CD Review: Left is West: How to be Happy Without Even Trying (at O’Leaver’s May 10)…

Category: Reviews — Tags: , — @ 12:33 pm May 8, 2019

Left Is West, How to be Happy Without Even Trying (2018, self release)

by Tim McMahan,

While at the Minne Lusa show last weekend at O’Leaver’s, Mike Tulis, one of the area’s finest musicians and a man with impeccable taste, handed me a copy of the new Left Is West CD How to Be Happy Without Even Trying and said it was one of the best records he’s heard so far this year. That’s high praise coming from someone who has forgotten more music than most of us have heard.

Left Is West is a Des Moines, Iowa, band that’s been around since 2004, according to their bio on Facebook. At the center is singer-songwriter Chad O’Neall, who plays guitar alongside Matt Wellendorf, lead guitar; Pat Curtis, drums; John Parrish, bass, and Matt Jesson on keyboards. This current line-up has been together since 2013 and includes members of such acts as North of Grand, Brother Tucker and Monday Mourners, a band that released a split LP last year with Omaha act Clarence Tilton.

Tilton is among the bands that came to mind when listening to the CD, along with Wilco, The Jayhawks, Matthew Sweet and Centro-Matic, as well as classic ’70s FM acts like England Dan and John Ford Coley, Jackson Browne, J.D. Souther and dare I say it, The Eagles. The record skirts the border between modern Americana and slick FM MOR of yesteryear. MOR as in “Middle of the Road,” as in stuff I remember hearing on KFAB when KFAB played music.

We’re talking songs with sing-along choruses (none more so than “You Got the Coast,” which will make an appearance on my 2019 “best of” comp), ripping electric guitar solos, traditional rock-song structures complete with “big endings.” O’Neall knows how to write a great power-pop song — and every one of these has a massive hook. If you’re like me, you can’t get enough of it.

That said, this record will never be reviewed by Pitchfork, never be featured on Stereogum. It’s not “indie” in a genre-centric sense, though if Wilco had released this record it would be mega. This is college music for people who went to college in the ’80s or ’90s, which can be problematic because it’s hard to market music to a generation that quit going to the bars and listening to new music well over a decade ago.

That said, Mr. Tulis is right (He’s always right). And like him I, too, think this is one of the best records I’ve heard so far this year (and it’s been a very good year, my friends).

You won’t find this on Bandcamp (or at least I couldn’t). You will find it on Spotify and on Apple Music (probably). And you’ll very likely be able to buy your copy when Left is West plays at O’Leaver’s this Friday night with Lupines (Mike Tulis’ band). See you there.

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Read Tim McMahan’s blog daily at — 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 © 2019 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.


Maha 2019 initial reaction; Live Review: Sasami, Ellis; Thick Paint Sunday…

Category: Reviews — Tags: , , , — @ 9:27 am April 19, 2019

Sasami at Reverb Lounge, April 19, 2019.

by Tim McMahan,

My initial reaction to Maha 2019: It’s the best line-up they’ve ever had: Lizzo, Courtney Barnett, Jenny Lewis, Snail Mail, and best of all, Thee Oh Sees — a band that has been avoiding Omaha for as long as I can remember. Now you’ll get to see them in all their glory.

There’s about a half-dozen more acts. You can see the full line-up here. Two-day GA festival tickets are $80 (Plus an $11 fee!). Like I said, best line-up ever, but quality rarely equates to quantity audience wise… If they wanted to outdo last year’s attendance, they’d need another Weezer, which they don’t got (thankfully).

More thoughts on the line-up next Monday.

* * *

Sasami at Reverb last night was a hoot. Rarely have I seen such a well-balanced trio, with every musician playing a crucial roll, and amazingly so. The drummer was mesmerizing, and the bass at times carried the melody, but at the center was Sasami Ashworth, who you could tell was having a great time playing for a room half-filled with young women, all of whom crowded the stage (while the old dudes stood in back).

I’m paraphrasing here, but she said something like, “I love this crowd. This is a million times better than last night’s crowd. Fuck Denver!” Then went on to say she has nothing against old white guys. “My Jewish manager is here and I love him, but fuck ya! Girls to the front!” Indeed.

