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,

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 — 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: Mousetrap’s back, but don’t call it a reunion; new Criteria video; John Klemmensen needs a kickstart…

Category: Blog,Column,Interviews — Tags: , , , , , — @ 12:39 pm August 15, 2013
Mousetrap circa 2013, from left, Colby Starck, Patrick Buchanan and Craig Crawford.

Mousetrap circa 2013, from left, Colby Starck, Patrick Buchanan and Craig Crawford.

by Tim McMahan,

In this week’s column, Mousetrap’s back. You can read it in the current issue of The Reader, online here, or what the heck, read it below:

Over the Edge: Mousetrap’s Back, but Don’t Call It a Reunion

For regular readers of this column, a quick synopsis of who/what is punk rock band Mousetrap:

To use the word “seminal” to describe their impact on the Omaha music scene would be an understatement. Almost every significant Omaha band I’ve interviewed — whether they play punk, hard rock or even singer-songwriter stuff — has name-checked Mousetrap as an influence. That includes all of Saddle Creek Records’ most successful acts.

At the band’s core are bassist Craig Crawford and frontman/guitarist Patrick Buchanan. Their hey-day was in the ‘90s, when they released a couple 7-inch singles followed by their debut full-length Cerebral Revolver in 1993; the follow-up, Lover, in ’94, and their final album, The Dead Air Sound System, in ’95.

How to describe their music? It’s loud, but not macho or “tough-guy” or anything like today’s corporate metal goon-rock bands. Instead, the music is bitter and angry. Its anger is channeled more toward themselves than whatever situation Buchanan and Crawford are howling about. Actually, it’s more pain than anger — not a broken-hearted pain, but an exposed nerve physical throbbing abscessed tooth sort of agony — bright red and pulsing.

Mousetrap’s abrasive, acidic rock is not for everybody, in fact, it’s not for most people. After years of touring — a rarity for local bands in the early ‘90s — Mousetrap eventually faded away by the end of the decade.

And then seemingly out of the blue — the band played a pair of reunion shows at The Waiting Room in 2009 and 2010. And now their back again, but this time it’s different. Mousetrap intends to become an active band, or as bassist Crawford put it, “We’re a functioning band that plans to put out a new album by December.”

Crawford talked via Skype last Saturday in the band’s Chicago practice space. Also on the video-chat were frontman Buchanan, looking as sinister as ever with his mane of black, tousled hair, and new drummer Colby Starck.

Starck, a former Lincolnite who you may remember from such ‘90s bands as Pablo’s Triangle and Roosevelt Franklin, has lived in Chicago for about 12 years, where he made acquaintances with Crawford. He says Mousetrap’s first 7-inch “Wired” b/w “Train,” released on the late Dave Sink’s One-Hour Records, continues to be his favorite single.

“I’ve been a fan for a long time, and Mousetrap has always had trouble with drummers,” Starck said. “Whenever I saw them, I always said, ‘That should be me up there.’” And now it is.

Buchanan wanted to make sure I mention that former drummer, Mike Mazzola, who played with Mousetrap at the reunion shows, is a great drummer and a good friend and that the switch to Starck was a scheduling thing.

“It totally made more sense to have Colby come in because he can invest more time in the band,” Buchanan said. “We want to make this a living, breathing, fully operational band and that requires more time and commitment.”

Becoming a “real band” had been the plan back in 2010, but it obviously never happened. Shortly after the holiday reunion show, Buchanan, who works in advertising, got a job offer in Miami. “It’s the nature of the ad business, if you want to get yourself a raise, you have to move to where the job is,” he said. But it didn’t take long for Buchanan to realize that Miami is “kind of a shithole.” When he got another job offer back in Detroit, he took it. And as soon as he got back, he called Crawford and got the ball rolling again.

By the way, Buchanan said despite the city recently declaring bankruptcy, Detroit isn’t a bad place to live. “I actually love it,” he said, “and I love that the media is so harsh on it. It’ll keep all the hipster douche bags away.”

Back to our story. Detroit is an easy drive to Chicago, which allows the band to get together over the weekends. Word of this reunion leaked back in March. Since then, the band not only has been getting Starck up to speed on the band’s back catalog, but writing new material, including one new song that will be performed at Friday night’s show at The Waiting Room, and Saturday night’s show at The Chesterfield in Sioux City.

Buchanan said Mousetrap’s new material is “pretty dark.”

“It’s driven by the type of vibe that you hear when you listen to Iggy Pop’s The Idiot album, which is the greatest nighttime album ever made,” he said. “Let me explain it in less specific terms: Mousetrap of 1993 was a sawed-off shotgun. Mousetrap of 2013 is more like a sniper rifle. The stuff we’re doing isn’t less violent or abrasive, just extra concentrated.”

Both Crawford and Buchanan said there’s a void for their style of aggressive music. “The formula (in pop music) in the last year has been bands saying, ‘Hey, Ho.’” Crawford said. “I don’t see a lot of bands with balls.”

