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.

Lazy-i

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.

Lazy-i

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.

Lazy-i

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.

Lazy-i

Live Review: Life Is Cool, The Sub-Vectors; Paul Collins Beat tonight (in Lincoln)……

Category: Blog,Reviews — Tags: , — @ 1:32 pm January 12, 2015
LifeIsCool011015

Life Is Cool at The Waiting Room, Jan. 10, 2015.

by Tim McMahan, Lazy-i.com

The version of Life Is Cool that I saw at The Waiting Room Saturday night was a lot different than the version I saw play years ago somewhere in Omaha. That old version was a sort of Icky Blossoms party-band trying too hard to have fun, and it showed. This new version, featuring seven members split between Omaha, Lincoln and Chicago, is a different animal altogether. Think of them as a Midwestern version of Talking Heads combined with, say, B-52s and more than a smidgen of Arcade Fire and you’d be on the right track.

The set-up is (almost) traditional, with two guitars, bass, synths, trumpet, drummer and percussionist. The sound is eclectic bordering on artsy, with songs heavy on rhythms and light on melody. Maybe it was the mix but the dense arrangements worked best when they weren’t so crowded, when each instrument was given room to breath. When they played all at once (and loudly) the little details, which glowed so brightly individually (that cool woodblock percussion, Eric Bemberger’s chopping guitar), got lost in the din.

Frontman James Reilly seemed anxious holding it all together and occasionally shot a look like even he wasn’t sure where things were headed. Based on the number of cues from the stage during the set, monitor problems could have contributed to the sonic challenges (which is a nice way of saying it’s hard to keep a 7-piece band together when you can’t hear yourself on stage).

At their best, the band eschewed a post-punk jittery-ness that felt unsettled yet still leaned in with rhythmic funk, like the best early Talking Heads. Too often Reilly sounded restrained rather than letting it all hang out, unlike his co-vocalist (who played keys and whose name I don’t know) who willfully let herself get lost in the moment. On the other hand, there were times when they sounded like a reductive version of Arcade Fire. I prefer the direction heard on the closing number,  played after an admirable cover of Adam Ant’s “Desperate But Not Serious” that could have used a tad more swing.

No one around here is doing what Life Is Cool is trying to do, or at least no one around Omaha. For as long as I can remember, you had to head south to Lincoln for bands attempting anything this artsy, experimental and, well, cool.

sub-vectors011015

The Sub-Vectors at The Waiting Room, Jan. 10, 2015.

The night’s “main event” was The Sub-Vector’s CD release show, which was a ball… literally. As in a few dozen blow-up beach balls that bounced hyper-kinetically over the crowd throughout most of the set of fun-loving surf rock. The instrumental-only trio (bass, drums, guitar, in that order) showed the proper respect to the originators of the genre while at the same time adding their own sonic touches, hard and heavy, almost casting a metal sheen. If the songs seemed too long at times it could be due to the simple, stripped down arrangements that forecast every chord change like a hammer slamming on an anvil.

Edge of Arbor closed the evening with a set of laid-back folk rock accented by crisp bongos and guitarist Matt Whipkey’s usual glowing guitar solos. Frontwoman Jessica Errett does this style of indie-folk as well as anyone on the Lilith circuit (Maybe it’s time to retire those “Lilith Fair” comparisons, the last fair was five years ago). Oddest part of their set — at least three couples were doing ballroom dancing down on the floor, complete with twirls and dips, like watching auditions for the sequel to Silver Lining Playbook...

* * *

Reception will be spotty this week, and if I skip a few days I apologize in advance.

Show-wise, the week starts with a bang in Lincoln with the return of the Paul Collins Beat, who just played at Slowdown Jr. in October and is now taking the stage at The Zoo Bar at 7 p.m.. Go if you can.

Beyond that, nothing stands out on the rock-show radar until Friday night’s Bloodcow gig at O’Leaver’s. It could be a long week…

* * *

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: The Faint; The Faint return tonight to TWR (tickets still available)…

Category: Blog,Reviews — Tags: , , — @ 1:03 pm December 29, 2014
The Faint at The Waiting Room, Dec. 28, 2014.

The Faint at The Waiting Room, Dec. 28, 2014.

by Tim McMahan, Lazy-i.com

Faint concerts are becoming a rite of the holiday season, like putting up a Christmas Tree or anxiously figuring out what you’re going to do on New Year’s Eve (and always getting it wrong).

The crowd last night at The Waiting Room was a one-eighty from the crazy biker AARP crowd at last week’s Ritual Device/Cellophane Ceiling show (which, if you missed it, was reviewed right here, posted on Saturday). We got there early again to get a seat and were surrounded on one side by a mother and her high school-aged daughter (though that couldn’t be because I saw her drinking a wheat beer) and the other by a father and his teen-aged son (clearly too young to drink, spending most of the pre-Faint time fiddling with his cell phone).