There were more white-guy comments later in the set, and I suppose someone could have been offended but who cares? I was easily old enough to be the grandfather to most of the women dancing up by the stage, and you could argue I didn’t belong there, except for the fact that I’ve never thought twice about my age when it comes to music. Especially music as good as Sasami’s, which, with her soaring guitar riffs and soft, low voice (that at times struggled to be heard above the amp center stage) reminded me of Exile-era Liz Phair but powered by an amazing rhythm section.

Show highlights were scorching versions of “Free” and “At Hollywood” (where she substituted “Omaha” for “Hollywood” the first time through), both off her self-titled debut. While that record is great, it doesn’t come close to capturing her live energy (but few studio albums do).

Opening act Ellis was a good match as a tour mate, with a similar songwriting style and a voice that also was hard to hear over the band. She ended her set with a song called “The Fuzz” that started with just her and her electric guitar, and you could hear every word: “The sky was big and it was dark / A picnic table in the yard / I still remember how it felt / When the sky came crashing down.” And then the band came in and that was the end of that. I made a note to find the song after I got home to find out what happened next.

* * *

I’m happy I went out last night because there ain’t dick going on this weekend. Since when did Passover/Easter become such a dead holiday show-wise?

There is one gig you won’t want to miss and it’s Sunday night.

Local heroes Thick Paint celebrate the release of their debut full-length Sunday night at Reverb Lounge. This one’s a long time coming, and I guess it’s a self-release, though I know there were labels sniffing around last summer. Who needs labels in the digital age, right?

Opening the show is Portland band Ancient Pools. 8 p.m. and $7. Expect a crowd.

That’s all I got. If I missed your show, put in the comments section. Have a mighty fine holiday.

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Read Tim McMahan’s blog daily at — 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 © 2019 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.


Live Review: Kero Kero Bonito; Will Johnson tonight…

Category: Reviews — Tags: , — @ 12:40 pm April 8, 2019

Kero Kero Bonito at The Waiting Room, April 5, 2019

by Tim McMahan,

I went into Friday night’s Kero Kero Bonito show at The Waiting Room knowing nothing about the band other than they are on Polyvinyl Records, home to some of the cooler indie bands in the last 20 years (Rainer Maria, Pedro the Lion, Alvvays). Someone outside the club told me they were a K-Pop group. Nothing could have been further from the truth.

In fact KKB was a five-piece British indie pop act with a Japanese front woman who sang, rapped, played keyboards and balanced stuffed animals on her head throughout the set. The music had a break-beat pop flash, driven by an amazing rhythm section with fantastic drumming provided by tour drummer Jennifer Walton (most of the night).  Vocalist Sarah Bonito had a playful, child-like rap/sing style that worked well for songs about stuff like swimming and playing on trampolines. 

Early in the set, it kind of felt like Saturday morning kid’s stuff, but as the set progressed, compositions became more sophisticated and stylish in a yacht-rock sort of way. Guitarist James Rowland proved he could shred when needed, but the band’s mix downplayed his guitar. In fact, the mix felt purposely flat and two-dimensional, with nothing standing out other than front-woman Bonito’s sing-song rap. 

This was another example of a band with a mysterious huge following (tables and chairs were taken out for this show to make room for the massive crowd) that knew the words to what was clearly the band’s “hits,” which have never been heard on any local airwaves. It must be a YouTube thing. The whole crowd joined in on single “Flamingo” (a video with more than 38 million YouTube plays), and I haven’t seen a room bounce like as it did for encore “Trampoline” since the last Faint concert. 

The oddest moment of the evening came after the show ended. The band’s outro music was a synth version of John Denver’s “Country Roads” that had the entire room singing along as they headed for the doors. 

* * *

Tonight at an unspecified location (though I promise it’s some place you’ll like) Will Johnson of Centro-Matic, South San Gabriel and Monsters of Folk fame plays an intimate living room concert. A limited number of $20 tickets are still available for this 8 p.m. performance. For more information, go here.

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Read Tim McMahan’s blog daily at — 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 © 2019 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.


