Live Review: Matthew Sweet, Tommy Keene; 2Q’14 reviews roundup (in the column); Brilliant Beast, Filter Kings tonight…

Category: Column,Reviews — Tags: , , , — @ 12:39 pm July 31, 2014
Matthew Sweet at fabulous O'Leaver's, July 30, 2014.

Matthew Sweet at fabulous O’Leaver’s, July 30, 2014.

by Tim McMahan,

It was nothing less than a dream come true for Matthew Sweet fans. There he was, literally steps in front of them, surrounded by a top-notch band playing all of his “greatest hits” one after the other in fine voice. As Sweet said, it was like playing a gig in someone’s living room.

Earlier in the day someone apparently hauled more PA equipment to bolster O’Leaver’s modest system. Speaker stacks were balanced on either side of the the club’s staging area. I was told 100 tickets were sold for this show, but the crowd was probably two-thirds that size — I’ve seen it more crowded in there at Digital Leather shows. With the tables taken out, there was plenty of room up and around the band. Sweet seemed to like the proximity to his fans. “I’m used to looking down on you.” Not last night.

Tommy Keene at O'Leaver's, July 30, 2014.

Tommy Keene at O’Leaver’s, July 30, 2014.

Before he kicked into his set, The Lupines warmed up the crowd with a fractured set of Nebraska-style garage rock that I’m sure startled some of the oldsters there to see Sweet. A badly shorting cable marred the set’s opening song, but after some fiddling around the crew got it fixed and the good times rolled.

Next up was surprise “special guest” Tommy Keene, an East Coast-based singer songwriter who Replacecments fans may remember for having played guitar with a touring Paul Westerberg in the late ’90s. I remember him from his handful of solo albums released on Matador earlier in that same decade. Keene was always a first-rate songwriter who despite a sizable push by Cosloy and Co. never took off as everyone had hoped.

With a 12-string and later an electric guitar, Keene played a selection of tunes from his career, closing out the set backed by the band that would back Sweet. And what a band it was. Consisting of two members of Velvet Crush, bassist Paul Chastain and drummer Ric Menck, they were joined by guitar-slinger Dennis Taylor who shared grinding leads with Sweet all evening.

Sweet was all business as he rolled through an hour-plus-long set that included just about every song any fan would want to hear, drawing heavily from his classic ’90s breakthrough album, Girlfriend. We’re talking “Winona,” “Evangeline,” the title track, and on and on, spanning through songs off Altered Beast and 100% Fun and beyond.

It really was a greatest hits show for Sweet fans who will not be disappointed if they make the trek to Lincoln to see him perform again tonight. That show, at the shiny new Vega, will be a completely different and no doubt more detached experience than the reach-out-and-touch-him intimacy of last night’s O’Leaver’s show. I wonder if anyone happened to record it…?

* * *

In this week’s column, the quarterly album reviews round-up (featuring an exciting new rating system!) including thoughts on new ones by Strand of Oaks, Courtney Barnett, Alvvays, Mark Kozelek, Digital Leather, Gold-Bears, Mitch Gettman, The Both, Bob Mould, Orenda Fink and more. It’s in this week’s issue of The Reader or online right here.

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Tonight, it’s back to O’Leaver’s for Minneapolis indie band Brilliant Beast with up-and-coming Omaha band Post Verse. $5, 9:30 p.m.

Also tonight, Omaha’s favorite outlaws The Filter Kings open for Jason Boland and The Stragglers at The Waiting Room. 8 p.m. $15.

Tonight also is the public opening of 1912, the new bar and roof-top deck across the street from The Waiting Room. Drop by and grab a cold one and get a whole new view of Benson.

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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 © 2014 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.


Matthew Sweet Kickstarter winds down; The Brigadiers tonight…

Category: Blog — Tags: , , — @ 12:53 pm July 22, 2014

by Tim McMahan,

With the Matthew Sweet concert at O’Leaver’s just around the corner  (It’s July 30 and long sold out) I thought I’d point out Sweet’s Kickstarter campaign, which only has four days left.