“You see a lot of dudes with beards strumming acoustic guitars wearing vests and suspenders, old-timely clothes like a frontier pioneer guy,” Buchanan added. “I feel like what we’re doing is pretty fresh right now because it’s not what’s happening. There’s a lot of dance-y electronic music and softer indie-rock stuff, but there’s not a lot of loud, aggressive rock music that’s not metal. There has always been an anti-social streak to us in a musical sense; we’ve always been dark and confrontational, that’s the music we want to make.”

And if no one likes it?

“It doesn’t really matter if not a single person buys our next album,” Buchanan said. “We make music the way we want to make it. We’ve always been musically very selfish. We’re going to do whatever we want to do. If you like it, that’s awesome. If not, there’s the door, get the fuck out.”

Mousetrap plays Friday, Aug. 16, at The Waiting Room, 6212 Maple Street, with Ron Wax and Noah’s Ark Was a Spaceship. Tickets are $8, the show starts at 9 p.m.. For more information, go to

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

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And yet another Mousetrap interview right here at

And here’s Mousetrap doing “Superkool” at The Waiting Room in 2010, via the YouTube.

Friday night’s show at TWR should be epic.

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In case you’re wondering what the boys in Criteria have been up to, check out their just-released Love Drunk video for yet-to-be-released song “This Reign Is Ours.” Heavy riffage. Lots of exciting woodworking. You get the idea. BTW, Criteria will be playing the local stage at Saturday’s Maha Music Festival. Get your tix right here and get ready to rock.

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Finally, Omaha’s No. 1 broken-hearted troubadour, John Klemmensen, is getting ready to hit the road on a tour that takes him to the West Coast. The only thing he needs is gas money. And that’s where you come in.

Check out John Klemmensen’s Kickstarter Campaign, where he’s trying to raise a measly $500. Prizes include a candle-lit bubble bath drawn by John himself as he serenades you with one of his slow, sad, sexy ballads…. j/k.

“j/k” stands for Just Kidding. Though John might want to consider adding it to the list. It’s got to be worth $50…

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


Live Review: Criteria, Noah’s Ark and rum drinks at O’Leaver’s; Desert Noises, John Klemmensen tonight…

Category: Blog,Reviews — Tags: , , , — @ 1:47 pm March 4, 2013
Criteria at O'Leaver's March 2, 2013.

Criteria at O’Leaver’s March 2, 2013.

by Tim McMahan,

Let’s start with the tiki bar.

It’s amazing that O’Leaver’s could create this alternate reality in a club that used to be as well known for its smell as its music. Tucked away in the space just behind the main bar (take a left right after you go through the front door), the room used to house a punching machine and other assorted junk. Bands stored their gear back there between sets. It’s now been transformed into a dimly lit tropical paradise complete with cabana grass and a sunset mural. Classy, very classy.

Manning the tiki bar Saturday night was none other than Cursive guitarist/vocalist and Mayday/Lullaby for the Working Class frontman Ted Stevens. Dressed in a grass skirt w/coconuts Stevens took to his bartender role like he’d been slinging cocktails his entire life, and before you know it, I was holding my first O’Leaver’s umbrella drink — a Mai Tai — and it was damn good. Too good. Going-straight-to-my-head good. Dangerously good. I could get used to hanging out back there, but who knows what the hours will be for the tiki bar. I assume it’ll be manned on weekends and/or show nights. Time will tell.

As for the rest of O’Leaver’s, well the place isn’t that much different. You’ll notice the new baby-poop-brown paint job for the ceiling tile and that any holes in the walls of albums have been properly filled. And the smell is gone. There were other new touches throughout I’m sure, but after that Mai Tai, things became a blur.

Saturday night’s crowd was one of the largest I’ve seen shoe-horned in that place. Tables and chairs has been removed to make more room near the “stage,” and as a result, unless you were in the melee, you couldn’t see who was performing. I’m told that Noah’s Ark Was a Spaceship has become a power trio — they certainly sounded like one — lean, mean, in top fighting shape. This new, tight ensemble brings more focus on their Sonic Youth/Pixies-flavored indie songs.

They were followed by the all-powerful Criteria. A note about O’Leaver’s sound — normally it’s impossible to talk to the person standing next to you while the band is playing without shouting a hole in a person’s eardrum. Not Saturday night. The mass of humanity was part of the reason, acting as a natural sound buffer from my perch next to the (new) soundboard in the back of the room. Don’t get me wrong — it still sounded loud, just not painfully so. If Criteria was a test of the bar’s improved sound system, it passed with flying colors.

Criteria rolled out two or three new songs that showed a progression for a veteran band that rarely plays these days. The songs were riff-heavy in a good way; fierce and anthemic as anything they’ve done before. Of course the question is what will they do with this new material. Judging by the rather large contingent of Creekers in the house, could a new release be in the making?

For my ears, O’Leaver’s ranks just behind The Waiting Room and Slowdown in sound quality — it’s  a really balanced room considering it’s just a dive bar. The deficit (at least Saturday night) is the sightlines since the band is standing on the same floor as the crowd in front of it. With no head room to add a riser, the only solution is to get off your ass and join the crowd. Maybe it’s not such a bad problem to have after all.

