Column 303: Stage Dive
The best shows of ’10
by Tim McMahan, Lazy-i.com
Wrapping up the music year in review, here is my list of the best shows of the 100 or so that I attended in 2010. Yeah, I know there are a few missing (Where’s the Pixies? Where’s Justin Bieber?), but I can’t be at all of them. Help fill in the blanks by listing your favorites in the comment section of this story.
Jan. 22-23 — The Waiting Room re-grand opening. After gutting the interior and literally “raising the roof” (or at least the ceiling), the centerpiece Benson club celebrated with two nights of shows — a local gig featuring Little Brazil, Little Black Stereo, Ground Tyrants and Kyle Harvey, and a national show featuring afro-beat band NOMO. The verdict, Omaha had another world-class club to compete with Slowdown.
Jan. 29 — Haiti Relief Concert at Slowdown — What more could you ask for than Conor Oberst singing “Lua” backed by Nate Walcott on flugelhorn? The Bright Eyes reunion was one of the highlights of a sold-out show that benefitted the earthquake-torn country, that also included performances by Tilly and The Wall, It’s True, Simon Joyner, The Mynabirds, Bear Country, McCarthy Trenching and Brad Hoshaw.
March 15 — Digital Leather at O’Leaver’s — With a full beard, frontman Shawn Foree resembled an indie version of Jim Morrison circa Morrison Hotel. And with an extra keyboard player, he was free to get more involved on stage and with the crowd on such moving anthems as “Studs in Love.”
April 5 — Beach House at TWR — Visually, a boring show. Sonically, nothing less than amazing. Every note of their chamber pop echoed and glowed as they played all the songs from breakthrough album Teen Dream. Between numbers, they talked about Malcolm X, the Omaha Beef and 311, dedicating songs to each of them.
May 2 — So-So Sailors at Slowdown Jr. — I came to see Jeremy Messersmith, the crowd came to see The Mynabirds, but it was So-So Sailors that everyone was talking about after the show.
May 22 — Criteria at The Waiting Room — You couldn’t tell that this band hadn’t been on a stage in almost two years. Everything was tight, including Stephen Pedersen’s high-flyin’ vocals that still had that pop. They were having the time of their lives, and so was an audience that greeted old favorites with raised fists.
June 13 — The Mountain goats at Slowdown — Balladeer John Danielle did a Storytellers shtick, with bits about life on the road or what inspired the next rousing anthem or stirring ballad, delivered in the rapid-fire style of a well-seasoned stand-up comic.
June 28 — Deerhoof at TWR — As a live band, Deerhoof eclipsed their restrained, measured recordings with sheer ferocity, transforming from an art band into something that more closely resembled punk.
June 30 — It’s True at Slowdown Jr. –“This is our third to last show,” said inebriated frontman Adam Hawkins without giving an explanation. The performance had the charm of a drunken wake, with Hawkins taking double shots between songs. Despite proclaiming that he was “wasted,” he still put on one helluva show.
July 9 — Lincoln Invasion in Benson — Twenty bands from Lincoln decended on Benson for one night, but it was Mercy Rule that made the best argument for Star City’s superiority.
July 24 — MAHA Music festival — We all had a favorite performance. Some said Spoon, others Ben Kweller and The Faint. For me it was conquering heroes Superchunk playing for their first time in Nebraska.
July 31 — Concert for Equality in Benson — For one day, 2,000 people crowded the streets of Benson to celebrate freedom, or the lack of it. While host Conor Oberst shined with Bright Eyes, it was the reunion of his other band, Desaparacidos, along with Lullaby for the Working Class, that made the day historic.
Aug. 27 — Slowdown Block Party — With his stringy hair and big, crazy graying beard, Built to Spill’s Doug Martsch looked like he just walked out of a survivalist compound. And though his Neil Young-meets-Kermit the Frog voice couldn’t hit the high notes, he could still shred on guitar like few others in the indie world.
Sept. 16 — Titus Andronicus at TWR — I wouldn’t say it was “epic” as much as an attempt at being epic. Every one of Titus’ tuneful anthem punk songs started small before exploding into pounding riffs, sing-along lyrics and the occasional Celtic-flavored melody.
Sept. 24 — Serena-Maneesh at TWR — Slowdive. Ride. My Bloody Valentine. I never saw any of them perform live on stage. And after this show, I get the feeling that Serena-Maneesh will be the closest I’ll ever get.
