Slowdown Jr. was indeed packed Saturday night for the Ladyfinger CD release show. When I walked through the front doors I was met by a wall of humanity, all glued to 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 to comfortably stand anyway, figured I might as well just stand in line.
LotM, which formed after The Quiet Type broke up in 2003, is now recognized as a veteran band in the scene. When they first started, they were tight — almost too tight — but years of playing on local stages has loosened them up, made them more relaxed. And while I like their brand of indie rock (I’m told they’re working on new material) I’d love to see them venture outside of their comfort zone, i.e., improvise somewhere within their set. I know that improvisation is a dirty word in the indie music world and conjures images of the most dreaded description of all — the jam band. But look, I’m not talking about “jamming,” I’m talking about letting their songs breathe a little bit, to loosen that musical corset. LotM is methodical. They stick to the script as closely as any band out there. But they also have some of the most talented musicians in the scene, which makes me wonder what they’d come up with if they slid an extra 16 or 32 bars onto the end of their songs. What would happen?
The very nature of indie rock seems anathema to improvisation. Bands write songs, record them and then do their damdest to replicate them live, and for the most part, that’s how it should be. As much as I can imagine LotM strolling off the path, I can’t imagine Ladyfinger budging from their formula, nor would I want them to. We’ve come to expect something from them, and would only be uncomfortable if it varied from that expectation.
Shortly after 11, Ladyfinger took the stage, and it didn’t take long to realize that the club and the band had made the right call in hosting this show in the 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 got the feeling you were lucky to be there. That certainly wouldn’t have been the case had they held the show on the big stage. That 150 or whatever the number was would have seemed like nothing, and the show would have felt like a borderline failure instead of an event.
The band roared through its set — a selection of old and new songs. Joining them on six songs was LotM’s Megan Morgan — a smart addition. When I interviewed Ladyfinger a few weeks ago, they talked about how they brought down their volume level so that Megan could be heard better in the mix. That adjustment was noticeable when they played on the big stage opening for Neva Dinova a few months ago. It wasn’t so successful last Saturday. Ladyfinger kept the amps roaring, and Megan did the best she could to push her voice above the fray.
For me, the best part of the new stuff is Chris Machmuller’s vocals (I don’t know why, but for whatever reason, Machmuller’s voice reminds me of Deep Purple’s Ian Gillan — that comment is bound to result in some snickering at O’Leaver’s). In the old days, just grinding it out was enough. Now Ladyfinger’s music sports true melodies, hooks and riffs. It’s a different band than the one that released Heavy Hands. So the big question is: Are there enough hooks on the album to finally capture a much-deserved larger audience? Time and touring will tell.
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Speaking of O’Leaver’s, I spent Friday night there catching sets by Cowboy Indian Bear and Thunder Power. CIB was a pleasant surprise, a trio out of Lawrence where all three members provide vocals and harmonies (as well as some expert chops on guitar/bass/drums/keyboards). About half the set was performed using a double-bass attack. Nice. They’re said to be working on a new album, which hopefully will bring them back through town. Thunder Power continues to be defined as Omaha’s version of Belle and Sebastian, and for good reason. The six-piece knows how to play whimsical chamber pop as well as anyone out there. Good melodies and fine vocals, though for the life of me, I can’t understand a word the cooing lead singer is singing. Does it matter? With this style of music, the answer is yes.
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Just got word this morning that Cursive will be performing on Late Night with David Letterman March 13. Waitaminit, don’t they have a sold-out show at The Troubadour in L.A. that night with Ladyfinger and Little Brazil? Jason Kulbel from Saddle Creek tells me that the band will be taping their performance March 9 for airing on the 13th. Very rock and roll. The new album has a street date of March 10. Entertainment Weekly is currently hosting an exclusive track off Mama, I’m Swollen, here.
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Tonight at The Waiting Room, it’s our old friends The Appleseed Cast with Tie These Hands and Anniversaire. 9 p.m., $10.
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