Live Review: Maha Music Festival Day Two: Oh Sees, Matt and Kim, Lizzo…

Category: Reviews — Tags: , , , , — @ 12:48 pm August 20, 2019

Oh Sees at the Maha Music Festival, Aug. 17, 2019.

by Tim McMahan, Lazy-i.com

I went in knowing nothing about Lizzo except for her songs on the radio and Spotify and YouTube. And I loved them with all their flame and sass and unquenchable hooks. When I went to see her on Day Two of the 2019 Maha Music Festival in Stinson Park at Aksarben Village, I assumed she’d be on stage with a full-on raging band in tow.

So when she took the stage in that neon-flash body suit surrounded by her dancers, holding a microphone… with no band, I couldn’t help but be disappointed. “Is she just going to sing along to pre-recorded tracks all night? What a drag.” She had energy and drive and proselytized between songs like the finest down-home preacher, but without a band backing her, it was just dance moves and karaoke.

Lizzo at the Maha Music Festival, Aug. 17, 2019.

It is here I should point out one very important fact: The crowd did not give two shits that Lizzo didn’t have a band. They loved every second of it, all 10,000 of them (or whatever the true number was). They were there to party to Lizzo songs, with or without a band.

I made it through three numbers, then split. But to be truthful, I never hang around for the Maha Saturday night headliner’s full set. Not for Weezer, not for Death Cab, not for the Flaming Lips. And not for Lizzo.

Maybe I was disappointed because just a few hours earlier I’d witnessed an amazing full band performance, but before I get to that…. My one regret about this year’s Maha was missing Beach Bunny, an up-and-coming indie band of the K Records variety (not unlike Snail Mail) who played at 4 p.m. After my late night at O’Leaver’s, I couldn’t get motivated to get my ass there in time, especially with Matt Maeson and Duckwrth following them, neither of which are (as Dave Sink used to say) my cup of tea.

I didn’t get to Maha until 7:30, just before Oh Sees took “the little stage.” I’ve seen Thee Oh Sees (as they used to be known) a couple times in Austin at South by Southwest and have never been less than floored. Despite their constant touring, the band always has avoided Omaha for reasons only frontman John Dwyer knows. Now here they were, standing a couple feet in front of me as I balanced precariously on the edge of the sod bank leading up to the little stage.

In cutoff shorts and T-shirt, Dwyer looked like he just crawled out from beneath a hotrod after finishing an oil job, his Maha badge tucked halfway down his back pocket while he tuned his clear plexiglass-body steel-neck electric guitar. Off to the side, two drummers pounded on snares during the pre-set soundcheck. Around the check went, to the bass and keys and then Dwyer said “We’ll be back in 15,” but instead the emcee introduced the band and he said fuck it, let’s go.

The genre has been called psych rock or garage rock. I’ve even heard it described as noise rock. It’s actually a throwback brand of melodic punk born out of the West Coast and built on a subliminal layer of surf rock that recalls Dick Dale in his finest days. Dwyer’s guitar is the engine that roars alongside Tim Hellman’s throbbing, rolling bass. Behind him, Tomas Dolas’ organ and synths glowed angrily echoing Dwyer’s own mellotron/synth noises played with one hand while the other picked out solos along the neck of that steel-and-plastic monstrosity. All the while Paul Quattrone and Dan Rincon, the side-by-side drummers, kept the psychedelic locomotive chugging along.

The capper — Dwyer’s high falsetto vocals, an ironic counter to an unholy din.

It was loud. I stood right in front of those speakers, thankful for my earplugs, wondering how those kids right next to me could stand it. I can’t tell you the set list because I don’t know most of the song names. I recognized “C” off 2018’s Smote Reverser; “Toe Cutter Thumb Buster” off 2013’s Floating Coffin, and “The Dream” off 2011’s Carrion Crawler / The Dream. There were also a few long ones, real slow burners that went on and on.

A small “pit” — if you can call it that — formed off front of stage left, maybe 30 dudes bouncing into each other more out of brotherhood than violence, while a group of girls stood to my right doing a sort of snake dance.

It was a spectacular set, closed out with “three short ones” Dwyer said from stage. I think they probably went over their allotted time. They could have gone all night if it were up to me. I know the stage arrangements are what they are, but it seemed downright disrespectful that they’d been relegated to the small stage. On the other hand, I never would have been able to get as close as I did had they been on the main stage.

With the last notes Dwyer leaned into the microphone and said, “Thanks. Enjoy your headliners.” Take it for what it’s worth.

Matt and Kim at the Maha Music Festival, Aug. 17, 2019.

It didn’t take long between sets for Matt and Kim to do their thing on the big stage. It was essentially the same shtick they did at Maha in 2013. I described that show this way: “The keyboard-and-drums duo played cute, shiney indie pop dance tunes and spent most of the time between songs yelling profanities at the audience. Every other word out of drummer Kim Schifino began with an F or MF. I guess they needed something to ‘rough up’ their cutesy veneer and all those colored balloons just wasn’t cutting it.”

The only thing different this time was the gigantic beach balls and a unicorn balloon. M&K are basically stand-up comics that perform forgettable pop songs and covers and sampled hip-hop classics. I would say “harmless fun” except Schifino hurt herself during the set, bad enough (according to the Omaha World-Herald’s Kevin Coffey) that she ended up in the hospital. Here’s hoping for a quick recovery.

After that, it was Lizzo time for 10,000, minus one. If I had to rank my favorite acts for the entire weekend I’d put Oh Sees on top, followed closely by Courtney Barnett, but it’s Lizzo that people were talking about the next day.

For more perspective on Maha, you’ll have to wait until the column comes out in a couple weeks in The Reader (at which time this will all be a faded memory). But I will give you this brief taste of my thesis: Maha is going to have to make some tough choices for year 12. Here’s hoping they make the right ones.

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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 © 2019 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

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