Live Review: Bright Eyes, Spoon; Mal Madrigal, Dereck Higgins tonight

Category: Blog — @ 8:18 pm November 12, 2005

One advantage to being a music writer other than getting free CDs in the mail all the time is getting on “the list.” Most newspapers (The World Herald for instance) don’t allow reporters to be “on the list.” Reporters aren’t even allowed to keep the CDs they’ve reviewed for fear that it might give an impression of impropriety. That’s not a problem at alt weeklies (or online ‘zines, for that matter), where receiving free stuff is one of the chief motivations for writing in the first place. Impropriety be damned.

That said, I was on “the list” plus one last night for the Bright Eyes show at The Orpheum. After eating a fine Mexican dinner at Trini’s I considered bypassing the whole event. It was already 9:30, and I’ve seen Bright Eyes more times than I care to admit. But since we were walking in the general direction of The Orpheum, we figured we might as well take a peek.

The Orpheum is an amazing venue, absolutely gorgeous, like walking into a New York Opera House (or what I imagine one to be like). If you’ve never been there, you need to go at least once before the City decides to bulldoze the place to make room for a parking garage (now that we have their cold, sterile Holland Center). Our seats were in The Loge in the front box on stage-right — actually the two front seats of the front box — so close you could watch the rock stars stumbling around backstage.

Spoon already had begun their set and I quickly realized the drawback to our location. Sure, you were close enough to piss onto the stage, but you’d have to heave it over the stack of sub-amps stacked on either side. At first I didn’t think I’d need earplugs — not here, not in this home of perfect acoustics. But after a couple minutes, I put mine in, and after a few songs, it was like I wasn’t wearing earplugs at all. The bass so dominated the sound that you could hear or feel little else. This must be what it’s like inside one of those rattling Escalades that you can feel approaching your car about eight blocks away. The sound was worse than bad, it was horrible, (at least from our seats).

Spoon walked through its set with mechanical gusto. Britt Daniel played the role of the frontman with as much panache as he could muster, looking like a thin version of Gary Busey circa The Buddy Holly Story. His one rock star trick was dropping to his knees to face a small amp, his back to the audience as if trying to leech feedback from his guitar. While I like Spoon’s records, last night, it all sounded the same except for the few numbers where the band played drawn-out, droning endings. It was a boring set that seemed to go on forever, but maybe that’s because I was being shaken to jelly by those sub-amps.

Between bands The Orpheum’s lobby swelled with hipsters desperately trying to down as many drinks as possible before the next set (no drinks allowed inside the theater). I ran into a few people I knew, all of whom had seats up close but against the wall, and all complaining about the bass. I don’t think these types of theaters were designed to handle this sort of music, certainly not this sort of sound equipment.

It wasn’t as bad when Bright Eyes came out, serenaded by a harp. Though the harpist played on half the songs, I never really noticed her other than during the opener, “Sunrise, Sunset.” It was ornate and pretty. The rest of the time it was drowned out by, well two drummers (Clark Baechle from The Faint and Jason Boesel from Rilo Kiley), Mike Mogis on electric guitar, a trumpet (I think it was Nate Walcott), and bass. The harpist also played keyboards and vibes, and sang harmonies on one song.

Conor looked relaxed in his too-tight pants and button-down shirt. He spent most of the time between songs complaining to someone off stage about the monitors, pointing at his microphone and then pointing up, occasionally doing impromptu sound checks and saying “I need a little more” while, again, pointing at the mike. It reminded me of a Warren Zevon concert I saw at the Ranch Bowl years ago. Zevon did the same thing — pointing at his mike and angrily jerking his finger upward to some poor soundguy in the back of the room, before he finally blew up and threw his keyboard to the ground. Conor didn’t do anything like that last night. He just ran through his playlist, which included selections from throughout his career. The most amusing part of the show was watching Clark Baechle get up from behind one of the drum sets like a trained bear, walk up to the front of the stage and play clarinet. He’s pretty good at it, too.

Conor did the obligatory “thank you Omaha” speech, and acknowledging his family in the crowd. He said the last time he was in The Orpheum was for his graduation, then did a mock reenactment with Mogis playing the role of his principal. He went on to say how much he hated his f—ing school. That was the only controversial moment of the evening. After about five minutes of clapping, Oberst came back out for an encore that started with an angsty rendition of “Lua,” where he painfully pulled every note from his guitar. It was the highlight of the night. The band came on after that to play a song I didn’t recognize before belting out “Ode to Joy,” the usual set closer, and my cue to leave.

Two good shows on tap tonight. At O’Leaver’s Mal Madrigal is playing with Shiny Around the Edges. The Madrigal band this time consists of Mike Saklar (guitar), Ryan Fox (bass), Eric Ernst (drums), Dan McCarthy (accordion, keys etc.), and of course, frontman/guitarist Steve Bartolomei. The band just finished recording a live, all-analog set of songs using old vacuum-tube mic pre-amps and two linked tape machines. Shortly after this show, Bartolomei will be headed to Europe to play bass on tour with Mayday. 9:30, $5.

Meanwhile, in the heart of Benson at Mick’s, Dereck Higgins and his band will be opening for Goodbye Sunday and Stephanie Pilypaitis. This is the same band that backed Higgins at his Healing Arts gig last July (here’s that show review). $5, 9 p.m.

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