Before we get to the column, I just wanted to point you toward some free music that’s actually worth downloading. Minnesota rocker Mark Mallman is giving away his “greatest hits” compilation as a free download right here. Titled Loneliness in America (Best of 1998-2008) and released on Badman Records, the 10-song collection of arena-style pop-rock ditties includes tracks from his five full-length albums. Mallman has played in Omaha a couple times (including opening for Head of Femur at Sokol and playing for three people at the defunct Sammy Sortino’s pizza restaurant (reviewed here)). He’s got a new album coming out this spring on Badman, so maybe we’ll get to see him again.
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This week’s column is a rehash of stuff that’s already been on Lazy-i — that’s the beauty and the curse of reading this blog. There are a few new ideas thrown in, however, so reading it won’t be a complete waste of your time.
Column 211: Next Steps
Ladyfinger, Cursive and Conor Oberst…
I’ve been watching local bands rise and fall for more than 20 years; the trajectory never fails to inspire or disappoint, depending on the circumstances.
Seems like every week another band pulls its rocket ship onto the launching pad in the form of a CD release party. All of their friends show up along with the curious others who were coaxed to the event by the endless hype. The celebration feels like the conclusion of every rock ‘n’ roll movie — the big finale where a yearning crowd leans forward, desperately stretching over the edge of the stage to touch the rock god before he leaves his little town to better things, bigger things, to a world seen through funky dark sunglasses aboard tour busses filled with sexy groupies and drugs, a world of jaded inconvenience and ever-growing expectations.
But real life almost never ends that way. After the CD release show, while the hourly guys sweep the floor and pick up empty beer bottles, the rock god returns to his life as a mere mortal. He’ll never see a crowd like he just saw until a few years later when he calls it quits and all his friends show up one last time for the farewell engagement. He’ll tell them he has no regrets for not taking the time to schedule a tour, no regrets for merely playing weekly gigs at the local bar or coffee shop of steak house. No regrets for giving up on his dreams.
Actually it doesn’t always end that way, and here are three examples to prove it.
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Slowdown Jr. was packed last Saturday night for the Ladyfinger (ne) CD release show. When I walked through the front doors I was met by a wall of humanity glued to opening band Landing on the Moon. It took about 10 minutes to get my pair of Rolling Rocks, but I didn’t mind because there was nowhere else to comfortably stand anyway.
Shortly after 11, Ladyfinger took the stage, and I realized that the club and the band had made the right call in hosting this show in Slowdown’s small room. Sure it was packed — it was crushed — but that only added to the vibe. Despite being supremely uncomfortable and unable to get a beer, you felt lucky to be there. It certainly wouldn’t have felt that way had they held the show on Slowdown’s big stage. That 150 (or whatever the number was) would have seemed like nothing, and the show would have felt like a failure instead of an event.
In the old days a few years ago, Ladyfinger was content just grinding it out. Today, the band’s music sports real melodies, hooks and riffs. But for me, the best part of their new sound is Chris Machmuller’s vocals. I don’t know why, but for whatever reason his voice reminds me of Deep Purple’s Ian Gillan — a comment that will surely produce some snickering at O’Leaver’s (where Machmuller tends bar). It’s a different band than the one that released Heavy Hands in 2006 to disappointing sales. Now the question is: Are there enough hooks on the new album for Ladyfinger to finally capture the larger audience it deserves? Only time and touring will tell.
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When it comes to deserving bands, there are none more so than Cursive.
The indie-rock four-piece on Saddle Creek Records has been writing and recording and touring since the mid-’90s. If Bright Eyes’ Conor Oberst is the new Bob Dylan, than Cursive’s Tim Kasher is who? The new Lou Reed, albeit a Lou Reed that can actually sing? Kasher has watched as Oberst/Bright Eyes, The Faint and Tilly and the Wall have made their way onto late-night network television, leaving Cursive behind.
That changes March 13 when Cursive finally makes the leap, performing on Late Night with David Letterman. Kasher already is a god in the tiny, insular world of indie rock. Now a new, much larger world will be introduced to him and his band, and who knows where that will lead.
Those doing the math may wonder how Cursive could be on Letterman the same night that the band is scheduled to play a sold-out show at The Troubadour in L.A. with Ladyfinger and Little Brazil. Saddle Creek Records executive Jason Kulbel explained that Cursive will tape the show while in NYC March 9 for airing on the 13th. Presumably they’ll jet out to the Left Coast shortly afterward. Very rock ‘n’ roll. The Letterman appearance will come just three days after the release of Mama, I’m Swollen on March 10.
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Finally, some next steps by a guy who’s already there. Conor Oberst and the Mystic Valley Band announced last week that they’re releasing their second album on Merge Records, Outer South, on May 5. The album features songs written by Oberst and other band members, including Jason Boesel, Nik Freitas and Taylor Hollingsworth. The tracks were recorded at Sonic Ranch Studios in Tornillo, Texas, just outside El Paso.
With this release, it’s beginning to look more and more like Bright Eyes may be a thing of the past. It’s conceivable that Oberst will be touring in support of this new album through the balance of this year. That will be followed in 2010 by the long-talked-about Conor Oberst / Jim James / M. Ward / Mike Mogis album, which likely will see a tour of its own. If Oberst is working with Nate Walcott in Mystic Valley Band and Mogis in this separate project, why bother with Bright Eyes, whose only “permanent” members are these three musicians? Is Oberst writing a new ending to his movie, one where he liberates himself from what some consider to be his teeny-bopper past?
If you missed last Saturday night’s Ladyfinger show, you’ll get one more chance to see them live this coming Monday at O’Leaver’s. After that, they’re on tour with Cursive and Little Brazil, headed south to SXSW.
Omaha’s version of Michael Hutchence, Matt Whipkey (see yesterday’s blog) and his band The Whipkey Three are opening a show for Little Black Stereo tonight at The Waiting Room. Also on the bill are Under Water Dream Machine (read a review of their CD here). $7, 9 p.m.
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