by Tim McMahan, Lazy-i.com
Friday night at The Waiting Room.
Conduits are poised to be a next-level success story, that is if someone is smart enough to sign them. But in this day and age, getting signed isn’t necessarily the most important thing that can happen to your band (but it certainly helps). Conduits has something just as good as a record deal — people are beginning to notice them. They’re being associated not only with Omaha but with Saddle Creek, thanks in part to Roger Lewis’ connection to The Good Life and Tim Kasher, who made a special guest appearance during their set for one song that was obviously a Kasher composition. It sounded nothing like the rest of their set, which continues to evolve into a series of epic masterpieces, tonal ambient journeys into dark yet familiar worlds decorated in ’90s shoe-gaze, low-hum dream-noise. It’s moody and effective, each song taking on a life of its own. It’s only a matter of time before the whole set bleeds together into one 45-minute epic soundscape.
I don’t think second-slot filler Darren Hanlon could have been a bigger contrast. The Aussie singer/songwriter performed a solo set that was a cross between Billy Bragg and John Wesley Harding — long story-songs played on guitar or banjo set atop a backdrop of crowd noise that came roaring from the back of the room, which was ballooning to well over 300. Hanlon’s songs were… cute. Late in the set they were propelled by guest drummer Craig D (Tilly and the Wall), who even provided an improvised drum solo.
Finally, it was Kasher’s turn. The biggest compliment I could give his set: At one point, I realized that I wasn’t paying attention to minuscule details, I wasn’t mentally taking notes, I became lost in the performance and the songs, which for me hasn’t happened in a long time. Kasher played most of the songs off his new album, The Game of Monogamy, punctuating each phrase with a knowing glance or gesture, trying to connect the music to the audience. The usual chatty Kasher said very little between songs, only once talking freely about the making of the album, saying that he was listening to a lot of David Bowie while up in Whitefish, all as an intro to a very Kasher-ian cover of Bowie’s “Soul Love.” The rest of the covers were Good Life chestnuts that seamlessly fit into the set. As you would expect, Kasher’s backing band was amazing. The standout was Lewis Patzner on cello — the best sounding (and mixed) cello I’ve heard on any live stage, it added a layer of drama that these songs yearned for. If Patzner’s name sounds familiar you might be thinking of his brother, Anton Patzner, who performed with Bright Eyes circa Cassadaga. Talent with strings obviously runs in the family.
Saturday night at The Barley Street Tavern.
Part of the fun of The Lepers’ set was watching the reaction from a crowd that probably had no idea what sort of music they were in for. These friends of Blue Bird certainly weren’t prepared for a two-man freak-out noise collage. I’ve seen Lepers more times than I care to remember, and this performance was right in line with all of them. Their music is tribal and borders on disturbing, an obvious progeny of Sonic Youth noise rock. For it to succeed, it can’t be confined to the Barley Street’s PA limitations — in other words, it needs to be loud, so loud that it generates confusion and fear, that it forces people to be trapped inside it, for better or worse.
I didn’t time it, but it seemed like it took a full half-hour for Blue Bird to get set up after Lepers, and for most of that time, the crowd (which continued to grow and grow to a staggering 40 or 50) were treated to Ben Sieff’s bass noodling along with assorted violin and clarinet tuning — I thought to myself, “Oh, so this is hell. I thought it would be so much warmer.” After 10 minutes of stage noise I was ready to pull my hair out, but it takes a long time to get eight people set up. That’s right, eight people — Blue Bird’s total inventory included two keyboards, guitar, drums, bass, two backup singers (one of them was Megan Morgan, who’s not a permanent member of the band) and that violin.
It’s an ambitious line-up that heralds back the days when Bright Eyes was towing a U-Haul filled with 16 musicians while touring his Wide Awake album. The days of huge ensembles are long gone in an era when bands don’t make any money and are looking for ways to cut costs. Except of course for Midwest Dilemma, and now Blue Bird. You have to hand it to frontwoman Marta Fiedler for finding a way to make it all work, though you have to wonder if a band that large could ever really afford to go on tour.
Was all that firepower necessary for Saturday night’s show? Probably not. What stood out most about Blue Bird was Fiedler’s pretty Midwestern voice that was accented by a slight country-western lilt. She indeed sounds like a Nebraska version of Jenny Lewis on songs derived from the indie-Americana template. You’ll be reminded of Lewis and She & Him and The Mynabirds and all the other women-led bands that seem to be making a mark on indie these days — especially locally, when was the last time we had so many women contributing so much musically? Fiedler has an advantage over a lot of them in how she writes songs — there was always something in the compositions that surprised me. Maybe it was just her own voice slipping through.
As a whole, the band did fine — they made it work. This was, after all, their first gig playing together in this ensemble (almost all are veterans of other bands). The set had a rough launch due to a Fiedler’s malfunctioning microphone that kept shorting out — I can’t imagine anything worse happening during an opening number. Fiedler responded like a real pro, singing through the technical difficulties as the sound guy brought her another mic. Despite the annoying pre-show noodling, Sieff played the role of godsend, placing a solid foundation for everyone to build upon, along with drummer Rob Mathews. It’s hard to judge the rest of the ensemble, especially considering The Barley Street’s obvious limitations (There’s so little space on its “stage” that it seemed like a couple members of the band were pushed right into the crowd). The violin was perfectly played, but unnecessary, along with the backing vocals, and it doesn’t get any better than Carrie Butler and Morgan. Ian Simons’ place is behind the keyboard, not the clarinet. Oh, he played it just fine, but I think there should be a law that says clarinets shouldn’t be allowed in rock bands. They tend to turn every song into a Bah Mitzvah. I’d like to hear what these guys sound like in a venue with a real sound system (Slowdown, The Waiting Room); and I’d love to hear these songs preformed as a trio.
Finally, Landing on the Moon closed out the evening at just before 1 and uncorked their usual fine set. Their centerpiece continues to be their anthem to the Omaha music scene, “California” — a dyed-in-the-wool crowd pleaser if ever there was one.
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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.