TBT: Feb. 16, 2005: Saddle Creek Records’ under-the-radar hidden gem…

Category: Blog — Tags: , , , , — @ 2:19 pm February 18, 2016
Son Ambulance circa 2005.

Son, Ambulance on a freezing midtown Omaha porch, circa 2005.

by Tim McMahan, Lazy-i.com

Crazy busy at the office this week. which is why I’ve been lax in doing updates. That, and the fact that nothing much is happening…

So this being Throwback Thursday, let’s take a stroll into the Lazy-i Wayback Machine to 11 years ago (almost to the day) to this interview with Son, Ambulance. As described in the lead paragraph, these were the sunny days of Saddle Creek Records when they could do no wrong, and lost in the hoopla was Son, Ambulance, who a year earlier had released what many consider to be their masterpiece, Key.

Son, Ambulance: Black Sheep Squadron

From Lazy-i, Feb. 16, 2005

Last year was a banner year for Saddle Creek Records. The label enjoyed its most prolific period, with major releases by The Faint, The Good Life and two chart-topping singles by Bright Eyes that would be a prelude to the band’s two full-length releases, the first-ever Saddle Creek CDs to crack Billboard‘s top 20.

Meanwhile, amidst all the excitement and national notoriety, Saddle Creek quietly released what was arguably one of the label’s best albums of ’04, Son, Ambulance’s Key, with little or no fanfare. There was no CD release show, no major U.S. tour, certainly no stories in Rolling Stone or the New York Times.

The lack of limelight was nothing new for Son, Ambulance, which has been Saddle Creek’s most under-the-radar band since their label debut, 2001’s Oh Holy Fools — a split-release with an emerging Bright Eyes.

Son, Ambulance frontman Joe Knapp was mum when asked about his black sheep status at the label. On an unseasonably warm January evening, he’s surrounded by his band — a rag-tag group of un-tucked slackers — on the porch of the Creighton-area house where they practice. Like a band of brothers, everyone speaks at once, each throwing in his two cents or finishing the other’s sentence. The discussion centered around their last tour and a drunken gig in Las Vegas on the 21st birthday of keyboard player Daniel Knapp, Joe’s brother.

“That was a wild night,” Joe says, smiling. “We drove to California to get to the ocean and watch the sun rise.”

“I just decided to get behind the wheel and drive,” said bassist Jesse McKelvey. “By the time everyone woke up, we were there.”

The birthday boy nodded in appreciation. “I had fallen asleep, obliterated. My ears popped as we drove through the mountains.” As the sun rose over the Pacific, they all fell asleep on the beach. It would be one of their last carefree moments on that tour. Days later, the broken-down ’87 Chevy conversion van that Joe had bought for $750 from an alcoholic gambler in Pacific Junction would begin to die piece by piece, beginning with the transmission in Oregon, forcing them to drive to Seattle in second gear. Afterward, the engine blew a seal and began “vomiting oil” before its last gasp somewhere along an Idaho interstate. They were saved by tour mates, Boston band Victory at Sea. At the very least, the experience made for a good story.

Rounded out by guitarist Dylan Strimple and drummer Corey Broman (who fortunately wasn’t along for the West Coast disaster) Son, Ambulance performs some of the most unrelenting and uncompromising music ever to come out of Omaha. How do they make it work? “It’s like going for a jog,” Joe says. “You just run and run and never stop.”

Key is a departure from Son, Ambulance’s restrained, folky debut full-length — 2001’s Euphemystic — thanks to the relentless urgency of its music. Knapp’s psychedelic ballads pound ever forward on Broman’s double-tap backbeats, Daniel Knapp’s ringing music-box keyboards and Joe’s breathy, pleading vocals that desperately try to convince us that everything will make sense if we just pay attention. Songs like the 7-minute “Sex in C Minor” and arch, dreamy “Chlorophyll” ruthlessly pedal forward, climbing steadily up a long hill with no peak in sight.

All that tension is balanced by laidback piano ballads like the Procol Harum-sounding “Case of You/Wrinkle, Wrinkle,” the mournful “If I Should Fall Asleep” with its Scottish highland violin intro, and the honky-tonkin’ rocker, “Taxi Cab Driver,” complete with a scorching blues guitar lick that would make Keith Richards blush.

The CD is launched by the dense, echoing opener, “Paper Snowflakes,” a track that captures all of the band’s best elements and rolls them into one tune that channels ’70s FM rock radio in all its brazen majesty. Despite the critics’ constant comparisons to Bright Eyes, Key and Son, Ambulance sound like nothing else on Saddle Creek’s varied roster.

