SXSW recap Pt.3 (Courtney Barnett, Best Coast, The Pop Group, Will Butler); Matthew Sweet is Saturday!

Category: Reviews — Tags: , , , , , , , — @ 12:29 pm March 26, 2015
The Pop Group's Mark Stewart takes on the world at SXSW.

The Pop Group’s Mark Stewart takes on the world at SXSW.

by Tim McMahan, Lazy-i.com

And lo, how the rain fell on my final day at SXSW, last Friday. It wasn’t so bad, but it was rain, and wind, and that combination makes for poor outside concert viewing and even worse navigation/walking from venue to venue. I was happy I got my afternoon at Stay Gold the day before.

There were a number of artists that proved illusive this year at SXSW. Among them was Courtney Barnett. It seemed like every time I wanted to see her perform it was either at 1 a.m. or in a location already at capacity (which makes one’s SXSW badge useless — when the club is full, they don’t care about no steen-king badges!).

There was one Courtney performance left, however, and it was at the SXSW Convention Center. The mega building houses dozens of enormous auditoriums and meeting rooms where SXSW “sessions” take place on such topics as “understanding copyright law” and “how to make the best of streaming technology” and so on. Panel discussions abound — this is where Snoop Dogg did a talk about something music-related. I’ve never been to a SXSW Music informational session, and most people I know who go to SXSW haven’t, either. Who wants to get up early after being on 6th Street until 2 a.m. the night before and sit in a conference room listening to a bunch of “music pros” drone on about “levering your band’s brand presence in social media” or whatever?

Still, a couple of the mammoth auditoriums were dedicated to performances, like the one happening in Auditorium G — the Public Radio Showcase, which included among the bands Courtney Barnett. And unlike the other gigs at SXSW, there was plenty of room and access to earthly conveniences like bathrooms, wi-fi and coffee. Not a bad place to be when sheets of rain are pouring down outside, at least for the afternoon.

But before Barnett took the stage Best Coast was playing a set of their El Lay-infused jangle-pop. People love Best Coast (especially in Omaha) and for the life of me I don’t know why. Their music is somewhat featureless, and front woman Bethany Cosentino suffers from (how do the American Idol judges put it?) pitch problems.

When I tell people I spent last week at SXSW, the first question is: “So did you discover any hot new music?” Courtney Barnett is not exactly new, but she is the hottest thing going indie-music wise these days and cemented that rep at SXSW playing eight showcases, where she debuted songs off her new album, Sometimes I Sit and Think and Sometimes I Just Sit, a record bound to be on a lot of “best of” lists this December (including mine).

Playing as a classic guitar/bass/drums trio, Barnett’s music, while singularly its own, owes a lot of its resonance to Kurt Cobain and Nirvana (though it’s not anywhere near as dark). The song structures are deceptively simple, the guitar riffs hook you and Barnett’s lyrics are both clever and introspective. If you’re an indie music fan who listens to XMU or an online indie radio station, you won’t be able to avoid Barnett this year. She’s the 2015 version of Liz Phair circa 1993. Watching her band on the auditorium stage was very much like watching an arena concert, with the crowd singing along to some of the older material. Great stuff. We need to get her to Omaha.

We left the convention center at around 6. By then the rain had slowed to a sprinkle. It was off to classic Austin bar The Ginger Man for a beer and some Drivin’ and Cryin’ but before D&C came on, a band of Japanese lads were on stage playing an intricate style of instrumental prog reminiscent of Eno/Fripp-era King Crimson. It was LITE, a band lauded as “one of Japan’s top instrumental acts.” They were mesmerizing. I have little doubt the folks at The Ginger Man knew who they are when they started their set, but by the end, everyone was a fan.

Then came Kevn Kinney and Drivin’ and Cryin’. The band has a new record coming out, and the songs I heard them play were solid (if not too long – Kinney likes to draw things out). He sounds exactly like he sounded a 20 years ago, same high-end squawk, ageless except for the extra poundage. Needless to say the crowd stood from their picnic benches when they the opening riff to “Fly Me Courageous” blazed through the place.

The Ginger Man is as comfortable a bar as you’d want to sit and drink at — huge cushy leather wingback chairs, fantastic beer selection. Just up the street is the Paramount Theater — a golden age movie house complete with balconies and gorgeous ceiling, a velvet-chair space like the Orpheum and the perfect venue for seeing classic ’80s avant-art group The Residents. You might remember them for their giant eyeball-with-tophat helmets that were part of their shtick for years.

Well, the eyeballs are gone, replaced with crazy old man wigs and alien makeup. Frontman Randy looked like the ol’ Crypt Keeper but in gold bikini underwear, giant shoes and body paint. Very creepy indeed, as was the staging, which involved a giant crystal-ball like projection device that hosted messages throughout the set. Strange and fun. I’ve never been a follower of The Residents, but I understand their importance in the overall history of art rock. And though these guys are in the 70s, they still sound pretty good, especially the guitarist.