Other than the stools along the ledge off stage right and a few around the soundboard, The Waiting Room staff had cleared the hall of tables and chairs, making as much room as possible for the sold-out crowd and what had to be a monstrous guest list. It would end up being a smart decision though at 8:15 when the opening act was on stage — a guy with a laptop and a microphone who mumbled over head-splitting drone beats — the room looked empty despite a hundred or so youngsters mulling around the floor.

Sucettes at The Waiting Room, Dec. 28, 2014.

Sucettes at The Waiting Room, Dec. 28, 2014.

It picked up by 9 when Sucettes took the stage. Dave Goldberg’s new band (first reviewed here) continues to be the embodiment of pre-psychedelic ’60s rock, a mash-up of Nuggets and surf driven by Goldberg’s flashy drumming (and organ playing). There is a childlike quality to their music, simple and happy and smiley-faced and fun, and downright innocent compared to the evil dance noise of The Faint.

As I write this I’m forced to recall the first time I saw The Faint at The Waiting Room, back in 2007, three days after they opened the place, before they tore out the ceiling when the club felt like a dive bar with a big stage in the back. I spent that night standing on a tiered ledge across from stage right above everyone, with a bird’s eye view of the mauling crowd below, hot with giddy aggression, chaos and dance frenzy. The bass at that show was pummeling; it was the loudest rock show I’d experienced since the last time I saw Bob Mould eviscerate ear drums at The Ranch Bowl. The bass was so loud and deep and disturbing that it rattled your internal organs, forcing you to wonder if something was being damaged inside your body. It was an exquisite performance.

In comparison, last night’s show was tame but still ferocious by modern-day Omaha rock show standards. The set was plenty loud, but not scary loud. The band left its orgy of lighting effects home for this gig, instead leaning on colored floor lights and smoke machines, a throwback to the very early days of The Faint when that was all the band could afford. As a result, the staging naturally felt stripped down, as did the performance.

The Faint at The Waiting Room, Dec. 28, 2014.

The Faint at The Waiting Room, Dec. 28, 2014.

And unlike the Sokol Auditorium shows earlier this year, I noticed the lack of the band’s fifth member. Bassist/guitarist Joel Petersen left The Faint a few years ago, to little or no fanfare, and the band continued well without him, but last night early in the set, his absence left a void on some of the songs. Guitarist Dapose spent the first half on bass instead of guitar, and there were times during older material that something was missing. The four-man line-up sounded best playing Doom Abuse material, which was created with this specific line-up.

And then midway through, for a stunning version of “Animal Needs,” Dapose switched to electric guitar and all was right with the world. I assume the bass was coming through either programmed tracks or a keyboard, and it sounded fine, as Dapose scorched the earth with his axe.

As for the crowd, from my vantage point, they didn’t really get into the set until the last half, erupting in the usual bounce-bounce-bounce fashion for the greatest hits, but jumping along admirably to some of the new material, specifically “Evil Voices” and “Help in the Head.” And of course during the encore and set closer “Glass Danse” that had the entire sold-out crowd bouncing.

The Faint at The Waiting Room, Dec. 28, 2014.

The Faint at The Waiting Room, Dec. 28, 2014.

You can check it out for yourself tonight, when The Faint do a repeat performance at The Waiting Room. Who knows when we’ll see this band again. With this leaner, meaner four-piece ensemble, writing music would appear to be quicker and easier. Will they put out another record this year? Who knows. Without new material, future shows would merely be a repeat, which would be just fine for most of last night’s crowd.

Tonight’s show starts again at 8. Openers are Ramona and the Slim Dudes and Feel Tight. $20 tickets are still available as of this writing…

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bestof20014cdbembedA reminder that you can win a copy of the Lazy-i Best of 2014 compilation CD — it’s the special 20th Anniversary Edition. The collection includes songs by Courtney Barnett, Sun Kil Moon, Tei Shi, Protomartyr, The Faint, Stand of Oaks, The Lupines and a ton more.  The full track listing is here. Entering has never been easier: To enter either: 1. Send an email with your mailing address to tim.mcmahan@gmail.com, or 2) Write a comment on one of my Lazy-i related posts in Facebook, or 3, Retweet a Lazy-i tweet.

Hurry, contest deadline is midnight Jan. 6!