Live Review: Hand Habits, Tomberlin; Laura Jane Grace (Against Me!), Rob Noyes, David Nance tonight…

Category: Reviews — Tags: , , , — @ 12:36 pm April 2, 2019

Hand Habits at Slowdown Jr., April 1, 2019.

by Tim McMahan,

Sara Beth Tomberlin — or just Tomberlin as she’s known professionally and Toblerone as I sometimes mistakenly call her — sat center-stage at Slowdown Jr. last night with an acoustic guitar balanced on her crossed legs and sang heart-breakingly sad personal-journey songs in a voice I can only describe as “angelic.” You’d expect someone who writes such painful lyrics to be church-mouse quiet between songs and mumble morose thank you’s but instead, Tomberlin was a natural crack-up, talking about the time she was on the Jimmy Kimmel show during a bomb threat and how long it takes to get to the nearest Target from her hometown (hour and a half).

Tomberlin at Slowdown Jr., April 1, 2019.

She sang songs off her Saddle Creek debut as well as a couple new ones that fell into the same solemn territory as the others.  She thanked the crowd for being so quiet — the audience of around 60 stood as if in a trance throughout, except for two younger audience members who did a modified grind dance to every sad song.

By contrast, Hand Habits was a veritable rock show. Playing as a trio with bass and drums, Meg Duffy led with an electric guitar that broke away a few too few times for soaring solos that would make Richard Thompson proud. Duffy’s guitar work was stellar and I wished they’d work more of those solos into the set.

Instead, the band played mostly by the numbers songs from their latest Saddle Creek release, Placeholder, which is an early runner for my 2019 top-albums list. On the record, Duffy’s voice sounds like it’s always in harmony with someone or some thing. Live, the drummer added gorgeous harmonies, but for the big single, “Can’t Calm Down,” Tomberlin came up to the stage for one of the night’s highlights.

I can’t quite put my finger on who Duffy reminds me of, and I suppose they’d appreciate that (I’ve yet to meet a musician who likes being compared to anyone). That said (haha) I was at times reminded of Aimee Mann, at least in terms of the way Duffy and company made the most out of simple compositions for maximum emotional impact.

Not surprisingly, both acts said they were happy to be playing home base for Saddle Creek Records, whose reps were sprinkled throughout the audience, proudly watching their latest signees knock them dead.

* * *

Huge show tonight at fabulous O’Leaver’s. Laura Jane Grace of Against Me! is playing with her band, The Devouring Mothers. Advanced tickets to this show are long gone, but there may be a few available at the door for $22.50. The door is at 6:30, so if you’re interested, you’ll want to get in line well before than. The show starts at 7:30 with opening sets by Mercy Union and Control Top.

Also tonight, guitar virtuoso Rob Noyes performs at Reverb Lounge. Joining him are Jon Collin and our very own David Nance. $10, 9 p.m.

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Read Tim McMahan’s blog daily at — 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 © 2018 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.


Live Review: Oberst/Bridgers’ Better Oblivion Community Center; Black Moth Super Rainbow, Brazen Throats tonight; Liz Cooper Sunday…

Category: Reviews — Tags: , , — @ 12:37 pm March 22, 2019

Better Oblivion Community Center at The Slowdown, March 21, 2019.

by Tim McMahan,

Last night’s Conor Oberst/Phoebe Bridgers Better Oblivion Community Center (BOCC) gig at The Slowdown was a packed affair; a crowd that in many ways resembled your typical album release show where fans mix with proud parents and family members. The difference being that BOCC is probably the most successful project Conor Oberst has launched since Bright Eyes. Whereas Desaparecidos, Monsters of Folk and Mystic Valley Band all produced some good tunes, they always felt like bro-fueled good-time side projects, creative diversions between Bright Eyes and/or Conor Oberst solo projects.

BOCC holds a bit of that essence as well. You can’t help but think Oberst and Bridgers just like hanging around each other and said, “Let’s do a band, that way we can tour together,” then set out to combine their varied styles of songwriting. Sharp-eared fans will recognize the Bridgers’ portions — all her music has a similar cascading harmonic style, like watching snow fall — and Oberst’s sing-song folk harmonies, which have become less varied musically over the past few years.

