Bob Mould interview transcript… (yes this is a rerun); Worried Mothers tonight…

Category: Blog,Interviews,Reviews — Tags: , — @ 6:56 am September 4, 2013
Bob Mould, center, with Jason Narducy, left, and Jon Wurster. Photo by Peter Ellenby.

Bob Mould, center, with Jason Narducy, left, and Jon Wurster. Photo by Peter Ellenby.

by Tim McMahan, Lazy-i.com

Yes, this is a rerun, sort of. A portion of this interview was printed prior to the Maha Music Festival in The Reader. The entire transcript is being posted here so it can be found online in the future. While the transcript also was posted at thereader.com, who knows how long it will be online? Whereas lazy-i.com will live forever, just like me.

The interview explains Mould’s electric-music retirement announcement from 15 years ago, and also covers playing rock music at age 52, the current music industry model, Spotify and why he doesn’t pull his music from the service, where his music sits alongside today’s music, if he’ll ever play Black Sheets of Rain again, what he plans on playing at Maha and what’s in store after Maha, and as an extra bonus, Bob’s take on Barack Obama. Enjoy…

Bob Mould Speaks

This isn’t the first time I’ve interviewed Bob Mould. Here’s the lead from my 1998 interview:

“What is there to say about Bob Mould? Either you know his music or you don’t. I’m not going to even try to recap his career, except to say that his music – whether it was performed with Husker Du, Sugar or as a solo performer – is among the most influential in modern music. I’m not overstating. Bands from Nirvana to the Pixies revered Mould and Hüsker Dü as the virtual inventors of post-hardcore alternative rock.”

The only thing that’s changed since that story ran is the number of bands influenced by Mould, including Foo Fighters, Jimmy Eat World, Green Day, the list goes on and on. At the time of that ’98 interview, Mould had just announced that he was giving up playing with an “electric band.”

“I’m getting to the point in my life where it’s time to start thinking of doing other things, whether it’s focusing more on the acoustic performances or putting together something else… I don’t want to be up there at 50 trying to rock out, with a band or something, and have people say, ‘I remember seeing him when he was really great.’”

Now at age 52, Bob Mould is in a band again. His trio, featuring Jason Narducy (Verbow, Split Single) on bass and Jon Wurster (Superchunk, Mountain Goats) on drums, will be among the bands playing at Saturday’s Maha Music Festival at Stinson Park in Aksarben Village. You can be sure, based on his amazing album Silver Age (Merge Records, 2013), that he’ll be rocking as loud as he ever has.

He explained the 1998 announcement and what happened afterward from his home in San Francisco:

Bob Mould: It was a time when you couldn’t step out of the house without three alternative rock bands jumping on your front yard playing. I’d grown pretty tired of that style of music at that point. I’d spent 19 years of my life touring around in a band as a guitar player and singer in some iteration of a punk rock band or rock and roll band, and I was living in New York City and hadn’t really taken any time for myself, mostly in not having much of an identity as a gay man. I’d given all my life single-mindedly to music. So I think the landscape of millions of alt rock bands combined with personal frustrations of wanting to take some time for myself led to that rather grand announcement I made back then.

Fast forward 15 years, a lot has changed in my life. I spent a number of years living as a gay man in New York City as opposed to being a punk rock guitarist living in a van. So that mission got accomplished. Those millions of alternative rock bands either went away or started making other kinds of music.

Fast forward to 2012, out celebrating a record I had made 20 years prior (Sugar’s Copper Blue) that helped to sort of define that genre that I learned to hate. It’s funny how life does that. We always think we’re going down a straight path, sometimes you circle back and that’s what happened. So, I’m a liar (laughs).

I discovered you through Workbook, and then discovered Hüsker Dü afterward. When you play festivals like Maha, what do you suspect your younger fans know about your career? Just the last couple records?

Mould: There are 20 year olds that come to the show with their 45-year-old punk rock dads, and there are young people who I’m presuming (know) the entire body of work and not just one record. I don’t think there’s a lot of kids that go ‘Wow I heard “Star Machine” or “I saw people talking about it on 4chan.” I’m guessing it’s the entirety of the work, and they want to see the person who’s done this work. I sort of doubt with the younger audience that it’s any one specific thing, other than me.

Do you think they identify you with Hüsker Dü:

Mould: They might. They might identify me with Workbook (Mould’s first solo album from 1989). When I talk to people after shows people always invariably mention their entry point in the body of work, whether it’s Workbook or Zen Arcade (the landmark 1984 Hüsker Dü album) or Beaster (Sugar’s 1993 EP) or whatever it might be. I think most younger people I talk to it’s just “I heard about your work.” “I heard about you through the Foo Fighters movie.” “I heard about you because Green Day talked about you.” “I heard about you because Jimmy Eat World talks about you.” So it’s a lot of that kind of thing too.

How do you think your music fits in with what’s going on today, at least from an indie standpoint? Do you wonder if kids who are into Arcade Fire or Of Montreal or M83 will identify with your new album?

Mould: Can’t tell. I don’t do that kind of research. Right now I’m guessing my audience is older. The challenge is always to reach a younger audience. As far as the bands you just mentioned, M83 probably being the youngest and hippest of those three, I love that band, but I don’t know if many of their fans love my music. (laughs).

The short version of what’s going on is once I got the autobiography (See a Little Light: The Trail of Rage and Melody, 2011) out of the way and got back to writing songs, touring around with the Foo Fighters and back with Jason and Jon making Silver Age and revisiting the Sugar stuff, it’s all real easy, it’s real natural. When I’m back in that environment where I seem to do my most natural work, it’s pretty easy. And we’re enjoying it right now because, as I think you or anyone who’s followed me for a while knows, things can take a right turn at any moment. We’re just enjoying the fact that we’re kicking the collective ass right now, we’re just sort of having fun with that.

How has performing changed for you at age 52? Is any of it physically trying?

Mould: Hell yeah. It’s been physically trying since I started. All the natural things, you lose a little bit of your speed, you lose a little bit of your voice, as the years go on it’s little harder to sing as I used to. But I was just in the gym for an hour and a half. I think I’m in better shape than most guys my age. I think I’m in better shape than most bands I’ve seen play. So as far as being on stage and being confident about how I carry myself, I feel real good about that.

The travel doesn’t get any easier. I’m sure anybody who gets older will tell you that. It’s just the way things are. As far as the creative part, what is that thing ‘Youth is wasted on the young’? We do all these stupid, crazy things when we’re younger, but when we get old you have all this wisdom but you don’t sometimes have the tools to use it. Well I actually think I’m in a pretty good spot right now. I think I’m beating Father Time pretty well at the moment.

It’s funny, I went to see The Who when they were coming through on the Quadrophenia tour. How old is Townsend now, almost 70? (he’s 68). You wouldn’t know it, would you?

I saw them recently and Daltrey’s voice was shot that night, but he might have been sick.

Mould: I will always give someone like Roger the benefit even if it’s shot, it’s still Roger Daltrey,  you know? And Quadrophenia is a pretty fucking hard record to sing at any age.

In that article from 1998 you predicted a lot of changes in the music industry that came true, specifically how the internet would impact music distribution. But you didn’t predict Spotify. What do you think of the service and its business model?

Mould: I wish they would pay the musicians, but that’s not their model, is it? Labels aren’t making any money. The distributor is usually the one that makes the money in anything and yeah, Spotify makes a lot of money putting the entire recorded history of music up. Most of the online streaming services are trying as hard as they can to avoid paying any kind of penny-rate royalty for playing an artist’s music in order to gather a database that they can then exploit, sell and advertise to. We don’t see any of that. We’re just the raw materials in the equation.

Then why don’t you pull your music out of Spotify?

Mould: Sometimes you have to sleep with the devil because that’s how you get your music heard. It’s not like there’s three radio stations and five tactile record stores (in every city). The landscape has changed so much trying to reach your core audience, let alone build a new audience in this day and age. Unfortunately the records become — in the market place — a billboard for other things you can sell — tickets, t-shirts, stuff like that.

So what are we going to hear at Maha?