Afterward it was back to 6th Street and Buffalo Billiards for The Church. The venue’s title sums it up, it’s a huge pool hall with a stage upstairs. Getting close to that stage was nearly impossible as it was a crush mob. Hearing The Church wasn’t much easier, as the booming sound in the hall was the worst of any performance I’d seen this year at SXSW. Still, the band was on point. I didn’t stick around long enough to hear “Under the Milky Way.” Wonder if they even played it…

It was back to Maggie Mae’s rooftop, which had been covered with a large tent, keeping things high and dry as the rain geared up again. The attraction was a performance by The Pop Group, a ’70s-era British punk band that’s been credited with helping define the post-punk movement. Bands like Sonic Youth and Nick Cave have credited The Pop Group as an influence on their sounds. The band was only around for a few years, but got back together last year for a new record.

Their style is extremely rhythmic and fun, but their songs are dissonant and brash in way that reminded me of The Fall. Mark Stewart, who has to be in his 60s, is still a powerful frontman, screaming into the microphone with clenched fists.

Will Butler of Arcade Fire was next on the same stage. The band wore t-shirts with their first names on them. I wondered if this was because people confuse Will with his more famous brother (and AC frontman) Win. That said, there was no confusing Will’s music with Win’s, as his solo stuff, while upbeat and interesting at times, lacks the grand panache of Arcade Fire’s epics. Will’s music is better suited for the dance floor than the concert stage, with its reliance on a thump-thump-thump disco beat. Butler is scheduled to play at The Waiting Room June 2. Bring your dancing shoes.

That was my last show of SXSW 2015. My impression of the overall experience — is written in next month’s issue of The Reader. Spoiler Alert: I’m not sure I’m returning to Austin next year, at least not for the music part of SXSW.

Check out sound clips from all the performances mentioned above in the the podcast below — it’s only about 12 minutes long, but includes snippets from all concerts except The Church’s performance.

* * *

Speaking of big concerts, that Matthew Sweet concert has snuck up on me. The concert, being held at the 1200 Club in the Holland Performing Arts Center is this Saturday. If you’re even remotely a fan of Sweet and his music, you’ve got to go to this one. Tickets are still available for $45 and $100 (VIP) right here. Get them while you can. And the concert is a benefit for Hear Nebraska!

* * *

Read Tim McMahan’s blog daily at Lazy-i.com — an online music magazine that includes feature interviews, reviews and news. The focus is on the national indie music scene with a special emphasis on the best original bands in the Omaha area. Copyright © 2015 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

Lazy-i

SXSW recap Pt. 2 (Icky Blossoms, Viet Cong, Natalie Prass, PUJOL, Mynabirds, Krill); Born Cages tonight…

Category: Blog,Reviews — Tags: , , , , , , — @ 12:42 pm March 25, 2015
Icky Blossoms devising their set list prior to their SXSW performance at Stay Gold March 19.

Icky Blossoms devising their set list moments before their SXSW 2015 performance at Stay Gold March 19.

by Tim McMahan, Lazy-i.com

More SXSW 2015 recap-ilation.

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…

* * *

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.

* * *

Read Tim McMahan’s blog daily at Lazy-i.com — an online music magazine that includes feature interviews, reviews and news. The focus is on the national indie music scene with a special emphasis on the best original bands in the Omaha area. Copyright © 2015 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

Lazy-i

Back from Austin, a recap of SXSW in podcast and photo form; Darren Keen, Calm Fur tonight…

Looking down on Sixth Street from Maggie Mays at South By Southwest 2015.

Looking down on Sixth Street from Maggie Mays at South By Southwest 2015.

by Tim McMahan, Lazy-i.com

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.

White Mystery at Beerland Patio, March 18, 2015.

Twin Shadow at Iron Castle, March 18, 2015.

Twin Shadow at Iron Castle, March 18, 2015.

Dotan at Cedar Street Courtyard, March 18, 2015.

Dotan at Cedar Street Courtyard, March 18, 2015.

Speedy Ortiz 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.

Josh Berwenger Band at Stay Gold, March 19, 2015.

PUJOL at Stay Gold March 19, 2015.

PUJOL at Stay Gold March 19, 2015.

Laura Burhenn (Mynabirds) at Stay Gold, March 19, 2015.

Laura Burhenn (Mynabirds) at Stay Gold, March 19, 2015.

Icky Blossoms at Stay Gold, March 19, 2015.

Icky Blossoms at Stay Gold, March 19, 2015.

Viet Cong at Cedar Street Courtyard, March 19, 2015.

Viet Cong at Cedar Street Courtyard, March 19, 2015.

Krill at the 720 Club, March 19, 2015.

Krill at the 720 Club, March 19, 2015.

Natalie Prass at Maggie Mae's, March 19, 2015.

Natalie Prass at Maggie Mae’s, March 19, 2015.

 

Best Coast at the SXSW Convention Center, March 20, 2015.

