What’s not to love about Benson these days? Friday night I parked my car along Maple St., strolled down and chatted with the guys that run The Waiting Room who were outside getting some fresh air, then walked down to Mick’s (passing Espana along the way, which was jumping with some sort of event) to catch The Matt Whipkey Three before high-tailing it at 11:30 to The Barley St. Tavern for Dereck Higgins‘ set. The only thing missing from Benson/Maple St. is a place you can duck into (or that has a window that opens to the sidewalk) that sells pizza by the slice (like they have on 6th St. in Austin). That would be pure Nirvana and a no-brainer business for some ingenious entrepreneur.
Back to our story. I can say with all certainty that the line-up surrounding Matt Whipkey Friday night was clearly the best since The Movies. The trio format forces Whipkey to strip the arrangements to the bare essentials and refocus melodies in a way that edits out the excesses of Anonymous American while going beyond the simple acoustic strumming heard in his solo sets. It’s more subtle, more direct, more dynamic. As a result, the rocking parts rock more, the ballad-y moments are more ballad-y. With Benck adding backing vocal touches and Zip’s perfect, simple drumming, this could be the configuration that pushes Whipkey to the next level if he can pen some memorable songs and get all of them out on the road.
My take after stepping inside The Barley St. for the first time: O’Leaver’s has a rival for the crown of dumpiest, smelliest music venue in Omaha. That said, the bar does have a vibe (and odor) all its own. The music room is located in a separate chamber behind the bar. Like O’Leaver’s, there’s an overall rec-room appeal to Barley St., with assorted junk tacked to the walls and a capacity that I would guess-timate at around 40. Also like O’Leaver’s, there’s no question that the people who first built the tavern never intended to host live music there, but somehow it works, and works fairly well. It was SRO Friday night for Dereck Higgins and his band that included Gary Foster on drums and Bill Eustice on bass. Like Whipkey, the trio configuration really complimented Higgins’ performance and breathed new life into a set that featured a number of songs off his last two CDs. A tiny crowd of groovy hippies danced in front of the faux stage throughout the set, while Higgins introduced songs with lines like, “We’re going to space on this next one.” Charming and appropriate. Barley St. obviously doesn’t need much in the form of a PA to pump out rock music with the crowd mere feet from the performers (and with Foster’s crisp, cracking, precise drumming style). With the right booking, the club could become an important venue for acoustic and just-getting-started touring indie bands that are too small even for O’Leaver’s.
Onto Saturday… We walked up to Dundee Days late Saturday afternoon, past the fenced-in staging area where Oxygen was busy playing their version of alternative rock. We intended to at least pick up a hamburger or Italian sausage in the beer garden, but noticed that one of the burly security guys was taking money. I wasn’t going to spend $3 for the opportunity to spend another $5 for a cheeseburger (Subway, here we come). I’m curious at how an event sponsored by my neighborhood association and the surrounding local businesses can charge a cover when it’s being held on the streets that are maintained by my hard-earned tax dollars. Why wasn’t admission free?
It also costs $3 to get into Dario Days, but that event was held on private property and wasn’t funded by any association money. Dario was putting this on all by himself, and one assumes the $3 per head was being used to pay the bands.
When we got to Dario’s there was maybe 30 people sitting behind tables in the pseudo beer garden parking lot. A variety of Belgian beers was being served at $5 to $7 per draw. At first this sounded like an extreme rip-off, considering the cups were so small. I realized after drinking two of them, however, that this beer was a lot more potent than my Rolling Rock, and a lot tastier. Foreign Elfest — another in an endless series of drum-and-electric guitar duos — came on at around 7 and played a set of rather minimal indie rock. A few of the melodies were sort of pretty, though the mix was too muddy to understand anything being sung. Considering the simplicity of the songs’ chords, I wondered why the lead guy didn’t just play an acoustic instead of his electric guitar. I blame The White Stripes for this ongoing disdain for bass players. Bands like the Stripes, Black Keys and Two Gallants can pull it off because their guitar players are performing aural gymnastics. Most other duos, however, don’t have that luxury and the result is a sound that’s half-finished.
After Elfest, Jake Bellows performed a surprise solo set (Dave Goldberg joined in on drums for a few numbers). Jake’s forlorn, king-of-the-road laid-back style perfectly augmented the down-low feel of the whole event and made me wonder what’s going on with that Neva Dinova disc. We left and grabbed our sandwiches at Subway. When we got back, Jake was still playing. Quite a long set. It was starting to get dark when Outlaw Con Bandana came on — they were playing entirely in silhouette, back-lit by fluorescent lights blaring from the open garage door behind them. The only lighting in the crowd were the floods from the beer trailer and a single flood light mounted on the side of the Blue Line building. Outlaw — performing as a trio with no drummer — did their usual set of woody, Folkway’s style old-time music made all the more haunting by the lack of light. By the time we left at around 9:30, the entire beer garden area was filled — a sizable crowd, but nothing like the rowdy nightmare taking place outside Trovato’s that we avoided on our way home.
Tonight at Slowdown Jr., Omaha touring band Go! Motion (see live review) plays with Louisville rockers People Noise. $6, 9 p.m.
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