Rusty Lord (Dave Goldberg, et al.) debut, Miwi on a boat tonight; Adult Mom, vinyl swap Saturday…

Category: Blog,Reviews — Tags: , , , — @ 1:08 pm June 23, 2017

Adult Mom plays Saturday night at Milk Run. Photo by Richard Gin.

by Tim McMahan, Lazy-i.com

On to the hotness that is this weekend…

Tonight, another mega debut, this time at fabulous O’Leaver’s. Omaha welcomes Rusty Lord. No, not the bald, nebbish WOWT meteorologist, the new rock project featuring Austin Ulmer (Dumb Beach) on guitar and vocals, Ben VanHoolandt (Digital Leather) on synth/guitar, Johnny Vredenburg (Digital Leather, Pro-Magnum) on bass/synth/vocals, and the legendary Dave Goldberg behind a FULL drum kit.

Says Vredenburg, “It’s somewhat what you’d imagine it to be. loud, abrasive dissonance with maniacal drumming driving it, yet a different sound from any of our previous bands.” I asked him to pin down a genre, and he said “probably psych/synth-punk.”

This is a four-band show, kicked off by Alcools, then Rusty Lord, followed by Effluvium and headlined by Satanic Abortion. $5, 10 p.m.

Also tonight, it’s another River City Star rock ‘n’ roll cruise down the Missouri River, this time featuring Miwi La Lupa, with AllSortsOfGood and the turntable stylings of DJ Tyrone Storm. The details:

Gates – 7 p.m.
Boat Access – 8 p.m.
Set Sail – 9 p.m. (they leave with or without you, folks)
Dock – Midnight

Cost is $20 for General Admission-only ticket, or $35 for General Admission + Miwi La Lupa’s Beginners Guide on vinyl!

And then Saturday night…

Through some happy accident a few years ago a link to Adult Mom’s Bandcamp page made it into my email, wherein I purchased a cassette copy of her 2014 release Sometimes Bad Happens, a great debut. That release must have caught the attention of Tiny Engines (the label that releases See Through Dresses’ albums), who put out Adult Mom’s 2015 full-length debut Momentary Lapse of Happily.

Now along comes Soft Spots (2017, Tiny Engines), which is her best release yet. “Her” is Adult Mom frontwoman/songwriter Stephanie Knipe, who is described by her label as “a gender-weird queer navigating through heartache, trauma and subsequent growth” and who gives the record an RIYL of The Weakerthans, The Cranberries, Girlpool, Liz Phair and Diet Cig.

In fact, Adult Mom emerged from the crowded forest of indie bands at about the same time as Diet Cig. I thought AM would be the one to break through, but it’s been Diet Cig that’s gotten all the attention, unfortunately. As a result, Diet Cig has had sweet opening tour slots and played Maha and Slowdown, while Adult Mom is relegated to playing tiny venues like Saturday night’s show at Milk Run.

Soft Spots is a gorgeous collection of bitter-sweet relationship songs that sonically remind me of K Records bands like The Softies while lyrically her music has a similar honesty heard on Elliott Smith albums. Knipe has a one-of-a-kind voice that emotes a sort of confident loneliness that fuels rocking tracks like “Steal the Lake from the Water” and “Drive Me Home.” The record is definitely worth checking out.

And so is the show — Saturday night at Milk Run. Opening for Adult Mom is Philly band Free Cake for Every Creature and our own The Morbs. $8, 9 p.m. Remember, Milk Run is now at Midtown Art Supply. Enter through the alley.

One more thing to mention this weekend… Brothers Lounge is hosting another Omaha Record Swap from 4 to 7 p.m. Almost Music, Homer’s, Vinyl Therapy and D-Tour are among those who will have stock on hand. It’s free and the drinks are extra tasty at Brothers.

And that’s all I got. If I missed your show, put it in the comments section. Have a great weekend.

* * *

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 © 2017 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

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Review: The Knast – Reckless Soul; Thick Paint, Media Jeweler, Sam Martin tonight…

Category: Blog — Tags: , , — @ 1:01 pm June 22, 2017

by Tim McMahan, Lazy-i.com

Listening to…

The Knast, Reckless Soul (2017)

The Knast, Reckless Soul (2017, self-release) — Seattle pseudo garage-rock band… and I say “pseudo” because their sound is too smoothed over and mainstream to be confused with, say, a Burger Records act. Call their sound “professional” as in well-played, clean, pop rock that’s easy on the ears and easy to forget. Standout track: “Side Effects.” Rating: No.

* * *

I’ve listened to a few Media Jeweler tracks (from $99 R/T Hawaii); it took awhile to find one with vocals. So, a lot of instrumentals, angular/progressive, almost mathy, at times exhausting, intricate, by way of Santa Ana, CA. Omaha’s own Thick Paint headlines tonight. Sam Martin opens. And… it’s at fabulous O’Leaver’s. $5, 9 p.m.

* * *

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 © 2017 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

 

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New Simon Joyner on the way…; Tuesday morning music ramblings (whatever happened to Superstar?)…

Category: Blog — Tags: , , , — @ 12:48 pm June 20, 2017

What I presume is the soothing artwork for Simon Joyner’s new double LP Step Into the Earthquake, available late October from Grapefruit Records.

by Tim McMahan, Lazy-i.com

Simon Joyner announced last week that his label, Grapefruit, is taking pre-orders on his new double-album, Step Into The Earthquake. The record feature’s Simon’s deft band, the Ghosts (which includes David Nance and Noah Sterba) and longtime-collaborator Michael Krassner. The original message said the album is slated for release Oct. 20, though the website is saying “late October.”

There are two versions available for pre-order. The $70 Deluxe Edition of Step Into The Earthquake is limited to 50 copies, and will contain:
-The gatefold double-album wrapped in a screenprinted and die-cut paper outer-sleeve,
-A limited edition signed and numbered broadside of the song “I’m Feeling It Today” suitable for framing, designed and printed by Sara Adkisson Joyner,
-A bonus vinyl LP (signed, numbered, and limited to 60 pressed) of The Phoenix Demos, which features piano and guitar duo versions of songs from Step Into The Earthquake recorded with Michael Krassner at his home in Phoenix in preparation for the album

Or you can order a regular copy of the double-LP for $24.

