Singer/songwriter Matt Whipkey writes to say he redesigned mattwhipkey.com, and in honor of the new look he’s giving away all the music that he’s made prior to this year’s self-release, Underwater. That’s right eight Whipkey-related albums including Penny Park, Instant Heart, and all the Anonymous American, Whipkey Three and The Movies titles can be downloaded for free from his website through tomorrow, April 1. Get in on it while you can.
Tonight Athens GA indie band Triathalon is playing at fabulous O’Leaver’s. The band has a shimmery pop sound that’s kinda cool (check it below). They’re actually opening for the Coaxed. Eric in Outspace also is on the bill. $5, 9:30 p.m.
It was noted by a fellow audience member at The Waiting Room Friday night that Little Brazil might be the band I’ve seen play live more than any other band. They’ve been doing it since the early ’00s, and over the years their line-up has subtly changed, specifically on drums and guitar (Frontman Landon Hedges and bass player Danny Maxwell always have been the centerpiece). This current line-up, with Matt Bowen on drums and Mike Friedman on lead guitar, is the heaviest, the loudest, thanks in a big part to Bowen’s muscular, heavy-sticked drumming (Maybe we should start calling him Matt Bonham?).
Little Brazil at The Waiting Room, March 27, 2015.
I recorded the first half of their set for the upcoming podcast, and realized afterward that I recorded the wrong half. In addition to having a better mix later in the set, I missed a couple new standout songs presumably from an upcoming album. One featured a swirling two-guitar interlude that was pure Thin Lizzy, the other (the closing number) was an epic masterwork. Little Brazil is back and better than ever.
Juan Wauters at the Saddle Creek Record Shop, March 27, 2015.
Saturday night started early with the Juan Wauters in-store at the Saddle Creek Record Shop in the Slowdown complex. The little store was mostly filled as Wauters took the stage behind an electric keyboard and performed a handful of sweet, loopy pop songs that were light-hearted and playful. He switched over to guitar for the last few numbers (again, I recorded the wrong half of the set). Curious to hear how Wauters did opening for Tweedy last night.
So-So Sailors’ Chris Machmuller at 1200 Club March 28, 2015.
Afterward, it was over to the 1200 Club at the Holland Performing Arts Center for the Matthew Sweet Hear Nebraska Benefit. There was some concern going in that ticket sales were light, but the club-inside-a-music-hall was well-populated. Most of the tables were filled when So-So Sailors came on at 8 p.m. for an insanely good set of witty, intelligent, urbane songs about love and life from the heart of Nebraska . Frontman Chris Machmuller is the city’s best frontman, keeping the audience mesmerized both while he sang in front of his rather large band and with his between-song patter (He’s a regular comedian, that guy).
We can speculate why the Sailors have been inactive the past few years. Life can get in the way of music, and everyone in that band is busy with jobs and family. Still, for purely selfish reasons, I covet a copy of the recording that Mach said (from stage) is basically in the can, and has been for a couple years. Maybe they’re thinking “What’s the point?” — there’s no money in releasing music anymore. Maybe they think they’ve moved past that sort of thing. Let’s hope not.
Matthew Sweet center stage at the 1200 Club March 28, 2015.
Finally, Matthew Sweet and his band (consisting of Paul Chastain and Ric Menck of Velvet Crush, and guitar-slinger Dennis Taylor) took the stage and ripped through a set very similar to what we got when they played O’Leaver’s and Vega last year. Chock full o’ the “hits.”
From my vantage point in the very center of the room the sound mix was, well, pretty bad. The bass drum was over driven, swallowing up Chastain’s bass rig — couldn’t hear a note he was playing. Sweet’s voice, however, managed to cut through the thump, as did the lead guitar’s high-flying solos. Someone afterward told me “the 1200 Club isn’t suited for this kind of heavy music,” which is like saying that any room with good acoustics shouldn’t host rock shows. Balderdash. All they needed to do was pull back on the kick drum.
Fact is 1200 Club is a pretty luscious space. Whether it’s better suited for quieter bands like So-So Sailors (which sounded exquisite) I cannot say, though I’d love to see more indie rock shows in that space, and would be willing to fork out top dollar to do so. Great room, great service, great night of music.