Sharp-eyed fans noticed that the upcoming Tim Kasher dates at O’Leaver’s (March 20 and 21) are promoted by One Percent Productions. Giving the club the ability to pre-sale tickets is only part of the reason. Will One Percent view O’Leaver’s as a viable venue for smaller touring acts that are ill-suited for the much larger TWR and Slowdown? If so, we could see a new beginning for a club with a legendary past.

BTW, weekends at the club are booked through the balance of the month…

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Tonight at The Waiting Room it’s Utah Valley band Desert Noises with Omaha’s own John Klemmensen and The Party. $7, 9 p.m. Check out some Desert Noises below…

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


Live Review: Titus Andronicus, Ceremony; Who is Gordon?; Criteria, Domestica Saturday…

Category: Reviews — Tags: , , , — @ 1:01 pm November 23, 2012
Ceremony at Sokol Underground, Nov. 21, 2012.

Ceremony at Sokol Underground, Nov. 21, 2012.

by Tim McMahan,

I’m guessing by the size of the crowd that in the battle between Tilly and Titus, Tilly won. One of my music cohorts blamed indie slacker girlfriends for the poor turnout at Sokol Underground Friday night — maybe 75 tops for a band that packed The Waiting Room the last time they came through. His contention was that the girlfriends insisted on going to Tilly and the Wall at The Slowdown rather than Titus Andronicus at Sokol — girls’ music versus guys’ music — and that the girls will always win that argument. What a goddamn sexist thing to say, Chris! There were a few girls in the crowd at Titus, but something tells me there were a heckuva lot more at Tilly. Sometimes stereotypes are right on.

A little after 10 the warm-up band, Ceremony, took the stage and began playing their brand of post hardcore hardcore music to a tiny mob in front of the stage intent on moshing even if no one else wanted to. Three or four guys bounced around before eventually giving up and maintaining a metal-esque headbob routine. The S.F. four-piece isn’t a hardcore band, at least not anymore, not like they were before they signed with Matador Records. Still, their brutal post-punk sound crossed into hardcore territory during more intense moments or when frontman Ross Farrar introduced a song as “an old one.”

Their more recent streamlined sound is compared to early Wire, some have called it an homage. I wouldn’t go that far for, among other reasons, how much they lean on their guitars. On their new record, they remind me more of Bad Religion than any proto-post-harcore band. I would argue that they’re better live because they’re willing to blur the lines between the old and new as much as they want to, the yelling sounds more genuine.

Titus Andronicus at Sokol Underground, Nov. 21, 2012.

Titus Andronicus at Sokol Underground, Nov. 21, 2012.

We had a bet going on how long Titus would play. The consensus was an hour and 15 minutes. They went about a half our over that (with no encore). Patrick Stickles and company came on in a matter-of-fact fashion and barreled through a set that included the best off the new album (including “Tried to Quit Smoking” “My Eating Disorder” and “Titus Andronicus Vs. The Absurd Universe (3rd Round KO),” and a handful of the classics from the past couple of albums, including “A More Perfect Union,” “Titus Andronicus Forever” and “No Future Part Three: Escape from No Future” with the rousing chorus “You will always be a loser.” Big, anthemic fun without the nasty filler.

Before I left a member of one of the opening bands, called Gordon (the band’s name, not the guy’s name), gave me a copy of their six-song demo EP, I guess they were just handing them out. After listening to it this morning, I’m sorry I got to the show late.

Pretty fantastic stuff, especially opening track “No Masters, No War,” a soulless, dark little counter-argument to the neon-colored youth-freedom anthems that Tilly was singing just a few miles away to a much cuter audience, an audience who would blanch at lines like “And there were piss stains on the carpet / Where I laid my head and slept / There was a memory that I lost / Couldn’t remember when I woke up.” Ew, gross! There is something bracing and honest about a chorus that goes “It was love / It was death / There were no masters / There was no war.”

That goes right into a straight-up indie pop number called “I Don’t Mind” whose guitar lines and rhythms owe a lot to The Cure and Dinosaur Jr., with scratch vocals that are a direct nod to J. Mascis. Short and sweet.

Track three, “Down Goes Red” is a buzzsaw guitar and a droll mumble and a shout chorus of “Bang, Bang, Bang / Goes my gun.” Kind of an RFTC vibe, minus the candy coating. The last few songs are cleaned up garage songs that rock. The whole thing’s good and at times borders on brilliant.

On these recordings (according to the lyrics sheet included in the unlabeled heavy-black plastic CD case) Gordon is Austin Mayer, guitar/vox; Nick Sortino, drums/vox; Josh French, bass/vox, and Aaron Parker, guitar/vox. I don’t know anything about these guys, other than that French is in Snake Island, and that Mayer and Parker are in a project called Scratch Howl.

