Last night was sort of a second coming for Criteria. Things change once you get signed to Saddle Creek. People take notice. You’re no longer “just another Omaha band (that’s not on Saddle Creek).” You’ve joined a fraternity of sorts, and with it comes the spoils in the form of larger crowds. Though The Nein were the touring band, it was Criteria that was the headliner and who most of the 260-something paid to see. And the band did not disappoint them.
I took my position along the wall adjacent to stage right, but this time it was somewhat crowded over there and I found myself further behind the stage than usual, providing a view mostly of the band’s corduroys and their adoring crowd leaning forward and upward. By god, there were a lot of them singing right along to songs off En Garde. And the young girls, well… Indie music is the exception to the old crow that rock attracts only angry, disassociated teen-aged guys. There’s always a lot of girls at indie shows, especially Creek shows, maybe because there’s a sizable percentage among the radio rock guys who think indie/Creek is waaay to fey for them to listen to. That’s their loss.
So far back was I behind the stage that the vocals got lost in the roar — what do you expect when you’re on the backside of the speakers? After the first couple songs, the guy next to me laughed and said, “These guys obviously grew up listening to the Scorpions.” When Criteria frontman Stephen Pedersen said he was “really stoked” about everyone coming out, I turned and said, “It’s the ’80s all over again.” My sideman left halfway through the set — I guess it wasn’t his thing. But for the most part, he was the exception to the rule. Criteria fills a void in the Creek cadre of bands. Other than maybe Beep Beep, no other act on the label is trying to burn the house down with their guitars — a characteristic that Cursive also used to have, and maybe still do, if they ever return from their hiatus.
The sound was much better in front of the stage (obviously), and it was in the back of the room that I noticed the small contingency of people in their 50s (and maybe 60s) who I assume were representatives of the Kutak Rock law firm checking out the wares of their prodigal son, thinking to themselves how far away smoky Sokol Underground is from the lacquered oak and leather chairs of their boardrooms. Were they wondering if they’d made a mistake by taking the path less traveled by? We’ll never know.
Shifting gears… It was true what I heard about Bunnygrunt. I actually found out that afternoon when someone e-mailed me that they were indeed going to play at O’Leaver’s Friday night. So I made it out and it was pleasingly crowded. Low-fi poppers Grape Soda was up first, consisting I’m told of some folks who work down at The Antiquarium. It was more folk rock than indie rock and for some reason reminded me of Celtic music, though I’m sure there was no reason for it. I asked a guy next to me if it sounded Irish and he said, “Yeah…, sort of.” It was sloppy fun.
Next was Lonnie Methe’s group Mancini’s Angels. I’ve seen Methe a number of times as has anyone who has seen Simon Joyner over the years — he’s the guy in the sweater playing the violin with his back to the audience. He’s also a member of Omaha avant-guard ensemble Naturaliste, with Chris Fischer, Simon and Josephine Joyner and Chris Deden, among others. That group has a reputation for creating low-fi art/noise pieces, summed up on a full-length released by (Omaha’s most unknown label) Public Eyesore, which I haven’t heard. Mancini’s Angels was far from avant-garde, instead bordering (again) on folk rock, with Methe handling the lead vocals, and quite well, I might add. Underlying every song were layers of structured dissonance that would drive any pop-music lover up a wall. In that context, it was arty and probably lost on the crowd that came to hear Bunnygrunt’s three-chord “twee-punk.” Still, if you looked, you found some interesting stuff hidden among the feedback. Methe told me after the show that he’s headed to Austin to live in mid-June.
Up next was a band that I thought was Bunnygrunt — three girls and a guy drummer playing the style of indie-pop that Bunnygrunt plays. The flat, female vocals even reminded me of the band. Turns out it wasn’t Bunnygrunt at all, but a side project by one of its members. So as I was about to leave, on came Bunnygrunt, sounding much more confident and aggressive than the previous, unknown-named band. The trio included two guys and a girl drummer, and the vocals were mostly dominated by the men — something I don’t remember from the Bunnygrunt of the past. Despite the crowd yelling out song names, the band didn’t play any of their “hits” during their disappointingly short 15- or 20-minute micro-set. Maybe next time (if there is a next time).
Lots of stuff coming this week, and the sched looks this way — Mary Timony profile/interview online Tuesday; Kasabian profile/interview online Wednesday, and the column online Thursday — if I get all of it written…
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