Look for music clips from the above performances in this week’s podcast, which will likely hit the web on Wednesday.
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Tonight at The Reverb Lounge its the return of Delicate Steve (Luaka Bop, Barsuk). $10, 9 p.m. No opener listed.
Who needs to go to SXSW when Omaha has the line-up of shows it has this weekend? Suck it, Austin.
It all starts tonight with a rock ‘n’ roll nuclear war at the 1 Percent Complex (i.e., the buildings that house The Waiting Room and Reverb Lounge). Little Brazil headlines at The Waiting Room. Expect new material along with old favorites. LB is one of Omaha’s most overlooked bands. If you haven’t experienced their onslaught, do it tonight. Opening is Lightning Bug and Low Long Signal. $7, 9 p.m.
Meanwhile, Omaha’s grisliest, grungiest stoner-rock band Nightbird will be trying to fry Reverb’s delicate sound system. They’ll get some help with opener Pro-Magnum. This is destined to be loud as f***, so bring your earmuffs. $7, 9 p.m.
One Percent should offer a single $12 ticket that gets you into both shows, and then open up their secret back passage that connects both rooms. Come on, guys!
Saturday night it’s all about Matthew Sweet, who’s playing a special rock show down at the 1200 Club in the Holland Performing Arts Center. Opening is So-So Sailors, who haven’t played anywhere in ages (and it’s about time). Your $45 ticket benefits Hear Nebraska – that alone should be enough to get you down there. If you really love Matthew Sweet, get a VIP ticket for $100, which lets you hang out with the ’90s indie rock idol. Show starts at 8. Get your tickets here. See you there.
Before Sweet Saturday night check out a special in-store performance by Juan Wauters at the Saddle Creek Record Shop. Wauters, who is opening for Tweedy on Sunday, used to be in a pretty awesome indie band called The Beets. The in-store begins at 6 p.m. and is absolutely free.
Finally Sunday is that aforementioned Tweedy concert at Sokol Auditorium. Tweedy is, of course, Jeff Tweedy of Wilco and his son Spencer on drums. It’s the closest thing you’re going to get to a Wilco concert in Omaha this year. Opening is Juan Wauters. $28, 8 p.m.
The weather was still pretty awesome on Day 2 of SXSW (last Thursday), so why not take a walk to the Saddle Creek / Nicodemus Showcase at Stay Gold? I mean, hey, it’s just on the other side of the freeway in east Austin, right?
Well, two miles by foot later we finally came upon Stay Gold, a new venue with a great outdoor beer garden and a sweet indoor stage where Josh Berwanger Band already was playing (Alas, we were too late for Twinsmith and Orenda Fink).
Berwanger, a former member of Lawrence band The Anniversary, is repped by Nicodemus Agency. No idea what label he’s on, but the band was pretty good in a straight-forward indie rock sort of way. Very clean, very tight and a good preview to PUJOL, who took the stage next.
I’ve never seen Daniel Pujol and his band play live. I think they’ve only played in Omaha once, despite being signed to Saddle Creek Records. I’ve had discussions with local garage-rock aficionados who say Pujol (who apparently counts Jack White among his fans) was Creek’s stab at releasing a garage rock band. I don’t believe that was their motivation at all. Pujol’s sound is too controlled, to pro to be mistaken for garage, reminding me more of Marshall Crenshaw or Graham Parker but with a bit more dirt behind the ears. My quibble: Too many of his songs sound the same, but you could make that same argument about Crenshaw and Parker’s music…
Laura Burhenn of the Mynabirds followed with a solo keyboard set that included a number of old favorites and a few from her upcoming Saddle Creek album, Lovers Know, played in a down-key style that accentuated her rather luscious voice. How will the new material sound with a full band?
Last up at Stay Gold (for me, anyway) was Icky Blossoms playing in front of a max crowd of maybe 50 people – no doubt a sharp contrast to their sold-out send-off show a few weeks earlier at Slowdown Jr. The band kicked right into some tunes off their last album before rolling out a couple new ones from Mask, including “In Folds,” which translated just OK in the live setting.
