Live Review: Maha Music Festival Day Two: Oh Sees, Matt and Kim, Lizzo…

Category: Reviews — Tags: , , , , — @ 12:48 pm August 20, 2019

Oh Sees at the Maha Music Festival, Aug. 17, 2019.

by Tim McMahan,

I went in knowing nothing about Lizzo except for her songs on the radio and Spotify and YouTube. And I loved them with all their flame and sass and unquenchable hooks. When I went to see her on Day Two of the 2019 Maha Music Festival in Stinson Park at Aksarben Village, I assumed she’d be on stage with a full-on raging band in tow.

So when she took the stage in that neon-flash body suit surrounded by her dancers, holding a microphone… with no band, I couldn’t help but be disappointed. “Is she just going to sing along to pre-recorded tracks all night? What a drag.” She had energy and drive and proselytized between songs like the finest down-home preacher, but without a band backing her, it was just dance moves and karaoke.

Lizzo at the Maha Music Festival, Aug. 17, 2019.

It is here I should point out one very important fact: The crowd did not give two shits that Lizzo didn’t have a band. They loved every second of it, all 10,000 of them (or whatever the true number was). They were there to party to Lizzo songs, with or without a band.

I made it through three numbers, then split. But to be truthful, I never hang around for the Maha Saturday night headliner’s full set. Not for Weezer, not for Death Cab, not for the Flaming Lips. And not for Lizzo.

Maybe I was disappointed because just a few hours earlier I’d witnessed an amazing full band performance, but before I get to that…. My one regret about this year’s Maha was missing Beach Bunny, an up-and-coming indie band of the K Records variety (not unlike Snail Mail) who played at 4 p.m. After my late night at O’Leaver’s, I couldn’t get motivated to get my ass there in time, especially with Matt Maeson and Duckwrth following them, neither of which are (as Dave Sink used to say) my cup of tea.

I didn’t get to Maha until 7:30, just before Oh Sees took “the little stage.” I’ve seen Thee Oh Sees (as they used to be known) a couple times in Austin at South by Southwest and have never been less than floored. Despite their constant touring, the band always has avoided Omaha for reasons only frontman John Dwyer knows. Now here they were, standing a couple feet in front of me as I balanced precariously on the edge of the sod bank leading up to the little stage.

In cutoff shorts and T-shirt, Dwyer looked like he just crawled out from beneath a hotrod after finishing an oil job, his Maha badge tucked halfway down his back pocket while he tuned his clear plexiglass-body steel-neck electric guitar. Off to the side, two drummers pounded on snares during the pre-set soundcheck. Around the check went, to the bass and keys and then Dwyer said “We’ll be back in 15,” but instead the emcee introduced the band and he said fuck it, let’s go.

The genre has been called psych rock or garage rock. I’ve even heard it described as noise rock. It’s actually a throwback brand of melodic punk born out of the West Coast and built on a subliminal layer of surf rock that recalls Dick Dale in his finest days. Dwyer’s guitar is the engine that roars alongside Tim Hellman’s throbbing, rolling bass. Behind him, Tomas Dolas’ organ and synths glowed angrily echoing Dwyer’s own mellotron/synth noises played with one hand while the other picked out solos along the neck of that steel-and-plastic monstrosity. All the while Paul Quattrone and Dan Rincon, the side-by-side drummers, kept the psychedelic locomotive chugging along.

The capper — Dwyer’s high falsetto vocals, an ironic counter to an unholy din.

It was loud. I stood right in front of those speakers, thankful for my earplugs, wondering how those kids right next to me could stand it. I can’t tell you the set list because I don’t know most of the song names. I recognized “C” off 2018’s Smote Reverser; “Toe Cutter Thumb Buster” off 2013’s Floating Coffin, and “The Dream” off 2011’s Carrion Crawler / The Dream. There were also a few long ones, real slow burners that went on and on.

A small “pit” — if you can call it that — formed off front of stage left, maybe 30 dudes bouncing into each other more out of brotherhood than violence, while a group of girls stood to my right doing a sort of snake dance.