Mould: I can tell you what the shows have been like: A fair amount of Sugar stuff focusing on Copper Blue. I enjoy playing that record quite a bit. We’re not playing the whole thing again, that’s for sure. We sure enjoy playing a good chunk of Silver Age every night, that’s a pretty easy record to play live. The response to those songs seems to be as strong if not stronger than the Copper Blue stuff. And there’s stuff from the Hüsker Dü era that is fun to play. I haven’t been playing a whole lot of the solo records. It’s not where we’re at as a band right now. The three of us have got a way that we’ve found (to) play well together, so we’re going to stick to that motif right now – the louder, faster pop stuff seems to be our strong suit, so that’s what we’re doing.

Will you ever do Black Sheets of Rain again?

Mould: Funny, we pulled out “Hanging Tree” (from the album) in Cleveland the other night only because I was walking around before the show talking to people, I walked over to the record store, and it seemed like three out of four people came up to me and said (passionately) “Black Sheets of Rain!” And so two thirds of the way through the set I stopped and looked at the crowd and said, “This is sort of a Black Sheets type of crowd isn’t it?” Loud pop, and then I just looked at Jason and Jon and said, ‘Do you guys know “Hanging Tree”?’ Jason knew it, Jon just said “Huh?” So I said, “Let’s just play it.” We hadn’t played it in four years and Jon worked his way through it fine and people loved it. It was just out of nowhere. It was just that vibe. People had talked about it all day. It would have been very selfish of me not to play one of those songs.

You’re playing with the Flaming Lips at Maha, I don’t know if you know anything about those guys.

Mould: We’re good buds from way way back. Wayne (Coyne) and I have known each other since ’86 when we played together in Oklahoma City. And then Matt and Kim and I fucking love The Thermals, we’ve played together before. It’s gonna be really fun. I like Omaha. It’s a great town and good people so it’s gonna be a fun time.

What are you going to do after Maha?

Mould: We have a handful of festivals and I think there’s talk about going to South America in October. I should know more about that in the next several days. Nothing’s confirmed. If we ever get off the road I hope we start to look at the next record, get some more recording done. The autobiography is coming out in soft cover form Oct. 15. We haven’t really fully exploited the See a Little Light documentary (a Mould tribute concert performed at Walt Disney Concert Hall in LA in 2011 and featuring, among others Dave Grohl, Craig Finn and Ryan Adams). We’re trying to figure out a way to get that in front of people again as the holidays come up. Still DJing a fair amount. It seems like I keep looking for time off and I don’t seem to find any.

Seeing as I could be holding up this article to you in an interview in 15 more years, what predictions do you have for 2028. You’ll be 67.

Mould: Probably, if everything still works, it’ll just be more of the same. Like I said, ‘97 ‘98, I was pretty sick of the alt rock and wanted to find my gay identity, which I never bothered to do. Now that alt rock is framed a little more properly at least in my mind, and my gay identity is framed properly in my mind, that sort of wipes all that out to me. I get up every morning and work on music, I try to keep myself in good shape to get on stage, and I take it very seriously, but I have a lot of fun with it. It’s pretty much all I do, so why not keep doing it?

One final question… because our last interview ended with a question about politics and the Monica Lewinski controversy that was brewing at the time, what do you think about Obama and the job he’s doing?

Mould: I think Obama’s done really good. I can’t remember in my lifetime as much obstruction being placed in front of one person as has been placed in front of our current president. It’s pretty fucking un-American what these conservatives are doing to this president. It really is. It’s really sort of a shame. And piece by piece that little empire that they built on greed and divisiveness and skin color is going to go away soon and they’re not going to be left with anything except memories of how they couldn’t stop time and progress and momentum and people just wanting to get on with their lives. They can throw all the roadblocks they want, it’s not going to work.

They’ve made it really really difficult for Obama to get anything done. I think he’s a pretty brilliant president. I think he’s very methodical. I know in the gay community there was a lot of outrage about EDNA and DOMA and gay marriage that he didn’t act soon enough. He acted when the time was right. Everybody wants everything now. He had a country to rebuild, you know? In case nobody looked when the Republicans left town, they pretty much took the silverware with them.

I think he’s a good man, I think he’s an honest man, He’s an incredibly well-educated man. I wish the obstructionists would just get the fuck out of the way so that all of us that would like to make this country a better place for everybody can get back to work. And I think even conservatives are coming around to it. They’re starting to see that they’re really in a mess and they’ve got to start acting like adults and start acting like reasonable people.

Portions of this interview were first published in The Reader Aug. 14, 2013. Copyright © 2013 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

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Sweet show at Benson’s Sweatshop Gallery tonight. Local punks Worried Mothers headlines a four-band bill that also includes No Thanks, Slut River and Black Panties. $5. Probably starts at 9…

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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 © 2013 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

Lazy-i

Live Review: At Age 5, Maha Is All Growed Up (in the column); Klemmensen hits goal, Vovk/Carl go Kickstarter; Beach Boys tonight…

Maha's cup overfloweth. A view at the crowd at this year's festival while the Thermals perform.

Maha’s cup overfloweth: A view of the crowd at this year’s festival while the Thermals perform.

by Tim McMahan, Lazy-i.com

In this week’s column, a recap of this year’s Maha Music Festival. You can read it in this week’s issue of The Reader or online right here. Or heck, why not just read it below?

Over the Edge: At Age 5, the Maha Music Festival Is All Growed Up

Was this year’s Maha Music Festival a success?

The concert, held last Saturday at Stinson Park in Aksarben Village, drew 5,100 people. If that number seems light — especially compared to your typical CenturyLink Arena concert — consider that you cannot hear any of the bands that performed at Maha on your local FM radio. None. They don’t call it “indie rock” for nothing.

Tre Brashear, one of the festival’s organizers, said Saturday’s 5,100 was a 20 percent increase in attendance compared to the 4,300 there last year to see Garbage and Desaparecidos in the rain.

It was a big crowd. In fact the first thing I noticed after walking through the gates was that Maha had somehow made the park shrink. There wasn’t much green space for the crowds between the massive duo stages, the food vendors on Mercy Street, The Globe performance tent and the Bellevue University Community Campus.

Despite that, Brashear said Maha has yet to outgrow Aksarben Village, at least from a music standpoint. “Stinson is large and can hold more,” he said. “Furthermore, parking still continues to be pretty easy and convenient.”

On the other hand, Maha’s vendor space on Mercy Street has become too constrained. “People want more food options, more vendors,” Brashear said, “but we don’t have any place to put them unless we can figure out a way to put more items on the far side of the park.”

But beyond vendor congestion, if Maha ever bags its dream act — Wilco — organizers will have little choice but to look elsewhere, as the band could easily attract well over the park’s 10,000 capacity.

Enough about logistics. Here’s rundown of the bands I saw after arriving midway through the concert.

Saddle Creek Records’ latest recruits, The Thermals, played the straight-forward power-punk the trio is known for, including a number of songs off their latest album, Desperate Ground. The crowd seemed to like it, though they stood like scarecrows holding their beers and nodding their heads to the unchanging straight-four beat.

While The Thermals sounded good on the massive “Weitz Stage,” local boys Criteria sounded even better on the smaller “Centris Stage.” Don’t ask me why, but that junior-sized set-up sounded fuller (and louder) than its big brother, but maybe the band had something to do with it. Criteria, also a Saddle Creek act, boasts more dynamic songwriting vs. The Thermals’ play-and-repeat, one-gear punk style.

None of that mattered when Bob Mould took the main stage and blew them both away. Grinning throughout the set, Mould rifled through a “greatest hits” selection that included favorites off his Sugar albums, new stuff off his lastest solo record, The Silver Age, and classic Hüsker Dü in the form of “I Apologize” off New Day Rising. Bassist Jason Narducy filled out the vocals when Mould couldn’t, adding tasty harmonies throughout the set.

Mould was the highlight of the day for me and for a lot of others I spoke to including Brashear, who said Maha had been trying to book him since the festival began five years ago. As for those who complained that Mould’s set was “too loud,” the term “pussy” comes to mind. It’s Bob frickin’ Mould, folks. What did you expect?

Which brings us to Digital Leather. A few years ago during a lunch meeting I tried to convince the Maha guys to book the band by playing songs off their album, Blow Machine. When the execs heard stand-out track “Studs in Love,” with lines “I like Wrangler butts / I like hairy asses / I like men” they just shook their heads and said, “Maha’s a family event; we can’t have that.”

Cut to last Saturday and there was Digital Leather on stage singing about hairy asses to a crowd that barely noticed. Why would they? Isn’t rock ‘n’ roll supposed to be controversial and/or risky? What’s risky about hairy asses?

