Column 222: Long live SLAM; Raise High the Roof Beam, Thunder Power, Sweet Pea; Cloud Cult tonight…

Category: Blog — @ 5:53 pm May 20, 2009

I guess there are a couple things to keep in mind before you read this week’s column: First, as much as I enjoy Slam Omaha I don’t post messages there very often. i have my own webboard, website, blog and column where I can espouse my profundities. When someone goes after me on Slam (which happens every once in a while) I wait for the discussion to come to me, then comment, usually on my board, but occasionally in my blog. I’m not a fan of pissing matches. And moreover, if you’re going to write a column or music criticism, you better be prepared to hear that you’re full of shit. And hear it often.

Also, the folks who frequent Slam like a different style of music than I listen to or write about, so I don’t have much to offer by way of relevant commentary, and reciprocally, I don’t think the folks there give two shits about my point of view (nor should they). Still, I check it out every day, even throw in a few bon mots in their Cool Talk board (usually about film or food).

Whether the folks in indie-music land want to admit it or not, Slam is an important part of the Omaha music and arts landscape. The few times I’ve been fortunate to talk to Mick (one of the guys who runs the site) I’ve heard about upcoming upgrades to Slam’s technology. Yes, their webboard is somewhat old-fashioned and lacks most of the functionality of simple user-created online hosted webboards. But there’s a charm and simplicity to its basic usability that I hope it never loses.

Column 222: The Art of Conversation
Online discussion boards are under siege.

Almost didn’t have a column this week. These are, indeed, the doldrums, my friends; the time just before summer where nothing “musically” is going on, no CDs are arriving at my door (or in my e-mail box). Everything is on hold, waiting for something to happen.

So in these times of uncertainty, when I’m clawing for an idea — any idea — for this column, I do what I normally do — I check out S.L.A.M. Omaha to see what the chatter’s all about.

S.L.A.M. Omaha (or just Slam), for those of you completely out of the loop (not by choice but by ignorance), is a website located at slamomaha.com that includes music and art events calendars, news and probably its most popular feature, message boards. For a decade at least, Slam has been a local musicians’ and music fans’ watering hole where folks shoot the breeze over last night’s show, tonight’s show, next week’s show and everything else in between. The occasional well-thought-out analysis of a specific music genre, artist or performance is mixed in with assorted dick jokes, insults and personal attacks. It’s the latter that keeps some musicians and music fans away, or chases away others who feel that the site isn’t living up to what the SLAM acronym stands for: Support Local Art and Music. My response to them: It’s a friggin’ discussion board. It’s the Internet. What did you expect? Along with unmonitored discussion comes controversy and general stupidity as well as the occasional thoughtful insight and humor.

Despite its outdated technology and general lack of interest (or contempt for) indie music and Saddle Creek artists, Slam continues to be one of the most important online resources for Omaha music information. It is the first place I go for a daily perspective on the local scene. If a musician had a breakdown on stage the night before, you’ll read about it the next morning on Slam.

But lately, sites like Slam are under siege by new-ish social media “services” — Facebook and Twitter come to mind. Now musicians and music fans can create their own online communities and share their comments only with those who have a like-minded point of view — their “friends,” their “fans,” their “followers.” It’s safe, it’s easy, it avoids uncomfortable feedback from those who might not dig what you’re doing. For musicians, it paints a perennial rosy picture that almost always is untrue. Facebook can create a dangerous tunnel vision, a guarded, unnatural point of view, and before you know it, the emperor is parading down Maple Street naked with a guitar slung over his shoulder.

* * *

An example of an interesting recent Slam thread asked whether venues’ “regulars” should be forced to pay a cover charge when there’s a live band scheduled to perform. Well, as with most popular threads on Slam, the discussion morphed from “regulars” not paying the cover charge to roadies and even free-loading music critics. Wrote Klark Kent (the K Mart of Supermen): “I’m wondering how long it’s been since (for example) MarQ (Manner, the patron saint of the Benson music scene) or Tim McMahan (has paid to get into shows — I had to finish the sentence because Klark apparently lost his chain of thought — don’t go to discussion boards for good grammar or spelling).

There was a time when I always was on “the list,” back in the Sokol Underground days, when the guys running the door just stamped my hand. Those days are gone, not because I pissed them off, but because those guys aren’t working the door anymore, and quite frankly, they don’t need to give the guy who writes Lazy-i a free pass. They know that — probably more than most people in the club — I can afford it.

Still, whenever I write a preview profile on a touring band or pimp a show in my column, I ask the record label to put me on “the list.” Why not?

The only place where I’ve never been on “the list” is O’Leaver’s. As One Percent Productions’ Marc Leibowitz used to say way back in the day when he booked shows there: “O’Leaver’s doesn’t have a list.” Nor should it. When a band rolls into town after driving in a dirty van all day, wondering if their petrol will hold out ’til they get to the club — hungry, tired, second-guessing this whole rock-star shtick — and then see the dump that they’re going to play at, they deserve every penny of that $5 cover charge from fans who showed up to rock. They need the cash to get to the next town. And while you’re at it, buy a T-shirt, too.

But should that include $5 from regulars? My answer: No, it shouldn’t. These “regulars” are the life-blood of any bar. They’re a hedge against tough times, showing up night in and night out to drop $10+ on booze. Without regulars, a venue is going to be forced to grind out shows on their stage every night, or quickly find themselves out of business (or both). Bands who feel cheated by a toll-free presence should feel lucky to even have a place to perform, because believe me, most bars or venues would rather cater to a roomful of regulars than those bands’ fans, who likely will be bolting the minute they say “Goodnight.”

* * *

So that’s my take. After it’s published, I’ll post a link to this column on Slam Omaha. Some of the website’s regulars will read it and hate it and will say so. But that’s part of the fun. On a discussion board, you’re going to catch a few turds along with any roses. But if we all lived in Facebook, where would we find our turds?

Tonight at Slowdown Jr., it’s Chicago indie band Raise Height the Roof Beam with local comers Thunder Power and Sweet Pea. TP says that this will be the second to last Thunder Power show until the end of August due to touring. $6, 9 p.m.

Meanwhile, over at The Waiting Room, Minneapolis art rock band Cloud Cult returns with Ice Palace. $10, 9 p.m.

–Got comments? Post ’em here.

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