Actually, I discovered the campaign via the Lloyd Cole Facebook feed — Cole prompted his followers to help Sweet out, and even offered to fly out and “play modular synth” on Sweet’s new album. Wouldn’t that be a kick in the head?

Anyway, Sweet, who is now an Omaha resident, is panhandling for cash to make a new solo album, and already has met his $32,000 goal — he currently stands at $43,185, including the $40 I chipped in to get a copy of his vinyl when it’s ready next April.

Check out his Kickstarter pitch below, which mentions his move to Omaha and his hope to “get all my friends out in Nebraska” to help make the record.

BTW, The Lupines will open for Sweet at the O’Leaver’s show.

* * *

Tonight at The Sydney The Brigadiers open for Zeeland, Michigan band The Fever Haze. $5, 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 © 2014 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.


Live Review: The Everymen; SIRENS tonight…

Category: Blog,Reviews — Tags: , , — @ 1:11 pm July 7, 2014
The Everymen at O'Leaver's, July 6, 2014.

The Everymen at O’Leaver’s, July 6, 2014.

by Tim McMahan,

O’Leaver’s on a hot Sunday afternoon in July is a surreal experience, like stepping onto the set of Robert Altman’s M*A*S*H. All the usual characters strolled around outside in the “beer garden” with cocktails sweating in the blazing heat while an O’Leaver manned a barbecue grill frying up large greasy kielbasa. Across the parking lot in the sand pit half-naked volleyball players slathered in sunblock slammed PBRs to the sounds of Van Halen’s “Panama.”

Meanwhile, inside the dark cool confines of The Club, The Everymen set up for the afternoon gig. The band featured none other than Catherine Herrick, the former PR wonk at Beggars Group (Matador, XL, etc.) familiar to anyone who’s had to interview, say, Cat Power or a member of Interpol over the past 10 years. I chatted with Catherine after the show, and that interview will be the basis for this week’s Over the Edge column in The Reader. You’ll have to wait for it..

In addition to Herrick, The Everymen consisted of five more members — two guitarists, bassist, drummer and saxophone player. That sax — along with the band leader’s love of all things New Jersey (and The Sopranos) — might give you some ideas what this band sounded, but you’d be wrong.

The Everymen combined elements of garage and indie with doo-wap, metal, even theater rock. Their style was all over the board. One minute you’d think you were listening to something penned by John Steinman (albeit, without keyboards), the next it sounded like an homage to The Scorpions, but with sax thrown on top of the riffs.

That sax player (who switched between bari and alto when he wasn’t adding vocals) defined (or at least shadowed) everything about The Everymen, along with Herrick, who has an intensity that reminded me of Heidi Ore of Mercy Rule/Domestica fame, and frontman/guitarist Mike V, who would have you believe this band is just a group of goombahs in town from the Jersey shore. And while they did have sonic similarities to a certain Jersey dude who also has a sax player in his band, no one would mistake this guttural rock with anything released by The Boss.

Highlight moments came toward the end of the 45+ minute set in the form of a growler I think was called “Motorbike,” and a fist-pumping anthem (again) I think was called “I Held On.” They could be campy (synchronized group arm gestures, finger-snapping), they could be heavy, but most of all they were fun. And labels like Matador or XL could use a little fun in their rosters.

* * *
Tonight at The Sydney it’s a four-artist bill headlined with New Orleans band SIRENS (Community Records). Opening is Mike Schlesinger, Anne McClellan and adamroberthauG. $5, 9 p.m. Not a bad way to kick off the week…

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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 © 2014 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.


An O’Leaver’s 4th of July: Lupines, Dumb Beach, New Lungs; The Indie (Hoshaw/Big Deep), Sweatfest 2014 Saturday; Everymen Sunday…

Category: Blog — Tags: , , , , — @ 1:04 pm July 3, 2014
The lineup on the evening of the 4th at O'Leaver's. God Bless America.