They could have beefed up the energy level, but what do you expect playing to a half-empty club on a Thursday afternoon? Icky is playing as a five-piece — didn’t recognize the drummer or bass player, but it was indeed a good rhythm section. This was easily the best vocal outing for Sarah Bohling, who continues to grow into her frontwoman role alongside Derek Pressnall, the consummate professional, while Nik Fackler is the band’s wild-card wild man.
They need to get more new songs polished and stage-ready before hitting the road. As much as I like the Creek debut, I’m crazy curious about this new record. Maybe we’ll hear more new stuff when Icky Blossoms returns to Slowdown (in the big room this time) April 14 with Reptar.
It was back to the Courtyard for evening festivities, specifically the controversially named Viet Cong. The place was even more packed than the night before — I could barely move. On stage Viet Cong’s drummer was playing hurt with a cast on his left hand. Somehow he managed to soldier through the set Rick Allen-style. The band’s sound is abrasively indie with some prog flourishes here and there. I’m not sure why they’re so hot these days, unless it’s all about the name.
Afterward I high-tailed back to Red River and the 720 Club, a tiny bar with a small indoor stage area all but vacant on this Thursday night. Under the lights warming up, Krill, a band that colleague Chris Aponick has suggested I check out. The Chicago trio also has caught the attention of such taste makers as Stereogum and Pitchfork, though you wouldn’t know it by the eight people standing in the club. I guess it was everyone else’s loss, as Krill brought their A-game to a post-punk set that recalled Protomartyr but with (much) better vocals. These are the kinds of sets I go to SXSW for — intimate, special, the feeling that you’re seeing something you’ll never see in Omaha.
Finally it was time to pluck one of the artists off my must-see list — Natalie Prass. I’ve been enjoying her debut self-titled album (on Spacebomb) for a few months — rich singer/songwriter stuff, like Jenny Lewis singing Joni Mitchell. The venue listed was Maggie Mae’s. I figured she’d probably be playing at the venue’s rather large rooftop stage.
My SXSW badge got me past the line and right up the stairs, but I didn’t recognize the band performing. Did I get the date wrong? I asked the door person, who had no idea who was playing that night. There actually are three performance spaces in Maggie Mae’s — the rooftop, the Gibson Room and the standard downstairs stage. Turned out Prass was slated downstairs.
Once again, there was no problem getting in and plenty of space right up next to the stage. By the time her set began, the floor was filled, but not uncomfortably so. There was Prass seated behind a piano, her face hidden behind her dark brown curls. Backed by a solid band, Prass performed a half-hour of the best songs from her album. It was the closest thing to a “perfect moment” I experienced at SXSW this year. Check out part of the performance (along with snippets from everyone else mentioned above) in the podcast below.
Vega just announced this morning that Prass will be playing there July 22. I might have to make a pilgrimage to Lincoln….
The final chapter of my SXSW 2015 journey tomorrow…
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Tonight, alt-rock band Born Cages (Razor & Tie) plays at Slowdown Jr.. The band apparently opened for Guns & Roses a couple times, though they sound more like an indie version of Simple Minds. Opening for them tonight is fellow New York band Dreamers and Omaha favorite The Kickback (from Chicago) and Low Long Signal. $10, 8 p.m.
For those tired of the South By Southwest coverage, bear with me for the next few days as I get through these notes and reviews of each day’s activity. I’m putting them down for posterity and for the record. Writing this is kind of like living the trip all over again, for me anyway.
The first thing one does at SXSW after getting his credentials in order is hit the streets. I arrived late Wednesday afternoon and was on Red River (which abuts 6th Street on the east side) by 5 p.m., which meant an entire evening of music lie ahead. There’s a sense of disorientation when you first arrive — the air is different, it’s humid, it’s warm. That hoodie you brought is no longer needed. Hipsters zing by on bicycles, hucksters are on every corner selling their wares, and everywhere you go there is the deep, pungent stench of weed in the air. Despite the presence of cops, people light up blunts and pass them around in public as if we were in Colorado with no fear of Johnny Law. Too bad I don’t partake in the demon weed as it no doubt changes the complexion of SXSW for those who do.
