While interviewing Dereck Higgins last week we talked about his shows late last year at, among other places, O’Leaver’s. Higgins played with only a prerecorded CD, his guitar and his voice, and the results were less than stellar. “I don’t like playing alone,” he said. “There was a bit of me feeling that this is fucking karaoke, even though I recorded all the parts.” But another problem was that Higgins has never felt that his music is conducive to a bar setting “People are there to get drunk and get laid,” he said. “They’re not focusing on the music.”
Fine, but if you’re a rock musician (or in Higgins case, an ambient pop musician with British prog overtones) where else is there to play but in a bar? Ask yourself when was the last time you saw a band (not a cover band, not a blues band, not jazz guys) perform outside of a club or festival setting? The under-21s aren’t the only ones who have something to complain about — there are very few places to see live, original rock music without being smoked out or boozed on.
Thanks to singer/songwriter/popster Richard Schultz, Higgins found an outlet at the Omaha Healing Arts Center. The venue was hardly new him. Higgins performed there back in June 2003, playing bass alongside one of his personal musical heroes, The Chameleons’ Mark Burgess. Situated in the heart of the Old Market, Healing Arts is a combination health food store, restaurant, yoga gym and massage/physical therapy outlet. Unlike the usual smokehole booze huts I’m used to attending, Healing Arts is a veritable oasis. The converted warehouse-style building sports a main room that feels like a New Age church, with high, beamed ceilings and a skylight that stretches 30 yards or so along the entire room. Sure, everywhere you look there are portraits of yogis and other spiritual types, and there is a distinct “hippy vibe,” but overall, it’s really just a nice, tranquil setting.
For Saturday night’s gig, the stage had been set up along a wall halfway down one side of the long room. Schultz had strung Christmas twinkle lights along the rigging, stretching the green plastic chords overhead to the opposite wall. It gave the place a sort of outdoorsy feel. First up was a band of youngsters called One Mummy Case — youngsters that is, except for Higgins, who played bass in the band. With two teen-aged multi-instrument lead singers, a keyboardist and drummer, One Mummy Case is the next generation of Simon Joyner/Conor Oberst singer-songwriters, sporting styles that are similar to both. The hour-long set was remarkable for a first-ever gig, the band playing to a room filled not only with music fans, but with family (moms and dads) and friends. Talk about pressure. Regardless, you’d think these guys had been performing on stage for, well, months at least, especially considering that a few of them looked no older than 15. Where else but a no-alcohol place like Healing Arts could a band like this perform?
A half hour later, Higgins own band took the stage. It was quite a contrast to the one-man karaoke-style bar shows. The band, which included John Friedman on guitar, Bill Eustice on bass and Jeff Tegtmeir on drums, turned Higgins’ usually spacey, keyboard-driven ambient movements into full-out rock songs, showcasing Dereck’s skills on a number of scorching guitar solos. With a band behind him, Higgins was clearly more relaxed and confident, and is songs never sounded better, though I missed the mult-tracked harmonies (Come on, Eustice can sing, can’t he?). It was nice to go home from a rock show and not have to strip off my smoke-infused clothes.
Tonight, it’s back to the smokey confines of Sokol Underground for a showcase of Omaha and Lincoln bands including Back When, Mr. 1986, Paria and Father. $7, 9 p.m.
Bob Mould — Body of Song (Yep Rock) — No one loves ol’ Bob more than I do. Since Workbook, Mould has created some of his most interesting and lyrically moving material, either by himself or with those Sugar boys.
That said, Body of Song is a curiosity of sorts. Mould has decided that good songs and his own voice just ain’t enough, so he’s enlisted the most annoying technological accouterment of modern dance music, the vocoder, just like the one Cher used on her madly successful dance albums. I gotta believe its just residue from 2002’s Modulate and its supporting tour, where Bob played mad scientist with the beat box.
Thankfully, the dancing Bob with the robot voice shows up sparingly on Body of Song. Mould instead mixes styles that span from the Husker days (“Best Thing”) to Workbook (“Gauze of Friendship”) to Sugar (“Circles”) to File Under: Easy Listening (“Missing You”), only skipping the beautiful bleakness of Black Sheets of Rain (I guess because Bob’s a popster now).
The dreaded vocoder pops up on “(Shine Your) Light Love Hope,” a track that unnecessarily electroplates textures over Bob’s voice while adding plenty of sweaty thump-thump-thump dance beats. It doesn’t work, at least for this old-school fan. How would the track have sounded sans technology with straight-up rock drums? We’ll never know. We only get a slight synth line added to the guitar roar on “Paralyzed,” but “I Am Vision I Am Sound” is yet another trip down the runway.
Ah, but then there’s the good parts. “Days of Rain” is a straight-up back-beat rocker, unrestrained and chiming with the same vulnerable vocals heard on Workbook. “Best Thing” is the kind of Mould that everyone’s been waiting for, complete with the line “You just lost the best thing you never had.” “High Fidelity” is a sappy, traditional guitar ballad that no will be expecting, while “Missing You” flies atop a layer of Mould-on-Mould harmonies and a brash mid-song guitar solo.
Yeah, it would have been better without the electro-dance stuff, but overall it’s the best Bob has done since File Under… Rating: Yes.
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