Column 361: When the Music’s Over…; Live Review: Blind Pilot; Conor MVB releases; Cass McCombs tonight…
by Tim McMahan, Lazy-i.com
This is it, the last installment of my first column for The Reader.
It began Dec. 2, 2004. I had been suggesting to editor John Heaston, literally for years, that he needed to integrate columns into The Reader, that all good newspapers included an opinionated voice willing to speak his or her mind without fear or concern of offending. The music scene needed a voice like that even more. During a time when Omaha was glowing from national praise for its burgeoning indie music scene (by then, the bloom was already off the rose), it woefully lacked a critical voice in print. Some might say it still does.
I’d already been writing music criticism on my website for years. Lazy-i.com launched in 1998 as a work-around tool. Here’s the deal: After publicists line up interviews with their bands or send out album previews, they demand “tear sheets” of what has been written – some tangible proof that they hadn’t wasted their time. Those requests would be forwarded to The Reader, where more likely than not, they’d be forgotten or ignored among the paper’s more pressing needs of the day, leaving me to handle tear sheets myself.
Instead of wasting envelopes, postage and trips to the post office, I got the idea of posting the stories and reviews online (The Reader didn’t have a website back then). I would then e-mail links to stories to the publicists. Satisfied that I was actually doing something, they would keep me (or add me) to their record label’s distro lists, resulting in dozens of manila envelopes filled with CDs landing in my mailbox every week. Because, really, it’s always been about the free CDs, right?
It didn’t take long for me to realize that I could bolster Lazy-i’s readership by adding a daily entry or web log – I guess you could call it a “blog.” My column in The Reader would simply be a natural extension of those web logs, along with original content. After much prodding, Heaston finally agreed to give it a try. Column No. 1 featured an interview with singer/songwriter Willy Mason, who had just signed as the second act to the horribly named Team Love Records – a just-launched sister label (of sorts) to Saddle Creek, owned and operated by Conor Oberst and his business partner, Nate Krenkel.
Seven years and 360 installments later, Lazy-i as a column has run its course. Heaston has suggested that Lazy-i is redundant as it appears in The Reader because most people read my music column online at Lazy-i.com. He’s wrong, of course. Regardless, given the choice of either sunsetting my website or sunsetting my column, I chose the latter.
Part of it has to do with age, I suppose. I am 46 years old, and I’m still writing about music after doing it for 25 years. I find nothing wrong with this, but there are those who have suggested that rock music (and especially new music) is only for young people, and why would a teen-ager/twenty-something give a shit what a guy in his 40s thinks about a new band or new album? Maybe they’re right, but it hasn’t stopped me from doing it, and (apparently) from people reading it.
And here’s something else – as I’ve gotten to the age where I was old enough to be the father of the bands I was interviewing, I’ve never felt awkward talking to these musicians about their music and their lives. I’ve never felt as if they were patronizing me. And while some people feel odd going to rock shows where they’re surrounded by people half their age, I’ve never felt out place. I still don’t. I don’t think I ever will.
Fact is, most people over the age of 30 have a hard time listening to new music. They’re more comfortable listening to the music they grew up listening to. I guess I’m lucky I get as much of a thrill listening to good new music as I do listening to the hits of the ‘80s. And when I hear something I really like, I enjoy telling others about it (Because let’s be honest, writing about music is as much about ego as it is about getting free CDs).
And what’s the old saying – if you’re involved in music after you reach age 30, you’ll be involved in music your entire life. I think that’s true. Just ask Robert Christgau, who will turn 70 on April 18 and continues to write insightful, witty and relevant music reviews.
So despite the end of this column, Lazy-i.com will live on. I’ll continue to write about music every weekday, I’ll continue to review CDs and rock shows, but I’ll do it on my website. I’ll also continue to interview bands, but that writing will also appear in The Reader when space allows (because things are getting tough for the printed page, my friends. If you value printed newspapers, keep reading them. And then go to the businesses that advertise in them, and after you’ve bought something, tell the businesses you saw their ads in the paper. Do this, or else in the very near future, there won’t be any printed newspapers).
So what’s next? Like I said at the beginning of this piece, this is the last installment of my first column at The Reader. I’m going to take a week off (which I haven’t done for seven years) and then I’m going to write the first installment of my second column for The Reader.
Thanks to all of you for reading Lazy-i over the years. Thanks to John for printing it. Thanks to all the bands and labels and clubs and publicists and promoters and friends who helped make it happen. I couldn’t have done it without you.
I’ll talk to you again in a couple weeks.
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That’s the big announcement I mentioned yesterday. If you read this blog regularly, not much will change. In fact, probably nothing will change, though you won’t be seeing my new column here. It’ll be exclusive to The Reader. Considering how much time I spend at shows, however, there’s bound to be some overlap whether I (or John) likes it or not. Some might say untethering myself from music in my column writing should be liberating. In fact, it’s frightening, but if you’re not taking risks, you’re not living…
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Now where was I…
Blind Pilot had a triumphant return to Omaha last night. Triumphant in that it looked like they nearly sold out The Waiting Room — a huge crowd that was backed up past the sound board. I got there as they went on stage just past 10:30 (I’m loving these early weekday shows, 1%).
Their sound is a sort of watered-down version of the Avett Bros. fronted by a guy who sounds like he grew up listening to his dad’s Jackson Browne or (more likely) Gomez records. The songs were pretty enough, though none of them had a hook that stood out. At least they were short. Looking at the track listing of We Are The Tide, their latest on unknown Expunged Records, shows eight of the 10 songs are under the four-minute mark, with one coming in under three minutes — just short enough to keep you from getting tired of them. Hey, don’t knock the value of short songs, especially when you have virtually no stage presence. Strangely, as the set wore on, the songs seemed to get longer, long enough to bore, probably because there wasn’t much going on up there.
The solid six-piece is fronted by Israel Nebeker, who played acoustic guitar throughout except when he lugged out a big lap accordion for one song. The rest of the band augmented the middle-of-the-road folk rock sound with vibes, trumpet and banjo. Like I said, pretty.
Other then their appearance on The Late Show with David Letterman last month, I’m baffled as to where this massive crowd had heard these guys before. But they knew them well enough to sing the words back to Nebeker throughout the entire set. Someone told me last night that the popularity stems from Pandora, how that happens, I don’t know. Did people who set up Avett Bros or Gomez channels in Pandora get fed this as part of the mix? Ah, the mysteries of becoming a rock star in the 21st Century. While I was listening to their rather safe, unadventurous but subtly catchy music; I wondered how many more bands are out there like this, filling in the gaps for a generation who doesn’t remember the fleet of MOR bands that preceded them. Probably hundreds. Maybe thousands. And, truthfully, Blind Pilot is better than most, which is why they’re breaking through to a larger audience.
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I’d be remiss in not mentioning yesterday’s announcement that Conor Oberst and the Mystic Valley Band are releasing (via Team Love) an outtakes album along with a DVD documentary about the band directed by the band’s road manager (and Con Dios frontman) Philip Schaffart. You can get all the details here. Release date is May 15. Will this mean that MVB will get together for a brief support tour? Who knows. Rumors abound that another of Conor’s old bands may be planning a reunion tour, and in this harsh political climate, it never made more sense.
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Indie folk troubadour Cass McCombs drops in tonight at The Waiting Room. Opening is folk revivalist Frank Fairfield. $10, 9 p.m.
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 © 2012 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.