The thought that Maha organizers would be offended by Digital Leather seemed ridiculous after Matt & Kim took the stage. The keyboard-and-drums duo that plays cute, shiney indie pop dance tunes 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.

It took about a dozen grips a half hour to get the set ready for festival closer The Flaming Lips. T-shirted stage hands carried huge chrome-plated globes while electricians carefully draped light strings from massive overhead crossbars. A few minutes before the set, out walked frontman/messiah Wayne Coyne in his shiny electric-blue suit, his graying mane blowing in the summer breeze. Coyne climbed atop the mountain of silver embryos and stood like a hipster Jesus grasping a weird fetus doll in his left hand.

If you came for the spectacle, you got it. The Lips’ amazing light show included a huge digital back-screen that blazed with glowing imagery while pin-lights flowed from above Coyne down the chrome mountain and back to the sky like an LED volcano.

Yes, there was plenty of smoke; yes there was confetti. Too bad there weren’t many hits. Coyne and Co. spent the first 20 minutes droning through depressing tonal music indicative of the band’s most recent album, The Terror. They would close out their set with hit, “Do You Realize?” but by then I was pedaling through Elmwood Park on my way home.

So was Maha a success? Artistically, it was the strongest festival they’ve ever put on. Brashear said it was financially successful as well, thanks to strong sponsorships, heavy donations throughout the year, and best-ever ticket sales.

“We definitely made a profit,” Brashear said. “That profit is going to get rolled into making next year’s Maha ‘better.’ What does that mean? We don’t know just yet. Could mean more expensive talent and/or an additional day. It’s too early to tell.”

Over The Edge is a weekly column by Reader senior contributing writer Tim McMahan focused on culture, society, the media and the arts. Email Tim at tim.mcmahan@gmail.com.

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John Klemmensen met his piddly Kickstarter goal of $500, actually exceeded it by a couple hundred dollars. I am among those who donated enough to get JK to do cover. I’m still mulling my choice  — should I select one of my favorite Buckingham Nicks songs or ask John to breath new life into a song by a local artist? Decisions, decisions…

Meanwhile, Bret Vovk (a.k.a. Under Water Dream Machine) and Nick Carl (a.k.a. Kicky Von Narl) just launched a Kickstarter in support of their upcoming 3-week tour of the American Southwest and West Coast. “All the proceeds gathered will go toward the happenings of a successful tour and production of a brand new split LP, available exclusively (for a time) to their Kickstarter backers,” they say. Get in on the action right here.

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Been kind of quiet show-wise since Maha. Not much happening tonight either, except for the next installment of The Record Club @ the Saddle Creek Shop (located in the Slowdown Compound), this time featuring The Beach Boy’s classic Pet Sounds album. The needle drops at 7 p.m. followed by a critical discussion of the record. As always, the event is free.

Also tonight, singer-songwriter Damon Dotson plays at Slowdown Jr. $5, 9 p.m.

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Read Tim McMahan’s blog daily at Lazy-i.com — an online music magazine that includes feature interviews, reviews and news. The focus is on the national indie music scene with a special emphasis on the best original bands in the Omaha area. Copyright © 2013 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

Lazy-i

Photos from Maha Music Festival; Live Review: Mousetrap, Ron Wax…

Category: Blog,Reviews — Tags: , , , , , , — @ 12:58 pm August 19, 2013
Mousetrap at The Waiting Room, Aug. 16, 2013.

Mousetrap at The Waiting Room, Aug. 16, 2013.

by Tim McMahan, Lazy-i.com

Coverage/review of Saturday’s Maha Music Festival will appear in my column in the upcoming issue of The Reader. For the record, it was a heckuva show. Check out the action photos below the Mousetrap review.

Mousetrap was a blast Friday night at The Waiting Room. As was the case last time they played here, the band sounds tighter than back in its ’90s hey-day. No doubt there are some obvious differences that come with 20-odd years of life experiences.

Their sound, while as bracing as ever, at times was cast in more subdued tones. The trio played a couple dark-throb numbers that ebbed and flowed like a tide coming in at midnight carrying a body floating face-down in the bay. Black and grisly and a bit creepy. But then again, there always has been something disturbing about frontman Patrick Buchanan. On stage he comes off like a punk version of a Brett Easton Ellis psychopath. Don’t look directly into his eyes.

Bassist Craig Crawford acts as sort of a buffer/cipher that keeps Buchanan from spinning out of control, though you know if things ever got heavy Craig would say, “Sorry, pal, you’re on your own.”

You can tell they’ve only just begun with drummer Colby Starck. A seasoned veteran, he still needs push it a couple notches to match former drummer Mike Mazolla’s ferocity. That’ll come with time.

My only gripe about Friday night was the set’s length — little more than 20 minutes with a three-song encore (that included a cover of Dead Boys’ “All This and More”). Buchanan promised more new material when Mousetrap returns, probably sometime during the holidays. There’s nothing quite like Christmas with Mousetrap…

Ron Wax was up before Mousetrap and judging by the comments made outside the venue you’d have thought it was the end world. I’ve known Ron Albertson for years both as the drummer of Mercy Rule and as a fine artist (I proudly have three Ron screenprints-on-canvas hanging on my walls). I caught the last two brutal songs of their set. It was loud, raucous, noisy, ham-fisted caterwaul rock, more than a little bit weird. Gritty and unbridled, but what did you expect? My reply to the guy who said he was going to gut-punch me if I called it genius: It ain’t genius, and it ain’t supposed to be.

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Now onto some pictures from the Maha Music Festival this past Saturday…

The Thermals at the Maha Music Festival, Aug. 17, 2013.

The Thermals sort of got the crowd going. Theirs is a one-note punk style, but people love it. Those who expected moshing forgot where they were.

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Criteria at The Maha Music Festival, Aug. 17, 2013.

Criteria sounded louder (and better) on Maha’s “second stage” than the Thermals did on the main stage. Might have something to do with dynamics…?

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Bob Mould at The Maha Music Festival, Aug. 17, 2013.

Bob Mould for me and a lot of people was the cornerstone of this year’s festival. Lots of Sugar and new stuff and even “I Apologize.” What more do you want?

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Digital Leather at the Maha Music Festival, Aug. 17, 2013

For the uninitiated, Digital Leather brought a modern garage aesthetic, along with lots of cool noise. 

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Flaming Lips at The Maha Music Festival, Aug. 17, 2013.

Our lord and savior Wayne Coyne doing his thing atop a mountain of chrome embryos, fetus doll in hand. Great lights, droll music.

More on Maha Wednesday, I promise.

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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 © 2013 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

 

Lazy-i

Interview: Bob Mould Speaks (on age, identity, Spotify, Maha, Obama…); Big Star movie packs ‘em in; Talking Mountain, Mammoth Life tonight…

Category: Blog — Tags: , , , — @ 12:56 pm August 14, 2013
Bob Mould, center, with Jason Narducy, left, and Jon Wurster. Photo by Peter Ellenby.

Bob Mould, center, with Jason Narducy, left, and Jon Wurster. Photo by Peter Ellenby.

by Tim McMahan, Lazy-i.com

In this week’s issue of The Reader, my interview with Bob Mould in support of his upcoming performance at Saturday’s Maha Music Festival. I asked Bob about things he said when I interviewed him 15 years ago for The Reader, at a time when he’d just announced he no longer would play “electric” shows because “he couldn’t imagine playing rock music at age 50.” It was quite a scandal at the time.

Mould explained what was going through his head when he made those statements (His hate of alt rock, his struggle with his sexual identity). We also talked about playing rock music at age 52, the current music industry model, Spotify and why he doesn’t pull his music from the service, where his music sits alongside today’s music, if he’ll ever play Black Sheets of Rain again, what he plans on playing at Maha and what’s in store after Maha, and as an extra bonus, Bob’s take on Barack Obama.

It was enough for a 2,700 word story, but I only had space for 800 words in print. BUT, you can read the entire interview transcript by clicking right here and heading to thereader.com.  Go read it now! Then get your ticket for Saturday’s festival at mahamusicfestival.com

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Big Star played to a full house last night, even though that performance was merely a reflection on the big screen.

