Live Review: Lambchop, So-So Sailors; busy week ahead…

Category: Blog,Reviews — Tags: , , — @ 12:51 pm April 30, 2012
Lambchop at Slowdown Jr., April 27, 2012.

Lambchop at Slowdown Jr., April 27, 2012.

by Tim McMahan, Lazy-i.com

Another “sit-down” show at Slowdown? This is becoming a habit. A couple weeks ago it was Cowboy Junkies in the big room. Friday night it was Lambchop in the front room for a crowd that looked to be around 100, maybe more, half of whom were seated on folding chairs set up in a space between the stage and pushed-back tables. Obviously it has something to do with either the laid-back music or the mature age of the crowd, or both. And in both cases, the chairs were oddly appropriate, especially since the people fronting both bands also spent the the evening seated.

So-So Sailors at Slowdown Jr., April 27, 2012.

So-So Sailors at Slowdown Jr., April 27, 2012.

For opening band So-So Sailors Friday night, it was seated frontman Chris Machmuller behind a keyboard, though Mach also stood with a guitar slung over his shoulder. Maybe it was the room’s dark ambiance but this was the most relaxed, most un-rushed set I’ve heard the Sailors play, and also the finest. No one was trying to blow the roof off of anything, instead Mach and his band of merry men provided subtle, complete interpretations of songs off their recently released EP along with a few new songs that will fill out an LP one of these days.

Next was Lambchop, and as expected, seated directly in the center of the stage was Omaha guitarist/musician Alex McManus, a Lambchop veteran back in the fold if only for one night. Judging by the smile on frontman Kurt Wagner’s face, he couldn’t have been more proud. Wagner lead the band seated with an acoustic guitar and his dry, folky mumble, backed by two keyboardists (one occasionally switching to guitar), bass and drums, and McManus adding tasty fills and leads on electric guitar.

Their sound was warm and subtle like sipping a glass of fine old scotch. There was no resemblance to “alt country” at all. In fact, their music has more in common with intimate club jazz, with Wagner’s mid-range voice bordering on rhythmic spoken word, though he showed his range at times. Some really beautiful stuff.

The band played for well over an hour and not only came back for the usual three-song encore but also for a couple more after that. Wagner said they were doing something out of the usual because he loves playing with McManus, who he called “his secret weapon.” A modest McManus merely smiled and waved without looking up at the crowd.

* * *

It’s a sort of busy week for shows. Tomorrow night is The Drums at The Waiting Room; Dim Light and Snake Island at TWR Wednesday; and then The Pines Thursday night at Slowdown Jr. and Love Drunk’s tour fund raiser also Thursday night at The Sydney with Honeybee & Hers and Bazooka Shootout, and then Icky Blossoms returns to Slowdown Jr. on Friday (speaking of Icky, they just dropped their video for “Babes” this morning. Check it here). Get your shows in during the week, because the weekend ain’t looking good (so far).

* * *

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 © 2012 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

 

 

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Live Review, images from So-So Sailors, Doom Town show at The Sandbox…

Category: Blog,Reviews — Tags: , , , , — @ 1:42 pm December 12, 2011

by Tim McMahan, Lazy-i.com

There will be a more in-depth review of Saturday night’s Doom Town show in this week’s column in The Reader. For now, here are some pics from that show and Friday night’s So-So Sailors EP release show at The Showdown, along with some brief comments.

So-So Sailors at Slowdown Jr. Dec. 9, 2011.

So-So Sailors at Slowdown Jr. Dec. 9, 2011.

If there’s a criticism to be leveled at So-So Sailors, who enjoyed a packed house at Slowdown Jr. Friday night for their EP release party, it’s that their music sounds rushed when performed live, at least compared to the recorded versions. Slow it down, boys. In addition, the Sailors played a number of songs that aren’t on the new EP, including a set opener that was a straight-up pop song. And if you had any doubt about their pop leanings, Machmuller and Co. closed with a dead-on cover of “Give Me Just a Little More Time,” by the Chairmen of the Board that smoked.

Baby Tears at The Sandbox, Dec. 10, 2011.

Baby Tears were first up at The Sandbox Saturday night. This view gives you a bit of perspective from the back of the room.

I was told after their set that Saturday night’s show at Sandbox wasn’t actually Baby Tears’ official release show for their “Homeless Corpse” 7-inch. That’s going down this Friday night at O’Leaver’s with The Fucking Party; a show that will also mark the beginning of that band’s tour with The Yuppies. Baby Tears will replace The FP for the second leg of that tour starting Jan. 4 in Kansas City.