Best Coast at the SXSW Convention Center, March 20, 2015.

Courtney Barnett 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.

LITE at The Ginger Man, March 20, 2015.

Drivin' and Cryin' 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 Residents at The Paramount Theater, March 20, 2015.

The Church at Buffalo Billiards, March 20, 2015.

The Church at Buffalo Billiards, March 20, 2015.

The Pop Group at Maggie Mae's Rooftop, March 20, 2015.

The Pop Group at Maggie Mae’s Rooftop, March 20, 2015.

Will Butler 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.

* * *

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…

* * *

Read Tim McMahan’s blog daily at Lazy-i.com — an online music magazine that includes feature interviews, reviews and news. The focus is on the national indie music scene with a special emphasis on the best original bands in the Omaha area. Copyright © 2015 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

 

 

Lazy-i

Live Review: Digital Leather, White Mystery, Calm Fur; Of Montreal, Deerhoof tonight…

Category: Blog,Reviews — Tags: , , , — @ 12:33 pm March 16, 2015
Digital Leather at Reverb Lounge, March 13, 2015.

Digital Leather at Reverb Lounge, March 13, 2015.

by Tim McMahan, Lazy-i.com

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.

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?

* * *

Of Montreal at The Waiting Room, Nov. 2, 2013.

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).

What kind of pageantry are you in for this time? Here’s what the band played Friday night in Chicago, I recognize at least one favorite. Tickets are $20 and the show starts at 9.

* * *

Read Tim McMahan’s blog daily at Lazy-i.com — an online music magazine that includes feature interviews, reviews and news. The focus is on the national indie music scene with a special emphasis on the best original bands in the Omaha area. Copyright © 2015 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

Lazy-i

Live Review: Bloodcow, Universe Contest; Hop Along track leaked, album details (Omaha date); Helmet tonight…

Category: Blog,Reviews — Tags: , , — @ 12:49 pm March 9, 2015
Bloodcow at Reverb Lounge, March 7, 2015.

Bloodcow at Reverb Lounge, March 7, 2015.

by Tim McMahan, Lazy-i.com

Unlike the last time I saw them at The Waiting Room, no one threw empty beer cans at Universe Contest during their set Saturday night at Reverb Lounge in Benson. Did the band ask the crowd to reframe from throwing shit? Did fans naturally hold their throwing hands because they didn’t want to soil the pristine confines of the newish Reverb? I do not know.

Also absent was the band’s giant light rig. Maybe they didn’t want to hassle with putting it together or hauling it up from Lincoln. Instead, they settled for Mercy Rule-style floor floods — always a trusty standby, and hard to beat for simple drama.

And Universe Contest already has plenty of drama when it comes to their music. They still sound like early Modest Mouse, driven in part by the lead guy’s spot-on Isaac Brock screech / yell and their own halting, angular, arty wallop. I don’t remember them having a violin player. Regardless, you couldn’t hear her during the set as she was drowned out by the rest of the band. Maybe it’s the Reverb’s small space, but there wasn’t much sonic separation between instruments, and as a result, it sounded like a bassy mish-mash.

Especially during Bloodcow’s set. I tried recording it for the podcast — no dice. The volume was too high (and I had my microphone set wrong) so the entire set was clipped. Bloodcow brings the low end. They also bring the rock. I would classify this as heavy metal more than metal — I divide the two based on guitar solos. I grew up on metal music where every song included a high, whining, blazingly fast guitar solo.

Bloodcow songs are more about riffage and rapid-fire lyrics about sex, booze, drugs, all the things that make up rock ‘n’ roll. There was nary a high-flying guitar solo during the first three songs, and only a few sprinkled throughout the set, usually buried in the plodding mix.  I’ve heard their upcoming release — Crystals and Lasers — and can attest to its blazing glory. The album is a better showcase than what we heard Saturday night, though the show was still plenty fun.

By the way, that new record is still at the pressing plant. The band had CDs on hand Saturday night but no vinyl, which is part of the reason why the show wasn’t their official album release show. Nor is next Saturday night’s opening slot at The Slowdown for The Killigans. We might have to wait until April for that extravaganza…

* * *

Saddle Creek’s latest and greatest signing, Hop Along, leaked the first track off the band’s Creek label debut, Painted Shut, titled “Waitress.” The album was recorded with producer John Agnello (Sonic Youth, Dinosaur Jr., Kurt Vile). Check out the track below and pre-order the album here at the Saddle Creek online store. The album hits store shelves May 5.

And (best of all) Hop Along is now scheduled to play at Slowdown June 4.

* * *

Tonight at The Waiting Room it’s brittle ’90s post-punk band Helmet on their Betty 20th Anniversary tour. Betty was released on June 21, 1994, and peaked at number 45 on the Billboard 200 album chart, making it Helmet’s highest ranking album. The band will perform the seminal album from start to finish tonight. There are no openers listed. $20, 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 © 2015 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

Lazy-i

Live Review: J Fernandez, Shy Boys; No Coast Music Festival announced (vs. Maha?); Retox tonight…

Category: Blog,Reviews — Tags: , , , , — @ 1:51 pm March 2, 2015
Shy Boys at Almost Music, March 1, 2015.