Days after our porch discussion, Joe Knapp was more forthcoming when we talked privately via phone from his parents’ home in Ponca Hills, where he was spending time with his son, Neal, who inspired some of the music on the new album. Knapp doesn’t so much see Son, Ambulance as the label’s black sheep as much as the last remaining under-the-radar act that continues to struggle for attention while the rest of the Creek bands bask in a glow of appreciation.

“Saddle Creek is kind of like a big family, and in some ways we’re more of a distant cousin,” he said. “At least it feels that way. They appreciate our work and the music, but don’t give us a lot of help, really, other than, you know, great distribution and some help promoting the album. They’re getting used to Bright Eyes going gold. Why waste their time with us?”

But he quickly added that “that’s all business stuff.”

“That’s not what we’re in it for. We’re in it to make quality music and to express my soul to people. Our fans appreciate us, and that makes me realize that I’m touching people and being understood for what I do. In a sense, we belong on Saddle Creek because we’re a true underground kind of band.”

Maybe too underground. With a European tour slated for this spring, the band is struggling to merely acquire better equipment so that they can sound as good live as they do on disc. On top of that, Knapp says it’s time that they find a manager to take care of their day-to-day business. “Conor (Oberst) has a manager to turn down offers,” Knapp says. “In our case, we need someone to find things for us and raise interest in us.”

Should that happen, and should Key ever find a larger audience, Knapp says he could see Son, Ambulance go from being a part-time gig to a full-time job. Today he splits his time between the band, taking classes at UNO and working at Liberty Elementary School. “I could see it being a bigger part of my life,” he said. “I feel like it’s not ready to die yet, you know? I could see us doing this years from now, just quietly doing our thing.”

* * *

Well, they have been quietly doing their thing. Maybe too quietly, as the band hasn’t played live in quite a while. There was talk of a new album, but its status is unknown (to me, anyway). Son, Ambulance remains one of my favorite bands released on Saddle Creek Records, held like s secret among its fans. Here’s hoping some day a larger audience discovers the gold buried right under their noses.

* * *

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 © 2016 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

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Jake Bellows talks about the return of Neva Dinova (Tuesday night at Slowdown); Live Review: Son, Ambulance…

Category: Blog,Interviews — Tags: , , , — @ 1:49 pm December 22, 2014
Neva Dinova circa a long time ago (but not that long). The band reunites Tuesday night at The Slowdown.

Neva Dinova circa a long time ago (but not that long). The band reunites Tuesday night at The Slowdown.

by Tim McMahan, Lazy-i.com

Somewhere in the past few years, Christmas week became thee time for local rock band reunions. I’m not sure when this began. The concert poster on the wall in my office is for a show dated Dec. 26, 1993, featuring Ritual Device, Mercy Rule, Secret Skin, Frontier Trust, Clayface and End Crowns All (holy shit, six bands), all of which were very much active and not “reuniting” in 1993.

This week, we’re all going to see and hear Ritual Device reunite on The Waiting Room stage, exactly 21 years to the day of that amazing concert at the Capitol Bar and Grill.

But before that, tomorrow night (Tuesday) we’ll all be at a reunion of Neva Dinova at The Slowdown, which isn’t really a reunion, because I’m not sure Neva Dinova ever officially broke up. They’re still listed as “active” on the Saddle Creek website. And Neva Dinova frontman Jake Bellows confirmed the band never did really call it quits.

“Our last show was in December 2008,” said Jake just before band practice last Wednesday evening. “We never issued a press release about breaking up. Everyone had other important things going on. They were trying to sort out careers that would provide enough money to raise babies. We just couldn’t afford to be in a band anymore.”

That date on that show poster — 1993 — also was the year Neva Dinova first started playing together, but the line-up that’s performing Tuesday night first came together in 1999 at a now infamous gig at Grandmother’s Restaurant on 84th and L streets. You can read about that show (which included guest drumming by Conor Oberst, and Todd and Clark Baechle) in this 2001 Lazy-i interview with the band, written shortly after their self-titled, self-released album came out.

That line-up is back: Bellows, bassist/vocalist Heath Koontz, guitarist Tim Haes and guitarist Mike Kratky. Drummer Bo Anderson (who was tending bar at Grandmothers that fateful night in 1999) also will play Tuesday night on a handful of songs, along with most recent drummer Roger Lewis (The Good Life, Oquoa). Both Anderson and Lewis are credited on the 2004 Neva Dinova/Bright Eyes split, One Jug of Wine, Two Vessels (originally released on Crank! but reissued years later by Saddle Creek).

“We’ve been looking for an excuse to play together again for a long time just for fun,” Bellows said. “Since everyone’s going to be in town, it seemed to make the most sense. We needed to make time to practice because we knew we were gonna need it.”

Bellows said Haes has the most rust of any of the band members… literally. “The strings on his guitar were literally rusty,” Bellows said. “I think he does all his playing in the rain.”

