by Tim McMahan, Lazy-i.com
The line-up for this year’s Maha Music Festival (for those of you who were out of town or away from their computers over the past 18 hours) was announced last night at O’Leaver’s. I told you there was going to be some surprises.
The headliner is Death Cab for Cutie. They’ve been touring through Omaha for more than a decade, since they were a little band on Barsuk Records playing to small crowds at Sokol Underground. Now they’re a festival act. One could argue they peaked with 2003’s Transatlanticism record. Their last album, 2011’s Codes and Keys, was nominated for a Grammy, but I’m only listening to it for the first time this morning (It’s pretty good, btw). Their last time through Omaha was in, what April 2009 for a gig at The Holland Center?
No, Death Cab would not have been my choice for a headliner. Their stand-and-play live shows are in direct contrast to last year’s Maha headliner in every way imaginable. Whereas Flaming Lips are known for their amazing stage shows (and last year’s was indeed spectacular), I’ve never cared for their music (Yes, that includes Yoshimi and Soft Bulletin, which I recently pulled out and still can’t get into). To me, Wayne Coyne has effectively compensated for boring music with eye-popping staging. On the other hand, Death Cab’s live performances can be mind-numbingly boring, but their music is sublime (to me anyway).
Summarized: I’d rather see a Lips show but listen to Death Cab music. Who knows, maybe Death Cab will come up with something interesting for Maha’s stage.
The Head and the Heart is a good genre match for Deathcab. The band sold out The Waiting Room back in October 2011. The review is here, wherein I described the performance this way: “The six-piece band was joined by a chorus of a few hundred who sang along to almost every song, sounding like a warm ocean lapping gently on the shores of the band’s acoustic folk. I haven’t heard so much singing since Dashboard Confessional circa 2003, only these songs weren’t cheesy heartbreak anthems sung by children. Instead the crowd was mostly in their mid-20s, with more women mixed in than I’m used to seeing at typical indie rock shows. Credit the nature of their music, which is more soothing than rousing, though it had its moments of exultation.”
H&tH’s latest record, 2013’s Let’s Be Still, is indeed quiet and…soothing.
Last time I saw Local Natives was at a sold out Waiting Room show in September 2010 (that review here). Like Head and the Heart, they’re a “vibe band” that plays vibe music rather than songs — perfect for a pretty summer night under the stars. Their latest, 2013’s Hummingbird, sounds a lot like the last Head and the Heart record.
Then comes what — for me — is Maha’s headliner. The Both.
The Both is Aimee Mann and Ted Leo. Mann is one of my all-time favorite artists. My love of her music began with the soundtrack to 1999’s Magnolia, a movie that had a profound effect on me as much for her music as the story on the screen. After seeing that film I ran out and bought the soundtrack (though 2000’s Bachelor No. 2 contains the best songs from that record), and Mann’s earlier albums, ’95’s I’m with Stupid and her debut, ’93’s Whatever.
It’s hard to separate Mann from the producer of those albums, the genius that is Jon Brion. She went on to release a number of consistently good records with a different producer, but only occasionally reached the heights of her earlier work (but they’re still worth seeking out).
Mann is a perfect match for Ted Leo (of Ted Leo and the Pharmacists), a performer I’ve wanted to see booked here for many years. Leo’s 2010 album The Brutalist Bricks (Matador) was one of my favorites from that year. Seems like the last time I saw Leo was back in November 2003 at Sokol Underground, though he’s been through Omaha since then (including (I think) in 2008 with Against Me?). Talk about your high-energy performers.
I haven’t heard anything from The Both except their Tiny Desktop concert. Their debut album came out Tuesday on Mann’s SuperEgo Records. Check out the first single, “Milwaukee” via this soundcloud link.
While the other three acts alone will make for a successful Maha this year, The Both is the act that will make it special, for me anyway.
The rest of the line up is a mixed bag of bands that includes a few I’d never heard of or listened to before, like indie hip-hop act Doomtree and St. Joe punk band Radkey. The Envy Corps has played in Omaha a number of times. Twinsmith is the latest signing by Saddle Creek Records and Matt Whipkey is a local legend. M34N STR33T is another up-and-coming hip-hop act that’s played around a lot, but who I haven’t caught on stage.