Shy Boys at Almost Music, March 1, 2015.

by Tim McMahan, Lazy-i.com

My only show this weekend wasn’t a show at all. It was a pre-show. Yesterday afternoon, J Fernandez and Shy Boys did an in-store at Almost Music in Benson prior to their gig last night at O’Leaver’s.

Set up in the Solid Jackson Bookstore area, each band played a half-hour set to a handful of people. I didn’t know about the in-store until yesterday morning via an IM on Facebook. Needless to say, it could have been better promoted, but it was a last-minute thing.

Both bands played low-key sets. Since I didn’t go to O’Leaver’s last night, I don’t know if these were typical, but I can say they were rather awesome. Fernandez style is a mix of garage and art rock, think early Talking Heads soaked in swirls of reverb guitar with a less-severe vocal that was warmer and more inviting than Byrne’s bark. They were jazzier more than they were arty.

Kansas City’s Shy Boys’s garage rock was sweet, sweet, sweet; with sweet, sad-eyed vocals atop great kick-back rhythms. Gorgeous stuff. Listen for snippets of both performances in this week’s podcast Wednesday (if I can get it done).

* * *

Speaking of Almost Music, the store took part in Saturday afternoon’s Bar Stool Record Swap at The Brother’s lounge along with four or five other vendors including Homer’s and Drastic Plastic. Music fans flipped through boxes of vinyl with one hand while drinking booze with the other — the perfect combination. I scored a sealed copy of Ritual Device’s Henge album on orange vinyl — something I thought I’d never see.

* * *

The River, 89.7 FM, and One Percent Productions this morning announced the No Coast Festival, June 2 at Westfare Amphitheater. The line-up includes major-label pop bands Cage The Elephant, Bleachers, Joywave, Saint Motel, In The Valley Below along with Saddle Creek band Icky Blossoms, and more.

Though a “festival,” No Coast can’t be compared to the other big local rock “festival” — the Maha Music Festival. No Coast is a full two months before Maha (which takes place Aug. 15) and targets a younger alt-radio audience vs. Maha’s college-age-plus indie crowd.

But when talking about these two festivals, there is a a subtle irony that can’t be ignored. Indie bands by their very nature appeal to a smaller audience. That’s the way it’s always been. Major label acts like Cage the Elephant, Bleachers (both on RCA) and Saint Motel (Elektra), which enjoy more radio support, draw a much larger audience. As a result, you’d naturally assume No Coast — with its more popular bands — would have the higher ticket price, but in fact No Coast’s $10 ticket (which is what you’d typically pay for a mid-level show at The Waiting Room) will likely be about a quarter of the price of Maha Festival tickets.

Factor in that non-profit public radio station The River may be underwriting a lot of the No Coast Festival’s costs (which they can “write off” as a promotional expense) and that No Coast could draw substantially more people than Maha (high volume brings down prices), and you begin to understand the $10 ticket versus a $40+ ticket.

No doubt if No Coast draws an exponentially larger crowd than Maha there will be those who argue the reason is either better bands or a lower ticket price or both. But one can’t ignore the sheeple factor. There is only one radio station in the Omaha/Council Bluffs market that plays modern music, albeit shitty modern music. A lot of people grudgingly listen to The River because it’s the only alternative to the oldies/freedom rock stations that litter the FM dial. Those River listeners can expect to hear a constant barrage of advertising for No Coast Festival between now and June 2. Strike that. Public radio stations aren’t allowed to air advertising, right? So if they’re not ads, I guess you’d have to call them, what, “targeted announcements”?

Poor Maha. A true non-profit organization, can it afford the level of radio advertising that No Coast undoubtedly will get? Add to that the fact that most of Maha’s bands historically don’t get airplay in the Omaha market and it’s an uphill climb. This is what happens when you don’t have a radio station that plays College Music Journal (CMJ)-style indie music in a market the size of Omaha.

One Percent also announced this morning the Gentlemen of the Road Stopover, a 2-day festival in Waverly, Iowa, June 19 and 20 headlined by the dreadful Mumford and Sons but that also includes Jenny Lewis, My Morning Jacket, Flaming Lips and Jeff the Brotherhood among others. Still, Waverly is about 260 miles (more than 4 hours) from Omaha…

One other 1% show — Built to Spill returns to The Slowdown May 23. (I thought this one was going to be the big 10 a.m. announcement).

* * *

Tonight at Slowdown Jr., it’s a punk featuring San Diego hardcore act Retox (Epitaph Records). The four-piece was founded by Justin Pearson and Gabe Serbian,whose tour of duties include stints in The Locust, Head Wound City, and Holy Molar. Joining them is Atlanta noise rock band Whores and Lincoln black noise band Vickers. $10, 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 © 2015 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

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Live Review: Matt Whipkey, John Klemmensen, Fire Retarded, Dumb Beach; Hear Nebraska Kickstarts Vol. 3…

Category: Blog,Reviews — Tags: , , , — @ 1:47 pm February 23, 2015
Fire Retarded at O'Leaver's Feb. 21, 2015.

