Live Review: The Lupines, Unexplained Death at O’Leaver’s; Pile, Stuck, No Thanks tonight…

Category: Reviews — Tags: , , , , — @ 1:36 pm November 12, 2019

The Lupines at O’Leaver’s Nov. 9, 2019.

by Tim McMahan,

The Lupines rolled out a new direction to their sound last Saturday night at O’Leaver’s. In fact, they literally rolled it out — a giant upright piano, that is. If you’ve been there before you’ve likely leaned/sat on the behemoth, which usually sits next to the exit to the beer garden. The band grunted it across the floor to the stage area for their set, and then spent a good 10 minutes (or more?) trying to get it properly miked up. Who knew that old-fashioned upright pianos could create so much feedback?

Lupines frontman John Ziegler set down his guitar to twinkle the ivories on a new set of songs that sported a honky-tonk country flair, a bit of blues and folk and rock. The first couple tunes were eight or nine minutes long but seemed to roll on forever thanks to endlessly repeating verses. Ziegler pounded the keys like a modern-day Leon Russell, ending each line with a bluesy flourish, while guitarist Mike Friedman pulled back his usual jittery, frenetic Lupines’ style to something more relaxed and refined, a la David Lindley.

It all came together on the final two songs of the set — one short one, the other, an epic closer wherein Ziegler maneuvered from the piano bench, through the tangle of microphone stands and cords to pick up his Gibson and battle Friedman with guitar riffs.

I’d heard a few weeks ago that Ziegler was going to play piano for this set, so I prepared myself to finally hear one of my all-time favorite Lupines songs — “Hasn’t Failed Me Yet” — a tune I’d been told had never been played live because of its piano-based arrangement. Now there were no excuses. Alas, it wasn’t meant to be as the band only played brand new material. My quest to hear that epic song continues…

Unexplained Death at O’Leaver’s Nov. 9, 2019.

Matt Whipkey and his crew in the form of poli-punk band Unexplained Death didn’t make it to the O’Leaver’s “stage” until well after midnight, ripping through songs off their just-released self-titled cassette.

Always prolific, Whipkey used the occasion to debut a couple more new songs, one of them an angry, fast number built on a golden guitar riff that I’d love to hear again. If this project’s goal was to pull Whipkey away from the Americana format that he’s known for, it’s succeeding. As I’ve said before, Unexplained Death isn’t so much a punk bands as a punk-influenced rock band with a political message ripe for our time. But it won’t be deemed a true success until someone wearing a MAGA hat attacks Whipkey on stage during a performance, ending in arrests by all involved, and the headline MAGA DUDE CHARGED FOR ATTEMPTED MURDER AT UNEXPLAINED DEATH SCENE!!!

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The last time Boston indie rock act Pile played in Omaha it was aboard the River City Star in the summer of 2017. They’ll be on firmer ground when they headline Slowdown Jr. tonight, on tour in support of Green and Gray (2019, Exploding in Sound), album that scored a mighty 7.9 on the Pitchfork scale.

The touring opener is mathy Chicago rockers Stuck. While Omaha’s very own No Thanks kicks things off at 8 p.m. This is a good one, and it’s only $12.

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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: Deerhoof at Low End, Unexplained Death at The Brothers…

Category: Reviews — Tags: , , , — @ 12:42 pm October 28, 2019

Deerhoof performs at the grand opening of Low End, Oct. 25, 2019.

by Tim McMahan,

Lots of well-dressed, smiling, laughing people, some with pieces of art wrapped in brown paper tucked under their arms, were leaving the Bemis Friday night as we arrived for the Deerhoof show down in the once-known-as Bemis Underground now-known-as Low End. I felt invisible in my hoodie and jeans, and probably was to all the local art/business types leaving the night’s charity auction. These are the folks who keep things like Bemis afloat. We have a lot of them in this town, thankfully, and we always need more (and they’re out there, in those West Omaha mansions, we just need to get them downtown).

Low End is actually in the space next to Visions custom frame shop. What was once a cavernous empty room has been transformed into something, well, Warholian. By that I mean the underground space has an artsy, cool vibe. The walls are scalloped and covered in floral wall paper and aglow in digital stage lighting, all synced to change color — orange, purple, green, blue, it feels like the walls are moving, sort of. In the center, a support structure has been turned into a sculpture covered in spray-gunk that drips like synthetic stalactites.

Inside the catacombs of Low End…

Despite (or because of) its subterranean essence Low End feels intimate, with built-in cushioned benches throughout its many nooks, like hiding places left in plain sight. Anyone would feel cool hanging out down there, ablaze in the digital glow.

Off along one side, not quite in a corner (though I guess it is a corner) is the Low End performance space/stage, which is a small platform (a few inches in height? Whaddya gonna do with that low ceiling?) and a wood-plank background that no doubt also acts as a sound buffer, designed by acclaimed architect Jeff Day and his FACT Team. It’s amazing looking, yet functional, like everything Day designs, like the entire room.