While waiting for Film Streams to open the door to the screening aud, it felt like being at O’Leaver’s on a Saturday night — lots of familiar faces from the Omaha music scene taking advantage of this one-night-only screening of documentary Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me.

And it was quite a film. While always a fan of Big Star, I’ve never researched the band, who’s heyday was back in the early 1970s. The film’s biggest surprise was how much Chris Bell was responsible for the band’s sound on their early records. I guess I always thought it was an Alex Chilton thing, and he definitely was a central figure. Bell’s story provided the film’s tragic undertow, and when they played the single “I Am the Cosmos,” along with the b-side “You and Your Sister,” I discovered where that amazing sound on Number 1 Record really came from.

Anyway, it’s a good flick, and worth checking out on iTunes or Amazon on demand. Hats off to Film Streams for hosting this special night of music and film. Judging by the turn-out, this kind of one-shot music documentary showing could be a hit for them.

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There’s a free show going on tonight at Slowdown Jr. Headlining is San Francisco dream-pop band Mammoth Life. Joining them is Omaha’s own space-rock band Talking Mountain, and 8-bit rockers The Superbytes. The event also is an art show featuring works by CJ Espargo, Anthony Brown, Cassidy Hobbler, The Mock Turtle and Collin Pietz. Get there early and check out the art. The rock starts at 9.

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Tomorrow: Mousetrap.

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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 © 2013 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

Lazy-i

Live Review: The Men, Baby Tears, Gordon; Flaming Lips, Bob Mould headline Maha 2013…

Category: Blog,Reviews — Tags: , , , , , — @ 12:57 pm May 1, 2013
The Men at Slowdown Jr., April 27, 2013.

The Men at Slowdown Jr., April 27, 2013.

by Tim McMahan, Lazy-i.com

Here we are, a few days late. Don’t blame me, blame my work. Someone has to pay the bills, and it ain’t you.

Anyway… It’s been a few days since The Men played at Slowdown Jr., but my memory of the performance is still somewhat vivid. Just prior to their set I chatted with one of the venue’s bartenders who also happens to be an accomplished musician. He hadn’t heard the band before and asked me what I thought. I recapped my SXSW story (posted last Friday) and said I wasn’t sure what we were in for. That the new album had shades of Centro-matic about it. He nodded. He likes Centro-matic.

Well, just like in Austin, the band climbed on stage and proceeded to rip into three hard fast rock songs that were more garage or punk than anything with a twang. This even though one of the band members was now playing keyboards. “(The bartender) must think I’m nuts or an idiot or both,” I thought.

It took about a half hour, but eventually The Men began to slow it down and bring up that keyboard along with the twang in the form of dueling guitars that sounded like something off The Allman Brothers Band’s Eat a Peach album. Here was a band that could effortlessly switch between hyper-rock and something vaguely resembling alt-country while always maintaining their speed, power, grace. It was good stuff that in its own way had an epic flair similar to what Titus Andronicus brings, but with a more refined songwriting style.

Somewhere in the middle of the set, between songs, one of the guys said, “Being New Yorkers, we’re not a sentimental bunch, but this next one is a tribute to someone who died yesterday.” With that, the band tore into its own unique rendition of George Jones’ “White Lightning.” A fitting tribute indeed.

By the time the band got to the end of its set — more than an hour after it began — The Men’s sound had transformed again, this time into something resembling psych-rock, but again without losing their signature power and drive. It was an exhausting set that left (most of) the crowd of around 75 satisfied..

Baby Tears at Slowdown Jr., April 27, 2013.

Baby Tears at Slowdown Jr., April 27, 2013.

If that set sounds long, Baby Tears made up for it with a short set of only four or five blistering, violent noise-rock tunes. The plan called for playing at least one more long number, but the set was marred by a broken kick-drum pedal which blew out after the first song, leaving all of us wanting more.

Gordon at Slowdown Jr., April 27, 2013.

Gordon at Slowdown Jr., April 27, 2013.

Starting things off was a rather straight-forward set by Gordon, at least compared to the last time I saw them play at The Side Door this past January. I have no idea what drove that weird, wonderful performance, but compared to that chaos, the band was downright restrained Saturday night, resting entirely on their songs and musicianship. They are easily the best Omaha band you’ve never heard of, and I’m scratching my head wondering why no one has helped them put out a record. One young label owner asked me if their 5-song demo was online anywhere. It is. In fact, you can download the whole thing right here. Get it.

* * *

While I’ve been away (though I’ve been right here the whole time) the folks at the Maha Music Festival announced their big stage line-up for this year’s extravaganza, which takes place Saturday, Aug. 17 at Stinson Park in Aksarben Village.

The full schedule:

12:05 – OEA Winner
12:40 – Millions of Boys
1:20 – Hers w/Omaha Girls Rock!
1:55 – Sons of Fathers
2:45 – Rock Paper Dynamite
3:20 – Thao and the Get Down Stay Down
4:25 – The Millions
5:00 – The Thermals
6:05 – Criteria
6:45 – Bob Mould
7:55 – Digital Leather
8:55 – Matt & Kim
10:15 – The Flaming Lips
Midnight – Show Over

The reaction from most people I’ve talked to about this line-up has been, “Whoa, Flaming Lips.” Even “civilians” who never go to rock shows are impressed. The Lips’ reputation for putting on over-the-top multi-media parties with confetti cannons and giant balloons is well known even with the stay-home suburban set. Will this be a game-changer for Maha? We’ll have to wait and see.

But as excited as the armchair music fans are about the Lips, the hardcore indie fans are over the moon about Bob Mould.  Then again… I always assumed everyone knew who Mould is, until I ran into a label guy in his 20s this week who didn’t have the foggiest. I told him that Mould was in Sugar. Nothing. “How about Husker Du? Ever heard of them?” He had, but still wasn’t familiar with their music. Fact is, this guy was in diapers when Zen Arcade came out (if he was alive at all).

My young label geek did know who The Thermals are. I didn’t ask him if he’d heard of Matt & Kim (but he probably has, especially since they just played Slowdown last year). Thao and the Get Down Stay Down is a more obscure choice, and even I had never heard of Sons of Fathers until Maha. Based on their iTunes snippets (They don’t have much of an online presence) I’d classify them as alt country or “roots.” We’ll never know the real story about how Maha found these guys (and why the booked them).

So there you have it, the 2013 Maha Music Festival line-up. Will this one be a record-breaker for Maha, the one that finally pushes them out of Stinson Park and into a larger facility (with campgrounds, as is their dream)? And more importantly, who’s going to pick up all that confetti after the show is over?

* * *

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 © 2013 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

Lazy-i

CD Reviews YTD 2012 (in the column, and right here); The Wombats, Kite Pilot, Pony Wars tonight…

Category: Blog,Column,Reviews — Tags: , , , , , , — @ 12:56 pm September 27, 2012

by Tim McMahan, Lazy-i.com

I typically don’t run my Reader column in this here blog because it typically doesn’t focus on music (and this is a music blog after all). Sure, I add a line of hype about the column on Thursdays, but then I simply link to it. Well, this week I can’t find the column online at thereader.com. So because of that, and because the focus this week is on music, I’ve included it below. As always, you can also read it in print in The Reader.

Over the Edge: Of Sound Mind (and Opinion)
CD Reviews, YTD 2012

This week’s column is a return to my old indie music criticism schtick. Because I still listen to music — lots of it — and have more than 20 years’ experience writing about it, which I think gives my critical analysis a modicum of relevance.

Or maybe not.

The role of the music critic has become somewhat (mostly) marginalized. Anyone interested in modern music with the available income to purchase it also has access to Spotify or one of the other music streaming services that makes (most) new music available with the flick of a finger from their iPhone/Android/computer-powered listening device.

In other words, if you want to know if the latest buzz band is worth listening to you no longer have to risk your hard-earned ducats and make a blind purchase like in the old days. Now all you have to do is listen to it online. That means the critic’s role has been relegated to: 1) saving you time by pointing you toward an interesting path, or 2) validating your already made-up mind.

Reviews don’t even mean that much from a marketing perspective since artists don’t (and can’t) rely on income from album sales anymore. The ones who want to make a living making music depend on income generated at live performances. Still, if they’re going to get butts in seats, they have to get their music heard in the first place, and maybe that’s where the critics come in. My how the world has changed in just 10 years.

