Column 152 — The Show turns 5; Live Review: OEA Block Party; Alessi tonight…

Category: Blog — @ 6:43 pm December 6, 2007

For those of you who can’t get enough of Darren Keen, there’s also a feature in this week’s City Weekly that talks about his new role in Beep Beep. Darren mentioned this off-handedly during our interview, but I didn’t know what he was talking about. I talked to another musician last night who said he laid down some harmonica for the new Beep Beep album at The Faint’s Enamel studio. Can’t wait.

To clarify, Saturday night’s show isn’t the actual anniversary of TSITR’s first gig. “I played my first show ever on New Year’s Eve going into the year 2003,” Keen said. “It was a house party in Lincoln, and it ruled.” Something tells me Saturday night’s show at Slowdown will rule, too.

Column 152: Five-Year Rainbow
The Show Is the Rainbow celebrates its persistence.
I caught up with Darren Keen a.k.a. The Show Is the Rainbow during his lunch break at the Saddle Creek Homer’s Sunday afternoon.

He had 30 quick minutes to scarf down some CiCi’s and reflect on his past in the shadow of his five-year anniversary of playing shows. It also just happened to be his 25th birthday. The least I could do was buy him a $5 lunch.

We tried to figure out the vital statistics as he picked through a bowl of pasta salad. Darren said he was on a diet, though dressed in a long wool coat, thick square glasses and minus his usual bushy red beard and mustache, he already looked pounds lighter and years younger than the last time I saw him on stage doing his one-man band freak show odyssey that people know and love.

He’s carved out a nice, though frugal, career over the course of five years and 620+ shows performed in 42 or 43 states. We tried to figure out his total miles traveled, but gave up when we realized he only had 20 minutes left to chat.

When he first started performing in 2002, Keen was known more for that manic stage show than for his music, often ending the night dripping in fake blood or green spit-foam, covered in flop sweat from running around in the audience dry-humping innocent bystanders or doing back kicks. When he took the show on the road, he was greeted both by fun-loving fans as well as a few annoyed guys who wanted to kick his ass.

These days, Keen has put away the fake blood. For the past few years, he’s shared the stage with a projector screen that glows with homemade videos. Even so, he still finds himself singing from within the audience.

“I don’t think it’s a question of maturity, I’m not embarrassed by blood and props,” Keen said of his change in performance style. “A lot of it is just that the show has gotten bigger. The videos were another way to express myself. Losing the props came from not wanting to keep doing the same thing. My whole show used to be a 20-minute burst. Now I actually pick the songs I’m going to perform as I go. It’s looser. I don’t want to be tied down by any concept.”

The shift away from circus geek antics also meant a new focus on music. “People used to say, ‘It’s a good live show, but is the album any good?’ I’d tell them that the album is great because you don’t have me distracting you the whole time. I really love the music I make. I’m probably my favorite band.”

He credits his meager lifestyle for his career longevity. “Being a one-man band helps,” he said. “I don’t have cable TV. I live pretty cheaply. That’s part of why I stayed in Lincoln so long, other than the fact that Lincoln rules. Every now and then I would luck into a big tour with Cursive or Mindless Self Indulgence. The temptation was to spend a lot of money, but if you can keep from doing that, you can live off that money for a long time.”

Still, the thought of chucking the whole project has crossed his mind, especially after a U.S. and European tour with a full band in the spring of 2006 that left him “artistically fulfilled.”

“Afterward, the band quit, and I thought about quitting, too, or starting over under a different name,” Keen said. “It would have been an easy way out. Quitting crosses your mind when you’re a 24-year-old dude and a tour goes bad and you have to ask your parents for $300 for the rent. It’s degrading. You ask yourself if it’s worth it.”

Dreams of “making it big” certainly weren’t a motivator. Keen knows better than that. “I would love to be the biggest, most popular band in the world. I deserve it. But that’s not the reason I keep doing it.”

Because of “too much drama” with his publicist and his record label — California-based S.A.F. Records — Keen cut himself off from anything to do with the music business. “I completely stopped reading Pitchfork, stopped reading any kind of magazines about bands, stopped talking to S.A.F.,” he said. “Anything that ties my creation to a product, I want out of my head. I don’t want to have to deal with that, I just want to make music and have fun again. I don’t want to think about status or relevance or marketability; I just want to create an album.”

Which he’s doing right now, from a rented storage room inside the building that houses The Faint’s Enamel studio/practice space. And he’s taking his time. “There’s no deadline, no timeframe,” he said. “Before, I was super excited about just creating music on my own. Now I’m really conscious of creating art. I’m really filtering out bad ideas, so it’s taking longer than it used to.”

And with that, we glanced at our watches. It had only been 25 minutes, but the store was already calling him back to work. Keen hustled to the buffet and snarfed down a couple brownies as we headed for the door. I asked him if we’d be having another interview five years from now. He just laughed.

“I asked my friends to come to the show at Slowdown Saturday night,” he said. “I told them I wouldn’t ask them again for another five years.”

Last night’s OEA Block Party was a success by anyone’s standards. It didn’t start out that way. The clubs were sparsely populated at 6 when things were just getting rolling. One of the club owners asked if I thought the Westroads shooting spree would dampen the event, and I thought it might. All night I heard stories from people who were either at Von Maur or knew people who were there. All were freaked out. It underscores just how small our city is — no one won’t to be touched by this madness in some way. We’ll be hearing about in the media for the balance of the year and into the next, only to relive it again next year as Dec. 5 nears.

By 8 p.m., however, the clubs were filling up. It wasn’t a SXSW-type situation with lines of people waiting to get in, but it was respectable, especially for a Wednesday night in Benson. I’m not going to provide my scorecard. I will say that there’s a good reason why I haven’t seen some of these bands before, and that I won’t be seeing some of them again. There also were some remarkable performances. How ’bout we do this block party more than once a year?

Tonight at The Waiting Room, it’s Alessi with Jake Bellows, McCarthy Trenching and Sara Bertuldo. I’m told Alessi’s music falls under the “freak folk” category, sort of like Joanna Newsom without the Lisa Simpson vocals and harp. $5, 9 p.m.

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