The Brothers doesn’t do shows very often. Hardly at all, actually. The reason is simple: Tré, who runs the place, doesn’t need to. Drop in at The Brothers on any given Friday or Saturday night at around 10. Try to find a table. It’s always packed on weekends just on the strength of its service (You’re not going to have to wait for a beer), its rep (The Brothers is where bands go to get drunk when they’re not playing gigs), and its jukebox (punk and heavy indie and Omaha music from back in the day). So Tré doesn’t need bands to get butts in seats. But every once in a while, he sees an opportunity to put on a show that’s close to his heart, and last night was one of them. My point being: The Brothers ain’t exactly designed for live shows. Yet last night, the bands sounded better there than I’ve heard them anywhere else.
Take Ideal Cleaners. I saw them a few months ago at the Speed! Nebraska showcase at Sokol Underground, and they were good, they were fine. Last night they sounded like a different band. Listening to the trio rip through a set of bruising, welt-rising punk, I said to myself. “Okay, I get it.” I hadn’t really gotten it before, but last night they sounded ripped and raw, easily pushing the weight over their heads for a personal best. Ideal Cleaners sounded better than I’ve ever heard them sound. Better than they sound on record. Stripped down to sonic essentials, their songs bled bright red, and now I think I know what I’ve been missing. I have a feeling they come off just as straight-forward at Duffy’s, where I’ve never seen them play. So look, I don’t know a thing about sound engineering, but I can point to the fact that it was just their amps, the small PA and the bar’s low ceiling and wonder if that resulted in the dynamic tension. Simpler is better, almost always.
It carried on into The Monroes’ set. Has Lincoln Dickison ever played better? No. He was in his own special world last night. The hand-spiders (as Chris and Jamie from Ladyfinger describe his playing style) were running wild on the fretboard, crawling impossibly where other hand spiders rarely climb. Jon Taylor marveled to my left while unpacking T-shirts: “How does he do that?” and later from stage “He must have three hands.” He does it by being the best punk/rock guitarist in Omaha. Lincoln was just plain filthy last night, right down to the riff that powered the band’s cover of Husker Du’s “Divide and Conquer” (you know the one). And again, the sound mix was enormous.
So here’s where it gets weird. Mercy Rule was a band that was notorious for being one of the loudest acts in the Omaha/Lincoln circuit. Guitarist Jon Taylor didn’t just like it loud, he wanted to hurt you. Earplugs weren’t optional, they were required for your personal long-term health. So when Domestica took over The Brothers’ pseudo-stage, I was expecting to be blown completely away. In fact, the band sounded muted and muddy compared to The Cleaners and The Monroes. Certainly it wasn’t as loud as either of those bands. Disappointing? At first, yes. Anyone who’s ever heard Heidi Ore sing knows that it can be a challenge for her just to be heard over the din. And despite the lowering of the amps, her voice still was lost during the first few songs. Ah, but as the set wore on, my ears adjusted to the mix and everything came into better focus.
There are obvious similarities between Domestica and Mercy Rule songs, and that’s part of the charm. No one plays riffs quite like Taylor or has a similar tone. There is a layered, fluid quality to his sound that resonates through his constant, chopping chords. Jon’s guitar always seems to rise to the level of Heidi’s pure, honest, unaffected vocals. So yeah, the band sounds like Mercy Rule, in musicianship and in song structure — those big, chiming anthems that drop down halfway through, leaving Heidi singing alone while Jon plays a simple pinging line that moments later will roar again. Boz Hicks drumming is completely different than Ron Albertson’s. It’s more spare, simpler, more narrow, less likely to get in the way, not nearly as colorful, but right for this style. It’s going to take some getting used to because it ain’t Albertson, who’s precise fills and ballistic remarks are tough to forget.
As their set went on, they got stronger. Heidi’s voice got more comfortable and fuller and familiar with the style. Anyone who’s ever heard her voice before loves it. It’s hearing it for the first time that can be startling. Though at times lost in the mix, she hasn’t lost an ounce of what any Mercy Rule fan has always loved. Welcome back. That said, Domestica could pick up where Mercy Rule left off, if the band wanted to. But I don’t know if that’s what the want. For now, they just want to play together, rock out with their friends and enjoy making music. And that’s all right with me, as long as I can listen.
Tonight, Yo La Tengo at Sokol Underground. If the One Percent site is up-to-date (and it almost always is) then tickets are still available. Do yourself a favor and get down there tonight and see this legendary band. Considering that they’ve never played here before, chances are pretty good you may never ever get another chance.
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