Anna McClellan at O’Leaver’s, Dec. 3, 2015.
by Tim McMahan, Lazy-i.com
Capacity crowd at O’Leaver’s last night for Anna McClellan. The former Omahan returned to town after a 2-week tour, which I guess made the show a homecoming of sorts. The packed house looked like it included lots of proud parents and relatives mixed in with the usual woke-up-at-4 p.m. O’Leaver’s crowd. It felt like a holiday show thanks to all the love in the room.
Miniature Horse at O’Leaver’s Dec. 3, 2015.
Opening the night was the enchanting Miniature Horse a.k.a. Rachel Tomlinson Dick and her trusty electric guitar. Compared to the three or four times I’ve seen her before, Dick sounded a bit reserved, maybe because her amp was overpowering her vocals, which felt meeker than I remembered. Dick’s stripped-down sound is comparable to early PJ Harvey on louder performances. Last night I was reminded more of Joni Mitchell and her delicate finger-picking guitar.
Razors at O’Leaver’s, Dec. 3, 2015. Notice what the club did to the usually obtrusive flat-panel TV?
The only person I recognized in the crowded 7-piece band Razors was Jim Schroeder of UUVVWWZ, who supplied keyboards on a set of psychedelic garage rock songs that wavered between gritty Brian Jonestown Massacre and the baroque style of ’60s acts like Left Banke. Male/female vocals pushed the band to the next level, especially when they attempted to harmonize. Schroeder’s keys also were essential. These folks are worth keeping an eye on.
Finally at around midnight Anna McClellan took the O’Leaver’s worn-carpeting-patch of a stage, this time as a trio. Fans remember McClellan from her earlier incarnation in indie rock band Howard. Her solo work is more stripped down and personal, relying on chiming acoustic piano and a unique voice that ranges from a flat, bored howl to a bluesy, Billie Holiday croon.
Her new release, Fire Flames (Majestic Litter, 2015), is a collection of pretty songs draped in a winsome loneliness, small portraits of everyday life and love sung by a woman with an intense awareness of herself, her wants and needs and the limits of the hand she’s been dealt. There’s an abstract honesty to every word of every song.
Superstar Conor Oberst sings harmonies on the title track, which also happens to be the most haunting song of the collection. No doubt Oberst was hanging out at Mike Mogis’ ARC Studio with engineer Ben Brodin the day they recorded the tune. It’s no surprise that the record has that dusty-library quality of early Saddle Creek Records releases, making it a must for anyone who follows that label.
The McClellan trio played mostly songs off Fire Flames, plus a few new numbers that continued in the same vein. McClellan in full brassy voice belted out each number like a classic torch singer but draped in flannel rather than lamé, a snapshot of Midwestern melancholy. The crowd adored her, and she soaked it in with appreciation. Few of us will ever be lucky enough enjoy such a homecoming.
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A quick note of one minor but important change at O’Leaver’s — the management finally figured out a way to cover up that big, ugly flat-panel TV screen that loomed over all the performers for the past seven or eight years, marring every photo taken at every show. They created a sort of album-jacket camouflage insert that miraculously makes the TV seamlessly blend in with the rest of the crippy-crap album jackets stapled to the walls (see Razors photo, above). It’s a small thing, I know, but it makes a difference. I hope my whining about the TV helped spur the change…
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Onward to the weekend. There are no touring indie-rock bands playing anywhere (What else is new?), but there’s still plenty to see and hear.
Tonight’s prime offering is something called Telecaster Disasters at The Waiting Room. In fact it’s a night of alt-country-fueled guitar rock headlined by The Filter Kings (first show in ages) with Monday Mourners, The Willards Band and one of the most talked-about newcomers of 2015, Clarence Tilton, whose debut album is destined to make it onto a lot of local “best of” lists. $8, 9 p.m.
Also tonight (Friday), Eklectica headlines at fabulous O’Leaver’s with Lineman’s Rodeo and David Nance Band. $5, 9:30 p.m.
And there’s the Omaha Zinefest Benefit Show at West Wing, 301 So. 38th Ave. (across the street from The Brothers Lounge). According the Facebook listing, “Omaha Zine Fest is coming at you on March 12th! Help us raise funds to offset the cost for local and regional zinesters to come to town and showcase their work.” Playing are Bib, The Sunks, Pro Magnum and Jocko. $5 donation, 9:30 p.m. More info here.
Tomorrow night (Saturday) Simon Joyner returns to the Reverb stage. Joining him is Sam Martin, who is celebrating a cassette release — look as I might online, I can’t find any info on what this cassette is, who’s putting it out, etc. Also on the bill is Noah Sterba Band. $7, 9 p.m.
Also Saturday is O’Leaver’s annual chili cook-off. For $5 you get to eat chili from 1 to 5 p.m. at The Club. Later that night, Kait Berreckman headlines with Tara Vaughan and Blue Bird. The music starts at 9:30 and cover is $5.
That’s what 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 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.