by Tim McMahan, Lazy-i.com
The official review of Concert for Equality goes online Wednesday as this week’s column. For now, here are pictures and some general impressions of the show, some of which you already saw if you followed me on Twitter.
The first hint that there might be trouble was eight blue porta-potties standing in a row along Military Ave. That, I thought, would never be enough for 2,000 serious beer drinkers. Would the lawns of Greater Benson glow with a sickly-sweet odor on Sunday morning? Then there was the crazy-long line just to get into the metal-fenced compound. And then there was the burning sun and heat. But in the end, it all worked out, almost perfectly. The only fuck-up was the 45-minute wait forced upon those who had purchased “Deluxe Tickets” to see the hootenanny afterparty, and its “special guests.”
Military Ave., it turns out, is the perfect place to hold this kind of concert — the street is wide and the buildings create a natural barrier. Booze tents were set up in a couple places, and there was even a temporary taco/burrito restaurant thrown together in one of the building’s garages (that would make a great permanent addition to Benson). People crowded the ACLU information booth where they were giving away t-shirts when they signed up for their literature. So did the kids learn more about the issues? Who knows? Maybe, probably.
From a performance standpoint, the biggest surprise (for me) was Gillian Welch and David Rawlings. I’d never heard them live before or own any of their records, and was blown away by their music — really incredible stuff. We got a double-dip of the duo when they showed up for the hootenanny later that night.
As for the rest: The Envy Corp played a set of generic indie rock to an already sizable crowd at 6:30 consisting mostly of people jockeying for position for Bright Eyes. The outdoor stage had the same problem that hampered the MAHA Festival’s second stage — the setting sun was painful, and probably at its worst during Bright Eyes’ set, as you can see from the above photo. Depending on where you stood, you couldn’t see a thing on stage without shielding your eyes, but the sound couldn’t be any better. BE’s setlist was a best-of selection:
Trees Get Wheeled Away
Bowl Of Oranges
We Are Nowhere And It’s Now
Old Soul Song (For The New World Order)
Lover I Don’t Have To Love
Road To Joy
He played “Eagle on a Pole” and “Lua,” (with Welch/Rawlings) at the Waiting Room after party. The set list looks longer than the actual performance felt. I guess Oberst was saving it for the Desaparecidos set later that night. While Oberst did spout some issue-based rhetoric from stage, he wasn’t preachy — after all, he would have been almost literally preaching to the choir.
We left the compound right after the BE set to get something to eat. I stepped outside of Benson Grind to be assaulted by the opening chords of Cursive’s “The Martyr” — like a bomb going off. It was earplug loud, and if there were any complaints about this concert this morning from the locals, it’ll be about the noise level. Cursive was over-the-top loud, especially when you consider the concert was essentially being conducted in a residential neighborhood. That said, for us concert-goers, it was pure bliss. They rolled out some of their most brutal material, and the shear anger level couldn’t have been higher.
Some Red Handed Sleight of Hand
Art is Hard
Butcher the Song
Driftwood: A Fairy Tale
A Gentleman Caller
I’m told at one point Kasher jumped into the swarming crowd. I couldn’t see it from my vantage point behind the soundboard tent. But even from that distance I could see that he was locked inside some sort of manic adrenaline-fueled zone.
Meanwhile, inside the Waiting Room, David Dondero, in a sporty Tommy Bahama shirt, was playing a solo acoustic set backed by Craig D on a snare drum in front of maybe 100 people who were taking a respite from the noise and heat. Dondero would be back again later that night with what would end up being the concert’s signature song.
The dueling stage concept — while a good idea on the surface — didn’t work out, for me anyway. The sets overlapped too often. I wanted to see So-So Sailors, for example, but didn’t want to miss Bright Eyes. Going back and forth wasn’t a problem from a security standpoint — your bracelet got you right back into the compound. The problem was that I had a full Bud Light tallboy that I didn’t want to toss away and couldn’t bring with me (and couldn’t slam — those days are over).
Desaparecidos was the last “outside band” of the evening, and who were what most people I spoke to came to see. Back in the day, Desa played every few weeks and each show was train wreck of sloppiness. I never saw a good Desa show (and who remembers their debut at that echo chamber of a high school auditorium?). Years later, on a serious pro stage, we got the Desa set that we’d been waiting for — easily the best they’ve ever sounded, performed in front of their largest crowd. If this is their swan song, it was at a peak. Maybe it’s because everyone in the band is older and wiser, but other than a few glitches (a couple songs sounded like half the band was in the wrong key), it was powerful stuff. The setlist:
Man And Wife, The Former (Financial Planning)
Man And Wife, The Latter (Damaged Goods)
Mall Of America
Happiest Place On Earth
Survival Of The Fittest
Hole In One
As I say in Wednesday’s write-up, it was good to see Landon Hedges and Denver Dalley and the rest of them on stage again, and it’s a shame that this is probably a one-off because Desa is the perfect place for Oberst to spit out his pent-up venom. Instead, he’ll probably head back to the more passive, FM-friendly confines of Monsters of Folk after the next Bright Eyes album is released sometime in the future.
We’d been told that we were going to get our money’s worth buying the $50 deluxe ticket instead of the $20 general admission. For fans of Lullaby for the Working Class, the statement may be true. Ted Stevens and company (including Mike and AJ Mogis) played a flawless set in front of a few hundred inside The Waiting Room. I never saw this band in its heyday, and now I’m sorry I missed them back then. It was gorgeous stuff, backed by some of the area’s finest musicians.
As for the hootenanny, well, there were no special guests that we hadn’t already seen earlier in the day. Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings came out for a few quiet songs. Then Conor joined them before being joined by the rest of Desaparecidos. And then came the finale with David Dondero singing a song written especially for the occasion, apparently called “They’re Building a New Berlin Wall,” whose chorus follows the same melody of Oberst’s “Land Locked Blues.” Oberst led the audience singing the chorus before saying goodnight at 2 a.m.
So ended the Concert for Equality. A success? Depends on how you define it. They certainly raised a lot of money. Did people walk away energized about the issue of immigrant rights in Nebraska? Probably not. Did they see what will be considered an historical show from a Nebraska-music standpoint. Without a doubt.
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I don’t want to forget another show that happened this past weekend — the debut of Conduits at Slowdown Jr. Friday night. The band, fronted by vocalist Jenna Morrison and featuring Roger Lewis and members of Eagle Seagull are equal parts punch and drone, a chiming, building sonic adventure like nothing else around here. Morrison, who was anonymous as a member of Son Ambulance, owns this frontwoman position with grace and power that I frankly didn’t think she had. She’s got an amazing voice that is only going to get stronger the more this band performs. She had the strength to keep her voice above the waves as the slow-build ambient rock hit tidal-wave crescendos. They don’t play pop songs, more like cinematic set pieces that would work well played in succession with no breaks — a sonic experience. You’ll be hearing more from this band.
We also said goodbye Friday night to Our Fox. Frontman Ryan Fox is headed to Portland, and though they won’t say they’re breaking up, their future is obviously uncertain. All dressed in sailor whites, they did themselves proud. I’ll miss these guys.
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Read Tim McMahan’s blog daily at Lazy-i.com — an online music magazine that includes feature interviews, reviews and news. The focus is on the national indie music scene with a special emphasis on the best original bands in the Omaha area. Copyright © 2010 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.