It was a night of light and darkness at O’Leaver’s. Light in the form of The Third Men, who, by the way, now include a woman on keyboards (she doesn’t seem to mind the band’s moniker — hey, it was there before she joined, right?). By 10:30 or so O’Leaver’s was already elbow-to-elbow packed and not with people watching the Ohio-Pitt game on the plasma (which guitarist/vocalist Matt Rutledge turned off with 10 seconds left in regulation and Pitt driving — good thing I wasn’t paying attention). I’m not entirely sure the crowd was there to see 3rd Men either, but they were there nonetheless and got what they deserved — a scorching set of tightly wound pop rock from a group of laid-back veterans too cool to care if you don’t like their sunshine-vibe (One guy next to me kept saying “Come on, where’s Ladyfinger?” before he disappeared — his loss). I liken them to an groovy combination of Matthew Sweet pop, Replacements bar and dB’s cool with a little bit of The Feelies irascibility thrown in for good measure. These are songs with top-down hooks and lots of grins. And if their own pop ditties weren’t enough, the band threw in two covers — Mott the Hoople’s “All the Young Dudes” and McCartney/Wings’ “Jet” — that’s right, “Jet” — with bassist Mike Tulis barking out the dog’s name like a Midwestern Jerry Lewis. Gold.
Then came the darkness in the form of Ladyfinger. Has there been another band in the Omaha scene that bears their gutter-groove mark of the devil? The answer is yes. That band was Ritual Device — one of the city’s Golden Age icons, the band that often gets left out of the who-influence-Creek discussions though they, along with Mousetrap, undoubtedly laid the foundation (or at least provided the bad influence) for the label’s heavier acts (Beep Beep comes to mind). As I’ve said in this here blog a few times before, Ladyfinger is Ritual Device’s second coming, although it’s a thoroughly different revelation. Ladyfinger is faster, and in some respects, harder than RD ever was. But in spite of their fleetness, they have RD’s unmistakable knack for finding the head-bobbing groove in the rhythm section, bass and chop guitar, all blended into a very dark brew. The other huge diff — Ritual Device had a frontman in Tim Moss that was not only a stage ham, but a true factor in that band’s overall sound. Amidst the chaos there was always Moss’s throaty voice, mumbling, growling or yelling (not screaming) twisted, obscene lyrics about nightmare sex visions and John Wayne Gacy child molesters. When I think of Ritual Device, I can hear Moss’ voice like the memory of a bad dream. Not so with Ladyfinger’s vocals, shared by two frontmen. Blame the mix, blame the sheer volume of the band, but I could not hear Ethan’s or Chris’ vocals all night, and when I did, they were mere wisps before a hurricane. Those guys need to lean right in there and spit it out, over the band, over the crowd. Else they become another edgy instrumental band, of which there are too many already. They have the vocal chops — by god they both can sing better than Moss (who got by on intensity, not range). Their voices — and whatever ideas they convey — must be heard if this band is going to break through to our nightmares.
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