Don’t know where you can find a copy of these recordings, but they’re worth finding.  The note scratched on the lyrics sheet next to the recording credits says “We suck, we know.” Do you?

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Looking at the sched, it’s going to be a quiet Friday night EXCEPT at The Barley Street Tavern, where Lincoln DIY punk legend Jim Jacobi and the Crap Detectors take the stage with The Shidiots and Never Trust the Living (Rob Rutar, Troy Garrison, Chad Roles and Dave Carnaby). Look, this is the only thing of substance going on tonight, you have no excuses. $5, 9 p.m.

Tomorrow night is the long-awaited (annual) return of Criteria. And when I say return, I mean with new material. Sayeth Criteria frontman Stephen Pedersen “Criteria is writing new material (for the first time in 6 years).  Should be 3 or 4 new ones for the show. I am excited to perform them live.” Oh, and we’re excited to hear them, Steve. Opening is Landing on the Moon and Lincoln post-punk strategists Ideal Cleaners. $8, 9 p.m. Expect a crowd.

Just down the street, Lincoln anthem rockers Domestica take the stage with The Lupines (Frontman John Ziegler, Mike Friedman (ex-Movies, member of Simon Joyner and the Fallen Men), Mike Tulis (Monroes, Fullblown, Sons of ___, The Third Men),  Javid Dabestani (Ghost Runners, among others)). $5, 9 p.m.

Have a good weekend…

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


Live Review: Criteria, Little Brazil, Icky Blossoms…

Category: Blog,Reviews — Tags: , , — @ 12:32 pm March 12, 2012
Criteria at The Waiting Room, March 9, 2012.

Criteria at The Waiting Room, March 9, 2012.

by Tim McMahan,

It was another great weekend of shows, starting with Friday night’s 5-year birthday party at The Waiting Room.

I arrived in time to catch one song by The Photo Atlas — their usual high-energy dance rock a la The Rapture left me wondering why these guys have yet to catch on nationally.  By the time Little Brazil came on stage The Waiting Room was crowded, though not a sell out. LB lit it up as per usual, using the opportunity to play some new material which fell in line with their older stuff but somehow felt more modern. Frontman Landon Hedges continues to galvanize his role as indie music’s Freddy Mercury with his soaring, high voice and overall stage bombasity. Before closing their set, Hedges suggested that Criteria’s Stephen Pedersen would have to come out for their last song, a fiery rendition of a Smashmouth tune — not the “Walking on the Sun” Smash Mouth, but Pedersen’s old old band. Sure enough, out came Steve to share vocals on the final chorus, and the crowd went nuts.

Moments later, he was back on stage fronting Criteria. Here’s a band that hibernates for months only to pop their collective head out once a year (or so) to thrill its fans and generate unfounded speculation that perhaps this time they’re back for good (though we all know better).

I’ll say what I’ve said every time this band reunites — they haven’t lost any of their chops. The band still shreds, and Pedersen can still hit those high notes with a mighty fist in the air. His rockstar moves and his movie-star good looks have always made him an indie version of Rick Springfield (“…paging Dr. Noah Drake…“), though these days he’s in Hard to Hold territory.

The difference between this performance and all the other Criteria reunions was the crowd response — I’ve never seen their fans so animated and into the music. And we’re not talking about oldsters from “back in the day” — there were plenty of youngsters screaming back the lyrics who couldn’t have been around when Criteria was first hitting the stages of America a decade ago. How this happens — how a new generation discovers a band that rarely plays and hasn’t released an album in years (and obviously doesn’t get any airplay) — is indeed a mystery.

Icky Blossoms at The Slowdown, March 10, 2012.

Icky Blossoms at The Slowdown, March 10, 2012.

Saturday night was the send-off concert for Icky Blossoms at The Slowdown. The show, originally slated for the Jr. room, was moved to Slowdown’s main stage due to the anticipated crowd size. It turned out being the right call.

Here’s my takeaways:

— The band seemed tighter than usual, maybe they were nervous?

— With the new songs, Derek Pressnall appears to be taking a back seat on vocals to Sarah Bohling, who still doesn’t seem completely comfortable in that lead role. It’s either that, or the sound mix was poor, because I couldn’t hear her on half her songs as she struggled to project above the booming rhythm section.

— Ah, that new rhythm section of Saber Blazek on bass and Clark Baechle on drums is bad-ass. Anyone who’s seen Machete Archive knows about Blazek’s chaotic ballet when he’s deep in a groove, and years of playing in The Faint (and in Bright Eyes) has made Baechle arguably the best drummer in Omaha. HUGE.

— If Sitek has had an influence on their sound, it may be in their new emphasis on deep beats. Icky always was a dance band, but now they’ve pumped up the volume to new levels, reminiscent of The Faint.

The more I see them, the more they remind me of The B-52s and Public Image Ltd (PiL), with Derek divided somewhere between Fred Schneider and John Lydon. Meanwhile, Bohling continues to fill the Nico role. Nik Fackler’s guitar textures continue to impress me, as does his knee drops. When he’s wigging out next to Blazek the whole room feeds off the energy.

