lion's den, but more like an all-inclusive party. "I haven't really found my self or my voice, I found my place in the music community."

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Published in The Omaha Reader Feb. 21, 2007. Copyright © 2007 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.













"I've gone from thinking there was no place for what I'm doing, to discovering communities for dudes and bands that don't quite fit the mold."