The PA speakers hang from the low rafters along the stage perimeter. I noticed a couple people running sound from off to the left, one using an iPad, the wiring all well hidden. Deerhoof’s amps sat on the stage and the band played essentially in a circle with front woman Satomi Matsuzaki facing the band, who were tucked in the corner. With those low ceilings I was expecting a painfully loud experience but was pleasantly surprised at the acoustics, which were clean and not overpowering, not boomy at all.

Obviously, with a crowd of any size, sight lines down there are going to be a problem. Keep in mind Low End wasn’t designed to be a rock club, but rather a space for experimental sound/music experiences — we’re talking art projects like two people scraping tin cans together or someone playing a lone cello on songs with names like “Abstract Staircase No. 1” “Abstract Staircase No. 2,” and so on. Not a rock band, and certainly not one as explosive as Deerhoof.

Deerhoof performing at Low End, Oct. 25, 2019.

Though known as an experimental band — and yes, they play proggy, angular music that can turn and twist and change key on a dime — we’re still talking electric guitar, bass and drums, and more often than not, songs you can pogo to (as many standing along the stage did, minding not to jump too high). Deerhoof was the perfect rock band to kick off Low End, though it’ll likely be the last rock band, or maybe not. Time will tell.

My hope is that, along with experimental noise/art sound collage projects that Bemis at least tries to book an artist or two that could be deemed “pop.” I mean, even Warhol had Velvet Underground for The Factory.

Anyway, Low End is a very cool space. Check it out for yourself when Laura Ortman performs there on Nov. 14 at 7 p.m. It, like all future shows, is absolutely free (and yes, they serve booze).

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Unexplained Death at The Brothers Lounge, Oct. 25, 2019.

After Deerhoof we drove uptown to The Brothers for the debut of Unexplained Death, the new punk project by Matt Whipkey and his band.

Whipkey dressed black on black tore into songs off his debut cassette, which was celebrating its release that night. No matter the style, Whipkey and his band always give an intense performance, but with the new rock material, they add an edge to angry songs about troubled times.

I wouldn’t call this punk rock as much as heavy, fast rock with a nod toward punk-ish bands like The Replacements or maybe mid-era, dirty Stones, which has always been a sweet spot for Whipkey’s music (along with Springsteen — anyone can tell Whipkey is a devotee). Call it protest rock or poli-rock, more observation than protest, actually, with Whipkey’s journalism degree taking center stage. The lyrics aren’t so much nuanced messages of rage as angry observations driven by recent headlines, and as such are more literal than punk’s usual anthem-threat-bombast. Here, listeners tend to nod in agreement rather than raise their fist in solidarity.

The live performance also is cleaner, more professional than the noise-static-low-fi feedback-drenched intentionally distorted takes heard on their tape, and as a result, sound like hard rock songs well-played by a band of rock veterans, better suited for the radio than the moshpit. As such, these protest songs are ready-made for any stage and not just punk clubs, and something tells me that’s what Whipkey had in mind.

Find out for yourself when the band plays at fabulous O’Leaver’s Saturday, Nov. 9, with the world-famous Lupines and those French-singing troubadours in Minne Lussa.

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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: Las Cruxes at The Brothers; Mike Watt and the Missing Men, Wagon Blasters tonight…

Category: Reviews — Tags: , , — @ 12:48 pm September 30, 2019

Las Cruxes at The Brothers Lounge, Sept. 27, 2019.

by Tim McMahan,

Playing as a 6-piece with two of the city’s best drummers (Nate Van Fleet and Jeff Lambelet, sitting above the band like a couple rock ‘n’ roll gargoyles) a second guitarist flown in from Chicago, a second vocalist and local hero Landon Hedges doing a unibomber impression on bass, Las Cruxes was pure punk bombast.

The set got off to a rocky start Friday night at a semi-crowded Brothers Lounge as (I’m told) that second guitarist was borrowing Hedges’ guitar, and frontman Eduardo ‘Yayo’ Trujillo could be seen prior to the set showing him some chord progressions. By the third song it didn’t matter as everyone was locked in, with the Chicago guy adding a much needed layer of vocal energy above Yayo’s high voice.

The songs sounded like a cross between The Pixies and every three-chord punk band you’ve ever heard, but propelled full-throttle by the double-barrel drum attack, it was like watching a couple synchronized swimmers in a boxing ring trying to outdo each other, while down below Hedges did his usual rock pirouettes with his back to the crowd (mostly). With everything else going on, Landon was the glue holding it all together.

When music is as powerful (and loud) as this was it doesn’t matter that you can’t understand a thing the Spanish-language singer is singing, and besides, how many punk shows have you gone to where you really understand what was being shouted? The message behind the energy was enough, with Yayo falling backward into the drums at the end of the set.