In retrospect, I do think Bohling was simply tight at the beginning of the set, because she laid it on toward the end, especially on a new tune that she shared with Pressnall, whose name presumably is something like “Riding Around in My Car Forever.” And then there was the closer, the always huge “Perfect Vision,” which never fails to get the crowd bouncing. It’ll be interesting to see how well the tune translates to a South By Southwest audience this week. I’ll let you know.

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


Column No. 300: A look back at Year 6; Brad Hoshaw, Rah Rah tonight…

Category: Blog,Column — Tags: , , , , , , , — @ 1:54 pm December 9, 2010

Column No. 300

A look back at year 6.

by Tim McMahan,

Goddamn. Just look at that number. 3 0 0. Not all were as perfect as a bowling score, but still… that’s a lot of friggin’ words. And I haven’t run out yet.

It’s hard to believe that six years ago Column No. 1, an interview with then hot propriety Willy Mason, was published, Dec. 2, 2004. Golden-boy entrepreneur John Heaston and the work-hardened galley hands at The Reader have been kind enough to keep this page open to me all these long years, with hopefully many more to come. Don’t believe all that putrefied tripe about the “death of print.” Newspapers will be around long after that shiny iPad you’re getting for Christmas has been recycled a dozen times over by the good folks at PBR.

So, as I crank out yet another recap and update some of the “better” columns of the past year, I thank you, precious reader, for coming along for the ride, always willing to crack your window whenever the gas accidentally escapes. At the same time, I kneel before you, hat in hand, eyes turned downward, and beg you to send your column ideas via dancing electron to Your thoughts make my thoughts grow, and are the fertilizer that keeps this mighty tree sturdy as we enter year seven — just in time for Second Grade.

Column 255: The Letting Go, Jan. 20, 2010 — We said goodbye to a pure garage-punk genius named Jay Reatard, who at age 29 was way too young to die. Jay’s impact on our modern world is still being felt by all of us who value flash-brave creativity, and without a doubt, his spark always will be felt long after we let him go. We’re still letting go of The 49’r, whose bitter demise remains fresh in our minds. When this column was published, the hopeful were organizing the “Save the 49’r” Facebook page, but I think we all knew better. You can’t stop graft. The lights went out in October. The wrecking ball awaits. Fuck you, CVS, you overblown toilet-paper store. I’ll never step foot in your fluorescent nightmare. And yes, Mr. Gray, voters will remember.

Column 258: Long Live the Hole, Feb. 10, 2010 — In the dead of winter, all-ages basement punk club The Hole was forced to move out of its hole beneath the Convicted skate shop across the street to the above-ground relic that used to house jaunty Omaha gay bar The Diamond on south 16th. It looked like a new beginning for a venue that some thought could serve kids the same way the Cog Factory did in the ’90s. But the location was too good to be true, and in September The Hole was dug up once again, forced to move to another basement, this time beneath Friendly’s Family Bookstore in Benson, where it now resides. Probably. A glance at the club’s Myspace and Facebook pages shows no listings for upcoming shows, and the sign above the club’s alley entrance is gone.

Column 262 & 263: Austin Bound, March 10, 2010 — Why should local bands play at South by Southwest Music Festival in Austin? Little Brazil, It’s True, Digital Leather, The Mynabirds, Thunder Power, Eagle Seagull and UUVVWWZ all gave their best reasons, which boiled down to: 1) exposure, and 2) fish tacos. Despite playing to crowds that ranged from a few to a few hundred, none of them got their “big break,” but they did get king-sized hangovers and lots of memories. I haven’t decided if I’m going back this year…

Column 266: No Excuses, April 14, 2010 It was an opportunity to point an accusatory finger directly at you, the local indie music community, and warn you that there were no excuses this time. None. The MAHA Music Festival line-up — Spoon, The Faint, Superchunk — and an ultra-cheap $33 ticket made sure of that. If Omaha really wanted a true indie rock festival — the beginning of a Midwestern Lolla or Coachella or Bonnaroo — it had to turn up at Lewis & Clark Landing this year. And you did, thousands of you for what is now being rumored as the last Faint performance ever (though I’ll believe it only when Todd tells me so). Now comes word that an already crowded local music festival season is about to get more crowded next year. Will MAHA be able to get you to come out again in 2011? Two words: Arcade Fire. Dare to dream.

Column 267: Identity Crisis, April 21, 2010 — This bitter live review of Digital Leather’s performance at Harrah’s Casino was a chance to whine like a pussy at how the band on stage only vaguely resembled the one heard on their amazing albums (Blow MachineSorcerer, Warm Brother). In hindsight, well, I had nothing to whine about. Digital Leather live is a filthy, punk factory that bleeds anger on its own level, whether or not I can hear the friggin’ keyboards. If I want nuanced subtlety, I can always stay home and listen to the records (something we’ll all get a chance to do when Digital Leather releases its latest work of art in 2011).

