Column 216: Bloodcow in color; Live Review: The Hold Steady; Conor Oberst, Bonnie "Prince" Billy tonight…

Category: Blog — @ 5:46 pm April 9, 2009

Try as I might, I could not get in touch with Bloodcow for comment, and in the end, it didn’t matter as the ingenious pitch discussed below speaks for itself.

Column 216: Perfect Pitch
Sometimes a one-sheet actually works.

About a 100 years ago, I was asked to be part of a panel on the music industry, representing (I guess) the perspective of a music journalist. The panel was part of a conference for up-and-coming musicians, designed to give them “tips” to succeed in an industry where success often is the result of a fluke of luck or a curious aligning of stars rather than talent or hard work.

The discussion — which consisted mostly of the moderator barking out her personal viewpoints rather than referring to a panel that included some actual music business professionals — eventually got around to the subject of self-promotion. Specifically artist promo packages. Specifically promo CDs and the supporting documentation. Specifically, one-sheets.

The moderator said that “having a perfect package” — including CD, multi-page bio (no typos), and professionally produced 8×10 print-ready photos, all collected in a rugged folder — was essential not only to grab the attention of those booking talent at venues, but radio station programmers and music critics. The ocean of blue jeans and T-shirts feverishly took notes, maybe for the first time in their lives.

And then the moderator threw it to me. “Wouldn’t you agree, Tim?”

No, I said, I would not agree. Don’t bother with any of that stuff. It’s expensive, it’s time-consuming, it’s unnecessary and if it shows up in my mailbox, chances are it’ll end up right in the trash. If I want to know more about you or I need a photo of your band, I’ll get it off your website or MySpace page. All I want is a copy of the CD and a website address. The rest of that stuff is clutter that I don’t have time to sort through. If you do decide to create such a package, my only suggestion is that you make it recyclable.

The moderator stood frozen with mouth agape, staring at me as if I had just stood up, turned around, dropped my drawers and farted loudly into the microphone. She then proceeded to tell the audience just how wrong I was and to not listen to my idiocy. I leaned back in my plastic chair and let her talk, and eventually the “discussion” moved to another pointless topic. Needless to say, it was never “thrown to me” again for the rest of the morning, and I’ve never been asked to participate in another such panel.

And that would have been the end of the story and this week’s column, except that something arrived in my mailbox last week that made me eat my words. Inside the non-descript manila envelope was a folded piece of graph paper with a message written in black crayon, as if scrawled by a child or a mentally challenged (is that the politically correct terminology?) adult. It said:

“Dear Tim, When not doing large piles of blow off of our OEA award, maxing out our credit cards, or planning to launch our own taco restaurant, we have been busy touring, making our way to Austin during SXSW promoting our new 7′.”

The letter was from local metal phenoms Bloodcow. It went on to say that the record was a split with Boston band Motherboar, and that the Bloodcow tracks were recorded by (Omaha punk legend and producer) Jim Homan at Warehouse Studio.

The note also said (in perfect hand writing, no typos… er mistakes) that Bloodcow has signed to Crustacean Records out of Madison, Wisconsin, and will be releasing a new CD on that label in the latter part of the fall of ’09.

“We have plenty of shows coming up and are getting a tour set for July. Enjoy the record! Thanks Bloodcow.”

I’ve included a scan of a portion of the note, where the writer has drawn a near-lifelike castle and storm cloud, and clarified that “Yes, this is Crayola.”

Bloodcow noteNow here was a one-sheet that caught my attention. I didn’t know if I should put the record on my turntable or contact the Nebraska Dept. of Corrections to see if a lunatic was on the loose writing crayon-letters to perspective murder victims. Luckily, I did the former and was rewarded by nearly seven minutes of jittery, vein-bulging punk-metal that wasn’t afraid to lay into the funk. Loud, angry, snarling, flamboyant; songs “Shop Together” and “Evil Magna Carta” had everything that would make any metal-lovin’ dude throw the devil horns in approval (and the Motherboar tracks weren’t bad, either).

Would I have listened to the single without reading the letter? Probably. But not with the same attitude; and having the right attitude when listening to anything (let alone a metal track) makes all the difference.