I’m told Las Cruxes is heading out on tour, down south to Mexico way, and that Hedges is coming along. The band’s albums are backed by Sony distro in Mexico, and I can only imagine what their shows will be like in places like Nueva Laredo or Juarez, where no translation is needed.

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Tonight a punk legend takes over Reverb Lounge. Mike Watt, who carved his name into the Mt. Rushmore of punk rock with his work in Minutemen and fIREHOSE (among others), and his band, The Missing Men, headline.

About the tour that brings them to Omaha, via the hootpage:

not too long ago original missingmen drummerman Raul Morales along w/Paloma brought on board new shipmate Sofie so that means no more big tours for him but of course he will be on missingmen recordings and local gigs he can do… Raul is now a pop! not too long ago, original missingmen guitarman Tom Watson lost his pop and now he’s like me (lost mine in 1991), we’re both missing our pops. it’s for that reason I named this sally forth the ‘dick watt tour 2019’ – named after my pop which is also the name of the next missingmen album, continuing the theme. me and tom have been touring for twenty years now! crimony. standing in for raul this tour is big man Nick Aguilar who we all think is up for the job. we’ve been doing prac ‘pert-near every day a month before the tour I did bass for Flipper and the three weeks since. d boon, me and georgie went to school w/his pop rudy (san pedro high, class of 1976) so in a way it’s a total connect – ain’t life a trip?!

Local legends/tractor-punk originators Wagon Blasters opens the show at 8 p.m. $15.

Here’s a sneak peek, from their set just a couple weeks ago in Santa Monica:

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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: Cursive at O’Leaversfest 2019…

Category: Reviews — Tags: , — @ 1:19 pm September 23, 2019

Cursive at O’Leaver’s, September 21, 2019.

by Tim McMahan,

Combine a sellout crowd with summer downpour and O’Leaver’s turns into a sauna. Saturday night — the second night of O’Leaversfest — was no exception. The room felt like a steam bath, and there was no escaping unless you wanted to get soaked.

O’Leaver’s was never designed to be a live music venue, let alone one that hosts 100+ sized sellout crowds. That said, if you were quick and clever, you could squeeze through the press of bodies to the club’s upper area near the band and get a much better view than, say, from the floor near the bar, where the only thing visible was people’s butts.

Despite the heat and the crush-mob crowd, it was a helluva show. The sound was remarkably good, and Kasher’s voice never sounded better. Credit the club’s small size, as every instrument could be heard including Megan Siebe’s cello, which in the past has gotten lost in the mix. Not Saturday night, though to be truthful, I was only 20 feet from where she sat. The only audio flaw was a few minutes of squealing feedback during the second song, which sounded like it was coming through the monitors more so the mains. The sound guy figured it out quick enough.

Those who have been to packed O’Leaver’s shows know that the line between where the band plays and where the crowd starts is essentially nonexistent. With no stage, they’re playing standing (or sitting) right in front of you.

The trouble with this started shortly after Cursive began playing. The crowd quickly lost its shit and began mosh-style shoving and pushing. Frontman Tim Kasher, who’s starting to look like a young Charlie Manson with his long hair, wasn’t having it. Between songs he warned the crowd that if someone ran into Megan, who was seated playing cello next to him, he and the rest of the band were going to kick their asses. I have absolutely no doubt this would happen. A couple songs later, Kasher got into an argument between songs with some dude standing in front of the band — I’m not sure what it was about, but the guy took off and Kasher called him back. The arguing went on for a few minutes more off microphone. It was a weird deal. Finally, guitarist Ted Stevens asked everyone to calm down and the band ripped into the next song.

The night’s song selection was played chronologically, starting with a song off with something from The Storms of Early Summer and going into Domestica, The Ugly Organ and so on up through a couple songs off Vitriola, their latest album. It was a greatest hits set list that featured probably the best version of “From the Hips” I’ve ever heard, with Kasher walking right out into the middle of the crowd and singing surrounded by the throngs who sang along throughout most of the set.

Four new songs capped the performance, including two I’ve never heard before — “I Am Goddamn” and “Stranded,” — as well the two tracks released as singles the past couple weeks — “Black Hole Town” and “Barricades.” The new material at times featured the entire band playing a handful of notes together, pounding like a stumbling monster, thick and foreboding. It would give way to a vocal hook or gorgeous keyboard line, with Siebe and keyboardist Patrick Newbery used to full effect. (The only players I’ve yet to mention are at the core — bassist Matt Maginn and drummer Pat Oakes — who were spot-on solid all night).

Cursive always has been a somewhat dark band, but this new music, some of it pointedly political, represents a shift from anxiety to fear, perhaps a reflection of our times where the monster is running amok before our very eyes and there’s nothing anyone can (or will) do about it.