Fire Retarded at O’Leaver’s Feb. 21, 2015.

by Tim McMahan, Lazy-i.com

It was a long weekend of shows, a good weekend.

Friday night was the big Matt Whipkey album release party at The Waiting Room. Matt can be a rather polarizing figure in the Omaha music scene, but there’s one fact no one can refute — when it comes to the press, Whipkey works his ass off. This show was mentioned or featured in every print publication in town, not to mention a slew of local morning radio programs, a few of which Whipkey even performed on. Seems like everywhere you turned, whether on air, in print or online, there was Matt Whipkey hawking his new record and imploring people to come to his show.

Well, all that hard work paid off as The Waiting Room was indeed crowded last Friday night. No, it wasn’t a sell out, but it was tough to make it across the dance floor when Whipkey and his band started their set.

Whipkey’s style has been consistent over the past decade — he’s a showman, always demanding the crowd’s attention when he’s center stage with an electric guitar slung over his shoulder, maniacally flipping that Omaha-famous head of hair. In a city known for its indie rock, Whipkey remains content playing traditional American-style rock ‘n’ roll that boils down to big riffs, big hooks, plenty of guitar solos and lyrics about life in these United States.

The new album, Underwater, is a step forward for Whipkey to a more mature song craft than heard on his coming-of-age concept album Penny Park, a record that, if you ever wondered what the songs were about, all you had to do was look at the photo on the album sleeve. The new record sounds more personal and introspective but no less pop-focused. Whipkey may idolize Springsteen, but his style has more in common with John Fogerty on the album’s up-jump tracks. When he slows it down, picks up an acoustic guitar or straps a harmonica ’round his neck, he channels old school, MOR open-chord crooners that were the staple of ’70s-era FM radio. He is un-apologetically not indie, and wouldn’t have it any other way.

Matt Whipkey and his band at The Waiting Room, Feb. 20, 2015.

Matt Whipkey and his band at The Waiting Room, Feb. 20, 2015.

Neither would his crowd, who grooved to the rock and never failed to recognize another golden Whipkey guitar solo. I saw plenty of people walking around with copies of Underwater tucked beneath their arm, its back cover sporting a stoic photo of Whipkey, his hair, and his Raybans, staring stoically out into the crowd.

The obvious question after the media build-up that comes with a release show: Now what? The answer is touring, and Whipkey has said that’s exactly what he intends to do, focusing his road-work on central Nebraska. Can he become a regional success story? There’s no question he has a style that could resonate throughout the rural Heartland.

John Klemmensen closed out Whipkey's album release show at The Waiting Room, Feb. 21, 2015.

John Klemmensen closed out Whipkey’s album release show at The Waiting Room, Feb. 20, 2015.

The new trend for headliners these days is to place their set in the second slot of the evening. That was the case Friday night when John Klemmensen and the Party followed Whipkey with a set of bluesy rockers. I haven’t seen John and his band play in more than a year. While his voice and lyrics haven’t changed much (He still boasts Nebraska’s biggest broken heart) his music has. Instead of the usual laid-back mellow crooning, Klemmensen is now uncorking harder, louder arrangements that aren’t afraid to lean away from blues pop to a more indie-fied power rock, a natural reflection of Klemmensen’s love of golden age Omaha indie-punk and post-punk.

There is a theatrical element to his rock songs that reminds me of — dare I say it — Meatloaf and John Steinman, but without the keyboards. I credit the first-person honesty of his lyrics, brazenly unashamed of letting his emotional baggage hang out for everyone to see. Klemmensen has nothing to hide, and that’s what makes his music so good.

A quick note about the recent upgrades to The Waiting Room. The club now sports a shiny new tile floor, raised booths and a brand new bar. This is the third or fourth time that The Waiting Room has made enhancements to their club since it opened in 2007, which shows the owners’ ongoing commitment to being the best music venue in Omaha.

Dumb Beach at O'Leaver's, Feb. 21, 2015.

Dumb Beach at O’Leaver’s, Feb. 21, 2015.

Saturday night was a bracing change of pace as O’Leaver’s hosted a punk show with two of the better-named bands to grace their rec-room-styled stage: Madison Wisconsin’s Fire Retarded and Omaha’s own Dumb Beach.

Saturday’s gig was the last on Fire Retarded’s tour and the dudes sounded happy to end it in Omaha. Call it garage punk, I guess. Hard charging. Break-neck. Gritty. Rat-tailed and not so angry as much as just trying to have a good time. Their set started almost acidicly punk before infusing a bit of swing about halfway through, at times becoming downright tuneful.