Anyway, by the time we got to 6th Street we could already hear White Mystery playing on the Beerland patio to a small crowd that tumbled off the sidewalk and into the street. Beerland is an unofficial SXSW venue that hosts its own free day-shows. It is ground zero for garage and punk bands no matter the time of year, and a good place to hang when you’ve grown tired of SXSW’s unending commercialism.
Despite the small PA on the patio, White Mystery sounded as good as when I saw them a few weeks ago at Reverb. The band is a brother-and-sister guitar-and-drum duo that plays gritty, bluesy garage rock reminiscent of another famous guitar-and-drum duo that had “white” in its name.
Next it was off to a warehouse that had been converted into a venue called Iron Castle. There are lots of these conversions along 6th Street during SXSW. Anyplace can become a music venue if you add lights and sound. Only one performer was being featured that night — Twin Shadow. Their staging involved large see-through nylon curtains draped around the triangular stage platform that had images projected onto them. You could sort of see the band’s equipment behind the scrims. I figured someone would pull back the curtain once Twin Shadow took the stage. Nope. The band played behind the opaque mosquito netting — an effect that was more frustrating than innovative.
Twin Shadow plays a bouncy ’80s style of synthpop rife with infectious hooks. This set was no different, though the new music from upcoming release Eclipse wasn’t much of a departure from 2012’s Confess.
Let me note here that SXSW’s history of rigidly following set schedules was nowhere to be seen at this year’s event. Twin Shadow came on 40 minutes late — that meant having to endure 40 minutes of grating house music while I waited.
Onward. Cedar Street Courtyard is located a few blocks off 6th Street in a space between two grand buildings, sort of like the Passageway Gallery in the Old Market. I went to see Speedy Ortiz but (surprise) everything was running off schedule. Instead, I saw a set by Dutch singer-songwriter Dotan and his band. Their sound is mainstream ethnic, the kind of music that would be right at home as the soundtrack for an insurance commercial. Very pretty, very well done. Very safe.
Dotan was a strange opener for Speedy Ortiz (who, in turn, was a strange opener for Spoon, who was scheduled to follow them). The Massachusetts band has played a couple times in Omaha, including at West Wing (and I think Sweatshop Gallery), and I’ve managed to miss them every time. Fronted by Sadie Dupuis, the band plays down-key indie rock reminiscent of Eleanor Freidberger. Great stuff and the best set of the night for me. Spoon was originally scheduled to go on at around 1 but it would be well past that before they got the bands switched out and the sound check out of the way. The courtyard already was well past capacity. There’s nothing quite like standing sandwiched between an enormous crowd and a brick wall unable to move. Spoon would have to wait.
Listen to highlights of Day 1 at SXSW 2015:
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Tomorrow: Day 2, which includes the Saddle Creek SXSW showcase. Two acts that played that showcase are playing tonight at O’Leaver’s — Orenda Fink and Laura Burhenn of The Mynabirds. It’ll be just like being in Austin all over again. Opening is the amazing Miniature Horse. $5, 9 p.m.
This will go down as the least impressive, least satisfying year I’ve attended South By Southwest. Sure there were a lot of bands, but not nearly as many as year’s past and even fewer legends. Still, I had fun and didn’t get beat up, and that’s always a good thing.
This year I tried to podcast from Austin. The results are below. I’ll probably never try it again, based solely on the number of hits each stream has gotten. That said, there’s probably no where else online that has snippets of this many performances. Each podcast is only about 10 minutes long and includes bits from every band I saw. Check them out:
Day 1: Performances by White Mystery, Twin Shadow, Dotan and Speedy Ortiz.
Day 2: Performances by PUJOL, Laura Burhenn (Mynabirds), Icky Blossoms, Viet Cong, Krill and Natalie Prass.
Day 3: Performances by Courtney Barnett, Best Coast, LITE, Drivin’ and Cryin’, The Pop Group and Will Butler.
And here are the photos. If you follow me in Instagram or on social media you’ve seen most of these, but here they are again, in living color.
White Mystery at Beerland Patio, March 18, 2015.
Twin Shadow at Iron Castle, March 18, 2015.
Dotan at Cedar Street Courtyard, March 18, 2015.