I’m told there could be more bands named to this year’s Maha Music Festival, but by itself this an impressive line-up. Tickets to the Aug. 16 show (once again at Stinson Park in Aksarben Village) are on sale now for $50. VIP tix are still available. More info at the Maha website.
Maha 2014 Lineup from Maha Music Festival on Vimeo.
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It was interesting watching the reaction to the Maha announcement on Social Media last night. For every three people on Facebook or Twitter that applauded the line-up, there was one that went out of his/her way to complain.
Not surprisingly, the people who bitch most about the Maha lineup have never been to a Maha Festival and will never go to a Maha Festival. Their idea of a perfect festival line-up either: 1) involves bands that no longer exist/have been dead and/or retired for decades; or 2) involves bands that would take Lollapalooza money ($500k+) to book, or 3) involves bands so small and obscure they wouldn’t sell out Slowdown Jr. let alone The Waiting Room, or 4) are “genre” bands that don’t fit into the Maha theme, such as Country acts, goth-metal-goon bands, or straight-up pop acts. These folks also seem to require that every band on the line-up be one of their favorites.
Maha’s focus has always been indie/CMJ-style rock, the kind of music Omaha and Nebraska used to be nationally known for. The people bitching the most about Maha are people who hate that kind of music. Why waste time/energy bitching when you knew this was the kind of line-up Maha has booked in the past and always will book? If you prefer goon rock, go to one of the many goon rock outdoor concert/festivals that 89.7 The River hosts every year. If you like black-leather garage rock, go to Gonerfest — the Mecca of garage rock festivals (It’s on my punch list). If you like C&W headliners, check out the CenturyLink or Pinnacle arena schedules. If you can’t get over the fact that “your music” from your era is “so much better than today’s music,” then save up your money and travel to wherever “your bands” are playing reunion shows.
One guy online, who recently moved to Los Angeles and now regularly bashes Omaha whenever he can, commented that he sees “better bands in LA on a given weeknight that you’re getting at Maha.” My response: I have no doubt that’s true. The mistake you made was not moving to LA years ago. While we’re sad that you moved away and miss you, it pains me more to know that you wasted so many years of your life in Omaha instead of being where you CLEARLY belong. And btw, we already knew you weren’t going to Maha to begin with.
I hate when people move away. But more than that, I hate hearing them continue to bitch about Omaha after they’ve left. We get it. You hate Omaha. That’s why you moved away. All you’re doing when you bitch about Nebraska from your new homes in Denver or Portland or Austin or NYC or California is making yourself look like an asshole.
Holy shit this is a long blog post. Let’s get to the weekend.
Tonight at The Waiting Room Satchel Grande is having a CD release show. I didn’t even know they were working on a new album. Opening is Buck Bowen (with Jazz Trio). $7, 9 p.m. This will be a big show.
Down at Slowdown Jr. Barsuk Records artist Say Hi headlines with Melbourne duo Big Scary. $12, 9 p.m.
Meanwhile, at fabulous O’Leaver’s, The Brigadiers headline with The Sons of O’Leaver’s and the return of New Lungs (DMax and Co., welcome back). $5, 9:30 p.m.
Tomorrow is, of course, Record Store Day. I covered it in detail Wednesday (here). The highlight will be the Almost Music Day Party, which starts at 11:30 and runs ’til 7:30. The line-up is here (and it says there will be food and drink). It’s free. Go. And don’t forget to go to Homer’s, Saddle Creek Shop and Drastic Plastic and buy plenty of vinyl.
Saturday night former Saddle Creek band Tokyo Police Club headlines at The Slowdown with Geographer and Said the Whale. $15, 9 p.m.
Finally, 2010 Maha Festival performer Ben Kweller headlines at The Waiting Room Saturday night with See Through Dresses. $15, 9 p.m.
Did I miss anything? Put it in the comments section. Have a great weekend.
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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 © 2014 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.