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The Sons of...: What's in a Name?

story by tim mcmahan



Lazy-i: May 26, 2004

The Sons of The 49'r
w/Little Brazil
Friday, May 28
The 49'r
49th & Dodge
9:30 p.m.

First off, let's explain the name.

There's nothing really confusing about it. If they're playing at The 49'r, as they are May 28, then they're called The Sons of The 49'r. If they're playing at O'Leaver's, as they did May 21 for a rollicking set that included most of their soon-to-be-released CD as well as covers of "Time of the Season," and R.E.M.'s "Wolves, Lower," then they're called The Sons of O'Leaver's.

So logic tells you that if they played at world-famous underground club CBGB's they'd be called Sons of CBGB's, or at Carnegie Hall -- The Sons of Carnegie Hall; or the Qwest Center -- the Sons of the Qwest Center; and so on.

"We always wanted to play at The Brothers," said guitarist/vocalist Kelly Maxwell. "Then we'd be called The Sons of The Brothers."

Maxwell, who resembles a young Paul Westerberg, said the band's name was born out of laziness. "We didn't want to tax our brains too much. We first used it in November as a last-minute thing for the posters. It was Mike Tulis who came up with the idea of adopting the venue name for every show. We thought it was funny."




Their laid-back approach is perhaps the band's best and most-defining characteristic. Never has there been a band more resigned to the fact that it will inevitably break-up, knowing right down to the date of their last show. But then again, that's been the plan all along.

Formed as an opening band for a gig featuring former Omahan (now Portland resident) Mike Jaworski's Hello from Waveland, The Sons of… consists of four well-traveled veterans of other bands. Leader Kelly Maxwell and drummer Mike Loftus -- grade-school and high-school chums from way back -- count among their past exploits Shovelhead, 60-Watt Saloon, and most recently Hong Jyn Corp., which also included Sons' guitarist/vocalist Matt Rutledge, who has also been in Compost, Miss Lonely Hearts and Holiday, among others. Bass player Mike Tulis -- arguably Omaha's hardest working musician -- is in The Monroes and has been in Full Blown, The River City Review, The Wind-up Birds and The Great Dismal -- a short-lived chamber-pop ensemble that also included Rutledge.

Despite having all the makings of an Omaha supergroup, everyone in The Sons Of… has known from the start that the project is a short-lived labor of love. "Tulis called the band 'Terminal,'" Loftus said with a grin during a band interview on the patio of his mid-town home after a practice.

"Most bands only last so long," Tulis explained. "We knew that this would end because Kelly was going to move. We focused on getting the songs working and doing the shows."

Maxwell has planned for more than a year to move to Pittsburgh with his girlfriend. It was that inevitability that brought an end to Hong Jyn Corp. "When Hong Jyn slowly fizzled out I was happy to stay away from music for awhile, always knowing that I'd play again someday," he said.

But after writing a few new songs, it didn't take long for Maxwell to get the itch. "It seemed like old times when we first practiced. We didn't embarrass ourselves when played in front of an audience for the first time. None of what we do is really difficult; we're not reinventing the wheel."

They quickly generated a following with their unique brand of wry, bitter-sweet, wistful rock that combines the best elements of The Replacements, The Feelies and the rural twang found on jukeboxes in smoky saloons throughout the Midwest. Their live performances carry a melancholy feeling of a last hurrah, as if watching the last waltz of an old friend's band the night before he leaves to college. Their unmistakable casualness only adds to an already laid-back vibe that wouldn't work if the band wasn't made up of top-flight veteran musicians. Part of their relaxed nature comes from age -- most are in their 30s, one's in his 40s.

"That's part of it," Maxwell said, "along with the fact that we know it's ending soon. There's no pressure."

"We knew we weren't going to be the next great thing or the next new thing," Rutledge said. "That's why it was so easy."








"We knew we weren't going to be the next great thing or the next new thing. That's why it was so easy."






"At one point he was leaning over and steering the car while I was sleeping with my foot on the gas pedal."



So why even bother with a CD? The band just completed recording their 8-song self-titled debut at Bassline Studios. The CD, whose artwork features an image of Triple Crown racehorse "Omaha," was slated to be released by Speed! Nebraska Records in time for the May 28 show, but the pressing won't be ready in time, likely making their farewell show June 25 at The 49'r a CD release party.

At the very least, the recording will act as a study guide for their inevitable reunion shows when Maxwell returns to Omaha for the holidays. Thoughts of the record falling into the hands of an eager major-label A&R guy are met with rolled eyes and laughter.

"We've been doing this long enough that we don't have any allusions along those lines," Rutledge said.

"I have a daughter and a wife and a house and my political aspirations," Loftus joked. "Hong Jyn went on a 5-day tour a couple years ago and that was enough for me."

"Everyone romanticizes going on the road until they do it on a shoestring," Rutledge says, telling a story about the time he went on a winter tour of Minnesota and Milwaukee with a former band, driving in two Volkswagen Rabbits. "The guy driving with me didn't know how to drive a stick shift. At one point he was leaning over and steering the car while I was sleeping with my foot on the gas pedal. Looking back on it now, it was fun."

With only two shows left, the only thing The Sons of… can look forward to are the memories. That's all Maxwell will have after he moves away later this summer. He'll get the last word, however, with the CD's closer, "(God Bless) Nebraska Skies," -- a sentimental goodbye message to friends and family as well as a tribute to the state he calls home. The back-beat country twanger features Maxwell singing, "The cottonwoods shower their seeds all over the state / The meadowlarks hold their honor, they always seem to sing in key / It's not the goldenrod that has my brother breathing heavy in spring / If I know one thing true God bless Nebraska skies so blue."

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Published in The Omaha Reader May 26, 2004. Copyright 2004 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.