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Read Tim McMahan’s blog daily at Lazy-i.com — an online music magazine that includes feature interviews, reviews and news. The focus is on the national indie music scene with a special emphasis on the best original bands in the Omaha area. Copyright © 2014 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

Lazy-i

Live Review: Ritual Device, Cellophane Ceiling, Nightbird…

Category: Blog,Reviews — Tags: , , , , , , — @ 8:11 pm December 27, 2014
Ritual Device at The Waiting Room, Dec. 26, 2014.

Ritual Device at The Waiting Room, Dec. 26, 2014.

by Tim McMahan, Lazy-i.com

I’m surprised to this day, 20 years after they were really a band, that Ritual Device continues to divide the music community.

On one hand, you have those who think the band not only was the ultimate product of Nebraska during its day in the ’90s, but think Tim Moss and Co. may be the best band that ever emerged from the Good Life State. I was told last night that people had made exoduses to The Waiting Room from as far away as Minneapolis and, of course, Kansas City, where Ritual Device played often back in its heyday. I even traveled down I-29 one summer in the ’90s and saw them tear apart a used record store somewhere on the edge of Westport. Unlike local bands today who seem to play every weekend for reasons I’ll never understand, Ritual Device shows were something of a rarity back then. I can remember the band playing only a few times in Omaha, usually at The Capitol Bar & Grill. So rare were their shows that they became events.

On the other hand, there are those who never “got” Ritual Device, who felt they were a “performance thing” or a gimmick, Tim Moss being little more than a circus geek who instead of biting heads off live chickens showered his crowds with pig ears and other raw meats, a demented circus barker tied up in microphone chord, spitting vitriol and mucus into an adoring crowd that could never get enough of either. I talked to a half-dozen people inside and outside the club last night who planned on leaving after Cellophane Ceiling’s set. Strike that — there were a few who wanted to see “what the fuss was all about,” who could barely remember Ritual Device in their later years but never bothered to see them at The Capitol or wherever they were playing.

I have never been on the fence when it came to the band. Those who malign Moss have their reasons — either they were turned off by the violence of the songs or the crowd that followed them. So be it. But even the most cynical who viewed the band as “an act,” who also have a modicum of interest in punk or metal, have to acknowledge the band’s talent. Strip away Moss’s histrionics and you still have some of the most memorable rhythms and riffs from an era in Nebraska music defined by rhythms and riffs. Mike Saklar was — and is — a top-notch guitarist; Jerry Hug, a genuine groove master, and then there was the preppy-looking guy behind the kit, the secret engine that made the band what it was on stage and on recordings — Eric Ebers — who gets lost in the conversation even though his throbbing drumming is the guidepost to every Ritual Device song.

Anyway… We got there early last night because Teresa didn’t want to stand up for three hours, and we weren’t alone. At 8:15 p.m., an hour and 15 minutes before any band would take the stage, all the tables already were taken by folks who looked older than me, all apparently with the same idea of finding a place to sit down for what would be a long night. Like a bloodhound Teresa found two stools along the ledge 10 feet from the soundboard squeezed behind a table of people that was a mix of biker-looking dudes and their soccer-mom wives. All around us were late-middle-aged couples and overweight guys in 20-year-old concert T-shirts. It didn’t so much seem like a wedding reception as a reunion of retired Hell’s Angels who long ago threw away their leathers.

Nightbird was joined by Pat Dieteman, center, for a handful of Cactus Nerve Thang songs.

Nightbird was joined by Pat Dieteman, center, for a handful of Cactus Nerve Thang songs.

Nightbird didn’t make it on stage until 9:30. By then the entire back end of the club was a mass of boozed up AARP members who clearly were not prepared for what they were about to hear. Nightbird is a stoner-rock band in the Sabbath / Sleep vein, maybe not that plodding but certainly not exactly an uplifting listen. As frontman Lee Meyerpeter ripped into the first song, backed by bassist Jeff Harder and drummer Scott “Zip” Zimmerman I leaned over and yelled into Teresa’s ear, “This one will last 20 minutes.” The set? she asked. No, the song.

And sure enough, it did — 20 minutes of exquisite, plodding, riffage broken into stanzas and brazen guitar solos and Meyerpeter’s raspy, guttural vocals that recalled Kurt Cobain if Cobain could hold a note without shrieking. Nightbird’s debut last July at The Sydney was hit and miss, almost experimental in its take on stoner rock. Last night they sounded like a stadium stone-metal band thanks to The Waiting Room’s far superior sound system and five months’ worth of gigs that honed their sound.

That first 20-minute song was followed by a second, pushed along in the same plodding, stoner pace. And then Meyerpeter welcomed former Cactus Nerve Thang drummer Pat Dieteman to the stage to join the band on some Cactus numbers for what would be a two-thirds reunion. Original CNT bassist Brian Poloncic apparently has hung up his bass for good, refusing to step away even for one night from his current life as a fine artist and author (btw, a large Poloncic print hangs proudly on the wall in Teresa’s home office).