So here’s to you, Bloodcow, for putting me in my place, proving that a one-sheet isn’t a waste of time, especially when it looks like a ransom note written by a mentally retarded killer.

PS: Bloodcow opens for Jucifer this Thursday (April 9) at The Saddle Creek Bar.

* * *

A caveat before I begin: I’ve never been a fan of The Hold Steady. I bought Separation Sunday and Boys and Girls in America on the urging of others (We’ve got a lot of Hold Stead foamers in Omaha), listened to them a couple times and rarely (if ever) listened to them again. No question that Craig Finn is one clever, witty mofo. And who wouldn’t like their faux-Thin Lizzy guitar crunch? I don’t know, but for whatever reason, they’ve never done it for me. Their music is too repetitive, and Finn’s monotone nasal delivery is charming but quickly becomes tiresome. I’d rather just read his lyrics.

Still, here they were, coming to Omaha for what will be deemed as one of the biggest shows of the year (even though it took until yesterday for the show to finally sell out The Slowdown). The crowd was a sausage party — guys outnumbered women 10 to 1. Most of them were in their late 20s early 30s — the big brothers of the crowd that will be down at The Slowdown tonight for Conor.

At around 10:15, The Hold Steady took the stage and tore right into a set with only a moment’s pause in between songs — very little stage banter other than Finn saying how much he liked the club. Out of the gate, the sound mix was muddy and dense — maybe the worst sound I’ve heard at Slowdown on the big stage. It took about 15 minutes to make the necessary adjustments, and after that, it was all rock, with only a few slower ballads thrown in to break things up. (See action photo)

It’s not fair to criticize Finn’s vocals. Sure, he’s monotone and doesn’t really sing at all, but some of my favorite bands’ frontmen can’t sing either — Lou Reed, Randy Newman (who Finn most closely resembles vocally), Dylan and Gary Dean Davis, who Finn sort of resembles physically. Actually, that’s not true at all. Sure, they both have the same hair and glasses, but Davis is a man mountain, a fighting farmer with the power to crush a stage with his mighty leaps. Finn looks like he’s four feet tall and is more of a stage prancer than leaper. He looks like someone who works for public radio rather than a rock star. But a rock star he is. From my vantage point just off stage left, I could see that Finn had the crowd in the palm of his hand — very commanding in a weird sort of way. Just about every guy who stood along the front of the stage sung along with every word he sang, pumping their fists in approval.

The Hold Steady is a terrific, well-seasoned band, and it was a great show, even though the music inevitably bored me long before the encore. These guys love their so-called “Unified Scene,” and it loves them back. I’m just not a member of that scene.

* * *

So there are three good shows going on tonight. The marquee event is Conor Oberst and the Mystic Valley Band kicking off their tour down at The Slowdown. The lucky ones who got tickets will get to hear the new material off Oberst & Band’s upcoming Outer South. Opening is local faves Mal Madrigal and Team Love recording artist Capgun Coup. This show sold out about a month ago. Watch for Twitter updates from Slowdown.

A good alternative would be Bonnie “Prince” Billy at The Waiting Room with White Magic. As I said in this week’s issue of The Reader: Bonnie “Prince” Billy is Will Oldham — singer, songwriter, musician, actor, former member of The Palace Brothers, the list goes on and on. His music has been hung with the term “alt-country,” though the songs on Beware, his latest release on Drag City Records, go well beyond that label. Sure, there are acoustic guitars and fiddles and plenty of twangy choruses, but Oldham’s songs are more like explorations of his soul rather than a drive down a dusty country road. At the bleakest moments, the music holds a lost, dark quality, a shadowed loneliness, but with a touch of reassurance that a Palace Brother or Oldham or a Prince is waiting at the bottom of the well to lead you back into the light. $15, 9 p.m.

And then there’s the rock in the form mentioned in the above column: Bloodcow opening for Jucifer at The Saddle Creek Bar. Also on the bill are Motherpile and Officially Terminated. There’s nothing on the Saddle Creek Bar website to indicate that this show strays from their usual $5 cover charge. And from what I hear about Jucifer, it will be LOUD. Starts at 9.

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