Most of the time they mesh well and take advantage of their contrasting vocal styles. Bridgers’ voice couldn’t be more light-as-air angelic; Oberst couldn’t sound more guttural and down-to-earth. It can be a brittle mixture, especially live when Bridgers is trying to harmonize with a guy whose voice sounds two octaves lower than hers. At times, its very charming; at other times, you just want one or the other to shut-up and let the other handle it.

An example is BOCC’s cover of Bright Eyes’ “Lua.” Bridgers led off the song alone, her high, thin voice added a new layer of loneliness to an already forlorn song. When Oberst came in on the second verse it felt like putting on an old pair of well-worn shoes, and I just wanted him to carry on the rest of the way (which he mainly did).

“Lua” was never written to be a duet. The songs on the BOCC album presumably were, or at least were written together.  The rough edges become less abrasive after multiple album listenings, but are still very obvious live on stage, for better or worse.

The set covered most, if not all, of the new album as well as renditions of a number of Bridgers and Oberst solo songs, and a cover of The Replacements’ “Can’t Hardly Wait,” with Oberst rippingly handling the leads and our own Patrick Newberry handling the trumpet. It was a highlight, along with a fantastic version of Bridgers’ “Would You Rather,” which is a perfect melding of their styles.

Oberst and Bridgers played guitars all night, with Christian Lee Hutson adding some tasty leads and keyboards. Missing was the soaring Nick Zinner guitar lines (Zinner of Yeah Yeah Yeahs fame, is one of the best axe-bearers in the business), but the combo still was plenty ferocious.

The between-song patter brought up only one controversy, at least for Omahans. I don’t know anything about Phoebe Bridgers except her music. And though I’ve been writing and interviewing Oberst for more than two decades, I don’t really know anything about him, either, except his music.

So when the two of them combined to make comments like “This one’s written about our home town, Los Angeles,” I don’t know if they’re speaking proudly of good ol’ El Lay or are taking a jab at 311, which Bridgers seemed to do when she sarcastically said her favorite Omaha band is 311. Nor do I care, because Oberst has lived all over the country for the past two decades, and as far as I know, still owns a mansion in Fairacreas, whether he actually sleeps there or not. Still, Nebraskans are proud of his heritage (We have so little else to point to on a national level). A few in the crowd booed the first time Oberst/Bridgers mentioned LA as their hometown. The second time, they cheered.

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A few interesting shows this weekend…

Tonight Black Moth Super Rainbow headlines at The Waiting Room — trippy psych/experimental synth stuff. Opening are Stever Hauschild and High Tides. $17, 9 p.m.

Also tonight, Brazen Throats opens a show at fabulous O’Leaver’s. Consisting of guitarist/vocalist Rich Higgins (Sideshow), bassist Rob Rothe (13 County) and drummer Paul Engelhard (For Against), it’s like a ’90s-’00s Lincoln supergroup. They’re up first, followed by Minne Lussa and headliner Satellite Junction. $5, 9 p.m.

Saturday night at O’Leaver’s Fort Collins art-rock band Safekeeper headlines. Bach Mai and Death Cow open at 10 p.m. $5.

Sunday night Liz Cooper and the Stampede (Sleepyhead Records) headlines at Reverb Lounge. Sean Pratt opens at 8 p.m. $14.

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

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Read Tim McMahan’s blog daily at — 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 © 2018 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.


Live Review: Lupines, Chase the Ghost; Kacey Musgraves and the Grammys…

Category: Reviews — Tags: , , , — @ 1:41 pm February 11, 2019

Lupines at O’Leaver’s Feb. 9, 2019…

by Tim McMahan,

Quite a coincidence that two Grammy winners also played at O’Leaver’s Saturday night.

Lupines frontman John Ziegler accepted the award for Best Rock Performance last night surrounded by the rest of the band. Ziegler thanked the academy and “his team” that includes his record label and its army of marketing personnel that have made Lupines a household name. Wearing a classic Nudie Cohn suit, bassist Mike Tulis saluted fellow nominees Artic Monkeys and Greta Van Fleet before flipping off the star-studded audience to roars of applause.

