The Carsinogents and Kingsbury Manx
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been replaced by a new lighted stage sign that had a distinctively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
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
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.