The lineup on the evening of the 4th at O’Leaver’s. God Bless America.

by Tim McMahan,

You’d think with tomorrow being a holiday someone would have put together one helluvan indie rock show tonight, but no, nothing’s happening.

That’s okay because that’ll give you a chance to rest up for tomorrow night’s holiday extravaganza at fabulous O’Leaver’s. After you’ve finished wrapping up whatever’s left of your fingers post-cherrybomb, head on down to The Club for what promises to be one of the most drunkenly violent rock shows of the year.

The line-up: Jewel Beast (a band I know nothing about but whose name is awesome); Dumb Beach (the only band on this line-up whose name eclipses Jewel Beast); New Lungs (Danny Maxwell and company return with an audio-inflected knee in the groin) and headliner Lupines (supergroup extraordinaire, indie-rock Americans). I suspect everyone will be drunk and someone will light one of those scary Chinese lanterns/house-fire-starters in the parking lot (along with some snakes). I can’t wait. $5, 9:30 p.m.

We might as well talk about the rest of the weekend since it’s unlikely I’ll be updating this tomorrow, what with all the parades and stuff.

Saturday is, of course, The Indie 5k/10k foot race that starts at 8 a.m. in the heart of Benson (60th Ave. and Maple) and runs all the way to Ames Ave. and back (or at least the 10k does). This event is also a pseudo “Taste of Benson” event as runners will get a ton of free food and drinks (lots of drinks) courtesy of race sponsors. Because, you know the first thing I want after I finish a 10k race is an apple dumpling shot.

Anyway, during the race, Brad Hoshaw and the Seven Deadlies will be performing along with The Big Deep. The stage will be set up right there by the starting line from 8 a.m. to sometime around 11. Don’t be a pussy. Sign up for the race. Your $30 entrance fee goes to help improve Benson and Fontenelle parks.

That’s not the only thing happening in Benson on the 5th of July. Sweatfest will be going on at the Sweatshop Gallery. We’re talking 14 bands on two stages. I guess the whole thing is a fundraiser to acquire a new PA for the gallery’s performance space. The bill includes M34n Str33t, Coaxed, Worried Mothers, Skeleton Man and a host of other local punks. Show starts at 6 and is a mere $8. More info here.

That’s what I got. If I missed anything, put it in the comments section. Have a good 4th and don’t blow your hands off.

ADDENDUM: I forgot to mention that The Everymen (Earnest Jennings Records), featuring former Beggars Group (Matador, XL Records) Media rep Catherine Herrick, is playing at O’Leaver’s Sunday night as part of The Club’s Sunday Social program. Joining The Everymen is Lot Walks and No Thanks. This is an early 6 p.m. show, and the usual $5. See you there…

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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 © 2014 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.



The Photo Atlas, John Klemmesen, The Big Deep tonight; Scott Severin Saturday; Against Me, Cheap Girls Sunday; SXSW time…

Category: Blog — Tags: , — @ 3:00 pm March 7, 2014

by Tim McMahan,

sxsw2014logoIt’s the last weekend before the South By Southwest Music Festival in Austin, which partially explains why we have a number of good bands coming through town, many of whom are headed down south afterward.

For example, Denver’s The Photo Atlas, who is slated to perform at SXSW, is playing at fabulous O’Leaver’s tonight with local boys The Sharks and John Klemmensen and The Party. If you haven’t seen The Photo Atlas before, do yourself a favor — their live set is pure electro-dance-rock chaos. $5, 9:30 p.m.

Speaking of O’Leaver’s, did anyone see the write-up on The Club? Somehow while putting together her pithy descriptions the writer left out the part about all the staggering drunks hustling to get one last shot of Rumplemintz before passing out in a heap beneath the tiki bar, or that time someone threw a bass drum near at Whipkey… Ah, but that was way back in 2005. Things have changed a lot since then, haven’t they? O’Leaver’s, where your world could explode at any moment…

Also tonight (but not related to SXSW) The Big Deep is celebrating the release of their new album, Echoes on Little Blue, at The Waiting Room with Rock Paper Dynamite and Michael Wunder & the Uninspired. Your $10 cover also pays for a download of the new record. Show starts at 9.