With all that in mind here are my impressions of some recent music, for what it’s worth…

Purity Ring, Shrines (4AD/Last Gang) — Chime-bot sounds from outer-space tone rockers is at its best when melody outdoes beat, but man it can get tiresome.

Thee Oh Sees, Putrifiers II (In the Red) — A crowing cock-a-doodle-doo of a garage punk band, no one does it better or with more style. Stands for Orange County if you’re wondering. So why can’t we get them to come to Omaha?

Digital Leather, Yes, Please, Thank You (Southpaw) — Another in a series of recordings (something like four LP/EP releases in the last couple years?) that sounds like Gary Numan post-wave synth rock bolted to a doped-up garage-punk band. One of Omaha’s finest. BTW, this is a cassette-only release. Yes, you read that right.

Peace of Shit, Business as Usual (Rainy Road) — Local perusers of thee garage aesthetic write songs as clever (or crass) as their name. Also on cassette (I see a luddite trend here).

Two Gallants, The Bloom and the Blight (ATO) — This original snarling guitar-and-drum purveyors of the punk sea shanty waited until they left Saddle Creek to make the best record of their careers. They’ve never been more focused, or ferocious.

Cat Power, Sun (Matador) — Chan Marshall puts aside afternoon-light fragment pop for something more upbeat, trippy, tuneful and almost happy, until you listen to the words.

Azure Ray, As Above So Below (Saddle Creek) — By combining the best of their respective solo projects, the Fink/Taylor duo have (finally) struck the perfect balance between strutting and soulful, sounding (finally) comfortable in their own skins.

TEEN, In Limbo (Carpark) — Maybe the best all-girl indie rock band going. Less self-assured than Best Coast, but better.

Ember Schrag, The Sewing Room (Single Girl Married Girl / Edible Onion) — Local singer/songwriter’s clear-as-a-bell coffee-shop folk ruminations, worth it if only for the perfect jewel of “Your Words.”

Dinosaur Jr., I Bet on Sky (Jagjaguwar) — Everything ‘80s is new again, at least to the young ears that weren’t around the first time. As good as anything they did back then, at times even better.

Bob Mould, Silver Age (Merge) — Everything ‘80s is new again, again. Bob put away his dancing shoes and rediscovered his electric guitar and hasn’t sounded this good since his Sugar days.

The xx, Coexist (Young Turks) — Among the hottest (or most heralded) of the droll vibe bands, no matter how much I try it bores the shit out of me.

McCarthy Trenching, Plays the Piano (Slumberparty) — Half ragtime instrumentals and half ragtime-influenced piano ballads, they say he’s Omaha’s Randy Newman but he’s really just a nice guy lost in better days. And I like his “Solace” better than Marvin’s.

The Intelligence, Everybodys Got It Easy But Me (In the Red) — The best under-the-radar indie rock collection that you’ll probably never find. By the numbers, but it still gets me every time.

PUJOL, United States of Being (Saddle Creek) — Proof that Saddle Creek still has a nose for finding new talent (even though Jack White found it first). All his earlier recordings have been leading up to this. Not anthemic, but epic nonetheless.

David Byrne and St. Vincent, Love This Giant (4AD) — Waters down the best parts of both, it’s not weird enough to be interesting and not straight-forward enough to be interesting.

Violens, True — Everything ‘80s is new again, the dream-pop edition. Lush.

Wild Nothing, Nocturne (Captured Tracks) — Everything ‘90s is new again, the (upbeat) shoe-gaze edition.

Twin Shadow, Confess (4AD) — A dizzying trip back to ’80s electro-pop with a sound that recalls everything from General Public to Fine Young Cannibals to New Order to Peter Gabriel. If you’re gonna steal a style, this is how to do it.

Divine Fits, A Thing Called Divine Fits (Merge) — Better than the last couple Spoon albums (or anything by Wolf Parade).

Various Artists, Just Tell Me That You Want Me: A Tribute to Fleetwood Mac (Hear Music) — Unnecessary tribute album’s only highlights are Billy Gibbons’ “Oh Well,” and Antony’s fey “Landslide,” though it’ll make you want to seek out the source material.

Over The Edge is a weekly column by Reader senior contributing writer Tim McMahan focused on culture, society, the media and the arts. Email Tim at tim.mcmahan@gmail.com. Published in The Omaha Reader, Sept. 27, 2012.

* * *

Tonight at The Slowdown it’s Liverpool indie-rock trio The Wombats (Bright Antenna). Their sound has been described as “post-punk” but falls much closer to alt-pop or power-pop. Some say they’re destined for Arctic Monkey-level stardom. Who knows… maybe. This one was originally scheduled for the “junior room,” but was moved to the big stage thanks to pre-sales. Opening is Morning Parade and The Royal Concept. $12, 9 p.m.

Also tonight, our old pals Kite Pilot is playing tonight at The Sydney with Betsy Wells and Black Jonny Quest. $5, 9 p.m.

Last but not least, Pony Wars (Craig Korth, Craig Meier, Mike Brannan, Eric Ebers) is headlining a show tonight at O’Leaver’s with I Was Totally Destroying It and Millions of Boys. $5, 9:30 p.m.

* * *

Read Tim McMahan’s blog daily at Lazy-i.com — an online music magazine that includes feature interviews, reviews and news. The focus is on the national indie music scene with a special emphasis on the best original bands in the Omaha area. Copyright © 2012 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

Lazy-i

The Full Monty: Three days of SXSW coverage, all on one page…

The enormous crowd at Stubb's watching Fiona Apple during SXSW 2012.

The enormous crowd at Stubb's watching Fiona Apple during SXSW 2012.

by Tim McMahan, Lazy-i.com

Below is my full coverage of last week’s trip to Austin for the South By Southwest Music Festival. All of this content first appeared at thereader.com last week, so if you’ve been clicking over to that site daily, you’ve read this already. For those who didn’t click over, here it is in its entirety. Sit back with a sandwich and enjoy all 5,000 words of it.

A 1,000-word wrap-up also will be printed in this week’s issue of The Reader, along with my weekly column that looks at an alarming new trend at rock shows. The new issue will be on news stands Thursday.

Day 1: Wednesday, March 14, 2012.

I promised myself that I wasn’t going to kill myself this year at SXSW, but the way I felt this morning, I think I’m doing a pretty good job of it.

We got into Austin early yesterday afternoon, which I figured would mean an abbreviated show schedule. But no. We still had time to see nine bands. That’s the amazing thing about this festival and why I keep coming back year after year despite the obvious toll it’s taking on my body — you can see the hottest, most talked-about bands the same day as you get to see some all-time classics, sometimes in clubs literally next door to each other.

Onward.

After a lightning fast registration process (SXSW has figured out how to get you in and out of their convention center with a badge around your neck in less than 15 minutes) it was off to the first band: Nashville garage trio The Ettes at The Ginger Man, a dark, cozy out of the way club on 3rd Street that opens to a sweet hidden patio performance area in the back. People were lined up along benches facing the stage waiting for the overcast 3 o’clock sky to burn off whatever cloud cover had hung around from the morning. We wisely had “blocked up” before leaving the Hyatt Regency — overcast skies can be deceiving, and misreading them can mean a week of skin-peeling pain.

Despite having a tough(er) garage punk sound, The Ettes will never be able to shake their “cute factor” with adorable little Lindsay “Coco” Hames at the lead, with a sassy voice bordering on boopsy at times (but more Patsy at most), as well as her stage mannerisms, which are just plain endearing, even when she’s calling out someone in the crowd from Boston with “I’ll tell you about it after the set.” Countering her cuteness was the vicious cool of drummer Maria “Poni” Silver, who looked like she could take you AND your buddy in a fight, and look damn good doing it. Rounded out by red pants wearing bassist Jeremy “Jem” Cohen, they were one snarling unit, as Hames sweetly barked “I’m not not not not not going to break your heart.” What a way to kick things off.

Next on the list was Thee Oh Sees at Red Eyed Fly, one of a batch of clubs that sit about a block north of 6th Street along Red River, where arguably all the best clubs are situated. I saw the line snaking from the door into the street and asked fellow Omahan Mike Tulis (you’ll always run into a lot of local folks at SXSW) ‘what was the deal?’ He said it was the holdout line for a reunion performance from the classic ’90s band The Wedding Present.