I think I’m getting the expensive one because, well, WTF? It’s Simon Joyner!

* * *

Last night I was going through my iTunes, trying to tighten up my list of songs I listen to on my morning jogs. Too often I listen to this playlist and something drops in I don’t recognize. And if I’m on a treadmill, I can’t go over to the hi-fi and change it, and then I’m stuck with this droning piece of drone that goes on and on…

Anyway. I’m going through my massive list of albums in iTunes and come across a band called Superstar. Their debut album came out in 1994, and I fell upon a copy of the CD when it was included in one of the monthly care packages from The Note, a magazine I wrote for way back when as an Omaha correspondent.

Superstar, self-titled (1994, SBK)

It’s one of those records that is virtually unknown ’round these parts, and probably anywhere. despite being released by SBK Records, whose claims to fame included Jesus Jones and Vanilla Ice. This record, Superstar, sounded like a tuneful, melodic version of Teenage Fanclub, which probably was what I wrote in my review for The Note. Despite being from Glasgow, Superstar had a distinctive So Cal sunset sound, very layered, very dense, with huge melodies and harmonies that I figured would put them in the same sentence as Fanclub, but never did…

I wondered whatever happened to the band. And the internet being what it is, it didn’t take long to find out. I found the ’94 album on Discogs, where (no surprise) it’s virtually worthless. But through Discogs I discovered Superstar actually recorded two more albums, neither of which I’d known about. It was on one of those Discogs pages that the band’s personnel was listed

From there, it was a simple bit of Googling before I discovered an article in The Guardian from Sept. 1, 2015, about Joe McAlinden. “His band Superstar never quite lived up to their name, despite being covered by Rod Stewart. Now, 30 years later, he returns as Linden, and he’s lost none of his melodic gift.”

From there, onto Spotfy where I found Linden’s 2015 album Rest and Be Thankful, released on Oakland label Slumberland Records. And that’s what I listened to this morning as I jogged through Elmwood Park.

OK, not much of a story, though if you’re into early Teenage Fanclub or ’90s Glasgow pop rock you can’t go wrong with Linden.

* * *

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 © 2017 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

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Satchel Grande, The Hollands, Low Long Signal, Scott Severin tonight; The Joy Formidable, Radkey Saturday…

Category: Blog — Tags: , , , — @ 12:52 pm June 16, 2017

Satchel Grande at River’s Edge Park, May 27, 2013. The band plays at The Slowdown tonight.

by Tim McMahan, Lazy-i.com

Judging by the white tents that have risen from the concrete in the NoDo area around the ball park, it’s College World Series time again.

While I applaud the City of Omaha for continuing this fine collegiate tradition, I personally could not give two f—s about the CWS. But The Slowdown does, and who can blame them? Their complex, prime real estate just west of the stadium, hosts a large outdoor beer garden with a stage. Ah, but their live music almost always features cover bands. Because the folks who come to see the CWS care about as much about indie rock as I do about college baseball.

That said, tonight original music band Satchel Grande is playing on Slowdown’s outdoor stage starting at 9 p.m. If you can find a place to park — and you’re not afraid of the impending thunderstorms — the free concert could be crazy and weird. And Satchel Grande always is worth catching.

What else is happening tonight and this weekend?

There’s an interesting show at The Milk Run headlined by The Hollands. According to their Facebook page they’re “a 21st century nomadic family based in the US via Australia and frolic in the Americana, folk revival scene.” They count among their influences The Pogues, Carter Family and Woven Hand. Also on the bill: Madison Growler, Not Ben Shin, and Druce Campbell. $5, 9 p.m.

Fabulous O’Leaver’s is hosting Low Long Signal, Armful of Tiger Lilies, Barrows and Towering Rogue. $5, 9:30 p.m.

Lincoln singer/songwriter and former NYC scenester Scott Severin headlines at Barley Street Tavern tonight. Joining him are Deven Cadwell and Brikwondo. $5, 9 p.m.

Tomorrow night’s marquee event is The Joy Formidable at The Waiting Room. You remember them from Maha2016. Radkey, another Maha refugee, opens. $18, 9 p.m.

Believe it or not, that’s all I got for this weekend. If I missed your show, put it in the comments section. Have a good one…

* * *

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 © 2017 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved

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‘Pledge’ of Allegiance to Matt Whipkey…

Category: Blog — Tags: , — @ 12:49 pm June 14, 2017

Cover art of Matt Whipkey’s new album, Best New Music. He launched a Pledge Music drive this morning for the album.

by Tim McMahan, Lazy-i.com

This past February I mentioned a new-ish Kickstarter-type site called Pledge Music. Pledge is truly music-focused (unlike Kickstarter which is wide open to any offer), and is more of a pre-sale website with some monster users, including Willie Nelson, Weird Al and Nelly Furtado.

Well, the first local Pledge campaign (that I’m aware of) went live this morning. It’s for Matt Whipkey’s two new LPs, Best New Music and Driver. People can pre-order both albums from Whipkey’s PledgeMusic site as well as purchase other premiums, such as a private live band performance ($3,000), online music lessons ($125), even a Whipkey-exclusive Uber ride anywhere in Omaha ($125).

“I have been beyond impressed with Pledge Music’s support for artists, it has been awesome working with them,” Whipkey said. “Their client list speaks for itself, Fleetwood Mac, Hold Steady, Deer Tick, etc., so many great artists. To me, it feels like it is more about the music itself rather than the ‘@e are running out time; give us all your money’ aspect. Although, don’t get me wrong, it is about that as well 🙂 Please, we need your dough, you have no idea how expensive this shit is lol.”