Also tonight, Saturn Moth plays at The Barley Street Tavern with MPDG (Manic Pixie Dream Girls), Carl Miller and John Wilwerding. No idea on the cover, show starts at 9.

Saturday night singer songwriter Scott Severin waves goodbye to Omaha during a farewell performance from the Barley Street stage. Don’t worry, Scott’s only going down the road to Lincoln. Helping send him off is Mark Irwin and Two Shakes. No idea on the cover, show starts at 9.

Then on Sunday it’s a mammoth show at The Slowdown featuring Against Me, Laura Stevenson and The Cans, Cheap Girls and Saintseneca. All four bands are playing showcases at SXSW next week but you can see them here for a mere $15. NOTE: This is an early show — 7:30 start time.

Of course I’ll miss that fantastic Slowdown show as I’ll already be in Austin, attending the SXSW Interactive Conference prior to the Music Conference. I still haven’t figured out which bands I’m going to see on which nights. But like the last time I went to SXSW, expect to see plenty o’ tweets and photo updates on Lazy-i. Full coverage will appear in The Reader (They’re supplying my badge!) and/or at, which also will include reports from fellow music critic Chris Aponick.

Let the games begin… 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 © 2014 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.


Live Review: The Lupines; another quiet week ahead…

Category: Blog,Reviews — Tags: , , — @ 1:55 pm January 27, 2014
The Lupines at O'Leaver's, Jan. 24, 2014.

The Lupines at O’Leaver’s, Jan. 24, 2014.

by Tim McMahan,

I realized while listening to The Lupines Friday night at O’Leaver’s along with about 40 others that I was watching a local “super group” of sorts. John Ziegler proudly carried the banner for local garage rock for years first in the controversially named Zyklon Bees then as Brimstone Howl. New drummer Calvin Retzlaff also was a member of Brimstone. Guitarist Mike Friedman is arguably one of the best guitarists in Omaha, featured prominently in Simon Joyner projects and most recently joining Little Brazil. and Mike Tulis has been a fixture in the Nebraska music scene for more than a decade, going back to Full Blown through a handful of classic Speed! Nebraska bands.

So yeah, taken as a whole, The Lupines are definitely a super group, or better yet, a super garage band. Needless to say they played like the rock veterans that they are on songs that epitomize the style of music that Brimstone was known for — hard, chopping rock songs that balanced Ziegler’s vocals with Friedman’s blazing solos while a tight rhythm section held it all together. It was exactly what you’d expect from a super garage band. What more can I say other than it was a fun night of music and you should go out of your way to find a copy of the new EP, titled Over the Moon and released on the mighty Speed! Nebraska label.

One last thing: There is some exciting things going on at fabulous O’Leaver’s which you may or may not know about and which I don’t know if I can talk about publicly. It’s not a huge deal, just a new opportunity for bands coming through the club. I’ll see what I can say and let you know.

* * *

It’s another quiet week show-wise. In fact, I don’t see anything until Friday, when the ball starts rolling again. And with this cold weather, maybe it’s for the best….?

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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 © 2014 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.


Cursive to record live album at TWR in December, Cat Power scheduled; cryptic O’Leaver’s message……

Category: Blog — Tags: , , — @ 2:02 pm November 5, 2013

by Tim McMahan,

Weird Black Friday graphic attached to the cryptic message concerning O'Leaver's...

