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It didn't take Clever long to make their mark as one one of Omaha's heaviest, funkiest bands. Can a move to St. Louis push them to the next level?

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Clever: Disappearing Act

by Tim McMahan

Where have all the rock bands gone?

Just a couple years ago, there were all these promising young bands – Grasshopper Takeover, Old Boys Network, Secret Skin, Blue Moon Ghetto. In a move that can only be called a reflection of Omaha's lagging music scene, all have either broken up or left town for better climes.

Now you can add Clever to the list.

The power pop funk-rock band is leaving Omaha for good in early May to make a new home in St. Louis. And they couldn't be happier.


"We'll be closer to the southern markets – Memphis, Nashville, the Carolinas – and we'll have radio support," said Clever guitarist Paul Moerke. "Our fans want us to do well, and they know there's nothing going on in Omaha; there is no new game in town."

The time seems ripe for the band's departure. Clever is enjoying the spotlight as the defacto opening act for the Urge, the ska/funk/punk St. Louis septet that struck gold last year with its debut on Epic Records, "Master of Styles." Clever's rhythm-heavy funkified sound also has been the perfect match for Phunk Junkeez, 2 Skinny J's and God Lives Underwater, all of whom they've shared the stage with.

Clever's been one of Omaha's top-drawing rock bands since it was formed in late '97 out of the ashes of two other well-respected local bands. Vocalist/guitarist Bruce Coddington, formerly of Blue Moon Ghetto, matched up with former Secret Skin bassist Clint Thomas and drummer Paul Weaklend. Rounding out the 5-piece is Clint's little brother, Kevin, playing guitar alongside Moerke.

The band's trademark sound is excruciatingly tight funk rock in the vein of 311 or the Urge, but much, much heavier. "Accidentally?" their May '98 release, showcased Clever's fast, yet bone-crushingly brutal style of head-bouncing rock. Their popularity grew as word spread of the band's over-the-top live shows that turn crowds into an ocean of hopping, moshing, sweaty bodies. Before long, the band managed to grow a regular following, while selling more than 1,800 copies of their debut CD.

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As frenetic as the band is on stage, interviewing them is just as jolting and confusing. No one appears in charge as the conversation bounces from one musician to the next like an ADD-afflicted child on crack. With everyone crammed into one very tiny, hot, pot-smoke-filled room in Clint Thomas' north Omaha home, the band explained that the move isn't the only major change they're undergoing.

Ben Maxwell joined the band on drums six months ago after Weaklend quit to spend more time with his family. Maxwell could take the credit as much as anything for the band's relationship with the Urge. He's toured with that band as the guitar tech and stage manager for the past two and a half years. "Clever is the first band I've ever really been a member of," he said. "I filled in as drummer for Old Boy Network from time to time as well as Blue Moon Ghetto, but never anything permanent."

Maxwell knew Clint Thomas as a classmate from his high school days, and once even played with him and brother Kevin during the one-night-only performance of Pot-Corn at the late, great Capital Bar and Grill. "When Paul quit Clever, they asked if I wanted to do it. I had just gotten home from being on the road. We only practiced together three days before we played in front of 1,800 people opening for the Urge."

But the band's relationship with the Urge goes well beyond Maxwell's work history. Clever have earned the band's respect after winning over some of the toughest crowds in the Midwest. Maxwell said he's seen a number of bands get booed off the stage opening for the Urge.


"I was scared when we were scheduled to open for them at Mississippi Nights," Maxwell said, referring to one of St. Louis' marquee nightspots. "I'd seen how crowds had treated a number of bands who opened for them there. But when we played, we had the crowd jumping and cheering and dancing in the pit."

"I really thought we were gonna get booed," Coddington added. "We had just opened for Voodoo Glo Skulls and had people yelling, 'You guys suck.'"

"Afterward, the guy who runs Mississippi Nights said, 'Move here and your futures are guaranteed,'" Clint said. "We loved the St. Louis vibe. The city has everything from 150-capacity hardcore clubs to a 1,200 capacity venue like Mississippi Nights, as well as two large theaters where national bands play."

With three solid shows under their belt, the band began to get radio support from St. Louis alternative radio station KPNT, The Point. Clever found themselves up against the Cranberries, Fat Boy Slim and Garbage in the station's "cage match" promotion, where two bands' singles are played side by side with listeners casting a vote for the winner. Clever made it past all three bands before finally succumbing to the Beastie Boys by two votes. The performance was enough to get some airplay and the respect of the station's music director, Donnie Muler.

So now with Clever already slated to open yet another series of shows for the Urge in May, the St. Louis move seems obvious. The band's goal is to move 20,000 copies of their CD before they consider signing a record contract. They say those kinds of numbers simply aren't possible in Omaha.

"The type of record deal we want is not an overnight kind of thing," Coddington said. "We have to sell 20,000 albums before we can attract the attention of a label like Sub Pop. It's sort of a goal the industry sets for bands like us that want to do it our way. It convinces them that you're self sufficient and that you have a strong fan base."

"To move that many units means getting a push from a radio station,' Clint said. "And when the Edge (Omaha's former alternative FM station) died, the music scene here died with it."

"I really thought we were gonna get booed. We had just opened for Voodoo Glo Skulls and had people yelling, 'You guys suck.'"

"Everyone has been in everyone else's bands. We've all been trying to do it for so long and then watched as it eventually crumbled."


"The Edge was a life support system," added Moerke. "When we had the Edge, people were getting radio support and buying advertising. Now there's no way to get the word out."

"There just really isn't a lot of support for bands around here," Clint said. "We've considered moving to Los Angeles or Huntington Beach, like Grasshopper Takeover. But we realized if we landed a slot opening for the Urge, it would mean a lot of long-haul traveling. "

Coddington said, however, that if they had the dough, they'd be in LA. "It just makes more sense for us to stay in the Midwest. The only reason to go to LA is to get signed, and you have to have a story behind you to get their attention. In 311's case, they'd already toured from Denver to Florida. Producer Eddy Offord (who produced 311's first album on Capricorn Records) was out there waiting for them. Nick (Hexum, 311's lead vocalist) already had the label sniffing around. So when they hit town, they were ready to go."

The band is quick to acknowledge they have a strong, loyal fan base in Omaha that they'll to miss when they leave. Not to mention a lot of friends, most of whom they've shared the stage with in one form or another. "The Omaha scene is so much like the early '90s Seattle scene," Coddington said. "Everyone has been in everyone else's bands. We've all been trying to do it for so long and then watched as it eventually crumbled."

Clint said he and his wife, Gabriel, will look for a house in St. Louis with hopes of making the move May 3. The rest of the band will share homes in the same general vicinity as the Thomas' home. They'll barely have time to unpack because the band is slated to open for the Urge May 7 at the Galaxy, May 8 in Springfield, Mo., and May 20 in Columbia, with shows also tentatively slated for Liberty Hall in Lawrence later in the month. In addition, the band also is ready to enter the studio to record a new CD.

Clever's April 24 gig at the Ranch Bowl is being billed as a "Farewell Show." But don't be too sad-hearted. You'll most likely have just as many chances to see them as you did before they moved.

"We're gonna come back and play in Omaha at least once a month," Coddington said. "Everyone tells you that you have to move away to make it; then they immediately forget about you. We're not gonna let that happen."

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Printed in The Reader April 22, 1999.

Copyright 1999 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.