Live Reviews: The Turfmen, downtown; Willy Mason at TWR; Hot Toddies tonight…

Category: Blog — @ 5:53 pm June 1, 2009

First, before we get to today’s entry, there was a rare weekend update to Lazy-i. Scroll down below this entry, or just go here and read my review of a night at The Sydney.

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There is nothing indie about The Turfmen, I know. But having been to Ireland and having heard authentic tourist folk at its finest, I can say that The Turfmen are the best traditional Irish folk band we have to offer and as good as anything I heard “over there.” I used to get my fix of their music every St. Patrick’s Day down at The Dubliner, but the Turfmen quit doing St. Paddy’s at The Dub years ago, and I haven’t caught them since… until Saturday night.

When we arrived at The Dubliner at around 10 the band already was well into its first set, and the main room was only half full — a bit disappointing? A few tables were filled with 20-somethings enjoying black-and-tans and “older” couples having a night out. Within an hour the entire complexion of the laid-back audience turned completely upside down.

If you don’t know, The Turfmen is a five-piece that features a couple accordion players, a bass, an acoustic guitarist and Douglas County public defender Tom Riley as its frontman (See action photo). Riley is guy whose life is begging to be adapted into an hour-long drama series on NBC — a short but clearly tough lawyer who defends the innocent during the day and is a fun-loving Irish musician by night, whose buoyant fighting ballads have that undercurrent of despair that marks all things from the Green Isle. The acoustic guitarist is his son, Brendan (for the TV show, let’s make him a cop); the bass player is Omaha World-Herald reporter Paul Hammel. The spiritual guiding light is Peter Brennan, the band’s founder, straight from County Louth — on the TV show, he’d provide wizened advice as only someone from the motherland could. Voiceover for the promo commercial: “From the mean streets of Omaha to the darkened stage, together this band of Irishmen not only play music, they protect and serve — Based On A True Story.

Anyway, by about 11 o’clock the older folks had been run off, replaced by an army of baseball-cap wearing frat guys and gaggles of prom-dress-wearing girls. No, it wasn’t an all-ages show. Saturday must have been the city’s designated official “bachelorette party” night — there were three of them going on at The Dubliner, along with what appeared to be the lamest bachelor party in history. By the time we left at around 11:30, the place was a mob scene. The front room was a solid block of humanity — there were more people in the front room than in the main room listening to the band.

I’ve often wondered why The Waiting Room or even Slowdown haven’t tried booking The Turfmen. Yeah, I know that technically they’re a cover band (if you can call a band that plays traditional music that), but so is The Song Remains the Same and Secret Weapon, who play at those clubs all the time. Could The Turfman get its legions of fans to follow them to Benson? I know I’d be there.

The strangest part of the evening — the walk back to my car. The streets of The Old Market were packed with young party-goers headed to The Dub or Saki Bombers or 419 or wherever else there is to dance/party downtown. I had no idea that the Market was such a happening place for the young and the restless. It brought back my own days of youth, when The Howard Street Tavern was a central hang-out spot thanks to its live music (and the White Rabbit upstairs), the Crazy Duck had the occasional band along with the basement of the Jones St. Brewery. Will live music ever return to the Market? Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem likely. The club kids ain’t having it.
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Which brings us to last night…

The last time I saw Willy Mason was at Sokol Underground four or five years ago. He was a shaggy kid sneaking beers before his Omaha debut, the lucky guy who got “discovered” by Sean Foley while listening to a community radio station out of New England before being put on the roster of Conor Oberst’s just-created Team Love Records. Willy was just a kid, though his surprising voice — deep and broad — sounded like someone 10 years older. Now four or five years later, Mason has grown into that voice. No longer the long-haired kid, he showed up on the The Waiting Room stage last night with a crew cut and a smile that’s logged a lot of miles.

Mason’s songs seem to have grown up, too. These days his style seems closer to traditional folk than what we got on his first record. He’s a modern-day Woody Guthrie that holds himself on stage like a musical version of Sean Penn — loose but serious and funny at the same time, singing songs about ex-girlfriends and his seemingly constant journey to somewhere/anywhere but home. In the end, it’s his rich and buttery croon that stands out above everything else. (See pic)

As his set came toward a close, he announced that it was his last song. A few girls in the audience yelled out a request for his most well-known tune — “Oxygen.” Mason smiled and seemed happily surprised. “Oxygen? I guess it is getting kind of stuffy in here,” he joked. “I think I know that one.” Who knows if he intended to play it during the encore or not. He probably did, though I like to think that he didn’t, that he felt like he’d moved on from that song that seems almost like a late-teen anthem to individuality (what Tilly and the Wall is still surviving on), with its references to Ritalin and “the world just keeps on spinning.” Sung as an adult, the song takes on a different, almost sentimental hue. No matter what he does from now on or how much better his songs become, he’ll never be able to escape “Oxygen,” thanks to the role it played in so many young indie fans’ lives. How many songwriters wish they had one of those in their back pocket? After his real last song, Mason stayed on stage and played three more as an encore before “joining you all in a drink.”

Before Willy went on, Jake Bellows did a lively, funny solo acoustic set that was the most relaxed I’ve ever seen him (see blurry pic). The songs were all upbeat (pace-wise). Jake stopped a few times mid-stream to stare at a lost chord or remember a line and did it in a way that only he could pull off on stage. I wonder what he’s going to do with all these songs, few of which I’d heard before. Jake also had the line of the evening. He said Willy Mason was a fine, respectful gentleman, “and he’s got a hot mom.” What? Now how would Jake know that…?

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Speaking of hotties, there will be four of them on stage at The Slowdown Jr. tonight in the form of The Hot Toddies, a four-piece all-women indie-pop band reminiscent of The Go-Gos that’s signed to Asianman Records . Opening is Talking Mountain and Malpais. $6, 9 p.m.

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