I got there early and dug in for the evening along the railing with my Rolling Rock and I’d be damned if I was going to move a foot all night. It was already crowded at around 10 just as the first band — a wonky indie outfit called The End of the World — was about to take the stage. Within an hour the place was at capacity and then some. People crushed ass-to-crotch from my railing to the bar to the back wall, all to see a rare acoustic set by The Good Life’s Tim Kasher. All the “cool kids” were there, including about half of Saddle Creek Records’ stable). Temple, who I featured last week (here), knew it was going to be packed, and knew very few if any were there to hear his music. Still, why not take advantage of the situation like any other sane up-and-coming singer/songwriter?
The End of the World’s music was standard indie rock fare, with a stylish frontman and a backing band that seemed ill-at-ease on stage. Most of their songs were influenced by the usual indie-rock suspects (Pixies, Strokes, My Bloody Valentine) and the vocal lines sounded like they had been improvised during band practice, gliding over the chord changes with little variance. The drummer was barely audible other than his cymbals and his rat-a-tat snare like a kitten running across the roof of a car.
I thought Temple was going to do a mostly solo acoustic set. Instead, the world-enders acted as his backing band. At one point, there were four guys playing guitars on stage. Who knows why. Temple’s music, though somewhat ornate and flowery on CD, is relatively simple and doesn’t require a lot of guitars. The times when the fewest people played along were the best. By the end of this set, the crowd had grown to maximum largesse and had the proper roar to accompany it. Temple ignored it completely, despite being drowned out during his closer.
Then came Todd Grant and Kasher. I didn’t even know that Grant was supposed to play last night, and he sounded like he didn’t know, either. Though the two came on stage together, they played separately — Grant doing a set of six or seven songs, starting with an apology about his inebriated condition. Even in that state and though struggling to get the crowd’s attention (a lost cause), there was a heartbreaking quality that burned through his songs, almost as if the alcohol and crowd frustration added a necessary layer to his music’s down-and-out pathos. There is something great and tragic about Grant and his songs.
Kasher didn’t get behind the microphone until at least 12:30, and he didn’t sing a note until about a quarter to one. I think I’ve mentioned here before that although I’ve interviewed every band on the Saddle Creek roster — some of them three or four times — I really don’t know these guys. I don’t hang out with them, I don’t party with them. They’re all nice guys and gals, but I just don’t fly in their circles, only occasionally bumping into them at Sokol or O’Leaver’s shows. That said, I couldn’t tell you if Kasher was loaded or not. He seemed loaded, but his slight slur and slouch could just have been his natural solo-performance posture.
The whole time while Grant was struggling with the crowd, Kasher had sat right off the side and listened. And burned. When he finally got up there, he was in no mood to put up with the noise, which by then had reached soccer-crowd proportions.
I can’t remember everything he said or exactly how he said it. It went something like, “There’s a good thing going on musically in Omaha these days. But there’s also a ‘scene’ that’s grown up around it. And now people are coming to shows to be part of that scene, not to listen to music, and it sucks.” Again, I’m paraphrasing here. “I know a lot of you came here to get laid and I’m all for getting laid, but some people actually came here for some music.” And “Screw it. Being a musician means playing for yourself, so I’m doing this for myself.” Etc, etc…
Then he introduced his first song, saying he’d just finished writing the lyrics that day. That it was a quiet song. That it required a certain quietness from the audience. He began playing the first three chords, and playing them and playing them and playing them, then said something like, “You get the gist of the song? I’m going to keep doing this until I get people’s attention.” Zero impact. He kept playing the chords for a few more minutes while continuing his rather funny diatribe aimed at the roar in the back of the bar. It was like watching an Andy Kaufman routine, and Kasher was in true Kaufmanesque form. Finally, he quietly played the song, a classically simple Kasher tune with central the lyric “Don’t leave me hear hanging on this picket fence.”
Then Kasher turned it up a notch, challenging the bar to a fight, saying he had planned on buying everyone a shot if the show went well, but that now he just wanted everyone to shut the f___ up and he didn’t care if he pissed anyone off, that he wasn’t afraid of getting bruised in the face or a few broken ribs. He’s 30 now, he’s seen it all, been there/done that. His Kaufman rant turned into a Henry Rollins routine delivered with a smile. At one point, Grant went up behind him and mock hit Kasher in the back with his guitar, telling him to shut up and sing.
By 1 o’clock, Kasher had sung maybe three songs, all very quiet numbers, all held their own in the cloud of bar noise. See, I don’t know if the whole thing was a joke or if he was pissed (both emotionally and physically). He’d warmed up as the crowd began to settle down toward the end. When he finished his last song at around 1:20, the crowd had finally died. Kasher had won, sort of.
It was a weird, wild ride, and in retrospect, probably exactly what Kasher had in mind. Or maybe he hadn’t. Either way, it was memorable.
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