On the other hand, after accepting their award for Best New Artist, Chase the Ghost members Brian Tait and Reagan Roeder were immediately detained by federal law enforcement agents the moment they walked off stage. I’m told they’ve since escaped custody and currently are hiding out at Grammy President Neil Portnow’s plush Malibu compound.

Chase the Ghost at O’Leaver’s Feb. 9, 2019.

That Best New Artist award was a real surprise for everyone as Saturday night’s O’Leaver’s gig was (I believe) only the second performance ever by Chase the Ghost. The duo puts an extra helping of “psychedelic” in their psych-rock style, resulting in a strange outer-body experience. Reagan was in his usual good voice on these stripped-down indie-flavored hoe-downs. Tait, looking like a young Hunter S. Thompson in white cowboy hat, white glasses and white patent-leather shoes, sported one of the more unique drumming styles in recent memory, bashing out rhythms while adding backing howls. Great stuff, though the duo only played four songs after Roeder’s guitar suffered a technical mishap.

Reagan couldn’t put a date on when they’ll play again. Neither could Tait, though he said they hope to release a recording (possibly even on vinyl). And they have this video (below), which encapsulates the duo’s essence quite accurately.

They were followed by the always awesome Lupines. I’ve seen these guys a million times and every time I walk away saying to myself, “They deserve a Grammy for Best Rock Performance.” I don’t know what more to say other than, along with David Nance, they’re my favorite rock band from this area. If you haven’t seen them (especially if you’re a fan of Nance’s sound, which is currently grabbing national attention), you owe yourself the favor.

* * *

Speaking of The Grammys, I’ve been listening to the big winner Kacey Musgrave’s album, Golden Hour, all morning. I know it’s been said before (by Kevin Coffey last night, for example), but this isn’t what I consider a “country” album. It’s more like a middle-of-the-road folk-rock record. Anyone who remembers when KFAB used to play music back in the ’70s and ’80s will recognize this sound — harmless 4/4 background music perfect for an evening of grocery shopping at your local Hinky Dinky. Well done for sure. Nice. Who remembers Crystal Gayle? Anne Murray? Juice Newton?

Even Pitchfork gave this record a great review (strangely). I guess the country classification comes from her slight twang? The occasional banjo? The single “Space Cowboy”? Or is this where country music resides these days? Maybe it has for awhile. Or maybe it’s because Musgraves music doesn’t fit in any other category…

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Read Tim McMahan’s blog daily at — 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 © 2019 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.


Review: Spielbergs, This Is Not the End; Trump re-election (in the column)…

Category: Reviews — Tags: , — @ 1:37 pm February 5, 2019

Spielbergs, This Is Not the End (2019, By the Time It Gets Dark)

by Tim McMahan,

Just a quick note to pass along a recommendation, in fact the first recommendation of 2019.

Spielbergs are a Norwegian trio that formed in Oslo back in 2016. Their name is (you guessed it) a sort of tribute to Steven Spielberg, apparently after seeing Close Encounters for the first time.

This Is Not the End is their full-length debut, which came out last Friday on tiny indie label By the Time It Gets Dark Records. No doubt these kids grew up listening to ’90s-era indie as the record combines all the best qualities from the best bands of that time period. They’ve been compared to Japandroids, Titus Andronicus and No Age, but to me they’ve got more in common with the grinding indie rock of Superchuck and the massive hooks on early Teenage Fanclub albums.

A little past halfway through the album is a 7-plus minute epic tonal composition that sounds like Yo La Tengo combined with a modern-day Trent Reznor soundtrack. Titled “McDonald’s (Please Don’t Fuck Up My Order)” it underscores the understated humor that runs throughout this album. And it’s gorgeous. It’s followed by “Sleeper,” an acoustic number with the same simply beauty as “A Pillow of Winds” from Pink Floyd’s Meddle.

Those two quiet songs are the exception to the rule on an album that consists mostly of bombastic, feedback-fueled anthem rockers that are going to sound even better this summer. A great way to start off 2019…

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This month’s Over the Edge column for The Reader went online this morning, just in time for the State of the Union address. It’s a cautionary tale about what Trump would have to do to win a second term, and how easy it would be (if Trump wasn’t Trump). You can read it online here or in the February issue of The Reader, on newsstands somewhere…

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Read Tim McMahan’s blog daily at — 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 © 2019 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.