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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: Digital Leather at The Sydney; Clarence Tilton on the street; Mannequin Pussy tonight…

Category: Reviews — Tags: , , , — @ 12:48 pm September 9, 2019

Digital Leather at The Sydney, Sept. 6, 2019.

by Tim McMahan,

It’s been so long since Digital Leather played locally I thought frontman Shawn Foree moved back to Arizona. The project came out with a limited edition vinyl compilation on the Stencil Trash insignia in January called Feeet, as well as a limited 8-track tape (you read that right) version of 2007’s Blow Machine (FDH Records). But still no local appearances.

Then last Friday night Foree and his current Digital Leather line-up took the stage at The Sydney for a half-hour set. DL has had numerous iterations over the years, swinging between ‘80s electronic synth-driven No Wave to full-on guitar punk, with Foree either behind a keyboard rack or slinging an electric guitar. This time he stood out front with an electric bass backed by two synth players — a pal from Arizona named Jason and Omahan Blake Kostszewa of FiFI NoNo — while veteran stickman Jeff Lambelet took his usual place behind the drum kit.

Bringing the bass out front proved to be a bold move as the band ran through a set that included standout track “Puff” off the new record (but originally released on 2018’s Headache Heaven) and a re-imagined version of “B12” (originally released as part of Foree’s Mere Mortals project and later covered (with lyrics rewritten) by The Faint as “Damage Control”).

Foree put down his bass and returned behind the synths for the set closer, singing lyrics read from a sheet of notebook paper. I figured it was maybe an obscure cover, but he said afterward it was a new song called “Compass” — red hot and the evening’s highlight. Here’s hoping the song gets a proper release, along with whatever else the prolific Mr. Foree has been working on.

Clarence Tilton at the Parkwood Lane Bluegrass Festival, Sept. 7, 2019.

Saturday night I walked around the block to the Parkwood Lane Bluegrass Festival to catch a performance by Clarence Tilton. This is actually the annual block party held on Parkwood Lane just west of Memorial Park — picture lots of neighbors standing in the street eating covered-dish gourmet while kids speed around on mini BMX bikes, big-screen TVs showing whatever game is on ESPN. And at the end of the street, a small stage under a tent where the bands played.

I keep comparing Clarence Tilton to ’90s-era indie power-pop acts and I’ve got to admit, it’s kind of a stretch, especially when you see them perform live. I mean, don’t get me wrong, they could be a fantastic power-pop act, especially with their backgrounds, but the fact is these guys are playing countrified Americana music, and the twang is unmistakable on stage, where they resemble The Statler Brothers more than The dBs, and that’s not a bad thing.

Overheard from the neighborhood crowd: “These guys are the real deal.” And they are. I don’t know why they haven’t been discovered on a national level, they’re certainly as good or better than anything I’ve heard on the country Sirius stations. The Weber Brothers are among the best axe men around, and then you’ve got three different (very good) vocalists. I guess maybe their lack of national notoriety has to do with the fact that the band members have other careers — and lives — that prevent them from touring outside our little burg. That means Clarence Tilton will likely remain Omaha’s — and Parkwood Lane’s — best kept secret.

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Tonight at Slowdown Jr. it’s Philly band Mannequin Pussy. Though they’re on Epitaph Records, they don’t sound like a run-of-the-mill Epitaph band. With their shoe-gaze shimmer, I’d more likely mistake them for someone on 4AD. Their latest, Patience, is shoe-gaze leaning on heavy metal. Opening is Sacramento band Destroy Boys (Uncool Records) and UK producer/musician Ellis. $15, 8 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 © 2019 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.


Album Reviews: Crooked Colours, Alaskalaska, Prettiest Eyes, Ada Lea…

Category: Reviews — Tags: , , , — @ 12:30 pm September 5, 2019

by Tim McMahan,

I sometimes wonder if I’ve lost the ability to review recorded music. Reviewing live shows is easy, it’s like reporting a crime scene. Reviewing recordings is like studying pictures or paintings or trying to interpret poetry, which I never did very well in college. When it came my turn to explain a poem in class, I’d take the imagery too literally, describing the scene in my mind or the people or animals, and then the professor would say, “No, what the writer was doing here was expressing grief for his/her loss of innocence, not describing a hunting accident.” And so on. 

So as I was flying back from New York, I thought I’d tackle a handful of albums sent to me for review, albums I’ve been listening to for the past two or three months. No notes, no one-sheets, just nuanced opinions. Here we go. 

Crooked Colours, Langata (2019, Sweat It Out!)

Crooked Colours, Langata (Sweat It Out!) – Very clean, very crisp electronic dance music sung by a guy whose flat, atonal voice is cross between Robbie Robertson and Tricky. Immensely clean trip-hop beats, electronic handclaps lie beneath mainly talk/singing, rhyming whatever sounds best with the beat. “Just breath…” Easy to listen to; but somewhat forgettable. The kind of music you’d hear while shopping in an H&M.