Some people frown upon Kickstarter and these types of websites. I think they’re a necessary evil and a reflection of a modern music industry that is less willing to take chances on new artists. How else is an unsigned band going to release new vinyl without taking a huge financial risk?

Whipkey is hosting a listening party tomorrow night at Hi-Fi House, where you can get a sneak preview of Best New Music and Driver. And score free booze. 7 to 10 p.m. You an also check out some tracks from BNM below:

* * *

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 © 2017 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

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Live Review: Jake Bellows, Sun-Less Trio; Hussies, Cat Tatt, Drive By Truckers tonight…

Category: Blog,Reviews — Tags: , , , — @ 1:16 pm June 13, 2017

Jake Bellows at The Sydney, June 9, 2017.

by Tim McMahan, Lazy-i.com

I’m still catching up on last weekend, specifically last Friday night when Jake Bellows played at The Sydney. I point to the crowd and the overall vibe of the room for what ended up being one of the best Bellows sets I’ve ever witnessed. Jake solo with electric guitar played a selection from his rather extensive oeuvre with the crowd pushed right up to the Sydney’s stage/platform. You can hear a bit of the set in the Facebook Live recording below (I always feel like a dork when I’m shooting these things, but…).

Now that he’s living in LA, every Bellows set in Omaha is like a family reunion, with lots of familiar faces in the crowd come to pay their respects to our lost hero. Jake may be a Californian these days, but he knows he always has a home in Nebraska.

Sun-Less Trio at The Sydney, June 9, 2017.

Opening for Jake Friday night was a new line-up for Sun-Less Trio. Usual drummer Marc Phillips was replaced for this gig by someone banging on a tom with mallets. Frontman Mike Saklar played a couple of my favorites from his last couple albums along with a few new ones. The set felt stripped down and bare compared to the usual larger, fuller S-LT sound.

* * *

Two shows tonight…

Over at The Brothers Lounge Hussies headline for Brooklyn’s Cat Tatt. The Natural States also are on the bill. $5, 9 p.m.

Meanwhile, alt-country southern-fried rockers Drive-By Truckers headlines at The Waiting Room. Opening is BJ Barham. $30, 8 p.m.

* * *

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 © 2017 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

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The Best of The Waiting Room and The Slowdown; Jake Bellows, Sun-Less Trio, Mitch Gettman tonight…

Category: Blog — Tags: , , — @ 12:33 pm June 9, 2017

Jake Bellows at the Hear Nebraska Vol. 3 album release show at The Waiting Room, April 18, 2015. Jake plays at The Sydney tonight…

by Tim McMahan, Lazy-i.com

The following also appears in the current issue of The Reader. It’s part 2 of coverage of the 10-year anniversary of The Waiting Room and The Slowdown. You can also read it online at The Reader website, here (but you won’t see the following pics)…

The Best of The Waiting Room and The Slowdown

The clubs’ owners list their favorite shows over the past 10 years.

by Tim McMahan

And now, the fun part.

What’s an article that celebrates a music venue’s 10-year anniversary without a list of the best shows performed at said venue? Considering that The Slowdown and The Waiting Room each host in the neighborhood of 150 shows per year, it’s hard to pick favorites.

In fact, when put on the spot, the clubs’ owners struggled to list their stand-outs, but with some gentle prodding, they came up with some zingers.

Jason Kulbel, who co-owns The Slowdown with Robb Nansel, pointed to the first Atmosphere concert hosted at his club. “He’s got this song, ‘Trying to Find a Balance,’ one of his bigger songs,” Kulbel recalled. “I was standing side stage during that song and have never seen the room freak out like that. Everyone in the room was moving as much as they possibly could.”

Kulbel also cited the last time Against Me! played Slowdown this past February. “It was the best Against Me! show I’ve ever seen,” he said. “I’ve probably seen 20 Against Me! shows. I love that they can kick that much ass this far into their lives.”

But maybe the biggest standout evening was a Stephen Malkmus show at Slowdown in 2008 held the same night Barack Obama won his first presidential election. “That’s definitely one of the better memories I have,” Kulbel said. “We had a plan to have the screen down so people could check the election results, and before (Malkmus) even went on it was clear that Obama had won. The band just got really drunk and everyone was having a great time. It was a very joyous night.”

Nansel also pointed to that Malkmus show as being on top of his list of favorites.

“Other milestones, of course, were opening night with Bright Eyes,” Nansel said, “and the Slowdown Virginia reunion show” from December 2010. Another classic Nebraska band, Polecat, opened that night.

Nansel listed a last-minute Broken Social Scene show hosted in Slowdown’s front room that came together when he bumped into the band on a day off from their tour and asked if they wanted to play his club. A last-minute show by The Notwist in the front room is another favorite, along with St. Vincent and The National “and of course all the Saddle Creek band shows, parking lot shows and GOO nights.”

Ah, those GOO nights, now there’s something I don’t regret missing.

When it comes to The Waiting Room, co-owner Marc Leibowitz pointed to early shows from Dr. Dog and Brother Ali as among his favorites. “Then we’ve had some legends play at The Waiting Room, like Steve Earle,” he said.

“Lee Ranaldo was just so f—-ing phenomenal the night he played The Waiting Room,” Leibowitz added. “Built to Spill was a very memorable night. Built to Spill had been playing Slowdown all the time. We got them to play The Waiting Room, and it was a big deal for us.”

Jim Johnson, co-owner of The Waiting Room, pointed to the first reunion of golden age Omaha punk band Mousetrap, who played his club in late December 2010.

“The Jonathan Richman / Vic Chesnutt show (from March 2008) was really important to me,” Johnson said. It was the last show Chesnutt would play in Omaha before his death in December 2009. Johnson also pointed to that time The Waiting Room hosted Steve Earle.

Leibowitz added that as One Percent Productions, he and Johnson are proud to put on shows anywhere “whether it’s at Slowdown, Sokol, The Holland Center or wherever, but putting on a show at The Waiting Room means more than putting shows on in someone else’s facility. It’s where our heart is.”