No matter, Harder handled the bass and Dieteman joined in on guitar and vocals for a handful of CNT songs including “High” and “Sunshine” off their infamous Sloth CD recorded in ’93 at Junior’s Hotel in Otho, Iowa, and released on Grass Records. I’d forgotten how many good songs were on that record. The band sounded better than the last time I saw them play, which I think was on a sun-drenched deck outside Sharkey’s for a one-day music festival sometime in the mid-90s.

Meyerpeter is something of a sonic chameleon. I’ve now heard him play in punk, country, heavy-metal, post-punk and now stoner rock bands. He is one of the more versatile and prodigious musicians and songwriters Nebraska has produced in the past 20 years. I was told one of his electric guitars – one he played with Cactus Nerve Thang 20-odd years ago – was being retired after last night’s show, to be displayed in The Reverb Lounge “until they find something better to hang up there” — though I can’t imagine what that would be.

Cellophane Ceiling at The Waiting Room, Dec. 26, 2014.

Cellophane Ceiling at The Waiting Room, Dec. 26, 2014.

Next up was the main attraction for a large part of the audience, the reunion of Cellophane Ceiling. I scoured my memory for the last time I saw the band. During the interview a week or so ago, I mentioned to frontman John Wolf that it was probably at The 49’r and he just shook his head. “We rarely played there,” he said. “You’re probably thinking of Bad Luck Charm.” At one point BLC, a band that also included Meyerpeter, was practically the house band at The 49’r, playing there what seemed like every weekend. If I had seen Cellophane it was probably at the Howard Street Tavern or maybe the Capitol, two other long-lost bars in the annuls of Omaha music history.

I also have no copies of Cellophane recordings. It appears the band pre-dates my interest in Omaha music, and when Wolf and his band took the stage, the only song I recognized was the single “Don’t Play God,” and only because the video on YouTube. But there was a familiar quality to Cellophane’s music that would pop up in Bad Luck Charm and, with the heavier numbers, could be traced as influences to Ritual Device.

What makes Cellophane stand out from the rest of the late-’80s early-’90s punk rock bands is Wolf’s vocals, which have a sort of trucker slur to their delivery, almost a forced, ironic twang as if to say “We’re hicks from Nebraska, you got a problem with that?” It’s a style that would live on in BLC.

Wolf is anything but a hick. He looks, sings and plays exactly as I remember him in BLC. One old Cellophane fan told me his guitar work sounded better than it did back in the day. An ageless precision attached to an ageless rock fury. But maybe not ageless after all. Wolf displayed evidence of his age in the form of his 14-year-old son who joined the band on a half-dozen songs, looking like a well-dressed young punk in his shirt and tie, and more than able to keep up with his old man.

Why Wolf isn’t in a band these days, I do not know. Maybe his life and his family and job keep him too busy to play in bands on the weekends. It’s our loss.

Ritual Device's Moss and Hug center stage, The Waiting Room, Dec. 26, 2014.

Ritual Device’s Moss and Hug center stage, The Waiting Room, Dec. 26, 2014.

Finally, Ritual Device. Tim Moss climbed on stage in an untucked long-sleeved dress shirt, jeans, boots and a ZZ Top-style beard, ready for action. Maybe not ZZ Top. Moss with beard looks more like an R Crumb comic-book hippie, a middle-aged San Francisco Mr. Natural but with shoulder-length hair, neither foreboding nor threatening as he briskly strolled around the stage pulling microphone cords in various directions, grabbing the front stage mic and announcing, “We’re Ritual Device from Omaha, Nebraska” as the band kicked into the first number.

I had pushed my way up toward the front, near stage right, just a dozen steps from what would turn into a pseudo mosh pit and launching pad for Moss’s relentless stage dives that were more like stage lurches, leaning forward onto extended hands that pulled him into and above the crowd while he continued to speak-howl lyrics about serial killers and bizarre sex. Midway through the first melee the older and more timid members of the crowd began peeling off and heading toward the sides or back to their tables with frightened smiles pressed on their faces.

Moss’s stage thing hasn’t changed at all in 20 years. He continuously lurched at the crowd as if begging them to hurt him before he hurts himself… or them. During the second song he pulled out a brown paper grocery sack and began flinging raw pigs ears into the crowd; fans either kept them as souvenirs or threw them back at the stage — all except one Manson-esque looking dude who leaned against center-stage shaking a pig’s ear in his teeth, wagging it at the band.