Weird Black Friday graphic attached to the cryptic message concerning O’Leaver’s…

Not much time for an update, just a couple things to pass along…

If you’re not already getting the One Percent Productions email blast you really should. This week’s “ramblings” included info on Cursive’s three week hometown residency at The Waiting Room in December as part of a new live recording project. The band will perform on the first three Thursdays of the month – December 5, 12 and 19 – with two special guests opening each night.  “Each Thursday’s setlist will be a mix of fan favorites and a number of deeper cuts from Cursive’s extensive back catalog of seven full-length albums,” said 1%. Tickets for each individual show are $12 and a pass for all three is $30.

In addition, One Percent announced that Cat Power is slated to play at The Slowdown Nov. 22 with Nico Taylor. Tickets go on sale Thursday and are $22.50 Adv/$25 DOS.

Sign up for the One Percent Productions email blast right from their homepage.

Finally, over lunch I received a cryptic e-mail from a sender who identifies him/herself as “Black Friday” with one sentence: “There will be a special performance on Black Friday (November 29) this year at O’Leavers Pub.” More to come?

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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.


Missing Pleasure Adapter and the Nebraska churn; a quiet post-holiday weekend…

Category: Blog — Tags: , , , — @ 9:53 am July 5, 2013

by Tim McMahan,

chimesO’Leaver’s needs those chimes they use at large theatrical stage productions, the tri-tone bells that indicate intermission is almost over, stub out your cigarette, finish your drink and get back to your seat because the next act is about to begin.

Wednesday night I was outside talking shit with a couple friends, just enjoying the night after a nice set of embraceable punk from touring band Toys That Kill. We got carried away arguing about R.E.M. when I figured out the next band had begun their set. It can be hard to discern between live music and the club’s super-loud house music that plays between sets. “Well, have to catch Pleasure Adapter,” I said, cutting it short. He concurred and we made our way into the club only to discover a couple people rolling on the “stage” floor fiddling with something technical.

That’s when frontman Jeff Ankenbauer announced he’d had it, the set was over. He had a baby waiting for him at home and didn’t have time to deal with what appeared to be a blown amp. It couldn’t have been 10 minutes into their set, but that was it, I’d missed it. I’ve seen Pleasure Adapter before so it wasn’t a huge loss, but there had been a lot of people there to see them Wednesday night who hadn’t. As I was leaving, I ran into one of those people, a local veteran from a number of touring bands, and asked what he thought. “Kind of punk to end the set that way,” he said. “Then again, maybe not.”

O’Leaver’s is turning into thee place for bands to debut. Two new bands will be debuting there in August consisting of members who crawled from the wreckage of fallen bands (including The Stay Awake and Conduits). As my musician friend suggested, bands need to be able to “sell out” or at least “pack” O’Leaver’s before heading to The Waiting Room or Slowdown. The nice thing about O’Leaver’s is that it doesn’t matter if anyone shows up, he said, the guys that run the club don’t care. Maybe that’s true.

There seems to be a lot of “churn” going on musicwise in Omaha, a changing of the guard. Bands like Pleasure Adapter, Coaxed, Gordon, The Dad, Worried Mothers, See Through Dresses, Twinsmith are establishing a new beach head alongside first-tier next wavers like Universe Contest, Digital Leather, So-So Sailors, Solid Goldberg and Eli Mardock and current flavors from Saddle Creek like Icky Blossoms, Big Harp and Mynabirds. These bands, along with a few that I haven’t mentioned either because I haven’t seen them or simply forgot to, are redefining Nebraska music while the old ghosts — Oberst/Desa, Kasher/Cursive, The Faint — carry on a tradition they started, like a pack of tenured professors with the hard part behind them.  Meanwhile, we wait for the next break-out indie band to catch fire outside of Nebraska. And we wait, and we wait, and it may never happen…

* *

It’s another quiet weekend show-wise, especially from a touring band perspective.

If the weather holds out, I might ride up to The Waiting Room tonight to see John Klemmensen and the Party open for Tara Vaughan. Also on the bill are Tenderness Wilderness and Michael Wunder. $7, 9 p.m.

It’s Benson First Friday, by the way.

