Before Via Dove went on stage Friday night at O’Leaver’s, I caught a couple songs by Mal Madrigal, which for this performance was the duo of Steve Bartolomei and Mike Saklar. The songs were the usual poignant, well-crafted, singer-songwriter fare that we’ve come to expect from MM, who I later was told had been asked to be on the bill at the last minute. Bartolomei is old friends with Via Dove bass player Mike Marquard.
What to say about Via Dove… The first thing you notice about these guys has nothing to do with their music — all four members wore white pants, a mistake in a club like O’Leaver’s, which is like playing inside the lungs of a 85-year-old lifetime smoker. I guarantee those pants weren’t white when they climbed back into their van. The white pants were the brunt of many a comic aside by many a crowd member. Matching wardrobe decisions almost always are a mistake unless you’re DEVO. A few songs in, the argument was over who came up with the idea of the white pants (The consensus: It was probably the frontman) — not something you want people talking about during your set.
Anyway… Via Dove isn’t an indie band and never said it was. They are an unabashed modern pop-rock band, with a talented lead guitarist and a frontman who sounded like the second coming of Michael Hutchence. In fact, some of the band’s music resembled early INXS — a comparison that I’m sure most indie bands would cringe at. These guys, on the other hand, might consider it a compliment, and in fact, it’s meant to be. Their music was upbeat radio rock that’s just a few steps from being hooky enough to be played on the radio. If there’s a minus it’s that the vocal melodies meander too often for this kind of band (and this kind of frontman, who is an arena-rock showman). Another minus was their choice of covers — a snippet of Eurythmics “Sweet Dreams,” and an encore of “Helter Skelter.” Unless you’re Neil Young, you may want to step away from the Beatles covers. That said, the crowd ate it up.
Saturday night at Slowdown Jr. featured the funniest line of the weekend. From the opening band: “Hi, we’re Swine Flu from Mexico City and this is our first time in Omaha.” Nice. Swine Flu a.k.a. His Mischief from Minneapolis tore into a set of noise rock that made me regret having (for the first time) forgotten my earplugs. I survived with torn bits of cocktail napkins stuffed in my ears (couldn’t find The Slowdown’s earplug gumball machine). They were followed by Crystal Antlers, a band that records on Touch & Go who take noise rock to epic levels. The six-piece (which included a drummer and percussionist) created rhythmic walls of throbbing psychedelic rocket noise — huge and ominous and at times sludgy. It’s not garage rock as much as modern noise rock with a big helping of low-fi dosing up the middle. Too bad they played such a sort set.
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