Alaskalaska, The Dots (2019, Marathon Artists)

Alaskalaska, The Dots (Marathon Artists) – There was a band I used to love in the ‘90s called Hooverphonic. They played great big-beat electronic rock songs that quickly found a hook. I thought they sounded amazingly modern at the time, and wondered why they never blew up. Over the years, however, Hooverphonic songs would sneak up in commercials and soundtracks, whenever a director wanted to set a modern tone or give whatever was on screen a sense of motion.

Alaskalaska has that same quality both in sound and lyrics, a deceptively simple melody swaddled in layers of synths, beats and the occasional saxophone (When did the sax come back in vogue? or has it?). The woman on leads, Lucinda Duarte-Holman, reminiscent of Sarah Cracknell of Saint Etienne, is cynical, sassy, sometimes snotty, often too honest for her own good. Quick and quippy, she sounds like she knows more than you or me. And she probably does. 

Highlights: “Moon,” with its fantastic horn part; “Sweat,” sinister sexy, slow; and the bracing “Happyface” with its questions you don’t want to answer. 

This is my favorite of the bunch. Totally obscure. Find it. 

Prettiest Eyes, Volume 3 (2019, Castle Face)

Prettiest Eyes, Volume 3 (Castle Face) – Brad Smith at the late, great Almost Music pointed me toward these guys and their last album, Pools. I bought it on vinyl, of course. Funny thing about Brad, he’s always right. Pools was post-punk crunch; and while Volume 3 continues along that same path, it’s not as dirty. Songs like “It Costs to be Austere” are like a carnival ride gone out of control, big wonky organs and fuzz bass and drummer/vocalist Pachy García singing like a maniacal clown. By contrast, “I Don’t Know” sounds like a midnight lounge massacre and “Mr. Presidentis Gang of Four post-punk blare: “Mr. President / Say my name / It don’t matter / Where I’m from.” It’s loud, buzzing, in-yer-face synth rock that never lets up. Exhausting fun. 

Ada Lea, What We Say in Private (2019, Saddle Creek)

Ada Lea, What We Say in Private (Saddle Creek) – Of the recent Saddle Creek signings, this one seems to be flying the deepest below the radar (Well, maybe not as deep as Young Jesus), because it’s the most different of the recent bunch. Not straight-up singer/songwriter fare, Lea writes complicated, proggy art rock songs that aren’t afraid of odd time-changes or awkward key shifts. It’s the most experimental act Creek has signed since the old days. That said, Lea knows her way around a melody, and her voice is warm, breathy, velvet butter. Songs like the moonlit “The Party;” the evocative, shifting “The Dancer,” and standout “Wild Heart” often start simply, quietly before going everywhere at once, while Lea lets you in on one of her little secrets. Mesmerizing.

More reviews to come…

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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.


Success Hasn’t Spoiled Maha (Yet?)- The Reader; The Appleseed Cast, Squeeze tonight…

Category: Blog,Reviews — Tags: , , — @ 12:55 pm September 4, 2019

The obligatory crowd shot from Saturday night at Maha 2019.

by Tim McMahan,

Well, I’m back from Gotham City. Among the highlights was seeing “To Kill a Mockingbird” at the Shubert Theatre. Aaron Sorkin and Jeff Daniels together again. Seeing Federer and Serena at the U.S. Open wasn’t bad, either…

Anyway, the September issue of The Reader should be on the racks around town by now (though I haven’t seen it). Because of the timeliness of this month’s column — a look at the 2019 Maha Music Festival — I’ve already posted it at The Reader website. Read the column here or pick up a hard copy at your favorite bar, coffee shop of Hy-Vee…

I have to believe the Maha mind-trust already is putting together Maha 2020. If so, I’ve got my wish list ready for ’em…

* * *

Two shows tonight. Over at Reverb Lounge, The Appleseed Cast headlines. The band is smack dab in the middle of a tour that began July 12 in support of their latest, The Fleeting Light of Impermanence (2019, Graveface). Says Ian Cohen in Pitchfork: “On their first new album in six years, the long-running emo outfit take ownership of their sound. Even the quietest moments sit with jagged nerves and lingering tension.” With Muscle Worship and Oquoa. $15, 8 p.m.

Also tonight, ‘70s legacy act Squeeze plays at The Holland Center. The “Difford And Tilbrook Songbook 2019” tour sees the UK legends play their extensive list of hits as well as rare, lesser-known gems from their back catalog and solo careers. Tickets are still available for prices ranging from $107 to $121. 7:30 start time.

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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: Maha Music Festival Day Two: Oh Sees, Matt and Kim, Lizzo…

Category: Reviews — Tags: , , , , — @ 12:48 pm August 20, 2019

Oh Sees at the Maha Music Festival, Aug. 17, 2019.

by Tim McMahan,

I went in knowing nothing about Lizzo except for her songs on the radio and Spotify and YouTube. And I loved them with all their flame and sass and unquenchable hooks. When I went to see her on Day Two of the 2019 Maha Music Festival in Stinson Park at Aksarben Village, I assumed she’d be on stage with a full-on raging band in tow.