Next was Dumb Beach. One of the things I forgot to mention last week in the podcast is that the band sports two — count them two — drummers. I’ve seen the two-drummer thing a few times in the past. With other bands, it’s an easy way to add theatrical flair to their rather drab stage presences. But that’s never been a problem with these guys, who resemble a team of buzzed-out Dr. Drew rehabbers out on a punk-rock work release program.

No, this duo-drum set up is an aggressive stab at bringing even more power to Dumb Beach’s already bludgeoning sound. Someone told me it was like watching a pair of synchronized swimmers, perfectly timed, perfectly choreographed, as they bashed the shit out of their drum kits. Do they really need two drummers? Does any band? I say screw it, why not? If you haven’t seen these guys, you need to.

* * *

Hear Nebraska, Vol. 3

Hear Nebraska, Vol. 3

This morning Hear Nebraska launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund the vinyl pressing of its third compilation, deftly titled Hear Nebraska Vol. 3.  The record features 10 songs from Nebraska bands on 12-inch, mixed-color (purple-pink-black) vinyl. Hear Nebraska calls it “a masterfully crafted, sonically stellar collectible that will serve as an integral Nebraska historical document.

Bands on this year’s HN comp are John Klemmensen and the Party, Josh Hoyer and the Shadowboxers, The Bottle Tops, Jake Bellows, M34N STR33T, BOTH (featuring Rothsteen), Halfwit, Ladyfinger and Cursive.

The release is limited to 500 copies and comes with a digital download. A $20 pledge gets you a copy of the vinyl, but you’ll want to check out the other premiums. Hear Nebraska is shooting to raise $4,000 over the next 28 days. They’re already more than a quarter of the way there. Check it out.

* * *

Read Tim McMahan’s blog daily at Lazy-i.com — an online music magazine that includes feature interviews, reviews and news. The focus is on the national indie music scene with a special emphasis on the best original bands in the Omaha area. Copyright © 2015 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

Lazy-i

Live Review: Sleater-Kinney; Damien Jurado tonight (and take your chatter outside)…

Category: Blog,Reviews — Tags: , , , , — @ 1:17 pm February 16, 2015
Sleater-Kinney at The Slowdown, Feb. 13, 2015.

Sleater-Kinney at The Slowdown, Feb. 13, 2015.

by Tim McMahan, Lazy-i.com

Sleater-Kinney have never been on top of my “must-listen-to” list. There’s just something harsh and forced about their music, an abrasiveness that utterly lacks melody. It’s tough to sing along to an S-K song unless it’s something mellow like “Modern Girl” off The Woods, which is not characteristic of the band’s usual sound.

Their new album, No Cities to Love, fits right in with the rest of their catalog — a bracing punk rock record loaded with shrill vocals, singing about what I do not know. The title track says it’s not the cities but the weather they love. The rest of the song, the verses, are cryptic: “Atomic tourist / A life in search of power / I found my test sight / I made a ritual of emptiness.” And so on. It’s not so much the words that matter as the energy, and S-K exuded it Friday night at The Slowdown in front of a sold out crowd who loved every minute of it.

The trio, joined by an extra guitarist, rolled right into their set with gusto, with guitarist/vocalist Corin Tucker taking the lead as she would throughout the night, spitting out vocals over the din. There is little doubt that she is the leader of this band, though Carrie Brownstein is the crowd favorite thanks to a brighter, less jagged voice and her notoriety as an actress in Portlandia. Brownstein is a real star among indie stars.

I spent a good part of their set trying to figure out where the bass was coming from, as no one was playing bass guitar. It turned out (I think) that Brownstein and Tucker were trading turns playing their bass strings, though I swear at times neither was playing bass.

Despite taking a few years off the road, the band played as if they’d never left after The Woods came out almost a decade ago. If there was any ring rust, it came early in the set when Tucker sounded like she was trying a bit too hard on vocals (as she does at times on the record). As the set rolled on the band loosened up and got into a groove, injecting more soul into the music.

Holding it all down was drummer Janet Weiss, mesmerizing behind the kit and further enforcing the old punk adage that you’re only as good as your drummer. That being the case, Sleater-Kinney remains one of the finer punk rock bands that emerged out of the ’90s. And while I still don’t care much for their records, after last Friday’s show I’ve grown a new appreciation for their live stuff, which sounds less stiff and more…human than what they’ve put down in the studio.

* * *

While Sleater-Kinney was slaying it at The Slowdown, fellow Seattle-ite Damien Jurado was having less of a good time in Kalamazoo, Michigan. The acoustic folk artist berated the audience at Kalamazoo State Theater after they just wouldn’t shut up. According to this MLive report, during his opening set for Jason Isbell, Jurado was pushed over the edge.

“The best way for me to do my job is to not be distracted by your talking,” Jurado scolded. “If you want to talk there’s lots of room and people out there talking, but this is not the place to do it, okay?”