Live Review: David Nance Group, Clarence Tilton, Stephen Sheehan…

Category: Reviews — Tags: , , — @ 1:27 pm December 26, 2018

David Nance Group at The Waiting Room, Dec. 23, 2018.

by Tim McMahan,

Quite a good turn-out for last Sunday’s coat drive concert at The Waiting Room… eventually. There were around 40 folks in the crowd when I arrived around 8 p.m. By the time Clarence Tilton’s set ended, there was probably four times that number crowded around the stage.

That audience ebbed slightly after the Tiltons ended and David Nance Group took the stage, which I think wasn’t so much a comment on Nance as much as how many friends the Tilton dudes have. Nance and his band were in their usual fine form. One of the things I love about this band is that, while they always manage to play songs off their latest album (Peaced and Slightly Pulverized), no two sets are the same.

They opened with a couple corkers that I didn’t recognize — one with the line “Ain’t no cure,” the other about Nance’s “credit line.” New songs? Hopefully. They absolutely cooked.

No Nance set is complete without a couple covers. This time Nance and the band covered “All My Life (I Love You)” by Skip Spence (co-founder of Moby Grape), and “Little Bit of Rain” by ’60s folk artist Fred Neil (He wrote “Everybody’s Talking'” which was famously covered by Harry Nilsson). It’s as if Nance is giving his audience a music history lesson. I had to run home and look up both of these guys, and have been listening to Neil on Spotify ever since.

Mixed in were two highlights from the new album, “Poison” and “Amethyst,” which soared in all their feedback-tinged glory. Nance is poised to break out on a national level. His new album was mentioned three times on this year’s Matador Records’ “best of” lists, including by label co-creator Gerard Cosloy, all of which means nothing other than people are discovering just how great this band is.

Clarence Tilton at The Waiting Room, Dec. 23, 2018.

As I said, the crowd peaked during Clarence Tilton’s set; there were even a few folks two-steppin’ to their twang-ified folk rock. There’s no doubt an alt-country theme that runs through their music, though if you took out that pedal-steel on some songs they’d more closely resemble traditional college/jangle rock. But you’d also have to straighten out that colorful Weber Bros’ twang.

Set highlight was a song sung by a non-Weber (Paul Novak?) with the line “Look out for the pretty thing,” which has my vote for best Clarence Tilton song I’ve never heard before. And not to be outdone in the covers category, the band ended with their own unique rendition of the Stones’ “Mother’s Little Helper” that sounded more psych-rock than C&W. You can’t pigeonhole these dudes…

Stephen Sheehan at The Waiting Room, Dec. 23, 2018.

Finally, Stephen Sheehan has assembled one of the best straight-out rock bands I’ve heard in a while, strong in every position. The rhythm section of Randy Cotton and Dan Crowell is sonic bedrock. Crowell absolutely crushes on drums, while Cotton’s bass lines at times compete with the lead guitar as the music’s centerpiece. Guitarist Mike Saklar is something of an Omaha legend and a recognized master of all things rock who was showcased throughout last Sunday’s set. Then there’s Donovan Johnson on keyboards whose style shifts with whatever is needed without losing any of his personal style — you just know he’s one of those folks who can play anything off the top of his head.

Taken together, the band truly is a sonic force that’s re-imagining Sheehan’s music, because while fans of Digital Sex or The World may recognize these songs, they live in their own space with these guys. The most notable diff is Saklar, whose sizzling tone couldn’t be more different than that of original Digital Sex guitarist John Tingle. Tingle, for me, had a much lighter, more buoyant sound than Saklar’s dark, bluesy, guttural grind.

No doubt fans of Sheehan’s former bands got what they came for with vital renditions of songs like “Theory of Games,” “In Her Smile” and “Whisper Words.” Sheehan was in good voice (and good melodica) as he breathed new life into songs that are more than 20 years old.

