Column 132 — Hello, Goodbye Drakes Hotel; Mavradio Benefit Day 1 tonight…

Category: Blog — @ 12:18 pm July 12, 2007

One of the more surprising things I heard when I talked to Chris Y and Amy Drake outside of The Saddle Creek Bar Sunday night was that they’d been advised not to play at O’Leaver’s. The duo had never actually stepped foot in the club before. To me, playing O’Leaver’s has become almost a rite of passage for local indie bands (and a few touring bands, as well). Sure, Slowdown and The Waiting Room remain at the top of the food chain, followed by Sokol Underground (which used to top the list). While a great place to play, Sokol is too big for most up-and-coming bands, especially if they’re not filling an opening slot for a big-name national show. As everyone knows who frequents the place, playing in front of 50 people in Sokol Underground is like playing in front of an empty room, and looks disastrous. While playing in front of 50 people at O’Leaver’s is like performing in the middle of a mob scene. Sure, the club has a sub-par PA. Sure, the place kinda smells like a wet ashtray and has the ambiance of someone’s rec-room. But some of the best shows I’ve seen in Omaha have been performed there. Odd that someone would tell the band to avoid the place. Drakes did manage to play at The Waiting Room while they were here, as well as Sokol and The Saddle Creek Bar (four times!).

Column 132: A Matter of Timing
Drakes Hotel goes unnoticed.
Earlier this year, I got a phone call from Roger Lewis of Saddle Creek Records bands The Good Life and Neva Dinova. Roger never calls unless there’s something important on his mind.

So I got in touch with him post haste. Roger’s trademark greeting: “Dude!” Anyone who’s met him knows exactly what that sounds like. Roger has a unique Midwestern Valley Girl drawl that only he could possess. He called to give me a head’s up about a new band on the scene called Drakes Hotel, and to tell me that I’d soon be getting a preview copy of their CD, Tell Me Everything, released by Portland’s Reverb Records. “Dude, it’s really good. You really need to do something about this band.”

I’d heard about Drakes Hotel from a few other folks around town who compared them to shoe-gazer bands like Jesus and Mary Chain and Curve. Well, the CD arrived, and it was gorgeous, filled with dreamy, buzzing music that would have fit right in with late-’80s UK bands like Cocteau Twins and Ride. On songs like “Broadcast to the Addicted” and “Red,” Amy Drake’s effects-laden vocals were a cross between Siouxsie Sioux and Cocteau’s Elizabeth Fraser, while husband Chris Y’s fuzzy, shuttering chop guitar pulsed atop a thick rhythm track. More laid-back songs, such as “Songs I Forgot About,” featured the duo harmonizing over spacey, Cure-flavored music.

Roger was right, I had to write something about these folks, but a funny thing happened every time I tried. Whenever they had a show on the horizon, the date fell on a week when I already had a story scheduled with The Reader. The same thing happened for their live shows — every time I made a point of seeing them, they either played first or I was unavailable or I simply forgot… and missed them. The next day when I asked people who had told me they were going how it went, for whatever reason they missed the show, too. Something always came up. It was a matter of timing, I guess, or bad luck.

Tell Me Everything was officially released May 1 to a roomful of crickets. Time passed, and I still intended to write about the band.

But I waited too long. In my inbox was an e-mail from Chris Y, inviting me to the band’s farewell show last Sunday at The Saddle Creek Bar. “We will be relocating to Portland OR. In fact, we will be leaving right after the show. Portland is home to our label, Reverb Records, and they will be able to do much more for us if we are out there.

“Doesn’t seem like Omaha is a very good fit for our kind of music,” the letter continued. “Seems like unless you’re The Faint, people only want to hear straight up rock or campfire sing-alongs. They certainly aren’t going to dance – that’s for sure. There are some great rock bands around here and there are some mediocre ones — doesn’t seem to really make any sense as to who gets shows, who gets popular and who’s left on the sidelines.”

Chris admitted that “we never really played the game or broke our backs around here trying to get shows, but I know of some great musicians that have and should be doing better. Seems like no matter where you go, the scenes are the same. We have lived in a ridiculous number of places, and Omaha is so small it’s almost laughable that there should even be any kind of clique in this town. Three cheers to Saddle Creek Records for building an impenetrable wall around themselves. How Indie are you really when you build a shrine to yourselves with the blessing of the city and only book your friends and bands from your ultra cool record collections? Good luck with that. Anyway — don’t know what brought that on — I just wanted to send you an invite— so there ya go. Take care, Chris.”

I finally got to see Drakes Hotel last Sunday night at the sparsely attended Saddle Creek Bar show — a venue where they played most often over the past year. Before their set, we talked about Chris’ e-mail while standing alongside the Flintstones-style camper that they’d be living in on their way to Portland. I’d heard they moved to Omaha to get signed to Saddle Creek. True? Of course not. Drakes Hotel already had a label. After living for years in Santa Cruz, Seattle and Blanchard, Iowa, the couple had decided to move to Amy’s hometown of Omaha. Sure, part of the reason behind the move was to get involved in the music scene, but it just never happened, though they made some good friends along the way, like Roger. While the letter sounded bitter, the band wasn’t bitter at all. They had tried their best. Now they were going to try their best somewhere else.

So why didn’t Drakes Hotel ever catch on in Omaha? Maybe because they lacked a live rhythm section. Playing over prerecorded rhythm tracks hardly makes for a dynamic show. Or maybe the real obstacle was their inability to break into the scene’s social network. You’d hope that wasn’t the case, that the music would be enough, but maybe not.

Or maybe it was just a case of bad timing, and bad luck. So, Omaha, let me introduce you to Drakes Hotel while we bid them fond farewell to fresh waters, and, hopefully, to better luck.

Tonight kicks off the 3-day Mavradio Benson Local Music Festival, with shows at two venues — Vago, It’s True, Thrift Store Clerk and Stephen Monroe at Benson Grind ($2, 7 p.m.), and Paper Owls, Pictures of Lily and Midwest Dilemma at Mick’s ($5, 9 p.m.). Serious festival goers can purchase an $8 wristband at Jake’s, The Pizza Shoppe or Benson Grind that will get them into all three days-worth of shows — a bargain.

I wrote about this festival in my column a couple weeks ago. Mavradio is UNO’s campus-only radio station. Proceeds will go to buying new equipment that will allow the station to once again stream its programming at mavradio.org, with the long-term goal of purchasing a new sound board and radio tower to broadcast on the entire UNO campus.

Wouldn’t it be great if you could hear the station off campus in our cars? Considering the politics and costs involved with radio broadcasting, that likely will never happen, especially with KVNO being UNO’s official broadcast radio station. But you can always dream.

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