What were my favorite shows? At The Waiting Room, the first that jumps out is The Faint show held there just a couple days after the club opened on March 11, 2007. It was an invitation-only break-in of The Waiting Room’s sound system. The sub-woofers definitely got a workout that night.

Other Waiting Room favorites include St. Vincent, July 25, 2007 — Annie Clark on lead guitar fronting a punk band, she’s never sounded better. After finishing her set, she returned alone to do a cover of “These Days” Nico-style, sitting on the edge of the stage with an acoustic guitar, surrounded by fans bent close to hear her quiet voice.

Monotonix opening for Silver Jews Oct. 7, 2008 — The band took the show outside when drummer Ran Shimoni banged on a snare while frontman Ami Shalev climbed a traffic signal pole along Maple Street.

Future Islands at The Waiting Room, Nov. 2, 2011.

Then there’s the first Future Islands show at The Waiting Room November 2, 2011 — no one had heard of them yet, and only a handful of people were there, but frontman Sam Herring was at his flamboyant best.

Bob Nastanovich shakes a fan’s hand during his guest appearance at the Feb. 15 Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks show at The Waiting Room.

Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks Feb. 16, 2014, at The Waiting Room was like a mini Pavement reunion for an over-the-top rendition of “Unfair” off Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain that featured special guest Bob Nastanovich contributing his classic yelling.

My favorite shows at The Slowdown include Daniel Johnston and the Rayguns, Feb. 9, 2008 – You never know what you’re going to get when crazed genius Johnston comes to town. The highlight: When the crowd serenaded an absent Johnston with “Devil Town.”

Mogwai at The Slowdown May 11, 2009.

Mogwai at The Slowdown May 11, 2009.

Mogwai, May 11, 2009 — During the encore, a woman nearby cringed and covered her eyes, cowering against the STROBES and the NOISE, waiting for it all to end. First she would have to endure 10 minutes of pain created by Mogwai’s arsenal of effects pedals “played” while the band kneeled on stage, covered in a shower of lightning. Epic.

St. Vincent at The Slowdown back in May 2012.

St. Vincent at Slowdown’s front room, June 3, 2009 — Backed by violin, bass, drums and a guy on woodwinds (flute, saxophone, clarinet), St. Vincent’s Annie Clark created dreamy, theatric, rocking sounds like the second coming of Kate Bush. That show was almost matched by a second St. Vincent show, this time on the big stage, May 14, 2012.

Finally, there was that very strange Cat Power show Nov. 22, 2013, and more recently Mark Kozelek on the front room stage Oct. 3, 2016.

No doubt our lists of favorite shows will only grow over the next 10 years.

Over The Edge is a monthly column by Reader senior contributing writer Tim McMahan focused on culture, society, music, the media and the arts. Email Tim at tim.mcmahan@gmail.com

* * *

Expect a crowd at The Sydney in Benson tonight. Everyone’s favorite musician raconteur Jake Bellows returns for a set as only he can. Joining Jake is Sam Martin and The Yonicks, and The Sun-Less Trio (Mike Saklar’s latest and greatest). The free show starts at 9 p.m.

Mitch Gettman and AllSortsOfGood play at fabulous O’Leaver’s. $5, 10 p.m.

Also tonight, Township & Range celebrates a CD release at Reverb Lounge. Joining them are Clarence Tilton and Matt Cox. $5, 9 p.m.

Meanwhile over at The Waiting Room it’s Alejandro Escovedo Band with Nicholas Tremulis. $20, 8 p.m.

Tomorrow night (Saturday) DSM-5 plays at Brothers Lounge with Gongfermour and Tienanmen Squares. This one’s free and starts at 9 p.m.

That’s all I got. If I left out your show, put it in the comments section. Have a great weekend.

* * *

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 © 2017 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

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Ten Years Gone: A Brief History of The Slowdown and The Waiting Room…

Category: Blog,Interviews — Tags: , , , — @ 12:39 pm June 8, 2017

by Tim McMahan, Lazy-i.com

Today is the 10-year anniversary of the opening of The Slowdown.

The club’s public inaugural show,  Friday, June 8, featured Little Brazil, Domestica, Art in Manila, Now, Archimedes!, Flowers Forever and Cap Gun Coup. Neva Dinova headlined the Saturday, June 9 show, with Bear Country, Ladyfinger, The Terminals and Mal Madrigal. Ah, those were the days.

To mark the occasion — and to properly recognize the 10-year anniversary of The Waiting Room’s opening — I wrote the following article for The Reader that talks about the clubs’ origins and how they’ve managed to not only survive, but thrive, 10 years later. Maybe we should have done this story in March when The Waiting Room hosted a month-long celebration, because The Slowdown is doing nothing publicly to mark the occasion.  Oh well.

You can also read this read this in print in the latest issue of The Reader, on newsstands now or at The Reader website, but you’d miss out on all my sweet photos…

Ten Years Gone

Over the course of a decade, venues The Slowdown and The Waiting Room have transformed Omaha’s live music scene.

By Tim McMahan

Try to remember the way it was before The Slowdown and The Waiting Room opened 10 years ago.

Your choices for seeing an indie rock show were limited to Sokol Underground, the dark, smoky (remember, you could still smoke in clubs back then) basement of Sokol Auditorium located on South 13th Street. While somewhat large (its capacity was at least 400), the room felt strangely claustrophobic, with sight lines marred by metal support poles strategically placed in the most inopportune places. And while there was a decidedly punk-rock/DIY feel to the joint — and a surprisingly good sound system — Sokol Underground always felt temporary.

It didn’t stand alone. Shows also were hosted at The 49’r, O’Leaver’s, Mick’s and the odd west-Omaha bar, house or hall that splurged on a PA. BY 2007, rock destinations, like the all-ages punk club The Cog Factory and everyone’s favorite bowling alley, The Ranch Bowl, were long gone.