Blind Shake at The Sandbox Dec. 10, 2011.

Blind Shake at The Sandbox Dec. 10, 2011.

Minneapolis The Blind Shake practically burned a hole through The Sandbox’s homemade stage with their brutal punk and double-barreled vocals.

The STNNNG at The Sandbox Dec. 10, 2011.

The STNNNG at The Sandbox Dec. 10, 2011.

The Doom Towm comp and ‘zine release show closed with a blazing, groping set by The STNNNG that ended with Chris Beringer wearing a plaid paperboy hat a la Brian Johnson for a couple grinding AC/DC covers.

* * *

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.

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So-So Sailors CD-EP release show tonight; DOOM TOWN USA ‘zine-comp / Baby Tears release show Saturday, Holiday Throwdown Sunday…

Category: Blog — Tags: , , , , — @ 12:43 pm December 9, 2011

by Tim McMahan, Lazy-i.com

Doom Town

I’m starting with the Doom Town show because I feel that the so-called “above-ground media” dropped the ball on this one (i.e., me and The Reader).

Justin O’Connor, one of the guys behind Doom Town Records, e-mailed back in October asking if I’d be interested in writing a feature story in support of this Saturday night’s (tomorrow night’s) show at The Sandbox, and I said “yeah,” even though I’m not responsible for assigning feature stories at The Reader (music editor Chris Aponick is). In the end, I got assigned a feature on So-So Sailors, and Aponick apparently mentioned the Doom Town show in his Backbeat Column (which I haven’t seen yet).

Ethan Jones and I are releasing Doom Town USA, a compilation and ‘zine we’ve spent the last year putting together (we’re slow),” O’Connor said in his e-mail to me. “To celebrate we’ve set up a show at The Sandbox on December 10 featuring STNNNG, Blind Shake and Baby Tears. This will also double as a release show for Baby Tears’ new 7-inch on Rainy Road. The ‘zine has a pair of articles written by Chris Harding-Thornton and Chris Besinger. The bands on the comp are Skin of Earth (IA), Yuppies, Metal Tech (Chris Fischer of Unread Records), Ed Gray (IA), Nymph (NY), This is My Condition (KS), Blind Shake (MN), Baby Tears, L.U.N.A.R. Revolt (PA), STNNNG (MN), Bottom Jobs (MN), and Vverevvolf Grehv.

Besinger (who writes about Danzig in the ‘zine), as you may or may not know, is in the leather-gloved frontman of STNNNG; Harding-Thornton (who writes about “the industry” and life in general) is a music industry veteran who used to work at Saddle Creek and (and was involved in The Cog Factory back before she had a hyphenated last name). Also included is a short intro essay by O’Connor, who among other things is one of the funniest writers from around here (whether he knows it or not). And lots of clever drawings by Chris Fischer and other talented artists.

So here’s the deal. For $6 you get a 36-page ‘zine with a screen-printed cover and a compilation cassette with the above-mentioned bands. Limited to a mere 100 copies. Will this comp’s music ever be available as a “download”? I have no idea. Fact is, my POS ’96 Chevy Sidekick has a cassette player in it, so I’m already in business. If you can’t make the show, you can buy a copy of the package online right here at the Doom Town Records website.

But you’re better off just coming to Saturday night’s show at The Sandbox, 2406 Leavenworth, which features Blind Shake, STNNNG and Baby Tears. Show starts at 9:30 and costs $6. Go!

* * *

Tonight, of course, is the So-So Sailors CD-EP release show at Slowdown Jr. (which you read about here).  Also on the bill are Kevin Pike & John Kotchian and Sam Knutson. Everyone who pays the $10 cover gets a copy of the S-S S EP, Young Hearts. Seriously, you can’t lose. Show starts at 9 p.m.

So what else is happening this weekend?

The Nadas return to The Waiting Room tonight with Witness Tree. $15, 9 p.m.

Snake Island is at The Barley Street Tavern tonight with Travelling Mercies and Dan Tesdesco. $5, 9 p.m.

And tonight is the final night for Depressed Buttons‘ residency at House of Loom. The trio of Baechle, Fink and Thiele will be taking time off to tour and produce new music. Opening set from Cake Eater. Starts at 10  p.m., $5.

