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764-HERO, The Carsinogents and Kingsbury Manx
March 6, 2001

Son, Ambulance, Azure Ray, Bright Eyes
March 9, 2001

Sokol Underground, Omaha

Omaha's Sokol Underground, 13th & Martha, can seem like a huge place when no one's inside.

Such was the case for the March 6 show featuring 764-HERO, The Carsinogents and Kingsbury Manx, where only about 60 people showed up, most likely because it was a school night.

A two-piece version of Kingsbury Manx was first up. Apparently one of the band's members was lying in a hospital in St. Joseph, Mo., under observation after complaining of an irregular heartbeat. As a duo, the band put on an unplugged set of Simon and Garfunkel-esque indie folk tunes. Downbeat melodies played tag with vocal and guitar harmonies for a short set of unenthusiastic quickies enjoyed by a small, gawking crowd who sat at tables around the perimeter of the venue, leaving a huge empty floor in front of the stage. Each song was greeted with a smattering of applause, but neither Manx seemed to care, smiling as they played and apologizing for the abbreviated version of the band.

The Carsinogents turned up the volume considerably when they took the stage, sporting new props -- their old Chevy tailgate keyboard cover had been replaced by a new lighted stage sign that had a distinctively Christmas flavor to it. Maybe it was due to the small crowd, but the band, known for its incendiary performances, appeared to be walking through their regular set of organ- and guitar-driven horror movie rock-a-billy. By the time they were halfway through their relatively lengthy set, however, they were in their usual fine, sweaty form and the crowd was on its feet surrounding the stage (but still keeping its distance for fear of being slammed in the head by a swinging mic stand or having its hair scorched by a belched flame).

Finally, 764-HERO rifled through a torrid set consisting mostly of songs from its new album, Weekends of Sound, as well as a couple from 1999's Get Here and Stay. Despite the slight turnout, the trio was definitely "into it," giving mostly straightforward interpretations of the CDs' recorded versions.

All in all, it was a nice, laid-back evening of music but ultimately a disappointment from a turn-out standpoint. By all accounts, 764-HERO is a major player in the indie music scene, consistently selling out shows in larger cities.

If the promoters were unhappy -- and financially smarting -- from 764-HERO, they would get all the business they could handle and more just three nights later when Son, Ambulance, Azure Ray and Bright Eyes played to an over-capacity crowd. Sokol Underground's fire-ordinance capacity is 315 and there was no doubt that the show eclipsed that number by 9 p.m., forcing many to wait outside. In fact, there were more people packed in the Underground last Friday night than at last year's Built to Spill or Guided by Voices shows. So packed was it that the crowd was solid from the stage to the venue's back stairway, leaving me feverishly trying to identify the fire exits.

Son, Ambulance was up first and set an unfortunate example for the rest of the night -- not by his music but by his performance style. Lead singer/songwriter Joe Knapp and the rest of his trio played the set sitting down, virtually unseen by anyone more than halfway from the stage. As a result, most of the crowd was treated to Knapp's disembodied voice and acoustic guitar, belting out a number of mostly new songs -- Knapp is currently recording his first full-length at Dead Space Studios in Lincoln. Some of the new material seemed to wander loosely over Knapp's sparse arrangements, but others fired up the crowd, including one song that featured bassist Landon Hedges augmenting the percussion with spirited hand claps.

Knapp and company was merely a warm-up for what ended up being a joint set by Athens-based girl duo Azure Ray supported throughout by most of Bright Eyes. At least Bright Eyes leader Conor Oberst was on hand for the entire set of incredibly beautiful songs from the duo's recently released self-titled CD on the WARM label.

Word was that the girls in Azure Ray were cuter than a bug's ear, but only those crushed to the stage will ever know, as they also performed sitting down. So dense was the crowd that it was nearly impossible to get close enough to see anyone under the stage lights, while people along the walls stood on tables and chairs to get a glimpse. Crowd noise in the back all but drowned out the mostly acoustic set -- whoever said going to a show at Sokol Underground didn't require some work?

Without a break between sets, Conor Oberst began his Bright Eyes set with a solo acoustic number that brought everyone to a whisper. While Azure Ray was a personal highlight, it was obvious that everyone was there to see Bright Eyes as every song was met by a roar of approval. In return, Oberst and company put on one of the longest -- and overall best -- sets he's performed in recent memory at the Underground. And as always, he did it seated, rising only to punctuate the crescendo on his closing number.

By the time the lights came up, people were scrambling to the back of the venue, looking for merchandise that was still in boxes under an unmanned table. Quickly, a couple of the show promoters began ripping into the boxes and it became a rock 'n' roll feeding frenzy.

So far, the Bright Eyes/Azure Ray show is the most successful of a string of indie rock shows slated for Sokol Underground through May.

Yet another important national indie band will take the Sokol Underground stage Sunday, March 18. Bellingham, Wash., quartet Death Cab for Cutie will perform. The band is out on the road supporting its critically acclaimed Forbidden Love EP on Barsuk Records. Death Cab was in Omaha just last year for a packed Underground show. Fans of Pacific Northwest bands such as Built to Spill, 764-HERO and Modest Mouse already know about these guys' warm-hearted, loveable and kinda sad indie pop melodies.

Opening for Death Cab is labelmate John Vanderslice, who's on the road supporting his solo debut Mass Suicide Occult Figurines. The CD features the must-have track "Bill Gates Must Die," which was the bait for a fake law-suit hoax that netted Vanderslice some much-wanted press. Though decidedly modern, Vanderslice sounds a lot like Psychedelic Furs or latter-day Bowie meets Sebadoh -- very groovy, laid-back rockers with a prog-rock flair.

Kicking off the evening is elusive Omaha slack-rocker Nina Dinova. Last time I saw these guys was a couple years ago when they played an incredibly laid-back set of indie-flavored ballads. It was one of the better sets I've seen from a live band despite the fact that they stopped halfway through a couple songs during their set.

Death Cab for Cutie / John Vanderslice / Nina Dinova, Sunday March 18, Sokol Underground. Show starts at 9 p.m.

back torevhead.gif (1924 bytes)   Posted March 14, 2001. Published in The Omaha Weekly March 14, 2001. Copyright 2001 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.







Kingsbury Manx as a duo.
















764-HERO's John Atkins.








764-HERO's James Bertram.

















The huddled masses crowd around the merch table moments after Bright Eyes finished its set.