by Tim McMahan, Lazy-i.com
Friday night, to an audience of fewer than 100 at The Waiting Room, Darren Keen, a.k.a. The Show Is the Rainbow, had a message he delivered just before launching into a set of all new material from an album that’s yet to be recorded. The message boiled down to this (and I’m paraphrasing here): The best work Keen’s done was when he was doing it for himself, and the worst work he’s done was when he was trying to impress all the wrong people. Well, now Keen’s through trying to impress anyone, as he hits the road for eight months on a self-booked tour with his girlfriend in tow.
Keen sounded like a man who had come to some sort of self-realization that no matter how hard he tries to control his future, his life, his career, he’s powerless in the face of a world, of an industry, that never knew and never cared. Which is a long-winded way of saying that now he’s doing it for himself. And that’s a pretty good message.
And with that, he tore into a set of abstract, art-damaged polyrhythmic “songs” that examined his view of the world around him. The themes: paying the cover, faux indie angst, learning how to think, learning how to (literally) grow, his love of dope, and his love of love. It sounded like hippie stuff, and maybe it was. As a one-man act, he sang the tunes over prerecorded keyboard tracks that were a dizzying kaleidoscope of circus arpeggios and electronic beats. Did I say sing? Most of the songs featured Keen doing a sing-song rap delivered from the floor instead of the stage while he performed an interpretive dance bare-chested, pants-sagging, sweat glistening off his fat rolls.
When TSITR first started all those years ago, Keen was criticized for being a home-grown version of Har Mar Superstar by people who had never actually listened to or heard Har Mar or Keen. The only thing those two had in common were a love of dance music, a willingness to take off their shirts and ivory white bellies. These days, thanks to his ginger beard and habit of improvising at the keyboard (and his “keen” wit), Darren could be compared to a young Zack Galafianakis, though only the most demented minds like my own would ever come up with that comparison.
The other thing that went through this demented mind Friday night was that Keen may be onto something. His set was fun and “in your face,” with just enough edge to be considered subversive. There is an aggression boiling just below the surface, a strange unnerving tension that could erupt at any moment. And though the music is less “dancy” than his earlier material (which may change after he fills it out in the studio), it’s no less engaging. Let’s face it, it’s impossible to be bored at a TSITR show, which is more than I can say for 90 percent of the indie bands that come through town. And for those folks who will stumble onto Darren by accident as he and his girlfriend criss-cross the country over the next eight months, he could be a revelation or at least one helluva conversation piece.
Opening the evening was Machete Archive, who has steadily become the most interesting instrumental-only band I’ve seen on stage since Mogwai (who they in no way resemble). Beyond the music, which is borderline metal balladry, is the headbanging performance itself. In addition to having insane dance moves, bassist Saber Blazek is a marvel on the fretboard, maybe the best bass player in Nebraska. But the only way that claim could be proven is if Hear Nebraska or Omahype or The Reader hosts another long-needed “bass off” among the state’s best four-stringers. The gauntlet has been thrown.
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You can now stream Bright Eyes’ new album The People’s Key in its entirety at NPR.org. Here’s the link. My first impression is that the biggest by-product of the Monsters of Folk tour is that Conor now writes and records music that sounds like M. Ward tunes. You be the judge.
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People are already rescheduling things in the face of what could be one of the more brawny storms to hit the city since… last year. Something tells me even if the storm gets here before 9:30, tonight’s show at O’Leaver’s will carry on as planned. The headliner is the amazing Dim Light, with Nature Boys and The Prairies. $5, bring a shovel…
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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 © 2011 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.