by Tim McMahan, Lazy-i.com
In a lot of people’s minds, last Friday night’s Wild Nothing/DIIV show was a make or brake sitch for The Sandbox, a club that’s been struggling to become “sort of” legit, booking bands on a regular basis for the past few months. Well, a few hours before showtime, I got an email from someone associated with the show saying that it had been moved to Sokol Underground. No reason for the move was given.
The Sandbox posted the following on Facebook this morning, pointed at the show’s promoter, Slow Burn Productions:
“Sorry to do this, but so much shit talking and misinformation has been spread about this fucking major screw up on the part of the promoter. When what something called a ‘sound rider’ is given to a promoter, it details everything a band will need for sound and or lighting for an event. For this Wild Nothing / DIIV show no sound rider was given to us, the venue, in advance by said promoter so we really had no idea what the bands were expecting for sound needs. As such, we were under assumption business as usual in the sound dept. Needless to say, the bands were not satisfied with this. We easily could have got the extra things and mics the bands were expecting HAD WE KNOWN ABOUT IT AHEAD OF TIME, like any reasonable and conscientious promoter would have done. Thank you.“
I haven’t been to the Sandbox in almost a year, but the last time I was there, its meager PA system could have handled the show. I’ve been told that since then, there have been a lot of improvements in sound, stage and lighting. I guess I’ll have to wait until the next “big” indie show rolls through there to find out, as the style of punk usually booked there hasn’t sparked my interest.
So it was off to Sokol Underground. I hadn’t been down there since last winter, when my nephew’s band played a death metal showcase. I used to go to Sokol Underground a few times a week back in its indie heyday, when it was booked by One Percent Productions (and before them, by the Saddle Creek duo of Robb/Jason). Since the One Percent guys opened The Waiting Room — a far superior music venue that’s literally walking distance from my house — other promoters have booked Sokol Underground almost exclusively for metal/death metal/goon rock showcases, a reflection of the years of influence radio station 89.7 The River has had on the scene — i.e., the emergence of Cookie Monster Metal almost a full decade after it went out of style around the rest of the country.
And it’s a shame, because Sokol Underground is still a fun place to see a show, as last Friday night’s Wild Nothing/DIIV show proved. Walking down the stairs into the club it felt just like old times except that Marc or Jim wasn’t there to give me the nod to let me into the show. Instead, I handed my printout ticket to the strapping young lad at the register, walked over to the bar and tried to buy a Rolling Rock, but was told they just sold their last bottle, leaving to me drink Lucky Bucket the rest of the evening — not a bad alternative.
The room itself hasn’t changed much, though the PA looks and sounds less powerful than during the golden years. The rock stickers (including my Lazy-i sticker) have been stripped from the poles; the bulletin board across from the cash register that used to be covered with show fliers is empty. But other than that (and some much-needed paint) the room is virtually the same and still has that quality I loved from its early days — you can always go unnoticed in Sokol Underground. The dismal room lighting makes it easy to hide. But beyond that, unlike the upscale Slowdown and The Waiting Room, Sokol Underground is so dumpy that no one cares who you are… or at least that how it seems. The brokedown-palace atmosphere is oddly relaxing. I can’t explain it any other way.
By the time I arrived at around 10:15, the first two openers already had left the stage and DIIV had just started. DIIV is an ambient/dream-pop band in the vein of M83 — lots of chiming, layered guitars and tonal vocals. Definitely a vibe band with an obvious shoe-gaze sound that at its best can fall into a droning, rhythmic groove that’s full-on Stone Roses-esque. The drawback is in its lack of variety. Every song — in speed, rhythm and style — sounds like it was cut from the same sonic cloth, and becomes one dimensional, especially with vocals that have more to do with mood than lyrics.
Wild Nothing is very similar but more straight-forward — less vibe, more songwriting, better compositions. They reminded me of ’90s champions The Church and The Cure with bigger guitar riffs and vocals that you could actually understand. While there was a basic droning common denominator, their set had a satisfying ebb and flow that DIIV lacked. The young crowd of between 100-150 soaked it all in at the edge of the stage, a few even tried to dance (sort of).
It really is a shame that more indie shows aren’t booked at Sokol Underground, but with One Percent (who books almost all the good indie shows that come through town) already having two main clubs for indie — The Waiting Room and Slowdown — why should they bother? I get it, especially when they can take home the bar sales at TWR, something they’ll never get at Sokol. Still, it seems like there have been fewer and fewer CMJ-quality indie shows coming through town over the past couple years. I blame the economy, the decline in the music industry, and what appears to be a decline in interest among those who (should) go to these shows. I also blame lack of radio, though in this era of XMU-satellite and everything being online, does it really make that much of a difference? Yeah, I think it does.
Bottom line: If I could choose between TWR/Slowdown or Sokol Underground to see a show, I’d always choose TWR/Slowdown — better sound, better sight lines, easier access, and in TWR’s case, much closer to home. But that said, I’d still love to go to Sokol three or four times a year for a solid indie show like the one I saw last Friday night. It’s going to take a new promoter like Black Heart or Slowburn or someone else to make that happen.
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Sumtur Amphitheater is about 10 miles south of Benson in Papillion. I’ve never been there before, but from what I’ve been told, it should be a great place to see tonight’s Silversun Pickups show. Opening is School of Seven Bells and Atlas Genius. $30, 8 p.m.
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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 © 2012 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.