Over at The Barley Street, Underwater Dream Machine  (Who I’m told has an amazing set of new music) plays with Island Alumni. $5, 9 p.m.

Meanwhile, over at fabulous O’Leaver’s, Saturn Moth plays with Small Houses. $5, 9:30 p.m.

Saturday night at Barley Street Blue Bird plays with The Ground Tyrants and Sam Vicari. Ten O’Clock Scholars headlines. $5, 9 p.m.

And that’s about it. Let me know if I missed anything in the comments section…

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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: Pro-Magnum, Digital Leather; The Spits tonight…

Category: Blog,Reviews — Tags: , , — @ 1:18 pm March 11, 2013
Pro-Magnum at O'Leaver's, March 9, 2013.

Pro-Magnum at O’Leaver’s, March 9, 2013.

by Tim McMahan,

The bulk of my evenings this weekend were spent at O’Leaver’s.

Friday night was Digital Leather and a crowd bigger than the one that showed at O’Leaver’s for Criteria the prior weekend, or so it seemed. A real crush-mob. I guess word is getting out about Todd Fink of The Faint joining the band. Or maybe folks are just beginning to “get” what Digital Leather is all about.

Needless to say, the crowd was too big to get close enough for a photo. No matter. You’ve seen these guys before, but you probably haven’t heard them quite like this. The weird, dark, sweaty nature of the evening helped it eclipse the new lineup’s debut a few weeks ago opening for Ty Segall at Sokol Underground. But then again, DL always plays better at O’Leaver’s, where they’re surrounded by friends and booze confessors.

While I have five or six DL albums and tapes, I’m not an expert on the band’s complete discography. That said, I’d never heard the second song played during their set, one in which Fink and frontman Shawn Foree traded vocals. I’m told that they’re writing new material, but I have no idea what role Fink is playing in it. As I’ve said before, Fink adds the synth element that’s been missing in Digital Leather for years, even stretching back to when Foree and others played keys on stage but were barely heard. There’s no missing Fink in the mix. Intense fun. As was the pseudo-encore of “Studs in Love” which is once again becoming a staple in the band’s set (as it should). If you missed it, DL’s next stop is opening for White Lung April 2 at The Slowdown.

Speaking of openers, I got to the club early enough Friday night to catch the last half of Plack Blague’s twisted, bass-heavy, goth-techno-bondage set. The bass was so loud it caused ripples in people’s voices when they spoke. Creepy weird.

So for the past two week’s I’ve gone to the new, improved O’Leaver’s where I saw bigger crowds than I’ve ever seen at this hole-in-the-wall music venue. I’m more used to seeing a casual 40 or 50 people leaning on the railing watching the show, and that’s exactly what I got Saturday night for the debut of Pro-Magnum (They spell their name with all caps, but I’m not doing it. Sorry guys. Just like I won’t add an exclamation point to a band’s name (Snake Island, Thunder Power, take note).

Consisting of Pat Oakes, Paul Hansen and frontman/bassist Johnny Vredenburg, the power trio sounds like they’ve been spending their off hours listening to ’80s metal and prog rock. Heavy, heavy shit with strong riffs on anthems that are more punk than metal and are anything but run-of-the-mill. Halfway through the second song, Vredenburg broke into a super-intricate bass riff that was proggy and powerful and very cool. His vocals are mainly of the shriek/scream variety, but what else would you want from power/metal/rock? For a debut, pretty awesome; they definitely left the crowd wanting more.

As for the rest of Saturday night, touring band Buildings played the kind of driving, dark music you’d expect to hear while beating someone to death with a ball-peen hammer. Closing band, the charmingly named Flesh Eating Disease, played one- to two-minute noise explosions keyed with hyper-active yell vocals, the kind of thing you can imagine being played to break down Gitmo prisoners just before the water-boarding begins.

* * *

Tonight at Slowdown Jr. it’s Seattle mutant garage band The Spits on what I’m told could be their last tour ever. Opening is Coaxed and The Dad. $12, 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 © 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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