Column 37: One Percent to take the next step? Ladyfinger last night; The Faint/Orenda Fink/Mariannes tonight

Category: Blog — @ 5:41 pm August 16, 2005

Last night I was down at Sokol Auditorium at around 7 to conduct a couple interviews for the column that’ll go online Thursday, focused on the new history-of-Saddle Creek Records DVD. I hung out long enough to catch most of Ladyfinger’s set, curious as to how this band that has only played on smaller stages would sound behind The Faint’s massive sound system. It was impressive, though not altogether different than what I heard at O’Leaver’s. Strangely, what stood out most was the drums, which sounded full and powerful, providing a whole new level of “bottom” to the band’s already dense sound. The set didn’t go flawlessly. Frontman Chris Machmuller was hampered with a broken string a few songs into the set, and was still fiddling with his guitar two songs later. I have no idea what was wrong, other than “technical difficulties” as he announced from stage. The crowd, which was stage-to-entrance full by 8:30, seemed to dig it, though I had to leave before the end of their set. I plan on going back there tonight to see the whole show, this time with The Mariannes opening. Last I heard it still wasn’t sold out. $15, 8 p.m.

This week’s column is an update on One Percent Productions via an interview with operators Jim Johnson and Marc Leibowitz. As info, the duo asked that I not mention who was playing the Orpheum gig mentioned below, but the cat got out of the bag yesterday when Press Here Publicity sent out the Bright Eyes fall tour schedule. You guessed it, Bright Eyes is slated to play The Orpheum November 11. No idea when tickets go on sale. Keep an eye on the One Percent website for details.

Column 37 — One Hundred and 1 Percent

The next time you’re struggling to get it together the morning after a long night at a rock show, think about poor Marc Leibowitz and Jim Johnson. They’re living your morning-after nightmare almost every day.

When the duo first launched their live music promotion company — One Percent Productions — way back in October ’97, they were lucky if they could book 10 shows a year down at Sokol Underground. These days, they’re averaging about 20 to 25 shows a month booked at a variety of clubs including Sokol, O’Leaver’s, Mick’s, Knickerbocker’s in Lincoln, as well as more austere venues such as the Scottish Rite Hall on 20th and Douglas, The Rose, Joslyn’s Witherspoon Hall, The Mid-America Center, they even have a secret show slated for The Orpheum in November that I can’t talk about.

I noticed the effects of all those late nights at the Maria Taylor show a couple weeks ago. The usually bright-eyed and acerbic Johnson instead was slouched over like a 90-year-old man in his pleather high chair. His eyes glassy slits behind his thick-rimmed glasses, Johnson’s scowl made him look like he was ready to lunge over the counter and bite the next greasy-haired indie kid who asked for a hand stamp.

It’s not so bad for Leibowitz. He works at home and doesn’t have to sign-on until 9 a.m. Johnson, on the other hand, has to drag his badly beaten carcass to work by 7:30 on mornings after leaving the Sokol stench-hole only six hours earlier.

How does he do it? “We just make it work,” groaned Johnson while band Planes Mistaken for Stars was loading in for the night’s show — one that he thankfully didn’t have to work. Leibowitz was covering it solo.

The answer for both of them, of course, is to ditch their day jobs and become promoters full-time. For Leibowitz, the switch seems inevitable. “I’ve already been informed by my employer that I’m being laid off in December,” he said from the steps of Sokol Auditorium, while Johnson leaned against a nearby wall. “My job is being off-shored to India, and I’m not getting another IT job.”

The lay-off could be a blessing in disguise. Leibowitz said that for One Percent to keep up or increase its current pace, he has to be able to answer phone calls, return e-mail, and run errands throughout the day. “In all likelihood, one of us will be fulltime next year.”

But booking shows full-time wasn’t the original plan. Leibowitz and Johnson had always wanted to get a club of their own so they could soak up all that booze money along with a portion of the door. “The more we’ve done this the more we realize that we couldn’t afford to invest a ton of money into a building,” Leibowitz said. “We’re not going to open a venue when all these people with more money than us are doing it.”

Specifically, the $10 million Saddle Creek Records music hall / movie theater / offices / condominiums project and a rumored downtown venue to be run by the former operator of The Ranch Bowl. Leibowitz said One Percent will add Saddle Creek’s Slowdown club to their list of venues. “We’ll be booking Sokol Thursday through Saturday and Slowdown whenever we can,” he said. “That means more and more frequently we’ll be doing two shows a night, and sometimes three.”
At that rate, they’ll be carting Johnson out of the Sokol on a stretcher.

Despite the additional clubs, Leibowitz and Johnson said that making a living solely off One Percent depends on being able to book the really big shows at Sokol Auditorium and larger facilities. And that means competing with Clear Channel. “That’s our rival now,” Leibowitz said. “Shows like Disturbed, 311 and Slipknot are where the big money is. No one’s competing for O’Leaver’s business.”

Yeah, but wasn’t the original idea to put on shows with bands that you loved that no one else would touch? “If we want this to be our job, we have to branch out,” Johnson said. “If we booked only bands we wanted to see, we’d only be doing one show a week.”

“We still stand by what we said when we first started,” Leibowitz said. “We just don’t want to lose money on the shows we book. And if we work hard to promote them, we’ll make money and pay our bills.”

Maybe, but something tells me they won’t be catching up on their sleep anytime soon.

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