Bellows said for this gig the band has been thinking of itself as a Neva Dinova cover band. “The nature of this show is unusual,” he said. “Before, we just played what we wanted to play. In this case, the whole point is to get back together, and we felt like we should play songs people want to hear that we haven’t played or didn’t want to play before.”

That meant coming up with the quintessential Neva Dinova play list. “We’ve got 20 songs on the list, maybe 25,” Bellows said. “We’re kind of deciding what we think sounds cool.”

I threw out “Tryptophan” and “Supercomputer” as two possibilities; Bellows verbally nodded his head. I guess we’ll have to wait and see if they make the cut.

Those who might wonder if this is the beginning of something bigger, Bellows assured me the show is a one-time thing. He’s called Echo Park in central Los Angeles home for four years. “LA is fine,” he said. “I miss everyone back home and come back five or six times a year.”

As for his solo career, Bellows said he has a bunch of new songs that will either be on a Jake Bellows record or recorded under a different band name. “Naming a band after yourself is weird,” he said.

Tomorrow night’s show is rather big in scale. Playing with Neva Dinova is the latest addition to the Saddle Creek Records roster, Twinsmith, along with local faves Outlaw Con Bandana and hip-hop act The Both. This 8 p.m. show is happening on Slowdown’s big stage. Get your $10 tickets here.

Son, Ambulance at O'Leaver's Dec. 20, 2014.

Son, Ambulance at O’Leaver’s Dec. 20, 2014.

Saturday night’s Son, Ambulance gig at O’Leaver’s wasn’t a reunion, though it felt like one (maybe because Dereck Higgins was back on bass). The band had a new sway in its step, a pronounced swing that it lacked in its prior, more stoic form in year’s past. Their set included old and new, but all of it sounded new to me. I credit a more relaxed Joe Knapp, the band’s mastermind, songwriter and frontman. In the old days, Joe always looked nervous — or at the very least tense — on stage, as if he was expecting something to go wrong at any moment.

Saturday night Joe looked and sounded like a guy having a good time playing his music with a large group of friends, despite the technical glitches that hampered the first three songs (including a keyboard that refused to play).

Son, Ambulance's Joe Knapp, left, and James Cuato.

Son, Ambulance’s Joe Knapp, left, and James Cuato.

Knapp always has reminded me of Elvis Costello at his most playful, but even more so now. Maybe his confidence comes by way of a solid band built on the bedrock rhythm section of Higgins and drummer David Ozinga. A bongo player also was crammed into one corner, though you couldn’t hear him. Dylan Strimple handled electric guitar, but the most arresting moments were between James Cuato on sax and flute and cellist April Faith-Slaker. Their layered interplay added a whole new dimension to the band.

BTW, if you’re counting, that’s six people crammed onto O’Leaver’s tiny “stage” area, and I’m told that wasn’t even the entire band — a few were missing, including Joe’s brother Daniel.

Everything came together for funky set closer “Copper Lady” with a back beat that bordered on blues rock. So hot was this number that the band brought it back for a crowd-demanded pseudo encore.

Rather than a reunion, Saturday night sounded like a rebirth for Son, Ambulance. The band has a new energy. I’m told they’ve got at least six new songs recorded and ready to go (including a version of that aforementioned “Copper Lady”). When and where those tracks eventually show up is anyone’s guess. Saddle Creek, who put out past Son, Ambulance records, hasn’t mentioned the band in regards to future releases, though I believe they’d be wise to welcome them back to the active roster.

* * *

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 © 2014 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

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Live Review: Son, Ambulance, InDreama; Pro-Magnum, Dumb Beach tonight; Hear Nebraska Take Cover, Lou Reed Tribute Saturday…

Category: Blog,Reviews — Tags: , , , — @ 1:46 pm January 17, 2014
Son, Ambulance at The Waiting Room, Jan. 16, 2014.

Son, Ambulance at The Waiting Room, Jan. 16, 2014.

by Tim McMahan, Lazy-i.com

Saddle Creek tweeted last night that Son, Ambulance hasn’t performed in five years and “sounds like they’ve been practicing the whole time.” The sentiment was spot on. Joe Knapp stood proudly center stage backed by a four-piece band that included his brother on keyboards. He sounded like he never went on hiatus, his voice a Midwestern cross between Art Garfunkel and Elvis Costello, confidently pounding an electric guitar, shaking blood back into his hands between songs.

They opened with “Paper Snowflakes” off Key, and played a handful of favorites including “Juliet’s Son” off Someone Else’s Deju Vu and oldie “Katie Come True” off the Oh Holy Fools split. Hearing those tunes again was like slipping on a pair of well-worn shoes, comfortable and familiar, then looking at them in a mirror and marveling at how good they still look. Son, Ambulance music has indeed aged well and would fit in with the current mode o’ day of indie music.