So when she took the stage in that neon-flash body suit surrounded by her dancers, holding a microphone… with no band, I couldn’t help but be disappointed. “Is she just going to sing along to pre-recorded tracks all night? What a drag.” She had energy and drive and proselytized between songs like the finest down-home preacher, but without a band backing her, it was just dance moves and karaoke.

Lizzo at the Maha Music Festival, Aug. 17, 2019.

It is here I should point out one very important fact: The crowd did not give two shits that Lizzo didn’t have a band. They loved every second of it, all 10,000 of them (or whatever the true number was). They were there to party to Lizzo songs, with or without a band.

I made it through three numbers, then split. But to be truthful, I never hang around for the Maha Saturday night headliner’s full set. Not for Weezer, not for Death Cab, not for the Flaming Lips. And not for Lizzo.

Maybe I was disappointed because just a few hours earlier I’d witnessed an amazing full band performance, but before I get to that…. My one regret about this year’s Maha was missing Beach Bunny, an up-and-coming indie band of the K Records variety (not unlike Snail Mail) who played at 4 p.m. After my late night at O’Leaver’s, I couldn’t get motivated to get my ass there in time, especially with Matt Maeson and Duckwrth following them, neither of which are (as Dave Sink used to say) my cup of tea.

I didn’t get to Maha until 7:30, just before Oh Sees took “the little stage.” I’ve seen Thee Oh Sees (as they used to be known) a couple times in Austin at South by Southwest and have never been less than floored. Despite their constant touring, the band always has avoided Omaha for reasons only frontman John Dwyer knows. Now here they were, standing a couple feet in front of me as I balanced precariously on the edge of the sod bank leading up to the little stage.

In cutoff shorts and T-shirt, Dwyer looked like he just crawled out from beneath a hotrod after finishing an oil job, his Maha badge tucked halfway down his back pocket while he tuned his clear plexiglass-body steel-neck electric guitar. Off to the side, two drummers pounded on snares during the pre-set soundcheck. Around the check went, to the bass and keys and then Dwyer said “We’ll be back in 15,” but instead the emcee introduced the band and he said fuck it, let’s go.

The genre has been called psych rock or garage rock. I’ve even heard it described as noise rock. It’s actually a throwback brand of melodic punk born out of the West Coast and built on a subliminal layer of surf rock that recalls Dick Dale in his finest days. Dwyer’s guitar is the engine that roars alongside Tim Hellman’s throbbing, rolling bass. Behind him, Tomas Dolas’ organ and synths glowed angrily echoing Dwyer’s own mellotron/synth noises played with one hand while the other picked out solos along the neck of that steel-and-plastic monstrosity. All the while Paul Quattrone and Dan Rincon, the side-by-side drummers, kept the psychedelic locomotive chugging along.

The capper — Dwyer’s high falsetto vocals, an ironic counter to an unholy din.

It was loud. I stood right in front of those speakers, thankful for my earplugs, wondering how those kids right next to me could stand it. I can’t tell you the set list because I don’t know most of the song names. I recognized “C” off 2018’s Smote Reverser; “Toe Cutter Thumb Buster” off 2013’s Floating Coffin, and “The Dream” off 2011’s Carrion Crawler / The Dream. There were also a few long ones, real slow burners that went on and on.

A small “pit” — if you can call it that — formed off front of stage left, maybe 30 dudes bouncing into each other more out of brotherhood than violence, while a group of girls stood to my right doing a sort of snake dance.

It was a spectacular set, closed out with “three short ones” Dwyer said from stage. I think they probably went over their allotted time. They could have gone all night if it were up to me. I know the stage arrangements are what they are, but it seemed downright disrespectful that they’d been relegated to the small stage. On the other hand, I never would have been able to get as close as I did had they been on the main stage.

With the last notes Dwyer leaned into the microphone and said, “Thanks. Enjoy your headliners.” Take it for what it’s worth.

Matt and Kim at the Maha Music Festival, Aug. 17, 2019.

It didn’t take long between sets for Matt and Kim to do their thing on the big stage. It was essentially the same shtick they did at Maha in 2013. I described that show this way: “The keyboard-and-drums duo played cute, shiney indie pop dance tunes and spent most of the time between songs yelling profanities at the audience. Every other word out of drummer Kim Schifino began with an F or MF. I guess they needed something to ‘rough up’ their cutesy veneer and all those colored balloons just wasn’t cutting it.”

The only thing different this time was the gigantic beach balls and a unicorn balloon. M&K are basically stand-up comics that perform forgettable pop songs and covers and sampled hip-hop classics. I would say “harmless fun” except Schifino hurt herself during the set, bad enough (according to the Omaha World-Herald’s Kevin Coffey) that she ended up in the hospital. Here’s hoping for a quick recovery.