The exception was the night’s highlight, a new song called “Less and Less” that opened with a Donovan Johnson piano line that recalled Carol King on a mid-tempo bop, wherein Sheehan sings about falling out of love. This one was a perfect fit; and I’m told could be coming your way via a recording next year. Hopefully that’s a sign that this isn’t just a one-off performance and we’ll be hearing more new music from this band in the near future.

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Read Tim McMahan’s blog daily at — 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 © 2018 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.


Live Review: Middle Kids at The Sydney, Protomartyr, Preoccupations at The Waiting Room…

Category: Reviews — Tags: , , , — @ 2:21 pm December 10, 2018

Middle Kids at The Sydney, Dec. 8, 2018.

by Tim McMahan,

Great weekend of shows. Let’s start with Middle Kids at The Sydney Saturday night and go from there…

The show was a curiosity in itself in that The Sydney isn’t your usual venue for rising, nationally touring indie rock bands. Instead, the club has a reputation for being a Benson neighborhood bar that occasionally hosts local bands (specifically on First Fridays).

But this past summer One Percent Productions, the fine folks who own and book The Waiting Room and Reverb Lounge as well as book the bands at the annual Maha Music festival, bought The Sydney. They had no initial intention of making it another One Percent venue, rather they left the booking in the able hands of Zach Schmieder, who has been booking the club for quite awhile.

However, I have to assume that when One Percent was offered Middle Kids, a band whose music is a staple on Sirius XMU and has been a regular on college music charts, they took it even though their other venues already had been booked that night for the annual Pine Ridge Toy Drive concert. Why not move Middle Kids to The Sydney, after all, the band is from Sydney Australia — makes perfect sense.

Well, within the months that One Percent purchased The Sydney and this concert, the venue has seen a number of adjustments to its sound system. Even the sound board had been replaced (at least for Saturday night) with something more high-tech and ready to handle what ended up being a sold out show.

Since The Sydney isn’t exactly a huge club, I expected the room to be crushed, but instead, the audience was simply cozy. I was told by the woman at the door that “sold out” meant 150 tickets were sold. There was plenty of room to move around, in fact you could walk pretty close to the stage. I took my position off stage left against the wall next to a massive subwoofer on the floor that acted as a perfect barrier to keep the crowd at bay.

But while the sight lines were good where I stood, the sound was bass-heavy and muffled because I was situated behind the overhead amps. Halfway through the set I moved back by the bar, where the sound was primo but the sight lines were for shit because The Sydney only has a short platform a few inches high for a stage, keeping the band essentially at crowd level (though my 6-foot-2 frame still gave me a view of most of the band). With that the sound system vastly improved, one hopes they install if not a proper stage, at least something that lifts the band a foot or more above the crowd.

One last technical note: The Sydney still uses old-fashioned — as in not digital — spotlights, which provide warm, gorgeous tones on stage. Here’s hoping they don’t swap them out for a digital lighting system, which is cold, harsh and photographs poorly (yeah, I know those digital light rigs are cheaper, so I’m not holding my breath here…).

OK, so what about the band? Middle Kids played as a four-piece with an added guitarist (“Kyle”) that gave their sound a much-needed boost. Front woman Hannah Joy was in great voice, standing on point belting out every song the band knows — literally (at the end of the encore she said they had virtually no other material to perform).

I’ve compared these folks to a number of acts, but the one they really reminded me of most was 10,000 Maniacs; Joy’s voice having a similar Natalie Merchant tone and quiver. The mostly younger crowd (lots of big X’s on the back of hands) stood close and sang to the hits, especially on “Edge of Town,” which became a room-filled sing-along.

Protomartyr at The Waiting Room, Dec. 7, 2018.

Backing up a night to Friday at The Waiting Room…

This was sort of a shared headliner affair, with Protomartyr sandwiched into the second slot. I’ve seen Joe Casey and company three or four times. There he was up front again, dressed like an insurance salesman or someone’s dad, barking out lines like a snapping turtle taking bites out of a dead body, while the rest of the band did their usual crushing performance.

I went to the show with a pal who hadn’t seen either band before and only became familiar with their music a few days prior (thanks to my prodding). Music-wise, he said he preferred Preoccupations more than Protomartry, but after the show, he changed his tune, saying he much preferred Protomartyr live if only for Casey’s brackish charisma. He couldn’t take his eyes off him.