But folks in the scene knew things would change. They had to. In 2007, Omaha was still basking in the afterglow of national notoriety for its indie music scene, thanks in large part to One Percent Productions, who had a rep for booking the best touring indie acts, and Saddle Creek Records, home of indie superstars Bright Eyes, The Faint and Cursive (among others).

For Omaha to take that next step, it needed a first-class music venue (or two) for bands to show their stuff.

The Waiting Room, located in the heart of Benson, was the first to open in March 2007. The Slowdown, located in the yet-to-be-established North Downtown area, would follow in June of the same year. The clubs would grow to become focal points of their respective business districts, revitalizing the areas. But it didn’t happen over night.

Robb Nansel, left, and Jason Kulbel in front of The Slowdown, circa 2007.

The Slowdown

Jason Kulbel and Robb Nansel were more known for their record label — Saddle Creek Records — than their experience running music venues or promoting rock shows, though both had booked a handful of notable shows at Sokol Underground in the early part of the 2000s.

In 2005, Saddle Creek was enjoying what arguably was the height of its national fame, and likely the peak of its revenues, as all three of its crown jewels — Bright Eyes, Cursive and The Faint — were producing the best albums of their careers. For years, Kulbel and Nansel had a shared vision for opening their own music venue, but it was Kulbel who had been lured back from California in 2000 solely for the purpose.

“There was a hole in Omaha,” Kulbel said during an interview on the patio of The Trap Room, a tiny bar also owned by the duo that sits next to The Slowdown. “We’d been to countless good clubs in other cities, some cities a lot (smaller) than Omaha, population-wise. It just seemed like something that could do well here.”

Kulbel said they hoped a club would help keep people from relocating. “That was an early motivation, for sure,” he said. “A lot of people moved away, myself included, trying to find greener pastures or better places.”

It would take years just to find the right location. Among those considered and discarded was an old creamery at 14th and Jones streets, a big, open room with lots of potential. Unfortunately, they couldn’t get the owners to sell. “We were ‘full steam ahead,'” Kulbel said. “The guys that owned it just decided we looked too young, though we were in our 30s. It was too hair-brained an idea for their tastes.”

The old Magic Theater on South 16th Street also was considered “pretty heavily,” Kulbel said. But by 2004, he and Nansel had gathered enough seed money from Saddle Creek’s success that they decided to build rather than renovate an older building. Their first location choice was a small commercial district just west of Radial Highway along North Saddle Creek Road, next to one of Omaha’s most iconic bars, The Homy Inn.

They acquired purchasing agreements for property where two car washes stood, but before they went through with the purchase, decided to announce their plans to the neighborhood. And that’s when all hell broke loose. A neighborhood meeting held in November 2004 was “a true nightmare,” Kulbel said. “The first woman that we called on for questions started crying. And it all went downhill from there.”

It would be Omaha City Councilman Dan Welch, who knew the neighborhood would never support them, that convinced Kulbel and Nansel to look elsewhere. He introduced them to City Planner Bob Peters who pointed out the property where The Slowdown now resides, an area just north of downtown Omaha.

Construction begins at The Slowdown complex, Sept. 25, 2006.

“There was nothing there at the time,” Kulbel said. “Everything was vacant. After you just went to war with a neighborhood, the most appealing thing is that there are no neighbors.”

It was Todd Heistand of NuStyle Development, who was redeveloping the nearby Tip-Top Building, that convinced the duo to build more than just a club and headquarters for their record label. Rachel Jacobsen, the genius behind Film Streams, came on board next.

With a sizable loan and some attractive tax incentives, Kulbel and Nansel bought the land from the city and began laying out their plans for their dream club.

“We cut no corner,” Kulbel said. “The way the venue functions, the way the stage is, the sound system, the balcony, we never swayed from our vision one bit. Anything built was because we thought that’s exactly how it should be built.”

About a year and a half after buying the land, The Slowdown opened on June 8, 2007.

With a capacity of around 700, The Slowdown’s large stage was always destined to be the club’s center point, but it’s the smaller front room, with a capacity of only a couple hundred, that has hosted the most shows. “The front room has worked out really well for smaller shows, which I didn’t envision in the beginning,” Kulbel said. “It was made to be way more of a bar than a show room.”

Of the roughly 150 events booked at The Slowdown each year, Kulbel said probably two-thirds are booked in the front room.

Kulbel said financially, the club’s early years were thin. “There were times in 2008 through 2010 when we were taking out loans to make payroll,” he said.

When the club first opened, Kulbel and Nansel had intended to book the kind of indie bands that historically had played at Sokol Underground. “That dream died rather quickly,” Kulbel said. “You figure out that it’s a business, and you begin going back to the people that you have to take care of and the staff that you have to pay. You’ve got to have a good steady volume of shows and people coming through the door.”

As a result, the Slowdown began to broaden the style of music it booked. That fact played into the three milestone events over the life of the club that Kulbel said radically changed his views of how the Slowdown was run.

The 2007 staff, from left, Slowdown sound engineer Dan Brennan, hospitality/event coordinator Val Nelson and bar manager Ryan Palmer.

The first milestone was losing the club’s “hospitality director” Val Nelson in February 2014. “Our technical title was ‘hospitality,’ but she ran the venue,” Kulbel said. “She was the point person for all the staff. She was basically the general manager.”

In addition to doing hospitality, Nelson, who had moved from Kalamazoo, Michigan, to take the job, also handled the club’s back office and dabbled in bookings. When she left Slowdown, Kulbel immediately took over her responsibilities, which he wasn’t ready for.

“I don’t think I’ve ever felt a weight like that. I didn’t know what to do,” Kulbel said, adding that the departure was so swift, he never had a chance to ask Nelson how things worked. “I had to figure out how to do everything that she did. It was a really rough few months; truly awful.”

But the trial by fire ended up being the best thing that could have happened to Kulbel. “It taught me a lot about the business that I own and run,” he said. It wasn’t until July of that year and after struggling through his first College World Series season without Nelson that Kulbel finally began getting his sea legs. “I felt so much better about everything because now I knew how it all worked.”