The rest of the guys looked down at their instruments and smiled while old man Moss continued to get groped in the crowd. Saklar, urban chic in black dress shirt, leaned over his Fender in focused concentration while across the stage was Hug, dressed in a black T-shirt looking like a cross between a fitness instructor and hip Loyola English Lit professor as he shredded his bass. Behind them was the ageless Ebers dominating the sonic landscape with relentless, frenetic yet precise drumming — drumming that, when combined with the riffs and breaks and Moss’s insane mumble-howl, created the tense energy that defines this ageless band.

Ritual Device is indeed the band that time forgot, except of course for Moss, whose crazy beard and shoulder-length Jesus hair has turned him into an angry, crazy grandpa complete with weird, black tiger-stripe tattoos up and down his forearms. Even when he was a clean-shaven lad in the ’90s there was something sinister about his stage presence, a far cry from the person he is in real life.

For those keeping score, the band played all the favorites including “Charlie Jones” and “What You Got.” They did, indeed, sound as good as I remembered them sounding 15 or 20 years ago. And while the frenzy in the middle of the crowd continued until the end, it never got out of hand. There are few modern-day local (or national) bands that bring the level of energy to the performance that Moss does (The closest that comes to mind for sheer weird chaos is probably Worried Mothers).

Reunion shows are precarious things. By their very nature they distort fans’ memories of who the bands were and what they sounded like the last time they played, which may have been decades ago. The risk is that whatever climbs on stage will be a weaker, sloppier and obviously older version of their former selves. That was not the case last night. All the bands did their legacies proud.

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Last minute reminder about tonight’s Good Life show at The Waiting Room. It’ll be butting up against the Huskers playing in the Whatever Bowl, so who knows what kind of crowd will be there. Opening is Oquoa and Big Harp. $13, 9 p.m.

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Read Tim McMahan’s blog daily at Lazy-i.com — an online music magazine that includes feature interviews, reviews and news. The focus is on the national indie music scene with a special emphasis on the best original bands in the Omaha area. Copyright © 2014 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

Lazy-i

Live Review: Neva Dinova’s last hurrah; 2014: The Year in Music (favorite albums, shows)…

Category: Blog,Reviews — Tags: , , , , — @ 2:11 pm December 24, 2014
Neva Dinova at The Slowdown, Dec. 23, 2014.

Neva Dinova at The Slowdown, Dec. 23, 2014.

by Tim McMahan, Lazy-i.com

Is there a more beloved local indie band than Neva Dinova? I have yet to meet anyone who has met Jake Bellows who didn’t want to be his friend. Well, last night hundreds of those friends were at The Slowdown to soak in all the goodness that was — and is — Neva Dinova one last time.

It was not a sell out, but it was crowded. Neva came on at around 11 — the full band with Roger Lewis on drums. The set started a bit rough, but what do you expect from a band that hasn’t played live in six years? One of the three guitars was out of tune, or at least that’s what I thought I heard from my usual “big room” vantage point off stage left. Whatever it was fixed itself by the next song, and as the set rolled on, the band sounded tighter and tighter.

Neva Dinova always was fun to watch but I don’t remember them sounding this massive back in the old days. The band takes advantage of all those guitars, creating a mountain that Bellows can stand atop either with his vocals or his white-knuckle guitar solos. For every quiet sleeper of a song there’s also a fun shuffle and a monstrous epic.  Last night’s set list did a good job of varying the different styles and dynamics.

Conor Oberst joined the band for a handful of songs.

Conor Oberst joined the band for a handful of songs.

The addition of special guests also kept the hour-plus-long set rolling. Drummer Bo Anderson took over the drum set midway through for a couple songs, returning for two more songs during the encore. The Good Life’s Ryan Fox dropped in for one song, while cellist April Faith-Slaker added texture to a couple numbers including a rich version of “Tryptophan.”

And then out of nowhere — looking like a hitch-hiker who just stepped off the road — came Conor Oberst to relive a few tracks off the Bright Eyes / Neva Dinova split, opening with Bright Eyes song “Spring Cleaning” before joining in on a couple Neva numbers.

But the evening’s highlight didn’t come until that four-song encore. The band ended the evening with heart-rending revivals of classics “Clouds” off 2008’s You May Already Be Dreaming, and “Dances Fantastic” from their 2002 self-titled debut. You couldn’t ask for anything more, except maybe another reunion of this band next Christmas. If that doesn’t happen (and it’s unlikely that it will) there was no better way to put a bow on top of this band’s career than what we heard last night.

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Now it’s time to take a break from the hustle and bustle of the holiday season and soak in my annual Year in Review article. Consider it my present to you. It also appears in today’s issue of The Reader and is also online right here. The tone starts off rather bleak, but it picks up later on. This also includes my annual “favorites” list of 2014 recordings and live shows. Enjoy.

