Column 73 — Dude, you goin’ to Bright Eyes? Buck Bowen tonight…

Category: Blog — @ 12:16 pm April 20, 2006

For the record, the Petco clerk did say that she’d heard of 311, but didn’t go to that concert, either.

Column 73: Acid Test in the Park
Who is this Bright Eyes character, anyway?
So I’m going through the line at the Petco on 72nd and Dodge, picking up a fresh box of much-deserved milk bones for the two very special critics who edit my work. I turn to the cheerful, late-30s-aged woman behind the counter and ask, whilst signing the digital signature pad, “Say, ever heard of a band called Bright Eyes…?”

Here’s the deal: Never has there been a better acid test as to the popularity of Bright Eyes, Saddle Creek Records and the Omaha indie music scene than the just-announced concert in Memorial Park June 17 featuring Conor Oberst and his band of merry men. Once and for all, we’re going to see just how popular indie is among the great unwashed masses.

Those of us who live and breathe indie, who go to the shows at Sokol Underground, buy the records and read the online journals, we go through life with blinders on. We believe that Oberst and Cursive and The Faint and Saddle Creek are the harbingers of Omaha’s status as “The New Seattle,” that the world outside our freeway has embraced us. I mean, everyone knows Bright Eyes, right? Hell, how could they not? He’s played guitar right next to The Boss and Michael Stipe.

Ah, but mention Conor or any of the Creek bands to the guy or gal slouched in line next to you at, say, your local Wal-Mart, and you’re bound to get a blank stare in return. Bright Who?

Which brings us to that concert in the park. I’ve already heard speculation from those entrenched in the local music scene that this will be an event for the ages that will far out-draw the July 16, 2004, Memorial Park show that featured 311. Depending on your source, that concert drew more than 50,000 rabid fans eager to see the former Omahans present a “night of positivity” along with a medley of dated ska-rock classics.

What will Bright Eyes draw on June 17, 2006? Let’s look at the facts.

Conor has been written about in every respectable newspaper and magazine in the country. He’s appeared on Letterman, Leno and even the lame Craig Ferguson Show. And unlike 311, he maintains a domicile in Omaha even though he spends most of his time in Manhattan (and who can blame him?). Those curious about his music but who have been apprehensive about venturing to a venue engulfed in sad-eyed indie kids finally will have a chance to see the boy wonder on neutral territory. And it’s free. Yes, the curious will come.

So will the traveler. Other than a handful of shows in Canada and the Bonnaro Festival in Manchester, Tennessee, the park show is the only scheduled Bright Eyes appearance in North America this year. Expect heartbroken fans from across the country to make a holy pilgrimage and turn the event into a mini Woodstock. If you live within blocks of the park, expect moody youths with tattoos and piercings in tents in your front yard days before the show.

Let’s not forget that Bright Eyes drew nearly 4,000 paying customers to Council Bluffs’ MAC center just last May. Ah, but remember, The Faint was on the undercard that night. Who will open for Conor June 17? Certainly not The Faint or Creek’s third-biggest band, Cursive.

Which gets us to arguments against a huge draw. Bright Eyes skews younger than 311, whose heyday was over a decade ago, and hence has a broader fan base than Conor’s. And while we’re talking about 311, remember that they’ve had four Gold records, one Platinum, one Triple-Platinum, a Gold and Platinum DVD; in total they’ve sold more than 7 million units in the United States. Bright Eyes has yet to produce even one Gold record, thanks to a complete lack of commercial radio airplay. Meanwhile, 311 music is on regular rotation on hundreds of radio stations across the country, including a couple here in Omaha.

Then there’s the fact that the 311 concert was the centerpiece of the city’s 150-year “celebration.” Fireworks were promised. The Bright Eyes show is merely Mayor Fahey’s and US Cellular’s bright idea (And can you imagine Conor, who has railed endlessly against Clear Channel and commercial sponsorships, playing in front of a gigantic US Cellular banner?).

Some won’t come because they despise Conor’s politics. Some won’t come because they despise Conor’s music. Some won’t come because they despise the kind of people who like Conor’s politics and music. Then there’s the proximity of the “oldies” concert in the park just two weeks later, which is more likely to draw wary families. And then there’s the weather. And on and on.

But maybe the most telling indication of how many will come to the concert in the park is that cheerful Petco clerk bagging my milk bones. “Bright Eyes? Never heard of ’em. Is that a local band or something?”

Tonight at Sokol Underground, what’s being billed as the “last performance” by local hip-hop impresario Buck Bowen. Is Buck really hanging it up at such an early stage of his career? Well, from what I’ve been told, you’ll see Buck on stage again, but he won’t be going by the name “Buck Bowen,” which, by the way, is a perfect stage name (and, I’m told, is his real name). It would be a shame if he gave it up. $4, 9 p.m. w/Slang 5 and Headtrip.

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