Live Review: The Waiting Room, Art in Manila, 4th of July, Black Squirrels; Bombardment Society tonight …

Category: Blog — @ 3:51 pm March 10, 2007

Marc Leibowitz said during our interview that the house PA at The Waiting Room was essentially the same as what’s down at Sokol Underground, only in a room half the size. So you’d naturally think that the sound would be twice as loud (which would be damaging). Ah, but here’s a case where more power doesn’t necessarily mean louder, it means better.

The sound quality of the PA last night was absolutely gorgeous, and never too loud. I only wore earplugs during the 4th of July set, which was definitely mixed both louder and bassier (in fact, too bassy). For Art in Manila, no hearing protection was needed. Yeah, it was plenty loud, but it sure didn’t hurt.

Let’s start from the beginning. We ate dinner beforehand at The Pizza Shoppe and didn’t get to the club until around 8:30. Needless to say, parking wasn’t an issue, since we left the car in front of the Pizza Shoppe and hoofed it two blocks to the venue. When we left at around midnight, there were open spots all around us. I guess parking may not be a problem after all.

When we stepped inside, the place seemed far from capacity, but it was early. Incidentally, the show was 18+. When I talked to Marc and Jim a week earlier, they weren’t sure that they’d be able to do under-21 shows, and asked me not to mention it in the article (after all, they still hadn’t received their liquor license.). The doorman explained that anyone over 21 would get a wrist band, while under-21 patrons would have large X’s smeared on their fists straightedge style (and under-age folks wouldn’t have in-and-out privileges). Problem solved. Now, will they be able to do all-ages shows?

Anyway, everything was in place and a crew was behind the bar serving. I guess the license came through. All the tables and barstools were filled, and yet the room didn’t seem packed. It felt comfortable and lived-in, as if the bar had been there for years. They’d managed to retain the room’s aged ambiance while adding a few modern touches (and a fresh coat of paint).

Consumer note: Bottles of Rolling Rock are $3 — that’s a dollar less than Sokol Underground’s $4, but more expensive than both O’Leaver’s and SCB.

Without a place to sit down, we made our way into what I’m going to call “the stage room” (as opposed to “the main room” where the tables and chairs are) and found cushioned seats along the wall across from stage right. That’s where I stayed for most of the evening. It was the perfect hiding place, out of the bright lights of the main room. (I would suggest that they turn the lights down in the main room during the sets — the harsh light and the low ceiling make it feel like an FOE club compared to the stage room).

First up was Black Squirrels — a trio featuring guitar, keyboards and stand-up bass — no drums. They ramped through a tight set of kitschy blue-grass folk and sounded better than the last two times I saw them (at The Dubliner and O’Leaver’s). Bassist Travis Sing said afterward, ‘We really play well when we can actually hear ourselves on stage.” What? There’s no monitors at O’Leaver’s? As clean and balanced as they sounded, their sing-songy folk wasn’t a real test of the sound system. That would come next with 4th of July, a band that, to me, epitomizes the Kansas indie rock sound that I remember from the old days, back in the ’90s when I drove down to Lawrence every few months to catch bands like The Anniversary and Kill Creek at the Bottleneck. These guys have that same wheatfield college-rock flair that never loses sight of its melodies. The lead singer, however, lost his way a couple times early in the set, which he apologized for later, explaining that they were playing a lot of new material.

Warning to any shitty bands that want to play here: There’s no place to hide with this PA — your suckiness will glow like neon, not merely fade amidst the bright-white noise of other system’s distortion. The crowd will hear your every mistake, every goof up, every off-tone moment.

The 4th of July didn’t have to worry about that. Anchoring their sound was an amazing drummer. In fact, the drums last night sounded terrific during both sets — was it the drum set (the same one used by both bands) or was it how the stage picks up and amplifies the drums?

During The Black Squirrels set, the red-and-black linoleum floor in front of the stage was mostly empty as people were content sitting back at the tables. When 4th of July came on, however, the floor filled up with slouchers. A brief word about the stage — as my companion said, it was like something you’d expect to see in Austin — the height, the curtain, the stainless steel lighting racks. Much more impressive than the old Music Box stage. It had a serious, professional look and feel that made the performers glow and would be a great place to film a live performance.

Art in Manila came on a little after 11. By then, the bar was at capacity (The night will go down as a sell-out with numbers at around 215, according to the door guy). The entire floor was filled, and I had a hard time squeezing through to get to my spot after getting a couple beers. Even with those numbers, you could comfortably fit an additional 100 people in the venue if you wanted to break the fire code (which I know these guys would never do).

There’s a good story in this week’s Omaha City Weekly (here) where the reporter talks to Orenda Fink about her new band and life after Azure Ray. What he didn’t ask (or at least didn’t cover in the story) was who will be releasing the new Art in Manila album. Will it be Saddle Creek? Will it be Range Life, who Creek now distributes and who will be releasing the new 4th of July album? Whoever it is will have gold on their hands. This incarnation of Orenda is by far the best. Better than anything she did with Azure Ray and much more soulful than her solo album, which was pretty damn soulful to begin with. Art in Manila takes Orenda’s sweet, breathy voice and surrounds it with rich, earthy instruments. Every element of the six-piece, from Dan McCarthy’s keyboards to Steve Bartolomei’s searing guitar solos, adds new depth to her songs. Orenda’s lucky to have one of the area’s best drummers, Corey Broman, playing at the very height of his ability and clearly driving everything forward. Again, the drums just sounded freaking amazing without overpowering the rest of the band. Great balance from every instrument. Terrific work from the sound guy.

Moving around the room, the sightlines were unhampered through every opening. As you move further back — all the way to the pinball room — you receive a sort of letterbox effect looking at the stage, because of the slight overhang that divides the two rooms. There is a noticeable difference in the sound as you move around the main room. In fact, there’s quite a drop-off in levels the further you go, cutting off the high and low end. This, of course, is understandable as the sound is being funneled through the opening between the two rooms and is literally absorbed by the crowd. That’s not to say the sound is bad in the back. On the contrary. Though there’s no place in the venue where you can get away from the noise, people are able to at least carry on conversations without having to yell at each other — something that’s impossible at just about every other club I frequent. If you really want to hear the band in all its glory, though, you have to go into the stage room, which has a higher ceiling and is completely unencumbered by barriers. Perfect sound forever.

Art in Manila played for about 45 minutes, finishing up at around midnight by thanking the bands and Marc and Jim for all the hard work they put into the place. Our impression upon leaving was that we’d just been in the best live music venue in the city… for now anyway. That distinction will likely shift to Slowdown when it begins live shows in June. Consider that Slowdown is being built specifically to provide the finest acoustics possible — and consider the enormous amount of money that’s being invested in the highest quality sound equipment available. It should be better, right? Right?

One final thought: I left the bar at around midnight. I was sitting in my living room at around 12:10. Priceless.

* * *

So what’s in store for tonight? On top of the list, again, is The Waiting Room. They opened with an evening of mellow(er), rural indie rock. Tonight they’re turning things up with Bombardment Society, Now Archimedes! and The Stay Awake. How will punk sound on that big, beautiful stage? $7, 9 p.m.

Will Leibowitz ever get to see a show at his own club? Not tonight, as he’ll likely be working the Hella show down at Sokol Underground with Dirty Projectors and Who’s Your Favorite Son God? $8, 9 p.m.

According to SlamOmaha, Dance Me Pregnant is at The 49’r tonight (I can’t get the Niner myspace to work this morning).

And if you didn’t get enough of Black Squirrels, they’ll be playing down the street from The Waiting Room at Mick’s tonight with Hoots and Hellmouth. $5, 9 p.m..

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