Column 271: Comfort Zone, May 19, 2010 — Stephen Pedersen, Omaha’s version of Buckaroo Banzai (high-fallutin’ Kutak-Rock lawyer by day / Saddle Creek rock star by night) explained why he and the rest of the aging yuppies in Criteria are content only playing the occasional reunion show. In fact, the band hasn’t played again since that Waiting Room gig in May. Instead, the esteemed counselor has his eyes set on a different sort of reunion — this time with his old pals from seminal Nebraska indie band Slowdown Virginia, who are prepping to take the stage Dec. 23 at the club that (sort of) bears its name — 16 years after their first show. I’m sure they’ll all look and sound exactly the same.

Column 277: A Modest Proposal, June 30, 2010 David Fitzgerald from Athens, GA’s Flagpole magazine did me a solid by writing a review of the debut album from It’s True. Alas, his kind words weren’t enough to keep the band alive, as the same evening the column hit the streets, It’s True announced from stage its demise. So we said goodbye to one of Omaha’s most promising acts… didn’t we? Don’t be so sure.

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There are a couple of shows worth checking out tonight at the usual hot spots.

At The Waiting Room, Brad Hoshaw and the Seven Deadlies return to the stage with a bunch of new material. Opening is relatively new Americana/Folk Rock act The Big Deep. $7, 9 p.m.

Meanwhile, down at Slowdown Jr., it’s Regina, Saskatchewan indie band Rah Rah, who was named named “Best Alternative New Artist” and “Best New Canadiana Artist” in iTunes Best of 2009 list. They’re opening for local faves Honey & Darling, along with Canby. $7, 9 p.m.

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Read Tim McMahan’s blog daily at — an online music magazine that includes feature interviews, reviews and news. The focus is on the national indie music scene with a special emphasis on the best original bands in the Omaha area. Copyright © 2010 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.


Live Review: Our Fox, Ladyfinger, Criteria; MAHA talent show tonight…

Category: Reviews — Tags: , , , — @ 7:03 pm May 24, 2010
Our Fox May 21, 2010

Our Fox at The Barley Street Tavern, May 21, 2010.

Here’s a recap of the past weekend, starting at The Barley Street Tavern Friday night.

The best part about opening duo Love of Everything: Their songs were short, and no, that’s not a shot at them. I actually enjoyed their simple tunes with simple choruses played by the simple duo of vocalist/guitarist Bobby Burg and wife/drummer Elisse. Burg gave their sound depth using an effects pedal that allows guitarists to record samples of a guitar line or phrase and play it back repeatedly, allowing for another guitar line (and another) and so on. This worked best on  “I Love All You Guys,” a song where Burg seemed to be playing random feedback squawks, until those squawks started to repeat themselves as part of the song — small, sharp shocks of sound that pushed through the guitar and vocals at strangely opportune times. And before you got tired of the whole thing, the song quickly ended.

The Barley Street’s small room packed up (but not claustrophobic-ly so) for Our Fox, who could be the next best thing on Saddle Creek Records (if Creek would take them) — and it wouldn’t be a surprise if they did, with personnel that includes frontman Ryan Fox (The Good Life) and second guitarist Jake Bellows. On the most basic level, their music fits  the slacker/indie-rock category but with an intensity of early Crazy Horse (Stephen Malkmus and Crazy Horse?). Fox has one of those shaky, unstable croons that sounds like a less-nasal version of Simon Joyner. Actually, he probably has more in common with someone like Malkmus vocally, and that shakiness is less apparent on the few demo recordings on their Myspace page. I thought the first few songs sounded like Good Life out-takes, and I could have imagined Tim Kasher singing them (with great aplomb). I like their music better when they leave Kasherville and head toward Foxland, where the citizens aren’t afraid to let it all hang out on songs that aren’t afraid to go on and on and blissfully on. This is a band that could create the indie equivalent of “Cowgirl in the Sand” or “Down by the River” — long, drawn-out jams that you never want to end thanks to Bellows’ and Fox’s clever, inventive and sometimes raw guitar work backed by a solid rhythm section.

Saturday night was a Saddle Creek Records reunion showcase with the return of both Ladyfinger and Criteria at The Waiting Room. Though not a sell-out, the place was appropriately packed. Ladyfinger played first (after opener Masses’ set). It was the first time I’ve seen the new line-up with Dan Brennan on bass replacing Ethan  Jones, and Megan Morgan (Landing on the Moon) on backing vocals (on about half the songs). Ladyfinger is a different band with Brennan, both style- and performance-wise. You cannot ignore him on stage; he gets locked in and doesn’t let go. It’s fun to see that level of pure enthusiasm from a band that’s pretty much known for just standing around on stage and playing. Their performance was the usual dead-on excursion into serious mind-fuck rock; too bad the sound mix was so bad. From where I stood almost dead center and 20 feet from the stage, everything was flat, without dynamics. Some guitar lines got lost in the fog along with the vocals (especially Morgan’s, who only rarely broke through the surface).