Glancing at my watch, I knew we’d never make it inside in time for Thee Oh Sees, so we walked down the street to Austin favorite Mohawk Patio not knowing who was playing. Look, you can’t schedule every move of your SXSW experience or you’ll miss most of it. Go with the flow, baby. Have fun, that’s what this is all about.

On stage was a tall black guy standing alone torturing an electric guitar Prince-style backed by prerecorded tracks — your typical one-man band shtick. The Xeroxed band list next to the beer cabana said the band was Blood Orange — never heard of them. But a quick google later and I recognized who I was looking at. It was Dev Hynes of Lightspeed Champion, all growed up. I’d interviewed Dev for my column in The Reader way back in 2007 when he was in town recording a Lightspeed album with Mike Mogis at ARC Studio. Our interview back then concluded with a trip to Crossroads Mall, which was in the same state of decay as it is today.

Now here was Dev, easily a foot taller and looking like a college fullback despite wearing the same geeky round glasses that he wore while shopping in Target all those years ago. He apparently had turned his back on Lightspeed’s chamber pop for something more rock, soul and funk based that could turn into an astringent guitar solo at the turn of a dime. Despite his appearance, his high croon hadn’t changed. The packed crowd on the patio ate it up, grooving to his pre-recorded beats.

About halfway through the set and in the middle of a song, Hynes stopped. “I’m sorry, I know I’m just one guy on stage, but do you think you could wait until after I’m through with my set before you start loading in?” he said to either the stage grips or the band guys who had been fumbling around on stage behind him while he played. “I mean, what the f***? I’ll be done in 20 minutes.” The crowd applauded in approval, while the grips slunk off stage and Dev started back up again, finishing the song by jumping off stage and playing a solo in the middle of the crowd.

It was after his set that we got our first celebrity sighting. While sitting on a retaining wall that surrounds the patio, a small crowd formed around Dev, literally at our feet. Running up and giving him a big hug and a hello in her pseudo British accent was none other than fashion model Alexa Chung host of 24 Hour Catwalk, another in a long series of Project Runway-style reality shows. Okay, okay, maybe I should have said it was a “Lifetime TV celebrity” sighting.

We made our way back down Red River, past the still snaking line in front of Red Eyed Fly and stumbled into the darkness that is Beerland, a club that doesn’t “participate” in SXSW, instead hosting free shows all week long. On stage was the band with the festival’s possibly most offensive name, Puffy Aureoles, a HoZak Records punk band that in addition to sporting a hard garage sound also sports a saxophone. Frontman Teets took a moment between a couple rumbling songs to say something like “You’re gonna get a better show in here than in there,” referencing the Wedding Party show next door at Red Eyed Fly.

He was wrong. When we got out of Beerland we noticed that the line had shrunk to maybe a half-dozen people being let into the Wedding Present show on a one-in one-out basis. Thinking it may be the only time that I’ll get to see this amazing band, we took a chance and got in line and were rewarded with some witty-ness by the doorman, who looked like a ginger Scotsman. As we got closer and closer to finally getting inside, a guy in his 40s walked up to complain. At first I thought he was the doorman’s mate, but then he started getting in his face about how “he was from Austin, man, and I work in television and I know what you’re doing. I can see that there’s plenty of room in there. You’re on some sort of power trip. If you don’t let me in I’m going to post about this on my Facebook page.” We all busted out laughing as the doorman told the guy to f*** off and leave. The small crowd began to clap, and the doorman said “Dude, they’re clapping for me, not you.” The whiney Austin TV man scowled and eventually slunk away.

We got in seconds later, in time to catch most of The Wedding Present‘s set, and it was as if time had stood still for British frontman David Gedge. He looked and sounded as he did in the ’90s, despite being in his early 50s. I only own one Wedding Present album, 1994′s Watusi, but loved it then and love this band now. If you’re going to do a reunion, you best do it like this, without missing a single, stripped down, bass-fueled, cocksure, angular beat.  Someone bring them to Omaha, please.

Looking at the schedule, the next natural stop was Fiona Apple at Stubb’s, the huge outdoor stage just a street away from where we were. Though the set wasn’t supposed to start until 7:45, there already was a huge line for badge holders at 6, waiting to get in. But seeing as my back and feet were already killing me, it gave us a chance to sit down on the curb and recover while waiting in line. Within a half hour, the line was literally a half-mile long, stretching three blocks behind us cross a street and up and over a hill. Meanwhile, a second line almost a long stretched down the street — this one for people with wrist bands, not badges. People’s oh-shit reactions when they turned the corner and saw the huge lines were priceless.

Well, they began letting us in at 7 and we were in the door by 7:10 and so was everyone else. Stubb’s must hold more than 2,000 people, judging by the size of the crowd. At 7:45 she came on stage backed by about 5 people, including a keyboard player, and began braying through her set. I’ve never been a Fiona fan, but she plays so rarely I figured I’d be crazy not to catch her set, and besides, I really wanted to see the band that followed her.

It was the same flaccid Fiona I remember from the ’90s, a woman who I always thought got by more on her looks than her talent. Her music had more in common with wonky Broadway show tunes than rock, fueled by awkward arrangements and her own awkward stage presence, though the crowd absolutely loved her.

The second she got off stage there was a mass pilgrimage to the door, which was fine by me. I walked right down by the stage and got ready for Sharon Van Etten, who I’d really came to see. Backed by a small four-piece band and with guitar in hand, she performed a stunning set of indie folk reminiscent of Chan Marshall (Cat Power), but with better melodies. When I turned around after the first couple songs, I noticed that the place had filled back up to capacity, this time for an artist that deserved the attention.

Getting near 10 p.m. the streets were beginning to fill with the crazies. I took a quick stroll to nearby Elysium to try to beat the crowd for Zola Jesus, and got right in to see Philly drone band Amen Dunes, whose sound can best be described as Lithium-fueled underwater buzzcore rock sung by a team of tribal shamen. Actually, not bad if you’re into Nyquil rock.

But nothing compared to Zola Jesus, perhaps the most hyped indie band since, well, Lana Del Ray, though LDR has managed to leverage her hypeness into international fame. Zola Jesus is merely creating a rather massive cult of followers who view her as a second coming, and after last night’s gig, may be onto something.

Frontwoman Rosa Danilova is an indie Gaga — slight and almost fragile, wearing a ghost-white silky one-piece translucent draped dress, the tiny woman explodes into stage calisthenics the minute her band breaks into their dreamy, almost spiritual post-ambient rock that features synths, guitar and fantastic drums, while Danilova croons and prances on stage. I’ve heard her and her music compared to Cocteau Twins, and that did come to mind, though sonically there really is no similarity. Danilova, however, is amazing to see and hear on haunting songs that have a tendency to blend together, though it only makes the songs that stray from the formula shine even more.

I talked with fellow Reader music writer Chris Aponick during her set, asking how he thought she’d draw in Omaha. He thought she’d never sell out The Waiting Room, and pointed out there’s a reason why she’s only played down in Lawrence. He was right. As amazing as Zola Jesus is, the band is a hidden commodity in Omaha except for diehard indie fans, record store geeks and music writers. At least she is right now. I have no doubt that she could blow up as big as LDR if she ever got her break on SNL.

Finally at midnight, I made my way up to the 18th Floor of the Hilton Garden Inn and caught a solo acoustic set by ’90s indie rock legend Freedy Johnston. Freedy used to be one of my favorites, and his albums from the ’90s are still heard often in my car and earbuds. Despite my love for his music, I’ve never had a chance to see the former Lawrence-native play live, until last night.

There he was in the corner of the hotel’s sky lounge surrounded by rows of chairs and a crowd of 50 that was a mix of older people and a handful of young hipsters who knew a good thing when they heard it. Johnston complained of a rough throat and apologized for his voice throughout the set, but he sounded just fine to me as he played through the favorites including “Evie’s Tears” “Bad Reputation” and one of my all time faves, “Trying to Tell You I Don’t Know,” from his breakout album Can You Fly. It was a sweet way to end a sweet day in Austin. Check out the photos from Day 1.

Day 2, Thursday, March 15, 2012.

Another day of bands, but better weather at South By Southwest 2012. Let’s get right into it.

Typically, covering SXSW means a lot of walking around. There’s this falsity that all the venues are located along 6th Street aligned one right next to the other like a perfect string of pearls. In reality, SXSW venues are scattered across 100 square blocks in downtown Austin, with a few located even further away, including across Town Lake and on the east side of I-35. We’re talking miles and miles of walking.

