by Tim McMahan, Lazy-i.com
The version of Life Is Cool that I saw at The Waiting Room Saturday night was a lot different than the version I saw play years ago somewhere in Omaha. That old version was a sort of Icky Blossoms party-band trying too hard to have fun, and it showed. This new version, featuring seven members split between Omaha, Lincoln and Chicago, is a different animal altogether. Think of them as a Midwestern version of Talking Heads combined with, say, B-52s and more than a smidgen of Arcade Fire and you’d be on the right track.
The set-up is (almost) traditional, with two guitars, bass, synths, trumpet, drummer and percussionist. The sound is eclectic bordering on artsy, with songs heavy on rhythms and light on melody. Maybe it was the mix but the dense arrangements worked best when they weren’t so crowded, when each instrument was given room to breath. When they played all at once (and loudly) the little details, which glowed so brightly individually (that cool woodblock percussion, Eric Bemberger’s chopping guitar), got lost in the din.
Frontman James Reilly seemed anxious holding it all together and occasionally shot a look like even he wasn’t sure where things were headed. Based on the number of cues from the stage during the set, monitor problems could have contributed to the sonic challenges (which is a nice way of saying it’s hard to keep a 7-piece band together when you can’t hear yourself on stage).
At their best, the band eschewed a post-punk jittery-ness that felt unsettled yet still leaned in with rhythmic funk, like the best early Talking Heads. Too often Reilly sounded restrained rather than letting it all hang out, unlike his co-vocalist (who played keys and whose name I don’t know) who willfully let herself get lost in the moment. On the other hand, there were times when they sounded like a reductive version of Arcade Fire. I prefer the direction heard on the closing number, played after an admirable cover of Adam Ant’s “Desperate But Not Serious” that could have used a tad more swing.
No one around here is doing what Life Is Cool is trying to do, or at least no one around Omaha. For as long as I can remember, you had to head south to Lincoln for bands attempting anything this artsy, experimental and, well, cool.
The night’s “main event” was The Sub-Vector’s CD release show, which was a ball… literally. As in a few dozen blow-up beach balls that bounced hyper-kinetically over the crowd throughout most of the set of fun-loving surf rock. The instrumental-only trio (bass, drums, guitar, in that order) showed the proper respect to the originators of the genre while at the same time adding their own sonic touches, hard and heavy, almost casting a metal sheen. If the songs seemed too long at times it could be due to the simple, stripped down arrangements that forecast every chord change like a hammer slamming on an anvil.
Edge of Arbor closed the evening with a set of laid-back folk rock accented by crisp bongos and guitarist Matt Whipkey’s usual glowing guitar solos. Frontwoman Jessica Errett does this style of indie-folk as well as anyone on the Lilith circuit (Maybe it’s time to retire those “Lilith Fair” comparisons, the last fair was five years ago). Oddest part of their set — at least three couples were doing ballroom dancing down on the floor, complete with twirls and dips, like watching auditions for the sequel to Silver Lining Playbook...
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Reception will be spotty this week, and if I skip a few days I apologize in advance.
Show-wise, the week starts with a bang in Lincoln with the return of the Paul Collins Beat, who just played at Slowdown Jr. in October and is now taking the stage at The Zoo Bar at 7 p.m.. Go if you can.
Beyond that, nothing stands out on the rock-show radar until Friday night’s Bloodcow gig at O’Leaver’s. It could be a long week…
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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 © 2015 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.