After that, it was Lizzo time for 10,000, minus one. If I had to rank my favorite acts for the entire weekend I’d put Oh Sees on top, followed closely by Courtney Barnett, but it’s Lizzo that people were talking about the next day.

For more perspective on Maha, you’ll have to wait until the column comes out in a couple weeks in The Reader (at which time this will all be a faded memory). But I will give you this brief taste of my thesis: Maha is going to have to make some tough choices for year 12. Here’s hoping they make the right ones.

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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: Maha Music Festival Day One: Courtney Barnett, Jenny Lewis, Snail Mail; late night with BareBear; Damien Jurado tonight…

Category: Reviews — Tags: , , , , , — @ 12:46 pm August 19, 2019

Courtney Barnett at the Maha Music Festival, Aug. 16, 2019.

by Tim McMahan,

This is part one of a recap/review of the performances at this year’s Maha Music Festival, held at Stinson Park in Aksarben Village, Omaha, Nebraska, Aug. 16 and 17, 2019. In addition, a second “review” will be published in the September issue of The Reader that talks more about the experience and other issues surrounding the festival, as well as some (I hope) amusing speculation about the 2020 MMF.

This is far from comprehensive. I watched less than half the bands this year. I paid for my VIP ticket to Friday night’s show and had a media pass for Saturday. While this was, in my opinion, the best collection of acts for a Maha Festival, it also had a lot of bands and performers who simply didn’t interest me, or who I never heard of. But isn’t that the way of all music festivals? There was a time when I would have felt obligated to watch everything placed on stage. Those days are long gone.

Snail Mail at the Maha Music Festival, Aug. 16, 2019.

Anyway, we didn’t arrive Friday night until after Snail Mail began their set on the “little stage” — the stage has a name, but let’s face it, there’s a big stage and a little stage at Maha, and if you’re relegated to the little stage, it means something. Someone made the decision to place you there rather than the big stage.

And while the little stage is by all means functional, it isn’t nearly as nice as the big stage. The lighting is poor, the sound is… different, the viewing experience is awkward, especially for fans of the band who want to get up close and personal. In that way, it’s actually better than the large stage because you can (almost) walk right up to the edge, though you better have a good center of gravity because you’ll be standing on the up-rise of a rather steep hill.

Snail Mail’s fans were balanced on that hill, up close as the band played through songs from their latest album. I like Snail Mail and think think Lush, their 2018 Matador release, is right up there with the best of the bedroom indie rock genre that’s crowded with similar singer/songwriters, mostly women.

Frontwoman Lindsey Jordan can hang with the best of them, especially when backed by her band. That said, she spent the last 15 minutes of her set doing solo electric renditions of new material that didn’t do it any favors, especially when experienced from across the field. No doubt it felt more intimate if you were standing along the edge of the little stage, but by then I’d already scooted back to the VIP confines and wondered why she had dispatched her band, not hearing that she was filling time with the new material — a festival probably isn’t the best place for that sort of thing.

That was it for the little stage Friday night. The next two bands were big stage events. Courtney Barnett should have been the top headliner Friday night. Who knows how those decisions are made. I guess she was billed as a co-headliner. The last time I saw her live was at an industry-type gig at South By Southwest, playing again as a trio but with a much more subdued (i.e., boring) approach. She was on fire Friday night.

I hardly recognized her — she looked about 20 pounds lighter, with a new hair cut, but the same amazing voice and guitar prowess. She tore through a true festival set, performing all my favorites (“Avant Gardener,” “Depreston,” “An Illustration of Loneliness (Sleepless in New York)” “History Eraser”) as well as a ton of more recent songs.

Barnett’s strengths are: 1) her songwriting, 2) her guitar playing, 3) her voice, and finally 4) her live performance, but she upped the performance aspect a couple slots Friday night. There was nothing fancy staging-wise, no interesting lighting gimmicks, just her and the band crushing her songs.

Jenny Lewis at the Maha Music Festival, Aug. 16, 2019.

It was quite a contrast to Jenny Lewis’ set. Lewis entered in a spectacular gold lamé dress, sat down behind a hand-painted piano surrounded by her band, and launched into songs off her latest, rather droll new album, On the Line (2019, Warner Bros). For that first song, “Heads Gonna Roll,” there was nothing on her vocals coming off the soundboard, just her out there alone, sounding thin as if not having warmed up, especially on the creaky high notes.

Her voice got into a groove and the sound crew adjusted as the night wore on. I kept waiting for the hits, but never got them, instead we got more songs off the new album. This was a festival, so you’d expect to hear the beloved numbers, like “Rise Up with Fists” or maybe take advantage of the fact that you’re in Omaha and sing “Execution of All Things” with its classic Omaha reference. Instead, we got her typical touring set, and a flat one at that.

