Sounds like there was an impromptu Bright Eyes performance last night, in of all places, The Barley Street Tavern. Matt Whipkey (of The Matt Whipkey Three) was there. He even IM’d me on my cell phone, but by 11:30 I was busy counting sheep. According to Whipkey, it all went down like this:
Bright Eyes’ drummer Clay Leverett quickly threw together a country band that included Mike Friedman on pedal steel, Josh Dunwoody (Filter Kings) on upright bass, and Dave Rawlings on electric guitar. The band, which had never played or practiced together before, played and sang country classics for about 90 minutes.
After that wrapped up, most people took off, but that’s when Oberst decided to join in on the fun. He played a set of seven or eight new songs, backed by Rawlings, Leverett and Friedman.
“Then he started calling people to the stage,” Whipkey said. “Dan McCarthy, then me, then I called Kyle (Harvey) up, Kyle to Justin Dilemma, etc. And we were all backed by Friedman, Rawlings and Dunwoody. Pretty fucking cool.”
Whipkey said only about 20 people were in the crowd during the BE set. Oberst sat and listened while Whipkey and the others did their thing. Each performer played two songs. Whipkey did a couple new Whipkey Three tunes, “Free” and “Separation.”
Overall, Whipkey said, it was a helluva night. “Great atmosphere. The Barley St. was the perfect place for that.” He added that Rawlings may be playing guitar this week in Bright Eyes as Mogis is finishing a big recording project.
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An addendum to yesterday’s entry/column on One Percent Productions… Marc Leibowitz and Jim Johnson had a lot to say during our interview Sunday night that I didn’t have room for in the story. Among the discussion, would Leibowitz recommend that anyone start up a promotion company today?
“Not in my market. I don’t need any more competition,” he said, joking. “This is not an easy business. There’s a reason why they say bars and restaurants are risky businesses — because it’s true. We learned to make this into a real full-time business. You can have a profitable business doing what is artistically valid. We still bring in bands that we find entertaining. Sure, we joke about shitty bands doing better or selling more records, but that’s more jaded than anything else. There is successful quality stuff out there, like Wilco.”
Speaking of jaded, have these guys become a little jaded after 10 years of booking shows? “I was I excited to promote this last Built to Spill show as much as the first one,” Leibowitz said. “This (job) is cooler than any computer day job or auto body job, but it’s still work, it’s still demanding and you can still get burned out. Before, we could quit (booking shows) at any time. Now we have a lease and a loan and employees.”
Johnson said he was a little more concerned these days about how well shows draw. “I’m more nervous now because it is a full-time job and I don’t have a paycheck coming in and I need to make money,” he said. “It used to be if you made anything you were happy. It’s definitely a job.”
Over the years, bars like The 49’r and now O’Leaver’s have established a regular clientele. As a result, they’ve dramatically cut down on live shows because they simply don’t need them to draw a crowd. Leibowitz said The Waiting Room probably never would be in that position. “This place couldn’t do that,” he said. “I can’t see the day when this place is packed with 200 people with no show. I don’t see it. It’s a big place. Our business is providing entertainment.”
While they like being in Benson, neither said the location has been an advantage or disadvantage. “I don’t think Benson’s helped any,” Johnson said. “I think we could have done this in any decent location.”
“The coolest club in Chapel Hill was in a strip mall in suburbia,” Leibowitz said. “We could have been anywhere. Benson’s been good to us. As far as not having a parking lot, we’ve had no parking complaints.”
Part of what drove the duo to begin booking shows in the first place was their love for indie music. Has indie seen better days? “When we started doing this we thought indie music was more viable than club owners thought it was,” Leibowitz said. “The Ranch Bowl wasn’t doing it. Ten years later, some of this indie music isn’t as viable. There are still some really successful bands and great music, but it’s sort of a dying genre. Some of the labels have adapted in terms of the music. I don’t know how much The Arcade Fire and Superchunk have in common, but that’s what Merge has done. The success of our company is seeing if we can pick the next genre, the next big thing.”
With all the bands they could have asked to perform at their 10-year anniversary, why Bright Eyes? “Why not?” Leibowitz said. “It’s the most successful artist out of Omaha that we ever worked with us. We did shows with him in every venue in the city, except for here. He came in and said he liked it. It’s an honor to have him playing.
One Percent first booked Bright Eyes in 1997, as an opener for Built to Spill at Sokol Underground. “I remember he played with his back to crowd in the dark,” Leibowitz said. “He brought in one of those three-fold blinds and played behind it.
“Almost all those guys — The Faint, Bright Eyes, Cursive — all are as cool to us now as at their first shows. That’s why they’re a success.”
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Perhaps I should be known as Pinhead, as I erroneously reported yesterday that Pinback was last night. It’s tonight, at Slowdown, with Frightened Rabbit. $15, 9 p.m. Thanks to everyone for pointing out the error.
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