Live Review: Eagle*Seagull, At Land, Matt Whipkey…

Category: Blog — @ 5:48 pm August 24, 2009

The draw to Eagle*Seagull Friday night was stoked by Kevin Coffey’s Q&A with the band that appeared in the OWH last week (here), where they touched upon the Starbucks label ordeal that concluded with frontman Eli Mardock saying, “What is important is that we’ve got the rights to our record, and we’re going to release it.” This would imply that after their deal with Starbucks fell though that E*S had to reacquire the rights to The Year of the How-To Book. We’ve all heard the story before with other bands; hopefully reacquiring the rights didn’t put them back financially…

Anyway, that’s not why I went to Slowdown. I’ve heard the band perform songs off How-To for the past two years (or so it seems) and wasn’t really in the mood to hear them again. Well, Mardock apparently wasn’t in the mood to play them, either. “It’s actually the tunes from (The Year of the How-To Book) that I’m really sick of,” he said in the OWH story. “That’s why for this show I think a large portion of our set will be songs we’re preparing for our third album.”

And that’s exactly what we got. E*S played a number of new songs that carried on the thick-beat-dance style from the best of How-To, but with more atmospherics, more layered tones, more nuanced melodies (Hooverphonic came to mind). The new material sounds more sophisticated than the older stuff without losing the thread that runs through all E*S music — Mardock’s unique vocal style and the band’s celebratory arrangements. The crowd of 130 (that’s a guess) was definitely into it.

The story of Eagle*Seagull is definitely one of peaks and valleys. I remember when they first kicked off back in ’05, the buzz was so extreme that it was generating resentment (and jealousy) from other local bands. Everyone thought E*S was going to launch like a rocket and be the next big thing out of Nebraska. Rumors of the Starbucks deal only fueled the hype. And then, things just seemed to go dark. The songs off How-To showed up on Myspace and the band began playing them live to an adoring audience with everyone wondering when it was coming out and who was releasing it. But then word eked out that the Starbucks thing fell though. And those who had resented E*S were now quietly rooting for them.

Which brings us to the present. Said Mardock of How-To in the OWH story: “It’s coming out in Europe this January or February. I reckon we’ll release it in North America around the same time, too.” I assume he means Jan/Feb 2010. Again, no word on who’s releasing the CD. As much as he’s tired of playing those songs, he can look forward to another year of touring them. Here’s hoping that it actually happens this time; that E*S get the break it deserves.

* * *

Saturday night was the Matt Whipkey CD release show at The Waiting Room. I got there early to catch At Land, and am happy I did. At Land is Doug Kabourek (drums/vocals), Travis Sing (guitar/vocals) and James Carrig (bass). Kabourek is one of the best drummers in the Omaha music scene, whether anyone knows it or not. His throaty percussion drove everything, though Sing knows how to shred a guitar. That’s right, I said “shred.” Those of you who remember Kabourek’s last great band, Fizzle Like a Flood, will be impressed/surprised at the power/intensity of this new band (His other new band, The Dull Cares, carries on the Fizzle tradition). But while this is indeed heavy stuff, there’s a gorgeous sugar-pop sheen that coats everything with a smile. The closest comparison would be Monster-era R.E.M. meets early Weezer with just a hint of a twang on Travis’ songs. Translated: This is the funnest band Kabourek’s been involved in. Watch out for them.

Whipkey fleshed out the songs on his new album, Instant Heart, with a full band that included most of the members of Anonymous American (except for Zip Zimmerman on drums). I walked away thinking maybe he should have waited and released a full-on band version of the album. It reminded me of hearing Brad Hoshaw’s Live at Mick’s album followed up by his debut with The Seven Deadlies. As much as I like that live record, the Seven Deadlies release really put air under those songs. The same was true with Whipkey’s songs. With a full band, the music took on a different, more defined hue, turning a lonely, almost forlorn-sounding album into a macho exercise in Americana-Folk, with Whipkey once again proving that at his core, he’s a consummate showman. Though only about 100 people were there to see it, the crowd got out of their seats and on their feet, and eventually filled the floor in front of the stage.

* * *

This is a quiet week in terms of live shows. O’Leaver’s has a big one on Wednesday (Sweet Pea/Boy Noises/Honey & Darling), The Sydney has Sam Martin and Landon Hedges on Thursday (while Rev. Horton Heat is at Slowdown), but that’s it until the weekend, when the Nebraska Pop Festival kicks off, along with the MAHA Festival on Saturday…

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