It was Saddle Creek night at Sokol Underground with two of the label’s “rock bands” playing back-to-back, picking their shots and landing just about every one of them. The night started with Now Archimedes! I arrived right before Criteria took the stage, and the place was already packed — a sell-out sized crowd that reached all the way to the back wall.
It was the first time Criteria has played in Omaha with new drummer Matt Sanders, best known for his work in Lincoln punk band The JV All-Stars. The story behind the exit of Criteria original drummer Mike Sweeney is cryptic. Sweeney, I’m told, e-mailed the band saying he was done. A drummer from New York filled in during part of this summer’s tour, before Sanders took over behind the kit. So how did he sound last night? It’s hard to say, since the drums were buried in a mix that was bleached out with high-end and midrange. The kick-drum was virtually nonexistent, while Stephen Pedersen’s guitar sounded tinny and shrill. The band’s guitars always sound tuned on the high-end to me anyway, but last night’s mix was so bright that everything was awash in piercing, jagged tones. That said, the performance was as honed as you would expect from a band that’s road-hardened from virtually endless touring over the last six months. Pedersen’s voice showed absolutely no wear, while AJ Mogis has become a veritable Sinatra compared to how he sounded a year ago.
Criteria’s music continues to age well live. You’d expect a band that’s played the same songs for so long to lose their edge or at least some of their intensity. Not last night. Clearly the band was feeling it, and so was the crowd. Or maybe the band was just happy that it was the last night of the tour, and now they can look forward to some well-deserved R & R while they work on their next record.
Not so Ladyfinger. As if grabbing the baton from Criteria, last night marked the band’s first gig of two weeks of serious touring that continues tonight in Minneapolis with Cursive and The Thermals. What better send-off than a sold-out CD release show? And Ladyfinger was up to the challenge. They sounded thunderous despite the continuation of that midrange-heavy mix. Anyone who’s seen this band play at small stages like O’Leaver’s or The 49’r likely wouldn’t recognize them with the Underground’s more massive sound system.
I know absolutely nothing about the science of singing. That said, you have to be concerned about Chris Machmuller’s voice. It’s not like Ladyfinger plays all that often, and now he’s headed out for two weeks of nightly gigs where he’ll be screeching in his barely-in-control vocal style. Will there be anything left by the time he reaches in Columbia, MO, Oct. 4? A couple vocal veterans assured me that he’d be just fine. Considering how things ended last night, their biggest problem will be their lack of material. The fans wanted more, but the band simply didn’t have anything left to give them.
Night three of shows at Sokol Underground continues tonight with Neva Dinova, No Blood Orphan, Tomato a Day and Drakes Hotel. $8, 9 p.m.
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