The band’s overall sound seemed more straight-forward and less… ghostly than I remember from the old days. Listening to Deju Vu again after the show, I was surprised how much echo and delay they used in the studio on songs like the title track. Last night when Joe and Co. ripped into one of their more upbeat numbers they sounded like early, no-nonsense Marshall Crenshall; the sonic weight of the band felt stripped down and obvious. Nice.

While there might have been more than one new one (certainly there was more than one I was unfamiliar with) Joe introduced the set closer as a new song dedicated to last night’s birthday boy and his mother, the tune a gritty rocker about being a bad seed, a bad boy, a bad man. Sorry ma. Fantastic stuff. Hopefully Joe and Co. have more where that came from and we’ll be seeing a new Son, Ambulance record out on the Creek in the near future.

InDreama at The Waiting Room, Jan 16, 2014.

InDreama at The Waiting Room, Jan 16, 2014.

Prior to Son, Ambulance, InDreama lit the stage on fire with a ferocious performance that saw frontman Nik Fackler crush through the songs off the band’s debut LP. InDreama music dances between personal, quiet love songs and strange other-worldly bombastic head trips, a welcome extreme in contrasts few other bands local or otherwise seem to grasp. Ain’t nothing wrong with dynamics, folks.

I recognized one new song — or at least I haven’t heard it before — it came right after crowd-raver “Reprogram” and was straight-up big-rhythm rock. At their most enjoyable, InDreama strives for pop; at their most ambitious, they reach for epic. Great songs and great performances transport you. Set-closer “Exodus” conjured memories of standing along the Rio Grande River on the Laredo side and looking over at twilight, watching the neon and digital signage in the distance glow through the dust haze like staring at a futuristic third world, new and dangerous. With it’s huge, ominous duo synth tones growling like fog horns and Fackler’s feral yelps “Exodus” sounded like something off the Bladerunner soundtrack, like Vangelis on acid. Epic indeed.

* * *

Onto the weekend.

Tonight’s feature show is at fabulous O’Leaver’s where Pro-Magnum headlines a bill that includes Dumb Beach, Fire Retarded and Coaxed. What’s better than a night of garage punk and mai thia’s? $5, 9:30 p.m.

Tomorrow night (Saturday) it’s the Battle of the Cover shows as two Benson venues host dueling covers nights.

At The Waiting Room, Hear Nebraska presents Take Cover Omaha, their annual fund raiser where a dozen or so Nebraska musicians cover a song by another Nebraska musician of their choice plus perform one of their own. The lineup includes Ted Stevens, Simon Joyner, Landon Hedges, Matt Whipkey, Darren Keen, Dan McCarthy, Sara Bertuldo, Ian Aeillo, Becky Lowry, Vic Padios, John Klemmensen, Rachel Tomlinson, Max Holmquist, Dan Scheuerman and John Larsen. I wonder how many will be doing Bright Eyes covers? $7, 9 p.m.

Meanwhile, down the street at The Barley Street Tavern, it’s Lou Reed Tribute night where (you guessed it) local musicians cover a Reed classic. Performers include Mitch Gettman, John Klemmenson, Ben Sieff and Scott Severin. $5, 8 p.m. Wonder how many are covering “Sweet Jane”?

Also Saturday night, Rainy Road Records is hosting a label showcase at O’Leaver’s with performances by Touch People, Worried Mothers, and Cooper Lakota Moon. $5, 9:30 p.m.

That’s what I know. If I missed anything, put it in the comments section. Have a great weekend….

* * *

Read Tim McMahan’s blog daily at Lazy-i.com — an online music magazine that includes feature interviews, reviews and news. The focus is on the national indie music scene with a special emphasis on the best original bands in the Omaha area. Copyright © 2014 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

Lazy-i

The return of Son, Ambulance tonight…

Category: Blog — Tags: , , — @ 2:02 pm January 16, 2014
Joe Knap and his son, Neal, circa 2001.

Joe Knap and his son, Neal, circa 2001.

by Tim McMahan, Lazy-i.com

Joe Knapp and his band Son, Ambulance are returning to the stage tonight at The Waiting Room after more than four years’ absence. Hear Nebraska has some of the backstory here.

Joe always has been one of my favorite songwriters, local or not. I first met him in the ‘late 90s and first interviewed him in 2001 when Saddle Creek released his split LP with Bright Eyes called Oh Holy Fools. From a songwriting standpoint, Joe stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Conor. But in the end, only one would reach national stardom.

The event is being held in honor of Rob Bass’ 40th Birthday. Also helping celebrate are InDreama and Routine Escorts. $5, 9 p.m. Don’t let the wind scare you…

Also tonight, Detroit band The Rushmore’s are headlining at O’Leaver’s with The Decatures and Michael Wunder and the Uninspired. $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 © 2014 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

 

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