It goes on from there, peaking with “Laugh all you want man, seriously, but this is not funny. This is my job.”  And, of course, the entire exchange was captured on video, which you can watch here. We’ve all been at shows where the crowd isn’t paying attention to what’s going on up on stage. I, for one, have to hand it to Jurado for telling them to shut up.

No doubt Omaha audiences are much more respectful than Kalamazoo’s, right? So if you’re headed to The Waiting Room tonight to see Jurado headline, take your chatter out to the sidewalk. No one wants to hear it, least of all Jurado, who is on the road supporting last year’s Secretly Canadian release Brothers and Sisters of the Eternal Sun. Opening is Oquoa’s Max Holmquist. $15, 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 © 2015 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

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Live Review: Take Cover, Bahamas, Bass Drum of Death, Dumb Beach; Mark Kozelek, Mitch Gettman’s farewell show tonight…

Category: Blog,Reviews — Tags: , , , , , — @ 2:01 pm January 26, 2015
Icky Blossoms at Take Cover IV, The Waiting Room, Jan. 23, 2015.

Icky Blossoms at Take Cover IV, The Waiting Room, Jan. 23, 2015.

by Tim McMahan, Lazy-i.com

The 4th Annual Take Cover benefit for Hear Nebraska at The Waiting Room Friday night appeared to be a smashing success. At least there were a ton of people there when I arrive at a quarter to 10, just in time to see members of Icky Blossoms squatting down on the stage performing a stripped down version of “Burn Rubber,” a track presumably off their upcoming Saddle Creek Records release. It was followed by a funky cover of a Capgun Coup song.

That was the recipe for the evening: One original tune, one cover by another local artist. Unlike year’s past, I actually recognize a lot of the covers, or at least some of them. As mentioned before, the Take Cover effect can be rather weak when you don’t know the person performing or the band he or she is covering. That wasn’t a problem for Matt Whipkey as he covered Simon Joyner ( “Double Joe”), See Through Dresses covering Little Brazil (“God” off 2009’s Son), Dan McCarthy covering Conor Oberst (“Common Knowledge” off Upside Down Mountain) and most successful of all, John Klemmensen and the Party covering Bright Eyes’ “Four Winds.” You could argue that JK’s version, complete with accordion, was as good as Conor’s. It was a great way to close out an evening of fun and fellowship.

Bahamas at Reverb Lounge, Jan. 24, 2015.

Bahamas at Reverb Lounge, Jan. 24, 2015.

There’s still a market for simple song craft, judging by the sold-out audience that showed up for Bahamas last Saturday night at Reverb Lounge. At the heart of the band is singer/songwriter Afie Jurvanen, an indie music veteran whose tours of duty include a stint with Feist. Standing center stage backed by a second guitarist, drummer and backing vocalist, Jurvanen played a set of simple acoustic ballads and laid-back rockers reminiscent of beachy acts like Jack Johnson.

The live setting stripped out the more intricate production heard on Bahamas’ last record, much to my chagrin, leaving little in the way of variety. No doubt he’s a talented dude with a knack for hooks, but a little goes a long way and halfway through the set (just after he began a mid-set solo-acoustic section, where he did his best story-teller riff about the last time he came to Omaha 10 years ago and got stoned on Ecstasy) I began looking for the door. I never made it to what was probably his set closer or encore — “All the Time” — the soundtrack to that James Franco Motorola commercial. I bet the crowd went wild.

Bass Drum of Death at Sweatshop Gallery, Jan. 24, 2015.

Bass Drum of Death at Sweatshop Gallery, Jan. 24, 2015.

The reason I charged out before the end was to catch a show at Sweatshop Gallery. I made my way through the maze of slouched smokers and poorly parked vehicles in the back lot to enter the jam-packed garage-turned-music-venue. I don’t know if it was a sell out, but it was crowded enough to get me wondering if that overhead door was functional in case of a fire.

The highlight of the evening (and of my weekend) was a fiery set by Dumb Beach. I’ve seen these guys a couple times at O’Leaver’s, but they’ve never sounded this good or this inspired. Their style combines modern garage (think Digital Leather without synths) with heavy metal (the most ferocious moments from Neil Young/Crazyhorse). It was a fantastic set that had the room moving.

It was followed by Bass Drum of Death, who owe a lot of their style to The Ramones, though the trio had enough versatility to change up their sound from song to song. Good stuff.

It was a real 180 going from Reverb, with its high-tech sound board and digital lighting, to Sweatshop’s four screwed-in colored light bulbs and micro mix station. The contrast was almost as stark as the one between Bahamas and Bass Drum of Death. Who says there isn’t variety in Benson?

* * *

As of this writing (noon) tickets were still available for tonight’s Mark Kozelek show at Vega in Lincoln, though the venue warns that they are in short supply. If you have a chance to go, you should. Kozelek provided my favorite moment at last years South By Southwest Festival. Benji, Sun Kil Moon’s last album, was my favorite for 2014. You cannot go wrong. $20 tickets are available here (for now). The show starts at 9.