Speedy Ortiz at Cedar Street Courtyard, March 18, 2015.
Josh Berwenger Band at Stay Gold, March 19, 2015.
PUJOL at Stay Gold March 19, 2015.
Laura Burhenn (Mynabirds) at Stay Gold, March 19, 2015.
Icky Blossoms at Stay Gold, March 19, 2015.
Viet Cong at Cedar Street Courtyard, March 19, 2015.
Krill at the 720 Club, March 19, 2015.
Natalie Prass at Maggie Mae’s, March 19, 2015.
Best Coast at the SXSW Convention Center, March 20, 2015.
Courtney Barnett at the SXSW Convention Center, March 20, 2015.
LITE at The Ginger Man, March 20, 2015.
Drivin’ and Cryin’ at The Ginger Man, March 20, 2015.
The Residents at The Paramount Theater, March 20, 2015.
The Church at Buffalo Billiards, March 20, 2015.
The Pop Group at Maggie Mae’s Rooftop, March 20, 2015.
Will Butler at Maggie Mae’s Rooftop, March 20, 2015.
There may or may not be a formal review of each gig to come. Check back tomorrow. There will be a column in the April issue of The Reader about SXSW. Watch for it.
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Tonight at the Sweatshop Gallery Darren Keen headlines with Calm Fur and Just Jace. $5, 9 p.m. Say goodbye to Darren before he flies back to Gotham City…
The social media channels are blossoming with comments about St. Patrick’s Day — from those who have adorned their Facebook and Twitter pages with shamrocks, shillelaghs and Guinness logos, to those who feel the need to vent their burning hatred for the holiday (I feel the same way as the haters about the bastardization of Halloween).
That said, I am a lover of the green, and will be taking my place at some point down at The Dubliner this afternoon, where Dicey Riley (ex-The Turfmen, including the lawyerly sot known as Tom Riley) will be performing from 2 to 6 p.m. and 7 to 11 p.m. For me, there is no other place to celebrate this annual holiday. $5 cover.
But I’ll be done early because I have to pack for Austin. Wheels up tomorrow morning, and the weatherman is telling me to bring a raincoat. I’ve been to South By Southwest on years when it’s rained and, yes, it is a drag, but at least this year it’s supposed to be a warm rain. Expect first reports on Thursday (podcasts?). And it’s a short trip — flying out Saturday morning. One can only take so much SXSW madness…
What a weekend for sold out shows. Friday afternoon Icky Blossoms sold out its Slowdown Jr. gig — no surprise there. Then on Saturday afternoon, Criteria’s Reverb show that evening sold out. Again, not a surprise when you consider the capacity of the Reverb’s small performance space.
I ended up at Reverb Friday night for Digital Leather and White Mystery. First up was Jason Meyer’s latest creation, Calm Fur. First time I saw them a few months ago at Barley Street it was a gritty, noise-rock set — quite a contrast to Friday night’s set, which sounded more streamlined and pop-oriented. The band has tightened up everything, and the result is sublime. Meyer recently posted on Facebook that he’s no longer involved in his other project, Feel tight. Does that mean he’s dedicated his services to Fur?
There was a song about halfway through Digital Leather’s set that was a departure from their usual synth punk debauchery. The tune was, dare I say it, downright groovy, with a huge central hook. I tracked down one of the band members afterward, who told me the song was called “Gary…” off the band’s next album (I didn’t know they were working on a new record, but is DL frontman Shawn Foree ever not working on new music?).
White Mystery at Reverb Lounge, March 13, 2015.
DL rolled out a brand new song to start their set, something they said they wrote that afternoon — it was typical of their usual rough-hewn garage rock, bracing and hard. The rest of the set was selections from the last few records and were played with the usual DL panache. Keyboardist Todd Fink, who everyone thought would be a temporary piece of the DL puzzle, now fits in like just another one of the boys, adding backing vocals on a few songs. Is DL Fink’s main focus with The Faint apparently in limbo?
The set ended in classic fashion with a brutal version of “Studs in Love,” played by request from one of the band’s biggest fans (and it wasn’t me). Foree’s said before that he doesn’t like playing the song anymore. He was doing it for the fan. “Studs in Love” has become a staple of Digital Leather’s live set; I’ve heard at least three different arrangements of the song over the past couple years. Each time it gets a little more powerful.
