Live Review: King Khan BBQ Show, Digital Leather; Lazy-i Interview: The Millions; Pine Ridge listening party tonight…

King Kahn and BBQ Show at The Slowdown, Nov. 28, 2012.

King Khan and BBQ Show at The Slowdown, Nov. 28, 2012.

by Tim McMahan, Lazy-i.com

I never got my free booze at last night’s King Khan and BBQ Show concert at The Slowdown, but it’s not Sailor Jerry’s fault. The booze maker, who sponsored the event, had a converted Streamliner camper parked on the curb outside the club with blinking lights and signs and such. I didn’t bother to climb inside, and found out later that’s where they were distributing drink tokens. Kind of a weird deal, but there’s probably some sort of law that prevented them from setting up a table right inside Slowdown. Or something. I didn’t want to go back outside so I skipped it. I’d already bought my Rolling Rock anyway.

The “free” element was an ongoing riff played on by the KKBBQ duo, who kept prodding the rather large crowd about the freebies. “How’s your free booze?” said a smirking Mark Sultan sitting behind his two-piece drum kit, almost accusatory. Odd. Sultan, playing drums, guitar and singing (simultaneously), and King Khan on guitar and vocals were dressed in Mardi Gras-quality royal attire, complete with capes and feathered chapeaus. Glittery and cool. So was their music, a combination of garage, punk and sock-hop doo-wap, Chubby Checker meets Elvis meets Jack White meets the cast of Treme. They prodded the crowd to dance, and got a few to do a half-assed Frug.

Digital Leather at The Slowdown, Nov. 28, 2012.

Digital Leather at The Slowdown, Nov. 28, 2012.

Digital Leather opened the show with their usual grinding garage attack. I’ve seen these guys a hundred times and they never fail to bring it, but were especially on point last night. As I was sitting there wondering how many times I’d heard this set (or a slight variation), Shawn Foree and Co. threw out a golden nugget I thought I’d never hear them play again — “Studs In Love,” the homo anthem from Blow Machine re-engineered from an electronic hump fable to a roaring, spitting metallic confession. Foree launched it with a full-on riff attack aimed directly at the rhythm section of bassist Johnny Vrendenburg and drummer Jeff Lambelet (the best bass & drum duo in Omaha) settling into a tense, unrecognizable grind before barking out the line “I’m a man’s man / I don’t need no bitch.” F*** yes! They closed out their set with another classic — “Styrofoam,” from 2008 album Sorcerer.

I accepted years ago that Foree considers Digital Leather’s garage-rock stage presentation to be a completely different animal than the band’s electronic, proto-New Wave music heard on the recordings. I get it. But I’m beginning to wonder how long it will be until he breaks down and breaks out the Korg on stage once again. Maybe never. And that’s fine as long as he keeps putting out great records. Again, if you’ve only heard Digital Leather on stage over the past couple years, check out their recordings for a whole different take on their music.

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Below, for your reading pleasure, is this week’s column, which also is printed in the current issue of The Reader. I include it here instead of merely providing a link as I usually do because of the topic. Saturday night’s Millions show definitely is worth the trip to Lincoln for any Millions fan, as there’s a good chance you’ll never hear this band play again.

The Millions, circa 2012. Photo by Ted Schlaebitz.

The Millions, circa 2012. Photo by Ted Schlaebitz.

Column: A Million Reasons Why

Marty Amsler, like some of us, lives two lives.

Most know him as the mild-mannered “creative” at Nebraska advertising agency Bailey Lauerman. He’s a Mad Man ad guy who heads a team of Mad Men ad people that do some of the best creative work in the country. I know because I’ve seen it first hand in my “other life” at Union Pacific.

(To this day, I still meet people who think I make a living writing this column for The Reader. These are the same people who watched Sex and the City and thought Carrie Bradshaw could afford her cool Manhattan apartment and countless pair of $300 Manolo Blahnik shoes on what she made writing her weekly column in some faceless newspaper…)

Aside from Bailey Lauerman, there’s Marty’s main gig — his wife, Julia, and their son, Truman.

And then there’s The Millions, the band Amsler started way back in the late ‘80s in Lincoln with guitarist Harry Dingman III that included vocalist Lori Allison and drummer Greg Hill. Over the course of about six years, The Millions lived the rock ‘n’ roll dream. They generated a large following playing local gigs, got signed by Smash Records (a subsidiary of major label Polygram), quit their day jobs and recorded and released their debut album, M Is for Millions in July 1991. They toured, and then released their second album, Raquel, in September 1995. They toured some more. And then broke up and went their separate ways, leaving behind some great music and fond memories.