2014: The Year in Music

The one word that comes to mind when looking back at the past year in music: Survival.

Or, more accurately, the question: How will musicians survive? It finally started to dawn on people about halfway through the year that Spotify is really fucking things up.

I don’t know how independent musicians are going to make money in the future. Income from album sales appears to be drying up, for everyone. It’s even hurting the major labels. When platinum-selling mega-nerd Taylor Swift said she wasn’t going to allow her music on Spotify, non-musicians started paying attention, and the issues surrounding music streaming services briefly became the fodder for network morning shows, painting a defiant Swift as a voice of reason in an era when artists have seemingly been forced to give away their wares.

A few fellow superstars followed Swift boycotting Spotify, but in the end, the streaming service kept bumbling along. Spotify truly is the poison apple in the Garden of Eden. We all know Spotify’s instant access to millions of albums is nothing less than a salt-block of evil. We know using Spotify probably contributes to killing off indie labels naive enough to release their artists’ music to the service. We’ve all heard stories about the bands that got a 27 cent Spotify royalty check in the mail.

And yet, we can’t help ourselves. We keep reaching for our smart phones, putting in our earbuds and taking a bite out of that shiny green apple. Who’s killing the music industry? We are. You and I and anyone who uses Spotify, Pandora, Songza and other music streaming services, but god help us, we can’t stop ourselves.

Spotify isn’t going away, so young bands can wave goodbye to substantial income from record sales. Musicians will have to survive off performance income and T-shirt sales. Merch. I’ve been told that’s the way it always was supposed to be, that the pre-internet years of records sales (where, in reality, only a handful of artists made big money and the labels took home the lion’s share) were an aberration. That the new music model revolves around musicians giving away their music to grow an audience that will come to their shows when they hit the road.

So says Foo Fighter Dave Grohl, a guy who already made his millions during better days. Grohl, as quoted in online music site Stereogum:

You want people to fucking listen to your music? Give them your music. And then go play a show. They like hearing your music? They’ll go see a show. To me it’s that simple, and I think it used to work that way. When we were young and in really noisy, crappy punk rock bands there was no career opportunity and we loved doing it and people loved fucking watching it and the delivery was completely face to face and personal. That’s what got people really excited about shit. Nowadays there’s so much focus on technology that it doesn’t really matter.

I wonder what “noisy, crappy punk rock bands” Grohl is referring to. Have you heard the new Foo Fighters record?

Anyway, for those musicians who never tour, making music is turning into a hobby — something to do on weekends, a reason to hang with your bro’s. If they’re any good, these hobbyist bands might play local shows where they’ll make enough money to pay off the evening’s bar tab — if they get paid at all. There are those who will still reach for bigger things, who contemplate getting “signed” or even touring, but fewer and fewer will ever make that leap regardless of how talented they are.

Why? It just costs too much money. Sure, recording music and putting it online is now within everyone’s reach, but touring, well, that’s expensive and time consuming. There is a handful of Nebraska bands talented enough to attract a national audience, but they never will because they’ll never tour. They’ll put their music online and wait for the phone to ring. Call them lazy, but the fact is despite their dreams they still need to feed themselves and their families. They need to survive.

Holy shit, that sounds bleak. And every year that I write these “year in review” articles it just gets bleaker, yet we’re all still here, listening to music.

Two good things to consider from 2014:

First, the number of music venues in Omaha continues to increase (supporting that idea that performance income is the only real musicians’ income). Classy Benson bar/music venue Reverb Lounge opened this past fall and joined an already crowded Omaha music venue population that includes The Waiting Room, The Slowdown, O’Leaver’s, Barley Street Tavern, The Sydney, 402 Collective, The Sweatshop, PS Collective, and good ol’ Sokol. In all my years I can’t remember there being more places for musicians to perform.

Secondly, while music sales continue ever downward, reaching out of the grave is old-fashioned vinyl records. It’s strange when more people are excited about the format of their music than what the format contains. Vinyl is everything, at least to serious music fans, but it’s still only a sliver of total music sales.

Last week the Wall Street Journal reported LP sales surged 49 percent last year and that factories are struggling to keep pace, but in the end, vinyl sales represent only 2 percent of U.S. music sales (*sad trombone*). To the great unwashed masses feverishly downloading the latest Taylor Swift teen-wank fodder, the trend toward vinyl has gone unnoticed. They don’t even know what a record player looks like, let alone how to use one.

