by Tim McMahan, Lazy-i.com
Column 293: Where To Now?
The next Next Wave…
As 2010 begins to wind down a new crop of bands begins to rise up to carry on Omaha’s reputation as one of the country’s best music scenes.
There are some of you who, upon reading the above statement, quietly, sardonically, cynically laughed to yourselves, and thought (with a wry smile on your subconscious minds), “Best music scenes in the country? Tim, really. We haven’t heard that kind of talk in eight or nine years, and even then Omaha was only known by the tiny handful of music aficionados who give two shits about indie music.”
True, true. But even now, eight or nine or how many years later, when I interview a nationally known band that’s traipsing through Omaha on tour and ask (as I ask all of them) what they know about Omaha or Nebraska, they all say the same thing: “I’ve heard Nebraska has something special going on musicwise. Saddle Creek Records, right?” And so on. People remember. And the ones who knew — who were influenced by the city’s crown-jewel bands — still hold a flame for Omaha, whether or not that candle blew out years ago.
Will we ever relive those golden years when The New York Times, SPIN and the BBC were fumbling over each other trying to figure out what was in the water that made Nebraska songwriters so special? I am here to say that, yes, it could happen again. In fact, it probably will. And when it does, it will start (again) with those same legacy acts — Cursive and Bright Eyes (look for new albums by both in the near future) and maybe even The Faint (even though they seem to have given up making new music, a pity) — who will reinvent themselves in this new decade as bands that still have something important (and catchy) to say.
But it can’t stop there; it has to continue with a new crop of Omaha and Lincoln bands. It was just a few years ago that hope came in the form of what I idiotically called Omaha’s “Next Wave,” most of which recorded for Slumber Party Records — Capgun Coup (now with Team Love Records), the amazing Bear Country, the brash, bratty Noah’s Ark Was a Spaceship, cartoon kids Talking Mountain, Thunder Power, ultra-cute Honeybee, and hip-hop artist Conchance — all doing their own thing, creating their own sound but very much in the fashion of the Saddle Creek oeuvre.
Unfortunately, while those bands produced some fine recordings, they remained anonymous. Don’t blame their music; blame their schedules. What everyone forgets about the Creek bands was (and is) their bare-knuckle work ethic and willingness to get out of town and tour, even if they were only playing house parties and empty lounges. Sure, a few Slumber Party acts toured out of Omaha, but their roadwork was miniscule compared to, say, The Faint’s road marathons of yesteryear. A disappointment? Kind of, sure, when you consider what could have been, and what could still be.
So who are the next Next Wave bands? Two played last Friday night at The Waiting Room. First (and the one with the most promise) is Conduits. While so many local bands (including all those slumming for gigs in Benson) are enamored with dusty, countrified Americana, Conduits is trying to reinvent shoe-gaze. Consisting of J.J. Idt, guitar; Nate Mickish, guitar; Mike Overfield, bass, keys; Roger Lewis, drums, and frontwoman Jenna Morrison, their set was a slow-burn, droning methadone drip, a glowing haze cleanly cut by Morrison, who stands on the edge of the stage like a proud hood ornament in black-and-white striped sweater dress and heels. Morrison has come a long way since her days in Son, Ambulance where she was barely noticed standing in the background adding the occasional chirp. With Conduits, she has nowhere to hide; she’s a golden-haired chanteuse or a modern-day Nico, bending her notes through warm layers of guitar. Their music is mesmerizing, and when it goes on and on, ever building, it feels improvised and daring.
A lot of Saddle Creek people were in the audience, there to support Old Canes on the launch date of their latest tour. Playing as a five-piece, Chris Crisci’s runaway chuck wagon music was filled out by trumpets, glockenspiel, melodica and plenty of acoustic guitar. With Old Canes, Saddle Creek has looked toward Lawrence, Kansas, for hope; but maybe it’s time they look again toward their hometown.
Appropriately, the lights came down for Dim Light, a band that’s been evolving for years, but at its core has always been frontman/guitarist/caricature Cooper Moon, one of the most recognizable members of the Omaha music scene.
Dim Light’s music is the soundtrack to a David Lynch Blue Velvet nightmare. Not midnight — more like 3 a.m. music, a time when nothing good ever happens. Cooper can sound like bluesy Jim Morrison if he wants to, but his voice feels more like an angry-drunk strut over his rockabilly spy guitar, staggering forward but held up in that drunken sailor-Jesus pose by Tom Barrett’s slutty bass lines and Boz Hicks’ subtle stick work. It’s pure theatre that leaves nothing to the imagination when Cooper belts out weird lines about things burning in your veins.
Conduits and Dim Light — that’s just two. There are more. I’ll be bringing them to your attention over the coming weeks and months. I want the scoop before the Times or SPIN or BBC comes in and steals my thunder… again.
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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.