I already know how most local indie bands will react when they read the following column. “Cover bands make more money on a given night than original bands? No shit, Sherlock!” But they also know that there’s a perception by some people outside the industry that touring indie bands are rolling in cash when they get home from a tour. If that were only true. Bands frequently save up as much money as they can before they hit the road so that they don’t run out of cash before they get home, especially with gas at $3 a gallon. On the other hand, cover bands can make good bank without leaving the city limits. The flipside, of course, is that you’ll never see The Fishheads or High Heel and the Sneakers on Letterman…
Column 162: Dirty Little Secrets
The dream lies beneath the masks.If you’re an indie music fan, last Saturday night was another bonanza of choice found only here in the epicenter. Decisions, decisions. Do I go down to Slowdown for Neva Dinova’s last performance before they hit the road in support of You May Already Be Dreaming, the new full-length slated for release by the mothership known as Saddle Creek Records on April 8? Or do I schlep over to The Waiting Room for songstress Basia Bulat and members of Coyote Bones and Eagle*Seagull? My answer was neither. Instead I turned my back on the warm embrace of midtown and downtown, retreated from the familiar climes of Omaha’s vibrant indie rock scene. I pulled my Sidekick out of the driveway and pointed it west.
I headed toward Glacier, a new lounge located a few blocks west of Wal-Mart on the Blair High Road, past the building that used to house the Skateland where I spent most of my weekends in my youth (Does anyone rollerskate any more?).
Part of a new strip mall that only a few years ago was rolling farmland, Glacier is a return to an old idea — the glitzy pick-up bar that features live music in the form of cover bands.
Tonight’s entertainment was a masked four-piece that goes by the name Captain Obvious. Their masks, however, didn’t do a good job of hiding their true identities. These were also the guys from what arguably is the best- or worst-named band in Omaha — 3 Day Meat Sale — a name that I’ve never quite understood. Lead guitarist Chad Beisheim is the kid-brother of one of my oldest friends from Fort Calhoun. Back when the band was just gearing up, they asked me to write their one-sheet. I told them that if I did, I could never write about their band in any publication. Conflict of interest. The merging of two very dissimilar worlds — PR and journalism — worlds that can never, ever collide. They agreed to the terms, and I found out that the name 3 Day Meat Sale was the result of a band member seeing the slogan in the window of a local grocery store, announcing three days of value pricing on the finest USDA Choice cuts. A 3 Day Meat Sale.
I still don’t like the name. But that hasn’t stopped 3DMS (as they’re also known) from making three albums over the past 10 years. They just finished recording their fourth with producer Jim Homan at Ware House Studios, which will be released sometime this spring or summer or whenever they get the cash together to have it pressed.
Which brings us back to Captain Obvious. To generate the necessary funds for the new album, the band donned masks and learned a spate of cover songs. It’s not uncharted territory for frontman Michael Gagliani, who used to sing in one of the area’s more popular cover bands, Stepchild. Now here he was again, belting out someone else’s songs. And from what I could see from within the standing-room-only crowd at Glacier, he was loving it.
Their flawlessly performed repertoire ranged from recent hits like All-American Rejects’ gag-a-licious “Dirty Little Secrets” to old chestnuts like Petty’s “American Girl.” But mostly it was up-tempo rockers that I’ve never heard before. Rarely have I felt so out of touch music wise. The crowd, on the other hand, didn’t care if they knew the songs or not. Packed onto the dance floor, amid a spiderweb of laser lights and a cloud of Aquanet, a drunken cross-section of West Omaha suburbia was shaking their collective groove thing. It was 1983 all over again.
Watching a cover band (and not a tribute band — there is a difference) is a dose of reality that I recommend to any indie music follower. You will be reminded that the people who make up the greater world beyond us — not the ones that drink coffee at Blue Line or browse through vinyl at The Antiquarium or wait alongside you at Slowdown’s bar — do not give two shits about your precious indie music. They just want to dance. I looked across the sea of well-coiffed heads, I wondered how many had heard of Saddle Creek Records or Neva Dinova or even knew what indie music was. The answer seemed, well, obvious. It was a stark contrast from the typical angst-fueled indie crowd that I’ve seen intently watch bands in stone silence, as if a secret is about to be revealed, but never is.
Afterward, Chad explained the financial reality that drives Captain Obvious. He and the rest of 3DMS learned the same dirty little secret that every local band — indie or otherwise — eventually discovers: There isn’t much money in playing original music.
He said 3DMS rarely made a dime on a show, while Captain Obvious would make good cash for the night’s performance. “I guess you could say that we’re selling out,” Beisheim said. “That’s why we’re wearing the masks.”
Selling out? Maybe, maybe not. Chad and the rest of the band may not be proud of what they’re doing, but they’re having a good time. And they’re getting paid for it. And they still have their own thing — their main thing — that they can hang their dreams on after they take off their masks.
* * *
I apparently inaccurately described Honeybee yesterday in the blog as a 5-piece. Either that or one of their members was sick last night, because the band only featured two girls and two guys. Frontwoman Melissa Geary has a sweet, cute but cutting voice, not mewing and withdrawn, but out front, crisp and quite good. You’ll scratch your head trying to figure out who she sounds like, but you’ll never pin her down. Their music borders on twee, K Records girly soundz except that they can ride it into something much bigger when they want to. That said, their youth and youthful precociousness is always evident. Ultimately, I like them because they’re cute, tuneful and unpretentious, which is the best trait of Slumber Party Record’s best bands. I’m told they just completed recording a track with Darren Keen (The Show Is the Rainbow), which is slated for an upcoming comp CD.
The evening’s big surprise, however, was Thunder Power!!! Flash back to April 29, 2007 and O’Leaver’s, where I described them this way: “Their sound is low-key, low-fi, indie acoustic music (guitars, keyboards, drums, clarinets) in the manner of, say, early Sebadoh. Whereas the clarinetists were talented, their toot-toot-tooting was out of place and too out front in the arrangements. A member of the band told me they only had a handful of practices before this gig, and are still searching for their sound.”
Well, judging by their performance last night, they’ve found it, and it doesn’t resemble that early incarnation at all. The band now has six members, including a female vocalist whose voice is the spitting image if Chan Marshall’s (though one patron said she sounded more like Hope Sandoval). Their music matches that Cat Power style, and wherein most six-piece bands seem to have two too many members, TP!!! uses every position to its fullest — a keyboard player (who smokes a pipe on stage, very professorial!) two guitars (a rhythm and a lead), bass and drums, and that earthy front woman. For the final song, one of the guitarists took over lead vocals, sounding a lot like Cat Stevens, which made me think they may want to change their name to Thunder Cats!!! I’m told they just finished recording a track for a split with Alessi. Could be big things in their future for a band that I wrote off a year ago as just another indie janglepop band.
Finally, the headliners, XYZ Affair, a four-piece that brought more than its share of hubris to the stage. As one guy said to me, this is what Weezer would sound like if they were a bunch of jocks. I didn’t dislike them quite that much. I mean, who can dislike a band that starts its set with an a cappella version of the intro to Prince’s “7”? Frontman Alex Feder doesn’t really sound like Death Cab’s Ben Gibbard as much as John Darnielle backed by a bar band. Flamboyant, yes, and with plenty of falsetto. Not bad, not terribly memorable. I have no doubt that their common-man pop sense will some day land this unsigned band on a major label.
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