I’d already seen his act, which is maybe why I was so enamored with the band, specifically guitarist Greg Ahee who absolutely ripped. If there’s a minus to Protomartyr it’s that their songs sound the same — Casey doesn’t so much sing as yell words into the microphone. So it’s up to the rest of the band to provide the depth, variety and dynamics to the music, which we got in spades.

Preoccupations at The Waiting Room, Dec. 7, 2018.

As good as Protomartyr was, Preoccupations was next level. Playing mostly songs off New Material (2018, Jagjaguwar) as well as a few older tracks, the band came out with guitars blazing before working in synths three songs into the set.

Compared to Casey, frontman/bassist Matt Flegel is a virtual opera singer, channeling Ceremony’s Ross Farrar on post-punk New Wave-esque songs that would fit in rotation on Sirius’ First Wave station. While Scott Munro shined on guitar, it was the duo synths working along with drummer Mike Wallace that raised the bar on New Material tracks like “Disarray” and “Espionage.” It was dance music… for people who don’t dance.

It was a great weekend of shows  and a great way to send off 2018, as I don’t see any other national touring indie bands coming through for the balance of the year…

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Read Tim McMahan’s blog daily at — 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 © 2018 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.


Live Review: Cloud Nothings, Nap Eyes, David Nance Group…

Category: Reviews — Tags: , , — @ 1:49 pm November 14, 2018

Cloud Nothings at The Waiting Room, Nov. 13, 2018.

by Tim McMahan,

Solid crowd for a Tuesday night at The Waiting Room last night.

Cloud Nothings won me over with a set that intensely focused on their new album, Last Building Burning. While the album is white-hot fractured punk rock bordering on emo, there’s not a lot of melody in the songwriting to tie yourself to. It’s more about bright buzzsaw riffs and frontman Dylan Baldi screaming/croaking out the vocals that sounded like a cross between Cobain and the old punk version of Rzeznik.

No, what mesmerized me about their performance was their drummer, Jayson Gerycz. With merely a snare, tom, kick drum and a couple cymbals Gerycz blew me away with what was nothing less than a virtuoso performance, a rapid-fire machine-gun that dominated every song. I could not stop watching every clever, intricate, amazing roll, fill and crash, song after song. Blazing, exhausting; like watching the film Whiplash atop a mountain of coke.

The set’s high point was a lengthy feedback interlude during epic song “Dissolution”; all guitarists had their backs to the audience, their guitars jammed into amps, bending the necks, torturing the frets, while Gerycz slowly walked a beat back in, pulling it forward then giving a clinic as to what a human can do with a drum set as the band crashed back in like a 50-foot wave. Mind blown.

David Nance Group at The Waiting Room, Nov. 13, 2018.

Almost as mind blowing was opener David Nance Group. I’ve seen Nance at least a half dozen times and this was another memorable set highlighted by a cover of Richard & Linda Thompson’s “Down Where the Drunkards Roll” completely Nance-ified by his and sideman Jim Schroeder’s feedback-fueled guitar work. The rest of the set focused on the best off the band’s latest album, Peaced and Slightly Pulverized, with raging versions of “In Her Kingdom,” “When I Saw You Last Night,” “Amethyst” and “Poison.”

In a change from the usual set style, Nance and his band seamlessly transitioned from one song to the next by Nance pulling off one feedback wave and blending in a riff that crossed over into whatever was next. Transcendent.

Someone recently asked me what Omaha bands are most likely to break into the next level of national notoriety. David Nance Group was my first response, followed by Thick Paint. Interestingly, bassist Sarah Bohling has now played in both projects.

Nap Eyes at The Waiting Room, Nov. 13, 2018.

Between bands Nova Scotia act Nap Eyes played a set that reminded me of a cross between Kurt Vile, The Feelies and Velvet Underground, with frontman Nigel Chapman giving us his best Lou Reed vocals. I halfway expected to hear a cover of “Sunday Morning,” one of VU’s sleepier numbers that would have fit right in with the rest of their set.

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Read Tim McMahan’s blog daily at — 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 © 2018 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.