The second milestone was the shooting that took place Halloween night 2015. According to published reports, 28-year-old Jamar Fields was shot and killed inside the back door of The Slowdown after a brawl.

“It didn’t really change how we do business, but it changed some of the people that we do business with, and it just really changed my life,” Kulbel said. “It was devastating for me, for my wife and family and everything.”

The club closed for a few days following the incident. When it reopened, Kulbel said for the first few weeks, “you could cut the tension in the room.” Patrons returned to shows, but the possible after-effects of the incident didn’t hit Kulbel until he received a call from the mother of a bride who had planned to host a wedding reception at The Slowdown the following summer.

“She said she was nervous because they weren’t sure we’d still be open in July,” Kulbel said. “It just absolutely floored me because that had never crossed my mind, that one idiot could walk into your club and tear it all down with one stupid thing.”

Unfounded rumors of Slowdown’s possible demise due to lawsuits or the club’s perceived inability to acquire insurance rattled through the scene. But less than two years later, the incident is behind them.

The final of the three milestone was Slowdown’s decision in January of this year to sign a deal with Knitting Factory Entertainment to take over the lion’s share of the club’s booking.

“I’m 43, so I listen to less music, I go to less shows, I just don’t really have the best pulse on that sort of thing,” Kulbel said. “We talked to Knitting Factory for probably nine months before we actually had a deal with them. I had been been curating a lot of shows and there were pretty big misses just because I don’t do it for a living. I can run the club, I can run the property, but when I’ve got to really sit down and pick out what to do for a calendar or even pick out what to book locally, I’m not the best judge.”

Kulbel said Slowdown’s relationship with Knitting Factory goes beyond booking. “They can answer questions about anything that I can throw at them,” he said, “from the type of cash register to use to how many shows we should be booking a month and everything in between.”

The new relationship also frees up Kulbel to focus on he and Nansel’s real estate holdings. Their tenants include Blue Line Coffee, Urban Outfitters, Hook and Lime, Trap Room, Slowdown and the recently opened Zipline Brewery in the space that used to house Saddle Creek Records’ warehouse.

The Slowdown days before opening in 2007.

“Owning our own building and the surrounding real estate helps a ton,” Kulbel said. “It’s not to the point anymore where Slowdown borrows from the property, but it was in the past. There were times when Saddle Creek floated the property, and times when Slowdown floated Saddle Creek. I think everything now has set sail and looks pretty good, but the property is the future. I don’t have a retirement account, and I wouldn’t consider Slowdown to be my retirement account. It’s the property and the buildings.”

Today, the once vacant lots that surround their property are now filled with hotels, apartments, restaurants and the massive TD Ameritrade Park, home of the NCAA Men’s College World Series.

If you wonder why Nansel isn’t quoted in this article, it’s because he currently lives in Los Angeles, where Saddle Creek Records has additional label operations. A little over three years ago Kulbel separated himself from label operations, which is Nansel’s full-time focus. Why the split?

‘It just became a drag once the club opened and the property was a concern as well,” Kulbel said. “For years I had three full-time jobs — the property, Slowdown and Saddle Creek. Then three years ago my wife and I had a little girl to join my two step-kids, and something had to give.”

Slowdown was always Kulbel’s labor of love. “It’s mine and Robb’s thing, but it was always way more of my thing and the label was way more Robb’s thing.”

Though neither are involved in the other’s day-to-day operations, the two touch base every Tuesday via phone, though Kulbel says he knows more about what’s happening at the label from talking to Omaha-based Saddle Creek personnel, who still have offices above Slowdown.

For Nansel, the challenge for Slowdown’s next decade is staying relevant and staying open. He now knows that an unexpected catastrophe could spell the end. Still, “I think the club business is a good thing to be in,” he said. “I think people are always going to want to go to shows and have a couple drinks and go home. If you were going to place your bets on a portion of the music industry, I think running a club is a pretty safe place to bet.

“I hope The Slowdown is open 30, 40, 50 years from now. That would be fantastic, but it’s really hard to say.”

Marc Leibowitz, left, and Jim Johnson a few days before the March 9, 2007, grand opening of The Waiting Room Lounge.

The Waiting Room

The Waiting Room’s origin story goes back well beyond 2007.

Working under the moniker One Percent Productions, Marc Leibowitz and Jim Johnson have booked the best indie shows in Omaha for more than 20 years. Remember that amazing Arcade Fire show in November 2004? It was a One Percent Production. Or that time when Sufjan Stevens played at Sokol Underground with his cheerleader orchestra during his Illinois Tour in September 2005? A One Percent Production. How about when Interpol played at Sokol Underground during a blizzard in January 2005? Again, a One Percent Production.

Those and thousands more shows earned Johnson and Leibowitz the reputation as the best indie rock bookers in the area, playing a pivotal role in exposing an entire generation of future Omaha musicians to the music that would influence their careers.

The duo put on so many shows at Sokol Underground some thought they owned the place, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. “At the time, we just wanted a place of our own,” Leibowitz said. “Sokol Underground was the basement of a 100-year-old building. The shows we were getting at that point couldn’t be in that venue anymore; they deserved something nicer.”

Like Kulbel and Nansel, Leibowitz and Johnson spent years looking for the right location. But unlike the Saddle Creek Records duo, who had visions and resources to spend millions to build their dream club, “we were looking for something very cheap,” Leibowitz said. “That’s why Benson became attractive.”

In 2006, when The Waiting Room project began, Benson’s business district was comprised mostly of thrift stores and empty store fronts, with a few legacy shops still hanging on. “Benson seemed very old, and there were a lot of old businesses,” Leibowitz recalled, “and old-timey bars. We were different.”

Leibowitz said their needed investment to open in Benson was minuscule compared to what it would have cost to go into a new development, like Midtown Crossing. But the gamble was whether they could get people to come to this forgotten district of Omaha.