There is a third “good thing” to consider: The music itself. Here’s the list of my favorite albums of 2014. Notice I didn’t say “best albums”? These aren’t “the best” (whatever that means), they’re the ones I enjoyed the most, which means the new records by Beck, St. Vincent and U2 didn’t make the cut because, well, I didn’t like them.

benjiSun Kil Moon, Benji (Caldo Verde) — The best My favorite Mark Kozelek record, a collection of haunting personal elegies about living and dying (but mostly dying).

jagbagStephen Malkmus and the Jicks, Wig Out at Jagbags (Matador) — Continuing the smooth melodicism that Malkmus escaped to after leaving Pavement. Sublime.

spoonsoulSpoon, They Want My Soul (Loma Vista) — Laid-back indie rock from a veteran.

angelAngel Olsen, Burn Your Fire for No Witness (Jagjaguwar) — Alt-country meets indie rock, an exquisite combination.

doomabuseThe Faint, Doom Abuse (SQE Music) — Local boys return to form. Where have you been, lads?

strandStrand of Oaks, Heal (Dead Oceans) — Raw reflections of nostalgia in the rock age.

lupinesoverThe Lupines, Over the Moon (Speed! Nebraska) — From a Nebraska garage comes the wolfen.

alvvaysAlvvays, self-titled (Polyvinyl / Transgressive) — Chiming indie pop is a salvation.

The War on Drugs, Lost in the Dream (Secretly Canadian) — There’s nothing wrong with imitating Dylan and Dire Straits when it sounds like this.

singlesFuture Islands, Singles (4AD) — More than just fancy dance moves, fancy synth moves.

protomartyunderProtomartyr, Under Color of Official Right (Hardly Art) — Proto-punk with a bitter, bitter heart.

And then there were the rock shows. It was another great year for live music. Here are my favorite rock memories of 2014:

The Front Bottoms, The Waiting Room, Jan. 12 — Their sound was reminiscent of some of my favorite humor-inflected bands of the ‘90s and ’00s — Atom and his Package, Fountains of Wayne, Too Much Joy, Mountain Goats, Dismemberment Plan, The Hold Steady, The Decemberists — bands that write smart, funny, self-referential lyrics that anyone can relate to.

Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks, The Waiting Room, Feb. 16 — It 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. The rest of the show was almost as special.

Neutral Milk Hotel, Sokol Auditorium, March 29 — Fans I spoke to never expected to see this band play again, let alone play in Omaha. And here they were, playing their best songs spot-on with every nuance from the original recording.

St. Vincent, Sokol Auditorium, April 1 — It looked and felt forced and uncomfortable, purposely rigid and thoroughly counter to the loose-and-rough spontaneity of rock. Instead, it was more of an attempt at art rock, but without the limitlessness of a Laurie Anderson.

Warpaint, The Waiting Room, April 2 — Their sound was equal parts ethereal mood music and beat-driven dance fodder, with sweet vocals by all four musicians — and when all four harmonized, well, bliss.

Deleted Scenes, Slowdown Jr., May 1 — The highlight was that closing number, “You Get to Say Whatever You Want,” when Dan Scheuerman walked into the crowd and touched foreheads with a couple innocent bystanders, performing a mortifying rock ‘n’ roll mind meld.

Morrissey, Rococo Theater, May 20 — Needless to say, there were a lot of pissed-off people walking out of The Rococo after Morrissey refused an encore. While I would have liked to hear a couple more songs, the decision to play is squarely on his shoulders, and if he wasn’t feeling it, that’s the way it goes.

Conor Oberst, Sokol Auditorium, June 4 — Fueling the energy was Dawes, a masterful four-piece that gave every song heft and soul. The band sounded so much like early Jackson Browne you would have sworn that was David Lindley playing those guitar solos and Craig Doerge tapping out the glowing keyboard fills.

The Faint, Sokol Auditorium, June 12 — From the floor, it’s all about the dancing, or more accurately, hopping since no one’s really dancing. They’re bouncing or “humping” to the electro-throb. Those in the middle of the mob became part of the collective body grooving where the Sokol’s oak floor had (apparently) been replaced with a trampoline.

Matthew Sweet / Tommy Keene, O’Leaver’s, July 30 — It was nothing less than a dream come true for Matthew Sweet fans. There he was, literally steps in front of them, surrounded by a top-notch band playing all of his “greatest hits” one after the other in fine voice. As Sweet said, it was like playing a gig in someone’s living room.

Maha Music Festival, Stinson Park, Aug. 17 —  It was a good, though rather exhausting, day thanks to humid weather and a loaded line-up that made it hard to sneak away to re-energize.

Future Islands, The Waiting Room, Aug. 28 — You did not hear Samuel T. at his best. His vocals were ragged from the very start, often breaking down to choked whispers.

