Weekend in review: The Stay Awake, Perry H. Matthews, Fromanhole…

Category: Blog — @ 6:46 pm January 28, 2008

Most common question heard this weekend: Did you go to Cursive on Friday night? Everyone else did. And I planned on going, too. But I never figured that it would sell out. Well, by late Friday afternoon, all the Cursive tickets were gone, leaving me out in the cold. The consensus from the half-dozen or so people who told me they went: Cursive was phenomenal. Their new music seems to be taking a turn in a new direction, one driven in part by their new drummer, whose style is more straight-forward than Clint Schnase’s. Can a different drummer really make that much of a difference to a band’s sound? Absolutely. But can it really drive the songwriting process of people like Tim Kasher and Ted Stevens? I’d have to hear that to believe it. Everyone I talked to said Little Brazil played one of their best sets ever. Those same people also were confused about Baby Walrus. Everyone agrees that Chris Senseney could make great music by pounding two empty cardboard boxes together; they’re just not sure that he can do it consistently. They don’t “get” what Senseney is trying to do, which is more than write straight-up pop songs. Listen to his Coco Art CD and you’ll either be inspired or frustrated by all the weird, loopy interludes between the pop songs. Senseney has a vision, whether anyone else can see it or not.

There Will Be Blood kept me from getting to The Waiting Room Saturday night in time to see the opening bands. Instead, by 11:15, headliner The Stay Awake already was tuning on stage in front of a respectable crowd of around 100. They proceeded to tear through their usual set of bottled-up anger/frustration/resentment in the form of acidic, angular bombasts at 110 mph. Listening to the Stay Awake is like watching the spazz kid you remember in high school who always got in fights after the last bell — charging after the bully, head back, eyes pressed shut, swinging wildly like a punching windmill, hoping to hit whatever was in his path. He usually ended up flat on his back in the dirt with blood draining from his nose. He may have lost, but goddamn if he wasn’t entertaining for those 15 seconds before hitting the ground.

The Stay Awake guys were in the surprisingly large crowd at O’Leaver’s last night to catch a show performed by some kindred spirits. Three weeks ago at The Waiting Room, I lasted about 10 minutes into Perry H. Matthews’ set. They sounded like shit, sloppy and confused, especially compared to an always-tight Bombardment Society, which had played right before them. Last night was a different story. PHM plays post-hardcore/noise rock with mathy overtones. You get the usual squall vocals — mostly guys angrily yelling into the microphone. The appeal is in the wonky arrangements and their energy. The set-up is two guitars, bass and drums. A guy standing by the door described them as “Baby Shellac” — a tag on their just-out-of-high school (probably) age and their Skin Graft style. Their anchor was firmly seated behind the drum kit, the only thing that kept them grounded from inside a squealing tornado of high-end guitars. More bass would have helped immensely. The bassist knew what he was doing, but he could barely be heard in the rather brash mix. PHM has the same unbridled exuberance that I remember from ’90s bands like Mousetrap and Culture Fire, artful noise for an unsophisticated world, they’ll soon realize that they’re playing to a niche market, especially in Omaha. Keep an eye on them.

Obviously not targeting a niche was Chicago’s Four Star Alarm, who were in the wrong place at the wrong time. They couldn’t have known that they’d be sandwiched between two of Omaha’s more atonal prog/punk bands. As a result, their made-for-radio emocore sounded silly and woefully commercial in comparison. Just as out of place was their rock star posturing, which I’m sure goes over just fine on a different stage with a different audience. Not last night.

And then came Fromanhole. Playing for the first time since last August, the only visible rust was in their uncertainty between songs — what would they play next? The band has been around for over a decade, and though their core design remains unaltered — intricate, complex rhythms, harsh/atonal melodies, precision drumming and banshee-yell vocals all wrapped in a stuttering, proggy package — they’ve developed a more tuneful ear, whether they’ll admit it or not. Sure, the usual whiplash start-stops are still there, but individual song sections develop more into throbbing grooves than before. The Brothers Kiser (Doug and Daryl) are tonally more in synch on bass and guitar (respectively), with the improvisation coming from drummer Doug Berger’s ranging style. The product is amped jazz with shards of broken-glass vocals to keep you on your toes. The biggest surprise of the night — one of their songs bordered on traditional structure, complete with backbeat and hooks, though you’d never mistake it for a pop song. I pointed this out after the set and Doug seemed embarrassed by it. He shouldn’t be. He’s always known that their style of music will limit their audience in Omaha vs. cities like Chicago or NYC that are more open to progressive music. Just by throwing in one or two of these more straightforward songs, they’d get more people at their shows here, where they could brace the unsuspecting victims to the wall and force feed their more radical stuff.

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