“We figured if people were willing to come to our shows at Sokol Underground and go down into that basement and deal with what we were dealing with — the neighborhood and the parking — then we were pretty sure if we booked the right shows, they would follow us to wherever the club was, as long as it was centrally located.”

Forcing their hand was the fact that Johnson had just quit his full-time job and Leibowitz had gotten laid off from his. It was ‘Try it now or never try it,'” Leibowitz said.

The financing was straight-forward — the duo used their life savings as collateral to get a loan to cover the balance of the $100,000 needed to remodel what had once been a biker bar called Marnie’s Place, and years before that, the legendary Lifticket Lounge where Nirvana once played.

“It wasn’t turnkey,” Leibowitz said, “but it was turnkey enough that we could go in for a cheap amount of money and make do until we made enough money to fix the place up, build nicer dressing rooms, open the ceiling, buy better air conditioning, buy a better sound system, do all the things that we could have done from the beginning if we would have borrowed all the money we needed, sort of in the style that Slowdown did. That wasn’t a position we were in.”

Instead, those improvements would come over time as The Waiting Room quickly began to build its rep one of the hottest clubs in town shortly after opening on March 9, 2007.

“Our dream was to own a club,” Leibowitz said. “Our dream wasn’t to open this club necessarily, but our dream was to have our own spot to do the music that we liked, that we had been doing at Sokol Underground and O’Leaver’s and other people’s places.”

At the same time, One Percent Productions was still very much a going entity. “One Percent Productions rents The Waiting Room for shows, similar to how it would rent Slowdown,” Leibowitz said. “The Waiting Room isn’t the entity taking a risk on shows. If a show loses money, it’s not The Waiting Room’s money. Now, Jim and I own both, so it’s all the same, really, but mentally, it’s different.”

In fact, Leibowitz said, in 2011 when he and Johnson found partners to open Krug Park, a craft beer bar located across the street from The Waiting Room, dollar-for-dollar it made more money than The Waiting Room “because it’s really hard to make money in the music industry.”

“The bar business is a great place to make money, but you have to figure out how to get people to come and drink at your establishment,” Leibowitz said. “For other places, that could be whatever shot special they can come up with. Our way happens to be through live music.”

That means booking shows that draw crowds. Leibowitz said staying relevant in terms of the acts it books is one of their biggest challenges, especially as they get older and music changes. “The music’s not the same in your 40s as it was in your 30s or 20s,” he said.

He also admitted there have been “politics” they’ve had to deal with in that One Percent also booked shows at Slowdown. “That’s been a strain for the eight years we’ve booked at Slowdown, and it’s been a strain for the two years that we really haven’t been doing much booking there,” Leibowitz said. “There is still a small pie that we’re all trying to feed off, and there is still a limited amount of business that can come through Omaha and be successful.”

Leibowitz says booking shows isn’t difficult; booking successful shows is.

“It’s hard to pick which ones are going to be a financial success, because there’s not a lack of shows to be booked, there’s a lack of potentially successful shows to be booked,” he said. “You’re still dealing with the same thing people dealt with 10, 20 or 30 years ago. If something’s not super popular or not on the radio, how are people hearing about it, and how do you get the word out? How do you pick which show to buy?”

At the same time, tickets prices have risen, along with the costs associated with running a live music venue. Agents now have assistants marketing the bands, which means more demands on the venues and local promoters. “There’s a lot more work per show than I think there ever has been,” Leibowitz said.

But the risks involved with booking a show haven’t changed. “I still consider myself a professional gambler,” Leibowitz said. “I”m gambling on every show I buy. There’s no guarantees in this business.”

Leibowitz and Johnson balanced their risks by diversifying their business in the form of real estate. Since opening The Waiting Room, the duo have bought the building that houses the club, as well as the building across the street that houses Krug Park and restaurant Lot 2. They also own the building that houses restaurant Au Courant and are closing on yet another building in the area.

Buying property allows Leibowitz and Johnson to have more control over who comes into the area. “It really does matter what these businesses are,” Leibowitz said. “Getting the right businesses that are going to succeed brings everybody else up.”

There’s little doubt that 10 years after The Waiting Room opened, Benson has evolved into one of the city’s most robust entertainment districts. Those once empty storefronts are now filled with new bars, restaurants and other businesses that may not have taken a gamble on Benson if Leibowitz and Johnson hadn’t.

“Benson is a thriving community and still has a long ways to go,” Johnson said. “There’s a lot that’s changed in 10 years. I think we sparked it and got people to the area, along with (cigar bar) Jake’s and others. Everybody’s had a little piece of it; every little bit that’s opened has helped.”

Yet another property Leibowitz and Johnson purchased houses Reverb Lounge, a new bar and music venue that the duo opened in September 2014, just around the corner from The Waiting Room on Military Ave. The space provides a high-quality venue for shows too small for The Waiting Room.

Despite diversification, The Waiting Room remains Johnson’s and Leibowitz’s first love. And though it’s renowned for the national touring shows One Percent books on its stage, Leibowitz pointed to another factor.

“A good amount of The Waiting Room’s success is because of local music,” he said. “We host a lot of local shows. There’s big support for local music here. People like to see their friends’ bands play.”

From a national booking standpoint, Leibowitz recognizes they need to give the people what they want.

“There’s a lot of shows that you have to do in order to fill your calendar,” Leibowitz said. “We’re in the concession business. We need to get people in to drink, and that’s the ultimate part of running the venue — striking that balance between booking what people want to see and what you want to put on.

“We still buy shows we absolutely know we’re going to lose money on because we think the show’s cool or it’s an artist we really like,” he added. “We’ve got to book the stuff that we really like, or else this business could become a drag.”

So does Leibowitz think The Waiting Room will be around for its 20th anniversary?

“Boy, I hope it’s still around in 10 years. I expect it will be,” he said. “I mean, 10 years from now I’ll be 53. Do I expect to be doing the same role at The Waiting Room that I do now? No, I don’t think I can, but I think it’ll be there.”