But sometimes (if you’re lucky) you can cut down on the legwork if one, two or three bands are scheduled back to back at the same venue. Sponsors know this, which is why they schedule as many top acts as possible for their “day parties,” figuring you’ll say “fuck it, let’s just stay here,” when the band you came to see finishes their set.

For example, I kicked off yesterday afternoon by going to the Pandora day party at Antone’s, where I hoped to catch a set by Neon Trees. Since I knew that NT is currently trending, I got there early not knowing who was on the schedule. The name Incan Abraham didn’t ring a bell. The LA-based 5-piece (which appears to genuinely be unsigned) is one of the many new bands that have decided it would make good business sense to sound like Vampire Weekend. At one point during their set I wanted to yell, “Play something off Contra,” but that wouldn’t have been nice. Besides, no one was there to see them, anyway.

Half the crowd was there to see the next band, Neon Trees. This Provo-based band of Mormons (all are LDS members, according to Wiki) has the distinction of having one of the best frontmen in the business — the amazing Tyler Glenn. The second this guy takes the stage in his faux hawk and gold leather pants you know he meant business, and if you don’t, he’s going to let you know right to your face. Rarely has a frontman tried so hard to make a connection with his audience doing everything except pulling them on stage with him. He’s an in-your-face rock version of American Idol with a wicked sense of humor that will help him immensely when he reaches his final destination in Las Vegas. Pure showman.

As for the music, well, it sounded like someone grew up listening to The Cars, along with more modern pop like The Killers, a band who helped Neon Trees get signed to Mercury. You might have heard their music on Buick commercials, and something tells me they’ll be selling a lot of other stuff in the future. They’re a good time band that demands audience reaction, even if it’s 2:30 in the afternoon. Some did. Most did the ol’ standing-hump dance. Of note, Omahan Neal Duffy runs their sound. It was nice to see a friendly face behind the sound board. By the time you read this, Duffy will be headed back home, his tour of SXSW over, for now.

I said half the crowd was there to see Neon Trees. The other half was there for Glen Hansard of The Frames, The Swell Season, and the hunky leading man and Oscar winner for the music in the 2007 film Once. I didn’t know Hansard was on the slate at Antone’s, and was pleasantly surprised. He did about a half hour of fantastic personal folk, including the song “Gold” from Once, just him and his worn-to-shit acoustic guitar.

Hansard’s between-song patter is good enough for the stand-up circuit. He used it to coax Tom Meny onto stage, a YouTube musician who has covered one of Hansard’s songs online, which Hansard said was better than his version. He wanted him to sing it, but before he started, Meny whispered into Hansard’s ear that he’d forgotten the words! Instead, Meny added some tasty harmonies and told the crowd before he left the stage, “You’ve all experienced the best day of my life” — a touching moment.

Well, I couldn’t hang out at Antone’s all day, could I? Next it was off to the Mess With Texas party at the 1100 Warehouse, located on the east side of I-35 on 5th St. Getting there was an adventure involving crossing many lanes of live traffic with no stoplights (though a friendly cop helped us at one intersection). This event used to be held in a park just north of 6th St., but somehow they lost the rights to use the property. Unfortunate, because to say the airplane-hangar-sized metal-roofed warehouse had poor acoustics would be showering it with praise.

We waited about 10 minutes in the sweltering tin can for Cults to take the stage, and when they did, we held on for about three songs. Worst acoustics I’ve ever heard at SXSW; a waste of time for the bands and its fans. If that’s the best place Mess With Texas could find to host their day party, they’re better off not hosting one.

After the long hike back to 6th Street we set the bands aside and splurged on a sit-down meal at Annie’s on Congress Ave. and then went back to the hotel to watch some March Madness. Look, my non-stop days are over, folks, I’s gots to get some rest. And the way my night ended up, I’m glad I did.

I headed back out at around 9 to catch Secretly Canadian band Gardens & Villa at Mohawk Patio. The Santa Barbara band’s standout quality is a frontman that plays a variety of bamboo flutes (but not exactly in a Jethro Tull sort of way). With a regular drummer and a guy on an electronic drum kit, the band has more than a passing resemblance to Yeasayer, though not nearly as hippy-ish (even with the flutes).

From there, I figured I could sneak in a set from Grimes at the Central Presbyterian Church — yes, you read that right, it’s a big frickin’ church a block off of 6th Street that hosts shows for SXSW. Once inside, the kind-faced volunteers — obviously members of the church’s congregation — were selling coffee, scones and bottled water. They shepherded us into the main church and told us to take a pew. I wandered up to the balcony instead, and moments later (and what was 10 minutes ahead of schedule) a woman on stage asked to kill all the lights. The band that I thought was Grimes was, in fact, electronic duo Purity Ring who played a haunting set lit only by colored electric lanterns made all the more dramatic from the church’s spooky confines (which, btw, had remarkably good acoustics).

So apparently the church’s schedule was way behind, and there was no way I was going to be able to stick it out for Grimes because I had to get in line if I wanted to see The Jesus and Mary Chain at The Belmont at midnight.

I’m happy I got there when I did, at around 11, because I only had to wait in line for about five minutes. Once inside, it was a crush mob that would only become more crushing as the night went on. So packed were we that I could not raise my hand to scratch my nose without hitting the guy or woman standing next to me. I didn’t know if I was going to be able to hold this sardine pose for a full hour, not knowing that I’d have to do it for two-and-a-half hours. Good thing I took a leak at the church.

Before Jesus and Mary Chain it was a set by Titus Andronicus, who I didn’t recognize because frontman Pat Stickles had shaved off his wilderness beard, making him now look like Matt Whipkey’s long lost twin brother. I’ve seen Titus a number of times. They’re known (and proud) of their marathon-length songs, some of which are more than 10 minutes long and just seem to stretch on pointlessly forever, especially last night. No one wants to hear a 15-minute song about your eating disorder, Patrick, especially one with a repeating chorus that goes “Spit it out.” I will say this, it took cajones the size of melons to take a gig where everyone in the audience just wants you get off stage as fast as possible, and instead play these long, boring songs.

Finally, at around 12:30, Jesus and Mary Chain took the stage and played a ton of my favorite songs and a few I never heard of, one after another for over an hour. The Reid Brothers may be older, but they haven’t really lost any of their style. Jim’s voice is distinctively lower and grainier, but still has that thing that makes it unique. Meanwhile, brother William slouched off to the side with his axe and blew us all away with the shear volume of it all. As it stands, that was the highlight of my SXSW…. so far. Check out the photos from Day 2.

Day 3: Friday, March 16, 2012.

I’m writing this at 30,000 feet above some place between Austin and Omaha where dinosaurs once roamed the earth before the great Ice Age wiped it all away, long before anyone cared about weeklong music festivals in Austin, TX.

I recently had a conversation with another Omaha music critic who was giving me grief for skipping the last day of SXSW. “Why would you want to miss Saturday? I don’t get it.” Look, I said, I’ve never stayed in Austin for more than three days, ever. After three days of running around from 10 a.m. to 2 a.m. listening to bands, I’ve had more than my fill, thank you very much. I see between 25 to 30 bands over those three days. If you haven’t gotten what you need from the festival by then, you’re not trying. But that’s just me.

Day 3 started with a show sponsored by The Google on top of a parking garage just north of 6th St., providing gorgeous views of the chaos down below. The wind it did blow, and the sun it did scorch as Saddle Creek band Two Gallants took the stage sounding just like they did the last time I saw them a few years ago, before the duo went on hiatus, released their respective solo albums (to crickets) only to get back together again. Nothing had changed with their old-time ship-shanty folk rock sound. As always, when you hear one of their familiar tunes, you nod and say, “Aw right,” but if it’s a new song, well, you just want to get through it, especially after the 6-minute mark. Here’s yet another band that would improve immensely if they shaved three minutes off each song.