White Mystery closed out the night. The brother-and-sister guitar-and-drum duo of Alex and Francis White roared through a set of monolithic garage-rockers. Who needs a bass player, anyway?
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Of Montreal at The Waiting Room, Nov. 2, 2013.
Tonight at The Waiting Room it’s the return of Of Montreal with opening band Deerhoof. From the review of the Nov. 3, 2013, Of Montreal show at The Slowdown:
Theatrics did abound. Three “extras” made stage appearances in a variety of costumes, most resembling blobs or giant wadded up pieces of paper. When they weren’t stumbling around in bulky costumes, the extras slipped into place in white body stockings, unfolding umbrellas that reflected targeted projected graphics (see the eye-popping skull above).
We’ve got an intense list of shows happening this weekend.
It starts tonight with a death match between Icky Blossoms and White Mystery.
Icky Blossoms hosts their South By Southwest send-off show tonight at Slowdown Jr. Why is it happening in the smaller front room? The band wants to play in front of a hot, sticky crowd, which is exactly what they’ll get. I wouldn’t be surprised if this one sells out. Tonight’s show will feature at least five songs off the Ickys’ upcoming sophomore Saddle Creek release, Mask. Opening is Telepathy Problems and Rogue Moon. 9 p.m. $8.
Meanwhile across town at the Reverb Lounge in Benson it’s the Chicago drum-and-guitar duo of White Mystery. Opening the show, the always amazing Digital Leather and Jason Meyer’s grindingly dirty new project Calm Fur. $10, 9 p.m.
Also tonight, Blue Bird plays at fabulous O’Leaver’s with Lars and Mal. $5, 9:30 p.m.
And it’s a homecoming for Nebraska’s wayward son Darren Keen, who returns to House of Loom tonight with Kethro. $5, 9 p.m.
Saturday night it’s back to Reverb Lounge for Criteria. Will their enormous sound blow up Reverb’s tiny music room? Opening is The Brigadiers. $10, 9 p.m.
Also Saturday night Bloodcow and Bullet Proof Hearts open for The Killigans at The Slowdown. $7, 9 p.m.
Meanwhile over at O’Leaver’s Saturday night it’s Saturn Moth, Westerners with Fake Plants. $5, 9:30 p.m.
One more Saturday show that may be under your radar — Eric in Outerspace and Staffers play at Almost Music in Benson at 8 p.m. It’s a duel-cassette release show! Opening is Nathaniel Hoier. $5, and it’s BYOB.
Finally, Sunday night Philly psyche band Ecstatic Vision headlines at O’Leaver’s with Wet Radio and stoner-rock champions Nightbird. $5, 9:30 p.m.
That’s all I got. If I missed your show, put it in the comments section.
And if you haven’t already, check out this week’s Lazy-i Podcast which includes an exclusive interview with Icky Blossoms where the band talks about why they’re headed back to South By Southwest next week, and what they love and don’t love about the chaotic music festival. Plus Carsinogents, Universe Contest, Bloodcow and more.
That Q&A I did with Matthew Sweet for The Reader went online this morning. Sweet talks about moving back to Nebraska, why he did a Kickstarter campaign for his upcoming album, playing at O’Leaver’s and the legacy that is Girlfriend. You can read the Q&A online right here.
Sweet is playing at the 1200 Club in the Holland Performing Arts Center March 28. It’s a cool place to see a show. Even has a bar, with drinks and everything, nice tables. Definitely a good evening out. Tickets are $45 (all general admission, just grab a table) and $100 for VIP that let’s you meet Sweet and give him a big ol’ bear hug and get a selfie with him. Get tix here.
Proceeds from the Sweet concert go to Hear Nebraska, so you’re getting a great night out while helping out a worthy cause. DO IT.
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Tonight at Slowdown Jr. it’s Lincoln band Oketo. The band is closing out a spring midwest tour, so they should be honed and ready to rock. Opening the show is Chicago band The Boxers and CB’s Pancho & The Contraband. $6, 9 p.m.