It was a spectacular set, closed out with “three short ones” Dwyer said from stage. I think they probably went over their allotted time. They could have gone all night if it were up to me. I know the stage arrangements are what they are, but it seemed downright disrespectful that they’d been relegated to the small stage. On the other hand, I never would have been able to get as close as I did had they been on the main stage.

With the last notes Dwyer leaned into the microphone and said, “Thanks. Enjoy your headliners.” Take it for what it’s worth.

Matt and Kim at the Maha Music Festival, Aug. 17, 2019.

It didn’t take long between sets for Matt and Kim to do their thing on the big stage. It was essentially the same shtick they did at Maha in 2013. I described that show this way: “The keyboard-and-drums duo played cute, shiney indie pop dance tunes and 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.”

The only thing different this time was the gigantic beach balls and a unicorn balloon. M&K are basically stand-up comics that perform forgettable pop songs and covers and sampled hip-hop classics. I would say “harmless fun” except Schifino hurt herself during the set, bad enough (according to the Omaha World-Herald’s Kevin Coffey) that she ended up in the hospital. Here’s hoping for a quick recovery.

After that, it was Lizzo time for 10,000, minus one. If I had to rank my favorite acts for the entire weekend I’d put Oh Sees on top, followed closely by Courtney Barnett, but it’s Lizzo that people were talking about the next day.

For more perspective on Maha, you’ll have to wait until the column comes out in a couple weeks in The Reader (at which time this will all be a faded memory). But I will give you this brief taste of my thesis: Maha is going to have to make some tough choices for year 12. Here’s hoping they make the right ones.

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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 © 2019 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.


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

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

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

by Tim McMahan,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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 © 2019 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.


Maha Music Festival Saturday is SOLD OUT (and watch out for fakes!)…

Category: Blog — Tags: , — @ 12:47 pm August 12, 2019

by Tim McMahan,

Maha Music Festival’s Saturday show is now sold out. This hasn’t happened (officially) since 2015, when Modest Mouse headlined and sold out a day or so before the date.

Back then, a sell out was around 8,000 tickets. These days, with the festival’s increased capacity, a sell out is 11,000 tickets sold — impressive.

Rachel Grace, Maha’s marketing and communications manager, tells me they’ve had reports of fake tickets circulating — what would suck more than showing up and finding out the ticket you spent $100+ for was a fake? Those of you buying tickets in the after-market, be careful.

No doubt ticket sales are being driven by the ascendance of Lizzo as a national pop star. You cannot turn on your TV without hearing Lizzo selling something, whether it’s a mini-van, cell phone or a boutique wine cooler. Add to that a tidal wave of magazine articles and heavy rotation on pop channels, and you’ve got the next Queen Latifah. And she’s headlining Maha.

I’d like to think that The Oh Sees had something to do with Saturday’s sell out, but let’s be real… I doubt that 95 percent of the folks at Stinson Saturday will have ever heard of the Oh Sees. Ah, but for that 5 percent of us, their appearance is a dream come true.

BTW, tickets are still available for Friday night’s show, headlined by Courtney Barnett and Jenny Lewis (and don’t sleep on Thursday night’s Pinback show at The Waiting Room). Also of note, the “Maha Discovery” — the Big Omaha innovation conference that became part of Maha last year — also is sold out.

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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 © 2019 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.


Can Lizzo, Lewis, Barnett and Thee Oh Sees sell tix? Maha thinks so; Jason Steady and Chris Twist tonight…

Category: Blog — Tags: , , , , — @ 12:39 pm April 24, 2019

Jason Steady and the Soft Ponies at Burrito Envy, Oct. 26, 2018. Jason returns with Chris Twist tonight for an early 7 p.m. album release show.

by Tim McMahan,

By now you’re familiar with this year’s Maha Festival line-up. On the day they announced the bands I was thrilled, and said something like “I’m going to provide an in-depth review Monday, blah-blah-blah…” But Monday came and I didn’t have time before work; same thing Tuesday. And now here we are, and while I think it is, indeed, my favorite line-up they’ve ever put together, I’m wonder how well it’ll draw.