The sound mix problems continued with Criteria. The usual soaring guitars and vocals — the highlight of any Criteria performance — seemed buried in the rumble. A number of soundmen in the audience gave me their arm-chair quarterback diagnosis, telling me that there wasn’t enough being driven through “the mains.” All’s I know is that Aaron Druery’s guitar was tough to make out at times, and A.J. Mogis’ microphone might as well have been unplugged. Despite that, you couldn’t tell that this band hadn’t been on a stage in almost two years. It all sounded tight, including Stephen Pedersen’s high-flyin’ vocals that still have that pop. They all looked like they were having the time of their lives, and so did an audience that greeted old favorites with raised fists. The band also rolled out some new material that, to me, was a departure from the usual militant rattle-and-hum toward something more, well, groovy —  there was something slightly vintage about the new riffs. I’m not sure what it’s about, but I liked it. Too bad we probably won’t be seeing these guys again until 2012.

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I know it’s already 7 p.m. but I figure I might as well give you this late reminder about the MAHA showcase tonight at Slowdown. The four bands vying for a slot on the MAHA Festival’s small stage are Betsy Wells, Dim Light, Flight Metaphor, and Noah’s Ark Was A Spaceship. Voting will take place during the show, and the whole thing is free, so you don’t have anything to lose. It also starts early — 8 p.m.

Also playing tonight over at O’Leaver’s are Street Lethal (covering The Ramones), Stoned at Heart and Flamboyant Gods. $5, 9 p.m.


Kweller, It’s True round out MAHA; Our Fox tonight, Criteria Saturday…

Category: Blog — Tags: , , , , , — @ 12:53 pm May 21, 2010

Catching up on some “news” after being out of town all week on bizness…

The MAHA Music Festival folks announced last Tuesday that Ben Kweller and local boys It’s True will round out the “TD Ameritrade” main stage line-up, and that Saddle Creek’s newest band, The Mynabirds, have been added to the Kum & Go small stage line-up, along with Satchel Grande and the winner of this coming Monday night’s talent show at The Slowdown as well as the winner of another talent contest to be held in Benson next month.

Kweller, a 28-year-old singer/songwriter, toured with Ben Folds and Ben Lee (who remembers him other than Jim Minge?) in 1993.  His C&W-inspired 2008 album Changing Horses (ATO Records) peaked at No. 92 on the Billboard charts, which means, yes, he’s significantly under the radar for a national act and as such is a perfect fit for this festival, whose headliners also include Spoon, Old 97’s, The Faint and Superchunk. Will the addition of Kweller help sell more tickets? I would guess maybe 500, which is significant considering a successful festival is the sum of the all its parts.

It’s True, who has a new album and has played around Omaha a lot this year, was an insignificant addition from a sales perspective (but not from a fun perspective). “We decided that It’s True! was better than any other band we were looking at getting, so why not just book them,” said festival organizer Tre Brashear in an e-mail. “If our other five main stage artists (+ Satchel + Mynabirds) can’t sell enough tickets, then we’ve got problems that a sixth ‘smaller’ main stage band from somewhere else wasn’t going to solve. Plus, we think it would be cool to give them the opportunity to play in front of Mac (MacCaughan) and Laura (Ballance, both from Superchunk and the proprietors of indie powerhouse record label Merge Records). Plus, we just like them.”

You can’t argue with that logic. Now look for MAHA posters to start popping up around town.

Lets get to this weekend…

Our Fox is playing tonight at The Barley Street Tavern with McCarthy Trenching, Love of Everything and probably one other band. According to Our Fox’s Ryan Fox, “Love of Everything is Bobby Burg (who plays in a bunch of Chicago bands including Make Believe and Joan of Arc), and his wife, Elisse. They’re doing a Daytrotter session and stopping here as part of a brief midwest tour.” Their record label is cleverly (if not confusingly) called Record Label.

Fox added that “Ben Brodin (drummer in Our Fox, guitarist in The Mynabirds, drummer/guitarist/etc in McCarthy Trenching, Mal Madrigal, etc.) recorded an LP, Methods of the Mad, under the moniker Before the Toast and Tea, which was released on Bocca Lupo Recordings (which was started by Steve Bartolomei). He’ll probably have a few records on hand to sell as well.” $5, 9 p.m.

Also tonight, Landing on the Moon is opening for the Jes Winter Band at The Waiting Room, along with Lonely Estates and Rock Paper Dynamite. $7, 9 p.m.

And the band that win’s today’s award for “best name,” Peace of Shit, is playing at O’Leaver’s with Watching the Trainwreck and Forbidden Tigers. $5, 9 p.m.

Saturday night’s marquee show is Criteria at The Waiting Room with Ladyfinger and Masses. So who’s Masses? Even Criteria’s Stephen Pedersen didn’t know. Thankfully, Masses member Eric Nyffeler emailed to say that the band is from Lincoln and “this is only the second or third time we’ve played in Omaha, so not a lot of people know who we are.” The few tracks that I’ve heard from the band are instrumental and are brazenly mathy and bombastic. Masses members are Jon Augustine, Shane Brandt, Mike Vandenberg and Nyffeler. $8, 9 p.m. This one will be crowded.