It felt old compared to Barnett and Snail Mail. I feel lucky having seen Lewis when she played at the downtown Scottish Rite Lodge with the Watson Twins touring Rabbit Fur Coat back in 2006. At her peak. Where Barnett is today and where Snail Mail may be in a few years. Lewis’ new music is about looking back with regret, while Barnett’s music is about living in the moment and everything that goes with it.

Jenny did throw us a bone at the end with an impromptu version of “With Arms Outstretched” accompanied by the Omaha Girls Rock crew, standing in the dark lit by the audience’s outstretched smartphones. It was a highlight that ended awkwardly when the audience realized it was actually the end of the set. Is she done? Yeah, she’s done.

Tomorrow: Oh Sees, Matt & Kim and Lizzo…

My Friday night did not end at Maha. I made what would become a tactical error as far as the weekend was concerned. I drove to O’Leaver’s to catch a set by BareBear. These days I never stay out past midnight. I would regret it the next morning.

BareBear at O’Leaver’s, Aug. 16, 2019.

BareBear came on at around 12:30 and played their entire new album front to back. The band hadn’t played live in about two years, and the only place it showed was in frontman Rob Walters’ vocals. Let’s be honest, they were… rough. But what Walters lacked in tonal control he made up for in chutzpah and some mighty fine bass playing.

And the rest of the band was absolutely on point. This was one of my favorite guitar performances by Nik Fackler, who just slayed on his rhythms and leads. Drummer Matt Focht proved again why he’s among the best stickmen to get behind a drum set in Nebraska. And then there was Jacob “Cubby” Phillips, a guy who looks young enough to be Walters’ son. The term “virtuoso” comes to mind as does “wunderkind.” Phillips, whose background I’m told is in the jazz world, made playing in Barebear look like child’s play — just amazing guitar tone with a seemingly effortless style.

So what if Walters’ vocals barely resembled what’s heard on their new album? The set was fun. And for fans of Paul Stanley-flavored glam rock, you need to check out this surprisingly good album – The Party’s Over.

I ended up getting to bed at around 2:30 — a mistake that I would pay for most of the following day.

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Tonight at Slowdown Jr…. Damien Jurado’s Rehearsals for Departure (1999, Sub Pop) is one of my all-time favorite albums from the ’90s. He’s released around 16 albums since then, including his latest, In the Shape of a Storm (2019, Mama Bird Recording Co.). Corrina Repp, who played on another favorite of mine, Viva Voce’s 2009 album Rose City (Barsuk), opens at 8 p.m. $18.

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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: No Thanks at O’Leaver’s…

Category: Reviews — Tags: , — @ 12:40 pm August 5, 2019

No Thanks at O’Leaver’s, Aug. 2, 2019.

by Tim McMahan,

No Thanks is a four-piece punk band with a tight rhythm section, an ingenious guitarist and a frontman who knows how to keep a crowd’s attention. Their Facebook bio lists them as Castro Turf, yelling/antics; Ruby Roux, bassist; The Lost Boy, drummist, and Kick Banán, guitarist. The only clue I have to their real identities is that someone told me Mr. Turf is actually a direct relative to former Omaha Mayor Gene Leahy.

Shirtless in tight black pants and black lipstick, Turf/Leahy’s spaz-rock preening conjured comparisons to The Cramps’ Lux Interior, nervously/feverishly pacing back and forth in front of the band for the first half of the set; spending the second half immersed in the humanity that crowded the stage. His voice, a classic post-punk bark – there’s nary a note to be sung, and only a few words were audibly legible.

If you want to know the words, well, go to their Bandcamp page where the band’s 2018 LP, The Trial, can be downloaded/listened to. It’s good, but it in no way resembles the live performance Friday night, which was gritty and hot as you’d expect from any late, well-attended O’Leaver’s show.

I dug around and found the Omaha Magazine story about the band, which came with an identity key: Guitarist Kick Banán is Mike Huber, Turf/Leahy is Brendan Leahy; Ruby Roux is Camille Stout and The Lost Boy is Gabe Cohen. While Leahy is this band’s center of attention, it’s Huber’s guitar that makes it rock with a dark, angular majesty, drilled forward by Stout’s very physical bass skills.

One patron compared their sound to Dischord bands, which I kind of get, though the bands from Dischord that immediately come to mind (Jawbox, Faraquet) have frontmen who actually sing. I was reminded more of acts like Uranium Club, Nots, Diät, Marbled Eye, acts with throbbing, eclectic post-punk sounds that are as much about rhythm as melody. And while musically the band provides the bedrock, it’s Leahy’s intense performance that is mesmerizing.

I was told these guys were pissed because they didn’t make it into my Reader Top 20 list. I find it hard to believe. I can’t imagine they’d give two shits that some old guy left them off a list that has zero relevance with anyone. The fact is, I hadn’t heard the band at the time the list was written (as I said in The Reader, those were the favorites of the bands I’d heard). They would make my list now. They stand out among the handful of new Nebraska acts making a mark on a scene that seems to be fading before our very eyes.

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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.