Despite my better judgment, I went to The 49’r last night even though it was brutally cold out and I knew I’d be parking three blocks away (if I found a parking spot at all) and that the walk alone would be treacherous because no one along 49th street apparently has time to shovel their sidewalks, which had turned to sheets of ice. I knew that the place would be packed to the gills, that it would take a minimum of 10 minutes to get a beer and that after I got the beer, that I would walk around puzzled as to where I was going to stand to watch the band. I knew all of this, but I went anyway because I haven’t seen No Blood Orphan before and I wanted to hear how their CD sounded performed live.
And, of course, all my arguments against going were fully realized. The place was packed, it took forever to get a beer (thanks again, Oliver), and there was nowhere to sit or stand to watch the band. I suppose if you’re 5’7″ you’re okay to stand in front of other people, but if you’re 6’2″, you’re going to feel more than a little bit “in the way” and worried that you’re being a rude a-hole. But what else are you supposed to do? The 49’r is simply not designed for live shows. There is no stage so the band plays at the same level as the crowd, which means someone is always going to be in the way. There are too many tables so there’s nowhere to stand. The only places you can stand are along the bar (in the way of people seated in stools or those trying to get a beer), in the back (in the way of people trying to get to the bathrooms), along the opposite wall (actually, there’s no standing room over there) or right in front of the band — where you’ll effectively block everyone’s view. Guess where I ended up.
I can, however, see why bands like playing at the Niner — there literally is no line of demarcation between the band and the crowd, as if the band is playing within the crowd itself. The guy standing next to me, for example, put out his cigarettes in the ashtray that sat atop of the keyboard while the keyboardist was playing it. The keyboardist didn’t mind at all — why would he? At that point, he was literally playing inside the crowd. I assume this gives the band a feeling of not performing at all, but of actually being just another patron. That relaxed vibe results in some very comfortable performances, and last night’s was no exception. Mike Saklar and company were in a groove from beginning to end. Just seeing Saklar’s set-up, by the way, is worth the price of admission — he has a panel on the floor with what appeared to have more than a dozen different pedals attached to it. To Saklar’s left was a gizmo mounted three feet off the ground on a metal stand that looked like a piece of World War II-era medical equipment. Behind the keyboard player spun a large cylinder that looked like an ice-cream maker. I have no idea what any of these gizmos were for.
I can tell you that the set sounded good and somewhat different than the recording thanks to the extensive use of delays on the vocals and the warm keyboards that shifted beneath every song — keyboards that I never noticed before on the recording. Saklar uses so much delay that it gives his voice an almost Peter Murphy-esque quality (You can tell he loves Bauhaus). The visible differences from song to song on the new album were somewhat glossed over live. All of it — even the twangy stuff — had an almost gothic sheen to it reminiscent of ’80s bands like Teardrop Explodes, Joy Division, The Cure and Mission UK (Again, I have to point to the vocal effects). The highlights included a throbbing version of “Insect” from the new album, and the set-closer that featured solos by keyboardist Chris Esterbrooks and lead guitarist Steve Bartolomei. Saklar himself provided a number of flowing guitar solos throughout the set.
The sound quality, incidentally, was never better. I have no idea why that is. Perhaps The Niner has added a few things, or the band added their own stuff (the ice cream maker?) or the sound guy just did a good job (though I could have used more Bartolomei in the mix). After the set, Jake Bellows was supposed to perform. I’m told he had also played a set last night in Lincoln as Cocoon (without Todd Fink, who was in the Niner audience last night) and was headed back to Omaha right afterward for the solo set. I have no idea if he made it. With my beer long gone, I took a look at the crowd I’d have to work through to get another and thought better of it. As uncomfortable as last night’s set was, I know I’ll be back there again next weekend for Past Punchy and the Presents. But you’ll be reading more about them here later next week.
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