Oct. 22 — Bad Luck Charm at The 49′r — The headliner was BLC, but the real star was the bar itself, which was celebrating its second-to-last show before closing its doors forever.
Nov. 19 — Tim Kasher at TWR — Backed by a solid band, an unually reserved Kasher was all business, serenading the crush mob with solo ballads, Good Life covers and a tip o’ the hat to David Bowie.
Nov. 29 — Mark Mallman at TWR — Ever the professional showman, Mallman played as if he were in front of a sold out Carnegie Hall instead of a virtually empty room. He deserved better.
Were we saving the best for last? An early press date kept me from including the Dec. 23 reunion of Slowdown Virginia and Polecat, and the Dec. 29 return of Mousetrap to The Waiting Room. I guess I’ll just have to include them on next year’s list.
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Actually, you needn’t wait for next year’s list. You already saw the Slowdown Virginia review. And last night was Mousetrap at The Waiting Room.
Before I get to the specifics, let me get this off my chest — There is something strangely timeless about Mousetrap’s music, and here’s what I’m talking about: No one — not back then in the ’90s and certainly not now — could channel rage quite the way these guys could and still do. It’s not a macho or tough-guy thing like today’s corporate metal goon-rock bands. Instead, it’s bitter and angry, but it’s anger channeled more toward themselves than whatever situation Patrick Buchanan and Craig Crawford are screaming about. Actually, it’s more about pain than anger — not a broken-hearted pain, but an exposed nerve physical throbbing abscessed tooth sort of agony. Bright red and pulsing.
Nothing sounds like Mousetrap today. Look at any of the 2010 top-10 album lists floating around the internet right now and ask yourself how many of those bands sound like they’ve ever been mad about anything. Arcade Fire, for example, channels regret and lost hope in mournful tones, as if they’ve come to accept the fact that we’ve all somehow been cheated. They’re martyrs. Mousetrap is on the opposite side. They’re not giving an inch. If you fuck with them, they’re going to let you know what they think of you at 300 dBs with spit flying from their mouths. And that is what makes their music strangely timeless. I can’t think of another band that has their ridged-back attitude. Mousetrap is that scrappy guy that no one fucked with in high school — not because he was the biggest or toughest in the crowd, but because everyone was afraid what he might do if you piss him off. Because if he snaps, there’s no stopping him. Mousetrap is that guy, that scary guy. You don’t want to get them started.
Last night they were in fine form, as good as they sounded last year and better than I remember them back in the ’90s. They were always a great live band that spent every set teetering over the edge of the cliff. That sense of uncertainty is gone. They’re more focused; they know exactly what they want to do, and they do it. Their sound is as vicious and acidic as ever; but Buchanan’s voice (as well as Crawford’s) is more controlled and certain. And after last night, I’m somewhat convinced that Mike Mazzola may be the best drummer they’ve worked with, giving the absent Scott Miller a run for his money. The crowd of 130 or so looked like they were paying homage to returning legends, which they were.
Buchanan ended the set saying, “See you next year,” but made the surprise annoucement that the band is considering recording a new album in 2011 — that is, if they can find a label to give them some cash. Somebody needs to step up, because it would be a shame if Mousetrap remained a once-a-year reunion gig. And we all could use a regular dose of anger in our musical diets. With the world the way it is, we certainly have a lot to be angry about.
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The reunions continue tonight at The Slowdown. The last time I saw Stolen Kisses was way back in January 2009 (reviewed here). The band split up shortly afterward when Chris Kramer moved to Chicago. Well, he’s back tonight for this Stolen Kisses reunion show that also includes performances by Darren Keen and the Fellowship of the Ring, and the debut of Our Hearts Are Stars, a new band that features members of Bear Country and Talking Mountain, among others. Show starts at 9 and is absolutely free.
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Don’t forget to enter to win a copy of the highly coveted Lazy-i Best of 2010 Sampler CD! Just send me an e-mail (to email@example.com) with your name and mailing address and you’ll be dropped in the digital hat. Tracks include songs by Arcade Fire, Ted Leo and the Pharmacists, The National, Tim Kasher, Hot Chip, Sally Seltmann, Belle and Sebastian, Titus Andronicus, The Mynabirds, Zeus, The Black Keys, Pete Yorn and more. Full track listing is here. Enter today. Deadline is Jan. 18.
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Read Tim McMahan’s blog daily at Lazy-i.com — an online music magazine that includes feature interviews, reviews and news. The focus is on the national indie music scene with a special emphasis on the best original bands in the Omaha area. Copyright © 2010 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.