And now, just like that old rock ‘n’ roll story always seems to go, they’re getting back together again, for one night only — Dec. 1, 8 p.m., at Lincoln’s Bourbon Theatre. Well, at least three of them are, anyway. Greg Hill no longer plays drums and doesn’t want to. Drummer Brandon McKenzie will be sitting behind the drum kit that night. So can you really call this a “Millions reunion”?

“Lori, Harry and I don’t look at this as a ‘reunion’ show,” Amsler said. “Just old friends getting together again to play some songs we wrote a while ago to help some other old friends release a project they’ve worked tirelessly on.”

The Millions, Poison Fish (Randy's Alternative Music, 2012(

The Millions, Poison Fish (Randy’s Alternative Music, 2012)

The project is Poison Fish, a collection of lost, unreleased Millions recordings that capture the unbridled spirit of the band before they got signed.

The collection (under the name The Millions NE, because a different band now controls “The Millions” name) is being released by Randy’s Alternative Music, a record label run by Randy LeMasters, a Pittsburgh-based music entrepreneur who said the Millions’ music “turned my world upside down.”

LeMasters has spent nearly a decade working with the band and Millions’ fan Malcom Miles piecing together tracks heard on the new release from remastered cassette tapes, as the original master tapes (apparently) no longer exist.

Despite the frustration of spending years trying to track down those original masters, LeMasters says the release’s timing couldn’t have been better. “The band might not have gotten together for the CD release show in years past due to commitments with family and careers,” he said. “The time is right.”

And the timing may be right for other reasons. There’s a resurgence of interest in the post-punk, pre-Nirvana, “first wave” bands that influenced The Millions, such as REM, Throwing Muses, Cocteau Twins, Kate Bush and The Sundays. Some of the best new music released this past year, from indie darlings like Twin Shadow, Wild Nothing and DIIV, are revising the post-punk new wave sound for a new generation of listeners who may also discover something new in The Millions.

And if you’re wondering, no, LeMasters isn’t doing it for the money. “I’ve never been in the music ‘business’ to make money,” he said. “I do it for the love of the music and for my passion to get music into the ears of other fans. Other than the love one gets from family and friends, I believe there is no greater pleasure than sharing music with willing, eager ears.”

For Amsler, playing with his pals in The Millions again fills a void he didn’t realize he had.

“I have a very fulfilling career in advertising,” he said. “I get to spend my days working with some of the most talented people in the industry. I have great clients and more creative opportunity than I know what to do with.”

And though he gets the same creative fix from working with his B-L team, “I didn’t realize how much I missed just playing a song together – being super ‘cops-show-up (which they did) loud,’ getting in the zone and drowning all else out,” he said. “It’s so powerful, perfect and precarious. I didn’t realize how much I missed that — or them.”

Motivation to strap on his bass again also came from his family. “They see how much I’m enjoying it,” he said. “I get to share a side of me that neither of them knew.”

So I had to ask Amsler, the way the music industry is these days, would he do it all over again?

“That’s something I’ve thought about during the years,” he said. “Looking back, I’d have killed for the internet, e-mail, downloads or a damn cell phone (imagine being on the road for six weeks without one). That certainly would have made our lives easier on many fronts. But there was something about the music scenes when you had to be an active participant (not optional/digital) that was pretty amazing. I also think we were the last generation to get the big ‘quit-your-day-job’ record contract. Obviously, it wasn’t all that it was cracked up to be, but for a while, recording, touring and playing WAS our day job. That was pretty cool.”

The Millions play this Saturday, Dec. 1, at The Bourbon Theatre, 1415 ‘O’ St., Lincoln. Tickets to the all-ages show are $10 adv.; $12 DOS. Show starts at 9:30 p.m., with no opening bands (so get there on time). For more information and tickets, go to bourbontheatre.com.

First published in The Reader. Copyright © 2012 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

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Here’s one that was flying under the radar: Tonight at The Waiting Room is the listening party for this year’s Christmas for Pine Ridge compilation.  The CD includes tracks by So-So Sailors, The Whipkey Three, Gerald Lee Jr. (Filter Kings) and a bunch more. The music starts at 8 p.m. Consider it a warm up for Saturday night’s benefit show, also at The Waiting Room.

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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.

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