Also tonight, at Pageturners, Omaha singer/songwriter Mitch Gettman plays his last local show before moving away, again. Gettman said he’s headed to Leavenworth, Kansas, to live with his pop in an effort to save cash for his big move to New York City this summer. Gettman says he’s doing it for the challenge. You know what they say about people who can make it there… Custom Catacombs opens. 9 p.m. and free (as far as I know).

* * *

Read Tim McMahan’s blog daily at Lazy-i.com — an online music magazine that includes feature interviews, reviews and news. The focus is on the national indie music scene with a special emphasis on the best original bands in the Omaha area. Copyright © 2015 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

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Live Review: Ted Stevens Unknown Project, Miniature Horse, McCarthy Trenching…

Ted Stevens Unknown Project at Reverb Lounge, Jan. 15, 2015.

Ted Stevens Unknown Project at Reverb Lounge, Jan. 15, 2015.

by Tim McMahan, Lazy-i.com

Big draw Saturday night for Ted Stevens Unknown Project at Reverb Lounge in Benson, though almost no one was there when I dropped in at 9 p.m. As much as I like Ted and his crew, I wanted to see Miniature Horse a.k.a. Rachel Tomlinson Dick, who I’d seen a few months ago at an afternoon concert at Almost Music and couldn’t believe my ears.

Miniature Horse at Reverb Lounge, Jan. 17, 2015.

Miniature Horse at Reverb Lounge, Jan. 17, 2015.

Namewise, why Miniature Horse instead of RTD? Who knows. She didn’t say from stage what the name meant. Miniature horses are cute little creatures that have been known to take a chunk out of the back of a child’s head or crush a passerby’s kneecap whether provoked or not. No one knows what goes through the creatures’ minds other than somber bitterness and/or barely contained rage over being born a diminutive reflection of their more regal brethren. It’s only a matter of time before that rage boils over into a reflex motion that requires surgery and long-term rehabilitation to an unfortunate passerby.

I don’t think that’s what RTD had in mind when she came up with the name, though there is a “beauty and the beast” style to her one-woman show, brought to you by her amazing voice (one of the best singers in town) and her effects pedals that alter her guitar’s tone from quiet reflection to Neil Young feedback blaze with a tap of her toe. Consider her our own version of Polly Jean Harvey circa her 4-Track Demos phase. An intricate finger-picking style had a couple of the guys next to me (there were only guys in the crowd early in the evening) staring in awe. One of them wondered what her songs would sound like with a full band, and I wondered, too, but would be afraid the added instruments could clutter up the solitary majesty. Maybe a simple trio, though RTD is doing fine by her lonesome, standing like her namesake on an empty stage.

McCarthy Trenching at Reverb Lounge, Jan. 17, 2015.

McCarthy Trenching at Reverb Lounge, Jan. 17, 2015.

Next up was the string-band version of McCarthy Trenching. Dan McCarthy is known as a piano man by a lot of people who have only seen his early-evening weekly gigs at Pageturners, but he’s just as comfortable with a guitar hanging ’round his neck, backed by talented upright bass player James Maakestad. McCarthy rolled through a set that included familiar chestnuts (the one about kicking a ball through the Cathedral uprights; another about being a self-employed, self-hating lout) as well as new songs (including one that perfectly captures my seething road rage).

McCarthy balances a forlorn loneliness with humor and a knack for capturing every-day details lyrically I haven’t heard since John Darnielle, though musically Trenching songs in no way resemble Mountain Goats songs. When played on piano, they more closely resemble Randy Newman tunes, and I would recommend McCarthy Trenching albums to anyone who loves Newman’s solo piano songs.

McCarthy said he wants to enter the studio again. We’re all waiting, Dan.

By the time Ted Stevens and his all-star band rolled onto the Reverb stage the lounge was a jam-packed calamity of fans and fellow musicians come to pay homage to the guy behind Lullaby for the Working Class and Mayday, and who, by the way, also plays and writes for Cursive. Backing Stevens as the Unknown Project is Lincoln Dickison (Putrescine, Monroes) on electric guitar, Ian Aeillo (Eli Mardock, Eagle*Seagull) on bass and David Ozinga (UUVVWWWZ) on drums.

Stevens’ songwriting is like no one else’s around here. It’s linear, without the usual chorus and verse structure, more like a stream of conscious telling of his life backed by an indie version of Crazy Horse. The closest resemblance to Stevens’ music (to me) is American Music Club/Mark Eitzel, which has a similar foreboding sense of chaotic ennui. There is a darkness to his music, a sense of stark anxiety like we’re getting a look inside what drives Stevens’ life, a sense of uneasiness accented by a voice that sounds like a hand outstretched to something just out of reach. Gorgeous stuff

* * *

Read Tim McMahan’s blog daily at Lazy-i.com — an online music magazine that includes feature interviews, reviews and news. The focus is on the national indie music scene with a special emphasis on the best original bands in the Omaha area. Copyright © 2015 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

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