For example, headliner Lizzo isn’t exactly a household name like Weezer or Death Cab for Cutie. When I posted in as much Friday, someone said “You just wait and see.” But I’ve had a handful of people who follow indie music and Maha ask me who the heck she is. Her style is hard to describe. I consider her a modern-day Queen Latifah. I didn’t discover her until she came through Omaha a couple years ago, when I watched a couple of her YouTube videos, and flipped for “Good as Hell.”

No doubt the audience for Lizzo isn’t your typical indie fan. Her new record, Cuz I Love You (2019, Atlantic), is getting positive/mixed reviews (some complained she’s trying too hard to make a hit). And no doubt she’ll be touring late night TV for the next few months.

Jenny Lewis and Courtney Barnett are personal favorites. Lewis has a hot new album, On the Line (2019, Warner Bros.), and is a long-time friend of the Nebraska scene from way back in the Saddle Creek glory days. Barnett has written some of the best indie songs in the past few years. Her record that came out in 2018, Tell Me How You Really Feel (Mom + Pop Records) was on my favorites list. The caveat for Barnett – I’ve seen her perform at SXSW a few years ago and she basically just stood up there and played with little crowd interaction, so it was kind of a snore, but… great music.

The highlight of the line-up (for me, anyway) is Thee Oh Sees. A garage/psych-rock band that in my opinion blows away anything Jack White has ever done. I’ve been bitching for years that this band has avoided Omaha/Lincoln on all its national tours, which made me think they had something against Nebraska, though I know a lot of rabid Oh Sees fans around here.

The band is powered by guitarist/vocalist/legend John Dwyer, a madman on stage. I’ve seen them play a couple times in Austin. Expect craziness. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if they play in the field among the crowd instead of on stage. I’ve loved this band and Dwyer’s previous band, Coachwhips, for years. But again, though there’s a hardcore following among in-the-know indie people locally, Thee Oh Sees are very likely widely unknown among Omaha’s great unwashed masses. So, not likely to be a big ticket-seller. And neither is the rest of the line-up… More tomorrow (probably)…

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Tonight at, of all places, Burrito Envy & Tequila Bar in Benson, Chris Twist and Jason Steady are celebrating the release of their new album, Return of the Paisley Angels. I’ve seen Steady play at the burrito place and it’s a surprisingly good venue for what’s essentially an low-volume / unplugged-type country rock show.

I’ve written about these guys a few days ago (read it here). Lincoln duo Smith’s Cloud opens at 7 p.m. – yep, it’s early. But the whole thing is free so you’ll have plenty of cash to buy a margarita or a taco. Fun!

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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 © 2019 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.


Orgone, Fire Heads, Rusty Lord tonight; Lizzo, Chris Twist, Nathan Ma Saturday…

Category: Blog — Tags: , , , — @ 1:36 pm November 17, 2017

Fire Retarded at O’Leaver’s Feb. 21, 2015. The band has since changed its name to Fire Heads, who play at O’Leaver’s Saturday night.

by Tim McMahan,

A few interesting shows happening this weekend…

Tonight at The Waiting Room it’s the return of Orgone. The LA-based funk/soul band has become a local favorite. Bring your dancing shoes. Kris Lager Band opens at 9 p.m. $15.

Meanwhile, over at fabulous O’Leaver’s it’s Madison band Fire Heads. You may know them by their former, less-PC name Fire Retarded (happy I got a T-shirt before they changed their name). It’s noisy, chunky garage rock, just like the openers, local boys Rusty Lord (actually, more rock metal than garage) and Wrong Pets. No price listed on this one, but it’s probably the usual $5, and the usual 9:30 start time.

I generally gloss over mainstream, major-label acts, but I’ll make an exception for Lizzo a.k.a. Melissa Jefferson, who’s playing at The Slowdown tomorrow night (Saturday). Good luck not moving your ass when you hear her rip through “Good As Hell” or “‘Scuse Me.” Dojo Cat opens at 9 p.m. In the main room. $18 Adv/$20 DOS.


Also Saturday night, garage rocker Chris Twist of The Lemons branches out with his own solo set at Brothers Lounge. Also on the bill are Nathan Ma and DJ Dave Goldberg. $5, 9 p.m.

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

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Read Tim McMahan’s blog daily at — 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 © 2017 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.