Also Saturday night, The Beat Seekers (Keith from The Fonzarellies) are playing at Slowdown Jr. with Scott Severin and the Milton Burlesque and Whipkey/Zimmerman. $8, 9 p.m.


Column 271: Stephen Pedersen and the return of Criteria…

Category: Column,Interviews — Tags: , , — @ 7:55 am May 19, 2010

Column 271: Comfort Zone

The return of Criteria.

Criteria frontman Stephen Pedersen has a problem that most of us would die for: He’s completely content.

His search for contentment began in 2005 when Pedersen quit a posh job as a lawyer at Omaha’s most prestigious law firm — Kutak Rock — to hit the road with his band Criteria under the proud banner of Saddle Creek Records. But, as the story goes, things didn’t quite work out as planned. And Pedersen returned from the road, put his guitar away, pulled the business suit out of the closet and returned to his leather chair and desk and daily lawyer grind with full knowledge that at least he tried to make it as a rock star. How many of us can say we took an honest stab at following our dreams?

Now, almost four years later Pedersen has no regrets. In fact, he couldn’t be happier. And as any artist or musician can tell you, that can be problem when it comes time to draw from your creative well for new material. What is there to sing about when you’ve got everything? It’s a problem, especially when you’ve got a reunion show coming up — this Saturday to be exact, with pals Ladyfinger at The Waiting Room.

“There are new songs, and we’ll play some of them on Saturday,” Pedersen said from the comfort of his elegant midtown living room, a glass of dark red wine in hand, picking his words judiciously, thoughtfully, as any good lawyer would. “My context has always been based on some kind of frustration or latent aggravation in my life, whether it was politics or a relationship or my career getting in the way of my dream. Now I’m content, and it’s been harder to come up with lyrical content from that emotional place.”

He casts aside the idea that he simply is no longer inspired. “I’m inspired by my group of friends, my wife, things that are hard to articulate. It’s a context that doesn’t lend itself to this. You can only write so many thank you letters in song.”

And despite some precedent-setting tunes such as Sammy Hagar’s “I Can’t Drive 55,” and Judas Priest’s “Breaking the Law,” there isn’t much to sing about when it comes to the legal profession. “My job is intellectually stimulating, but it doesn’t lend itself to songwriting,” Pedersen said.

So what’s left to sing about? “Right now, it’s about trying to be happy in the moment,” Pedersen said. “So much of my adult life is spent looking at the future at the next task to accomplish that I have a very difficult time being in the present.”

Maybe he’s not so content after all. And as much as he loves being around his bandmates — drummer Mike Sweeney, bassist A.J. Mogis and guitarist Aaron Druery — Pedersen said he hasn’t exactly pined for the stage. “This is the bizarre thing about being a musician at this stage of my life, I don’t miss it like I would have if I was 25. I have a very full life outside of rock music, but I’m looking forward to the show now that it’s booked, practiced and ready to play.”

He’ll probably only roll out three new songs Saturday in a set that will lean heavily on classics from his two Saddle Creek releases, En Garde (2003) and When We Break (2005). Pedersen said that those old songs have held up over time. “I still see it as modern rock,” he said. “The bands that journalists write about and friends talk about are not rock bands, certainly not in the style of Ladyfinger or Criteria, which play heavy but with a sense of melody based on a verse-chorus-bridge structure. Vampire Weekend is a rock band, but there’s not a lot of distortion in those guitars. There are no bands like Quicksand and Superchunk and Fugazi and Cursive (before the turn of the century) that were making very visceral, full-bodied rock music.”

He says all of this, however, while Thelonious Monk plays in the background from hidden speakers. Something tells me that Pedersen doesn’t listen to much rock music these days, and he never liked going to rock shows. “I treat rock music like sports — I’m not interested in watching it, I’m interested in playing it.”

And he certainly isn’t interested in taking another shot at making a living off of it. Pedersen agreed that the Internet has changed the rules so dramatically that it’s no longer possible to judge a band’s success based on record sales. On the flipside, technology has never made music more accessible. “I believe the positives outweigh what are pretty harsh negatives in that a really talented kid can make an album on his own on his computer and put it onto the Internet, and if it’s great, it’ll find its way into your life. That could not happen seven years ago.

“We are in such a transitional phase between the old system and what will be a new ecosystem rather than a system,” he added. “It’s going to float a lot more boats, but in some respects, it’s more challenging for artists to distinguish themselves from the pack.”

He also wouldn’t want to start a record label now, or be running one. “It’s a difficult business model with which to generate income,” Pedersen said. “The new business model is being the band. As the band, if you have your wits about you, you can manage the distribution and the booking and the recording in a way you couldn’t 10 years ago. Part of that began with Fugazi, but the advent of technology from a recording and distribution standpoint has made it so much easier to untether yourself from labels. If you’re savvy enough, you can find success without leaning on that old model.”

Whether that logic applies to Criteria, however, we’ll likely never know.

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Thursday: The Lepers