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, Lazy-i.com

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.

* * *

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.

* * *

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 © 2019 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

Lazy-i

Maha Festival kicks off again tonight with Courtney Barnett, Jenny Lewis, Snail Mail, BareBear tonight; Lizzo, Oh Sees Saturday…

Category: Blog — Tags: , , — @ 1:00 pm August 16, 2019

Courtney Barnett at the SXSW Convention Center, March 20, 2015. She plays tonight at the Maha Music Festival.

by Tim McMahan, Lazy-i.com

It’s Maha Music Festival Weekend. The festival dominates the Omaha indie music landscape — i.e., it’s about the only thing happening today and tomorrow.

I have little to add to what you already know about Maha. It’s schedule and all the details are online at the Maha website.

I’ve purchased VIP tickets for tonight’s festivities — my wife and I are big Courtney Barnett and Jenny Lewis fans. We’ll be arriving in time to see Snail Mail, who according to the schedule, goes on at 7:15.

Also tonight… Barebear is the project of Omaha’s No. 1 man about town, bassist/vocalist Rob Walters. Walters has a long history and connection to Saddle Creek Records. He’s surrounded himself by an all-star band that includes guitarist Nik Fackler (Icky Blossoms, InDreama), drummer Matt Focht (Hartford/Focht, Head of Femur, Bright Eyes) and Jacob “Cubby” Phillips (jazz master, Miwi La Lupa). The band celebrates the release of their debut album, The Party’s Over, at fabulous O’Leaver’s.

The album is surprisingly good. I figured it might just be a buddy act, but the tracks rock. Walters at times sounds like he’s channeling Paul Stanley on songs with cool, heavy riffs. Check it out (but skip the first track).

BareBear doesn’t come on until midnight, presumably because they’ll have spent the night partying with Jenny Lewis at Maha. I wouldn’t be surprised if she shows up at O’Leaver’s. (By the way, in years past there has always been a secret after-party type performance from Maha artists around town (usually at O’Leaver’s), and there might be one this year, but I haven’t heard about it). This show is free. DJ Dorsia opens.

Tomorrow night is Maha’s main event — Lizzo. Just like last year’s “Maha Saturday” could have been considered a big Weezer concert, this year’s has kind of turned into a big Lizzo concert. One wonders how many people will be there only to see Lizzo. For me, the day’s other highlight is the Oh Sees, who go on at 7:45, followed by Matt and Kim and then Lizzo. The rest of the day’s line-up is locals and a few under the radar acts that even I’m not familiar with (they’re certainly not played on Sirius XMU or KEXP). Well, Maha’s supposed to also be about discovery, right?

Both tonight and tomorrow, you can follow my Maha exploits via Twitter  or via Instagram.

Also Saturday night, indie band The Regulation plays a free show at O’Leaver’s. Late start time of 11 p.m.

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

* * *

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 © 2019 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

Lazy-i