Live Review: Matt Whipkey, John Klemmensen, Fire Retarded, Dumb Beach; Hear Nebraska Kickstarts Vol. 3…
by Tim McMahan, Lazy-i.com
It was a long weekend of shows, a good weekend.
Friday night was the big Matt Whipkey album release party at The Waiting Room. Matt can be a rather polarizing figure in the Omaha music scene, but there’s one fact no one can refute — when it comes to the press, Whipkey works his ass off. This show was mentioned or featured in every print publication in town, not to mention a slew of local morning radio programs, a few of which Whipkey even performed on. Seems like everywhere you turned, whether on air, in print or online, there was Matt Whipkey hawking his new record and imploring people to come to his show.
Well, all that hard work paid off as The Waiting Room was indeed crowded last Friday night. No, it wasn’t a sell out, but it was tough to make it across the dance floor when Whipkey and his band started their set.
Whipkey’s style has been consistent over the past decade — he’s a showman, always demanding the crowd’s attention when he’s center stage with an electric guitar slung over his shoulder, maniacally flipping that Omaha-famous head of hair. In a city known for its indie rock, Whipkey remains content playing traditional American-style rock ‘n’ roll that boils down to big riffs, big hooks, plenty of guitar solos and lyrics about life in these United States.
The new album, Underwater, is a step forward for Whipkey to a more mature song craft than heard on his coming-of-age concept album Penny Park, a record that, if you ever wondered what the songs were about, all you had to do was look at the photo on the album sleeve. The new record sounds more personal and introspective but no less pop-focused. Whipkey may idolize Springsteen, but his style has more in common with John Fogerty on the album’s up-jump tracks. When he slows it down, picks up an acoustic guitar or straps a harmonica ’round his neck, he channels old school, MOR open-chord crooners that were the staple of ’70s-era FM radio. He is un-apologetically not indie, and wouldn’t have it any other way.
Neither would his crowd, who grooved to the rock and never failed to recognize another golden Whipkey guitar solo. I saw plenty of people walking around with copies of Underwater tucked beneath their arm, its back cover sporting a stoic photo of Whipkey, his hair, and his Raybans, staring stoically out into the crowd.
The obvious question after the media build-up that comes with a release show: Now what? The answer is touring, and Whipkey has said that’s exactly what he intends to do, focusing his road-work on central Nebraska. Can he become a regional success story? There’s no question he has a style that could resonate throughout the rural Heartland.
The new trend for headliners these days is to place their set in the second slot of the evening. That was the case Friday night when John Klemmensen and the Party followed Whipkey with a set of bluesy rockers. I haven’t seen John and his band play in more than a year. While his voice and lyrics haven’t changed much (He still boasts Nebraska’s biggest broken heart) his music has. Instead of the usual laid-back mellow crooning, Klemmensen is now uncorking harder, louder arrangements that aren’t afraid to lean away from blues pop to a more indie-fied power rock, a natural reflection of Klemmensen’s love of golden age Omaha indie-punk and post-punk.
There is a theatrical element to his rock songs that reminds me of — dare I say it — Meatloaf and John Steinman, but without the keyboards. I credit the first-person honesty of his lyrics, brazenly unashamed of letting his emotional baggage hang out for everyone to see. Klemmensen has nothing to hide, and that’s what makes his music so good.
A quick note about the recent upgrades to The Waiting Room. The club now sports a shiny new tile floor, raised booths and a brand new bar. This is the third or fourth time that The Waiting Room has made enhancements to their club since it opened in 2007, which shows the owners’ ongoing commitment to being the best music venue in Omaha.
Saturday night was a bracing change of pace as O’Leaver’s hosted a punk show with two of the better-named bands to grace their rec-room-styled stage: Madison Wisconsin’s Fire Retarded and Omaha’s own Dumb Beach.
Saturday’s gig was the last on Fire Retarded’s tour and the dudes sounded happy to end it in Omaha. Call it garage punk, I guess. Hard charging. Break-neck. Gritty. Rat-tailed and not so angry as much as just trying to have a good time. Their set started almost acidicly punk before infusing a bit of swing about halfway through, at times becoming downright tuneful.
Next was Dumb Beach. One of the things I forgot to mention last week in the podcast is that the band sports two — count them two — drummers. I’ve seen the two-drummer thing a few times in the past. With other bands, it’s an easy way to add theatrical flair to their rather drab stage presences. But that’s never been a problem with these guys, who resemble a team of buzzed-out Dr. Drew rehabbers out on a punk-rock work release program.
No, this duo-drum set up is an aggressive stab at bringing even more power to Dumb Beach’s already bludgeoning sound. Someone told me it was like watching a pair of synchronized swimmers, perfectly timed, perfectly choreographed, as they bashed the shit out of their drum kits. Do they really need two drummers? Does any band? I say screw it, why not? If you haven’t seen these guys, you need to.
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This morning Hear Nebraska launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund the vinyl pressing of its third compilation, deftly titled Hear Nebraska Vol. 3. The record features 10 songs from Nebraska bands on 12-inch, mixed-color (purple-pink-black) vinyl. Hear Nebraska calls it “a masterfully crafted, sonically stellar collectible that will serve as an integral Nebraska historical document.”
Bands on this year’s HN comp are John Klemmensen and the Party, Josh Hoyer and the Shadowboxers, The Bottle Tops, Jake Bellows, M34N STR33T, BOTH (featuring Rothsteen), Halfwit, Ladyfinger and Cursive.
The release is limited to 500 copies and comes with a digital download. A $20 pledge gets you a copy of the vinyl, but you’ll want to check out the other premiums. Hear Nebraska is shooting to raise $4,000 over the next 28 days. They’re already more than a quarter of the way there. Check it out.
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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.
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