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Tomorrow: Pt. 2 — Leibowitz, Johnson, Nansel, Kulbel and your fearless reporter talk about our favorite shows at The Slowdown and The Waiting Room over the past 10 years…

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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 © 2017 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

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Farnam Fest goes next level (Tennis, Shannon & the Clams, White Mystery); Diet Cig, Rays, David Nance tonight…

Category: Blog — Tags: , , — @ 12:41 pm June 7, 2017

Diet Cig at The Slowdown, May 3, 2016. The band plays Reverb tonight.

by Tim McMahan, Lazy-i.com

Remember when your typical neighborhood/business district block party meant a tiny stage and a handful of local bands belting it out in the hot sun? Not anymore.

Benson has a bunch of outdoor street concerts in the works this year (one of which, held a couple weeks ago, may have rattled your windows until 11 p.m.). And now The Blackstone District is stepping up this year, taking its annual street gig, held in the parking lot behind Mula, to new heights.

Farnam Fest, slated for Sept. 16, is a free event. The line-up: Tennis (who recently opened for The Shins at Stir Cove), Shannon and the Clams (who played last year’s sold out River City Star boat cruise), White Mystery (a perennial must-see duo at SXSW), Yes You Are (Kianna Alarid from Tilly and the Wall’s new bag), High Up (the brightest new star in the Omaha music scene), Miwi La Lupa (the Omaha transplant with albums out on Team Love) and Both (Omaha hip-hop up-and-comers).

Music kicks off at 4 p.m. but the festival starts at 11 a.m. Yeah,  but what about that buzz-kill Husker game? Festival promoter/booker Sam Parker says they plan on projecting the game onto the stage earlier in the day. If you can’t beat ’em, join em.

* * *

Lots o’ music tonight…

Oakland CA band Rays headlines tonight at Brothers Lounge. Low-fi garage slacker rock that counts Desperate Bicycles and Eddy Current Suppression Ring among its influences. Opening is the hardest working man in Omaha music, David Nance and his Group, and Billy Liebermann $5, 9 p.m.

Diet Cig returns to Omaha tonight, this time at Reverb Lounge. The band played Maha last year, and just released their debut LP, Swear I’m Good at This on Frenchkiss Records. Opening is Philly band Sports, who sounds a whole lot like Diet Cig. Their latest album is out on Father/Daughter Records. $13, 9 p.m.

And tonight Pageturners continues its summer series with Ojai and Ryan Menchaca. The free show starts at 10.

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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 © 2017 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

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The Reader’s ‘Best Band’ list (well, just mine, actually); Com Truise, Face to Face tonight…

Category: Blog — Tags: , , — @ 12:44 pm June 5, 2017

by Tim McMahan, Lazy-i.com

The Reader‘s Music Issue hit the stands this week. In it you’ll find my massive 10-year retrospective on The Waiting Room and The Slowdown, featuring interviews with the owners, including their favorite shows at their respective venues. It’s generally a look at what’s happened with the clubs over the past decade and how they’ve managed to not only survive, but thrive during a down-time in the music industry. It’s a long read, and I’ll be posting my version of it at Lazy-i on Thursday (which happens to be the anniversary of The Slowdown’s opening in 2007). But you can read The Reader version online here.

Each year as part of this music issue The Reader has put together its list of Top 20 local bands, plus newcomers to keep an eye on. Well, this year they didn’t print the list, though they asked me to send my list which focuses (mostly) on indie, understanding that someone else from the staff would provide their list that would include hip-hop, mainstream rock, blues, etc. (but I’m not sure anyone did).

So for the sake of consistency, here’s my list of favorite local indie (and other) bands, as of June 2017, to be used in the unpublished Reader Top 20 list:

In Alpha order…

Bien Fang — Gritty, angry indie rock.
Chemicals — Exceptional progressive jazz.
Clarence Tilton — Alt country that leans closer to Wilco.
Closeness — Ethereal electronic melodies via The Finks.
Domestica — Heidi and Jon and Pawl still going strong… and loud.
The Faint — A blank wave Omaha tradition continues.
High Up — Strutting soul with attitude.
Josh Hoyer — THEE Nebraska Bluesman.
Brad Hoshaw — No one writes a hook quite like him.
Simon Joyner — Omaha’s legendary singer-songwriter.
Icky Blossoms — Eclectic electric dance rock.
Leafblower — Everyone’s favorite drunks at the party.
Lupines — Howling, majestic garage rock.
David Nance — Acid-fueled psych-garage.
Conor Oberst — The voice of his generation.
Matthew Sweet — Don’t call it a comeback.
McCarthy Trenching — His stories are our stories.
See Through Dresses — Post-punk post-shoegaze indie.
Thick Paint — The reason for black-light posters.
Those Far Out Arrows — Rock beasts making old new again.
Twinsmith — As indie as it gets.
Uh Oh — Sly indie bordering on poppish punk.
Wagon Blasters — (Classic) tractor punk madness.
Matt Whipkey — AmerIndieRocker

I would beseech you to find these acts, buy their merch, go to their shows. You will not be sorry. These are the ones I mention when someone asks, “What are you listening to from Omaha these days?

Yes, there are a number of regulars missing, either because they’ve been (mostly) inactive in 2016 or because they’re gone. But many are still out there, working on new stuff. Most will be back in 2017 (hopefully). If you’re wondering why your band isn’t on the list it could be because I either haven’t heard it or it’s not my up of tea (as Dave Sink used to say). If you’re pissed, make your own list. It’ll be as relevant as mine.

* * *

A couple shows tonight…

At Slowdown Jr, it’s electronic music from Com Truise (Ghostly International). Clark opens. $17, 8 p.m.

Meanwhile, over at Lookout Lounge ’90s punk band Face to Face (Vagrant, Fat Wreck Chords) headlines. Chicago punkers Counterpunch opens. 7 p.m., $25.

* * *

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 © 2017 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

Lazy-i