Sebadoh, Reverb Lounge, Sept. 28 — Barlow’s getting shaggy in his old age, with a big head of hair and a massive beard. His voice was as good as ever (when I could hear it). Loewenstein also was in fine form (especial on his personal anthem, “My Drugs”), despite suffering from a tooth ache. Ouch.

Iceage, Slowdown Jr., Oct. 27 — The performance seemed like a captured moment in time, and I felt lucky to be there. Iceage is a band burning brightly. But like all bright flames, how long will it last?

Twin Peaks, Midtown Art Supply, Nov. 25 — Twin Peaks’ music is rowdy up-beat rock that borders on garage surf, but there is a precision to it that puts it on another level.

Ritual Device / Cellophane Ceiling, The Waiting Room, Dec. 26 — Two of the most anticipated reunions ever, straight out of Nebraska’s first Golden Age of indie rock.

First published in The Reader, Dec. 23, 2014. Copyright © 2014 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

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Have a Merry Christmas. See you Friday at The Waiting Room…

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Read Tim McMahan’s blog daily at Lazy-i.com — an online music magazine that includes feature interviews, reviews and news. The focus is on the national indie music scene with a special emphasis on the best original bands in the Omaha area. Copyright © 2014 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

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Live Review: The psychedelic buzz and howl of Calm Fur, Slushy, the electric blue Lupines…

Category: Blog,Reviews — Tags: , , , , — @ 1:49 pm December 8, 2014
Calm Fur at the Barley Street Tavern, Dec. 5, 2014.

Calm Fur at the Barley Street Tavern, Dec. 5, 2014.

by Tim McMahan, Lazy-i.com

I found the buzz and howl of Calm Fur to be rather sublime — a psychedelic cascade of noise and color and sound that blended every ’60s arena rock acid trip with the post-modern noise of, say, Sonic Youth to create a wholly new and cumbersome thing.

It didn’t come easy; it took awhile for the band to get into a groove.  Wearing a white-fur jacket (epitomizing the band’s name) frontman Jason Meyer has emerged as Omaha’s version of Wayne Coyne, a colorful, arty dude who isn’t happy with just playing shows. Instead, his gigs are audio-visual-powered “happenings.” Think back to one of those notable Talking Mountain shows (one of Meyre’s other bands) where smoke broiled out the club’s doors and audience members wore sun glasses to protect their eyes from blazing LED light rigs.

Meyer shows always involve special effects panache, even if it’s just a couple guys wearing furry Muppet-style masks. For Calm Fur, the enhanced experience involved two overhead projectors set up on either side of the Barley Street stage, along with an assortment of markers, glitter and confetti. Audience members were invited to come up during the set and let their creative spirit run wild, but no one did, at least not until about halfway through their set when a young women began scribbling with a marker which washed out over the band. Psychedelic, man.

Give credit to Meyer. Nothing is more boring than watching a bunch of guys slumped over their instrument, hardly moving. Meyer doesn’t want to fall into that sanguine trap, though no special effects were necessary to make Friday night’s set interesting… or at least different.

Like I said, it took awhile for the band to get things going. When they started out, I wondered why Meyer wanted that keyboard to fuss up the sound. By the third song I was thinking ‘That keyboard really makes this work.” I don’t know who keyboardist “Jesy” is, but her simple tones and style (and voice) were the perfect complements to Garrett Schmelzel from Snake Island’s acidic 12-string electric guitar and Meyer’s ever-droning bass. By the fourth or fifth song, the band hit its stride and even had me buzzing. They followed it with a couple shaky covers that featured the next performer, Slushy.

Slushy is former Omahan (and Talking Mountains guy) Chris Kramer doing his rendition of Nuggets-era pop songs sung alone over pre-recorded tracks, karaoke style. Kramer’s choice of music and his aerobic-styles performance made for a fun set, at least for the first 15 minutes. I’m told that Kramer has a working band he plays with in Chicago. Someone needs to get those folks out here.

Lupines at The Barley Street Tavern Dec. 5, 2014.

Lupines at The Barley Street Tavern Dec. 5, 2014.

Finally sometime after midnight The Lupines took the stage, basking in the full intensity of Barley Street’s fancy new digital lighting system, which cast them in eerie electric blue. What more to say about Lupines that I haven’t already said, other than you need to check them out if your thing is blistering garage rock. It was a great way to cap off what turned out to be a looong night.

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Read Tim McMahan’s blog daily at Lazy-i.com — an online music magazine that includes feature interviews, reviews and news. The focus is on the national indie music scene with a special emphasis on the best original bands in the Omaha area. Copyright © 2014 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

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