Like yesterday, I had no clue who else was playing the Google stage, and was pleasantly surprised to discover next up was Grimes, the “band” I went to see at the Presbyterian church the day before, but missed due to scheduling issues. On stage was pixie-ish DJ/vocalist Claire Boucher, working electronic backing tracks and singing one-woman-band style. Grimes’ music is brittle electronic dance stuff cast with a gothy Japanese sheen, thick deep beats balanced by her cooing voice. Later in the set a guy/person added even more percussion, but despite the head-bouncing beat, few (if any) were dancing. By the time I left, the half empty parking lot was really beginning to fill in, ballooning for day-party headliner The Shins, who would play in a few hours. Ah, The Shins. No thanks (though I liked them the first time ’round).

Instead it was across town to the coolest bike store I’ve ever seen — Mellow Johnny’s. In addition to having a gigantic selection of bikes, Johnny’s boasts a ton of apparel, a coffee shop, and for this week, a stage, where red hot Brooklyn punk band The Men (not to be confused with androgynous dance band MEN) played an afternoon show for about 50 fans and bike enthusiasts. The band is riding a wave of rave reviews, including a Pitchfork “recommended selection.” And I would add my name to that list for those of you into chunky Bad Religion-style rock. They’re loud and fast and raw, with dueling guitar riffs and a couple solid vocalists/screamers. But like a lot of bands in this genre, it all begins to sound the same after three songs.

The first part of my last evening in Austin was dedicated to the Saddle Creek showcase, held at a 2nd St. BBQ restaurant called Lambert’s. Whenever I tell someone I’m headed to SXSW, they always say, “Man, you’ve got to check out the Omaha bands and see how well they translate to an out-of-town crowd.” That would be a good idea, except every time I’ve seen an Omaha band in Austin, the crowd consisted mostly of Omaha people who made the trip. Such was the case last night for Icky Blossoms. I looked around and felt like I was watching a show in O’Leaver’s or The Waiting Room. There even was some guy I didn’t recognize wearing a Waiting Room T-shirt. Needless to say, the audience of 50 or so was gracious with its applause, and, in fact, IB put on a sterling set, especially for playing at a rib joint.

We left a couple songs into Big Harp’s surprisingly loud and rowdy set so we could get in line to see Eleanor Friedberger at the Merge showcase just a couple blocks away at a hot dog joint called Frank. I figured we’d have a hard time getting in, especially since their showcase capper was Bob Mould performing Sugar’s Copper Blue album, so I was surprised when they waved us in with our badges — no line at all. The cool little restaurant (everything is cool in Austin) never got crush-mob crowded, which is either a testament to the current state of Merge Records or the fact that Snoop Dog was performing across the street.

After a day of ear-bleeding noise, it was a treat to hear Friedberger do an intimate solo acoustic set. She’s a modern-day Joni or Janis (or Bowie), but with a self-assured lyrical voice that’s never cloying. This night she seemed distracted and slightly annoyed, and inasmuch said so during her set, telling the crowd that she’d been complaining just a little earlier, but that she was over that now. Her songs can be sad, but are sung with a voice laced in persistence, sounding not so much an optimist but rather a survivor. And I was literally standing right next to her.

So here was the sitch — Friedberger sang at around 8:45. Mould wasn’t scheduled to perform until 12:30. I could either leave and try to get back in and also risk being stuck way behind a roomful of pumpkin heads, or I could just hang out at Frank all night and soak in the other Merge artists. Easy choice.

I missed The Love Language to go upstairs for a chili dog and basket of waffle fries, but came back down for Crooked Fingers. In addition to once releasing a solo album on Saddle Creek, frontman Eric Bachmann has the distinction of (at times) having a voice that’s a dead ringer for Neil Diamond. Another distinction is his hulking 6-foot-8 frame that makes him resemble a Viking farmer in a trucker cap. With a solid backing band and a rack filled with guitars, Bachmann and Co. ripped through a set of folk rockers that at its finest moments recalled Richard Thompson. Again, I was literally right in front of the stage, and did my best to slump down so as to not block the people behind me.

I moved back a couple rows for the next act – Imperial Teen, a band that’s been around literally forever, and by that, I mean since the ’90s. Despite that, I knew virtually nothing, which resembled a group of schoolteachers (I would later find out that one of the guys was former Faith No More keyboardist Roddy Bottum). Don’t let appearances fool you — they rocked like The Pixies but without the pretention. I will now be searching out their catalog.

Finally, it was time for Bob Mould. He was preceded on stage by a crew of grips rolling in a stacks and stacks of Marshall and Orange gear, piled along the rear of the stage. Mould strode in with his classic blue Fender and began plugging in the pedals. The last time I saw him perform he was strapping young, clean shaven rocker. These days he looks like a wizened college professor or scientist, sporting a gray beard and extra pounds around the middle. With no fanfare, he looked over at bassist Jason Narducy (Telekinesis, ex-Verbow) and drummer Jon Wurster (Superchunk) and said, “I guess let’s just go” and tore into the opening chords of “The Act We Act,” the first song on Copper Blue. The crowd, of course, exploded. Mould sounded fantastic, his guitar work as lethal as ever, his voice achingly familiar. From there it was right into “A Good Idea,” “Changes” and “Helpless,” one after another. Unreal. Every one a heartbreaking anthem. And being performed about 10 feet in front of me.

After “Hoover Dam,” he stopped to explain how the show was a last-minute thing, how he’d just signed a deal with Merge the week before, and how the only thing left to do on the new album (slated for release this fall) was to record the vocals. With that, the band played what I assume were a couple new songs from that album, which were stunning. So no, this was not a performance of Copper Blue in its entirety (merely side one). However, after the last song, Mould came back out for an encore of “I Can’t Change Your Mind” that blew the place away. Mould clearly was having the time of his life, and so was the crowd, making it the high point of my SXSW 2012 experience.

It was well past 1:30 when I left the club. When I walked out, there was no less than 50 uniformed police officers in what looked like riot formation standing in the middle of Colorado Street, cop cars with lights flashing bordering either intersection. The moment felt tenuous and chaotic. I asked a guy what was going on, but all he said was, “Man, this is typical South By.” And with that, I headed back to Congress Ave. and my hotel, keeping my head on a swivel for whatever was going to happen next. Nothing did.

So much for South By Southwest for 2012. The old guys — Jesus and Mary Chain and Mould — were the standouts this year, though performances by Sharon Van Ette, Zola Jesus, Neon Trees, Eleanor Friedberger, Grimes and our very own Icky Blossoms were also on top of my list.  And you’re goddamn right that I’m coming back next year. Check out the photos from Day 3.

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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 © 2012 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

 

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SXSW Day 3: Bob Mould, Grimes, Icky Blossoms, Eleanor Friedberger, The Men, Crooked Fingers, Imperial Teen, Two Gallants…

by Tim McMahan, Lazy-i.com

Just like yesterday, click here to read my recap of Day 3 at SXSW at thereader.com. FYI, the festival is closing out today, even though I closed it out yesterday (three days is enough). So go read, then come back and check out my photos from Day 3. I’ll be posting all three day’s worth of write-ups here at Lazy-i on Monday.

Two Gallants at the 9th & Trinity parking garage, SXSW, March 16, 2012.

Two Gallants at the 9th & Trinity parking garage, SXSW, March 16, 2012.

Grimes at the 9th & Trinity parking garage, SXSW, March 16, 2012.

Grimes at the 9th & Trinity parking garage, SXSW, March 16, 2012.

The Men at Mellow Johnny's Bike Shop, SXSW, March 16, 2012.

The Men at Mellow Johnny's Bike Shop, SXSW, March 16, 2012.

Icky Blossoms at Lambert's BBQ, SXSW, March 16, 2012.

Icky Blossoms at Lambert's BBQ, SXSW, March 16, 2012.

Big Harp at Lambert's BBQ, SXSW, March 16, 2012.

Big Harp at Lambert's BBQ, SXSW, March 16, 2012.

Eleanor Friedberger at Frank, SXSW, March 16, 2012.

Eleanor Friedberger at Frank, SXSW, March 16, 2012.

Crooked Fingers at Frank, SXSW, March 16, 2012.

Crooked Fingers at Frank, SXSW, March 16, 2012.

Imperial Teen at Frank, SXSW, March 16, 2012.

Imperial Teen at Frank, SXSW, March 16, 2012.

Bob Mould at Frank, SXSW, March 16, 2012.

Bob Mould at Frank, SXSW, March 16, 2012.

Bob Mould at Frank, SXSW, March 16, 2012.

Bob Mould at Frank, SXSW, March 16, 2012.

* * *

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 © 2012 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

Lazy-i