Saturday night’s other big show is Blue Bird at The Barley Street Tavern with Edge of Arbor and the debut of Electroliners – a band-spankin’ new band featuring guitarist/vocalist Pat White of The Third Men, Travis Sing (bass, vocals), Staphanie Krysl (fiddle, keys, vocals) Wayne Brekke (drums) and Corey Weber (pedal steel, guitar). They describe their sound as “old stylie country western.” Show starts at 9 p.m., $5.

Finally, omahype.com celebrates completing its first year of online business with its second annual Holiday Throwdown at Slowdown. The mammoth musical line-up includes Honeybee & Hers, Laura Burhenn (Mynabirds), McCarthy Trenching, Brad Hoshaw, All Young Girls Are Machine Guns, Great American Desert, Jasong Mountain, James Maakestad, Sean Pratt, April Faith-Slaker, aetherplough, Anniversaire, The Benningtons and Jordan Elsberry. In addition to vendors selling their wares, Blue Sushi Sake Grill and Roja Mexican Grill will have snacks available. It all starts at 5 p.m. and entry is a suggested $5 donation. Find out more here.

Close out your week with Bad Speler a.k.a. Darren Keen as he celebrates the release of Jesus, the powerless liar presents: Another Bad Speler Christmix at House of Loom Sunday night.

This is the second christmix I’ve released, and it’s amazing,” Keen says. “I sample Ru Paul, William Hung, Star Wars Christmas, and even Bright Eyes, while still maintaining, and ever perfecting my now bass heavier post breakcore club sound. Listen to the re working of Bright Eyes’ ‘Little Drummer Boy’ in the Bad Speler original masterpiece ‘Come on my Drum, (below).

Keen said the release is digital only, though he’ll have CDR’s of the album available at this show, which is free and starts at 9.

* * *

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.

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Interview: The Sentimental Sounds of The So-So Sailors

Category: Blog,Interviews — Tags: , , — @ 1:26 pm December 7, 2011
So-So Sailors

So-So Sailors, from left, are Alex McManus, Dan Kemp, Chris Machmuller, Brendan Greene-Walsh and Dan McCarthy.

by Tim McMahan, Lazy-i.com

Those who wonder what spawned Omaha indie band So-So Sailors’ thoughtful, piano-driven rock need look no further than frontman Chris Machmuller’s other band, Ladyfinger.

Tucked toward the end of Ladyfinger’s last collection of rowdy screamers titled Dusk is a chugging rocker called “Plans” that sports a gorgeous, arcing piano line. The rather wordy song features Machmuller doing something he rarely does on other Ladyfinger songs – Machmuller sings, clearly with notes and everything.

“’Plans’ could have been a foreshadowing of what was brewing in my subconsciousness,” Machmuller said over drinks Saturday afternoon at The Leavenworth Bar with drummer Dan Kemp and bassist/vocalist Brendan Greene-Walsh.

“The Ladyfinger stuff has a purpose and a plot, but it can be more ambiguous,” he said. “Lack of ambiguity makes So-So Sailors more compelling. It’s hard to convey sentiment when you’re screaming.”

There’s no screaming on Young Hearts, So-So Sailors’ debut EP, which is being celebrated at a release show Friday night at Slowdown. Though only six songs long, the album stretches over 32 minutes, thanks to tracks like the nearly 5-minute opener “So Broken Hearted,” a grand, elegant number that starts with a sentimental Machmuller singing over soft piano chords, “Lost out on love / Or so it seemed / A useless thing is the pain you hold onto…” moments before the rest of the band breaks through in classic E Street style.

The song is a story about a bartender wooing a broken-hearted patron in a club not unlike O’Leaver’s, where Machmuller tends bar and Greene-Walsh has been known to run the soundboard. “You could place that song in any bar across the country,” Machmuller said, “but in my mind, that’s where I picture it.”

Other EP standouts include “Broken Glass and Blood,” a cinematic rocker about a dirt-poor boy trying to hold onto a woman who’s skipped town for an East Coast college, conjuring up images of The Graduate and Goodbye Columbus. While the album’s gorgeous title track recalls an instructor/student love affair thick with warning and regret. Machmuller belts out the lines “But when it comes to us / I probably shouldn’t write the stuff  / My heart wants to put on the page” just before breaking into a massive alto sax solo. With its strong central melodies and sentimental showmanship, Young Hearts is more ’70s arena ballad than modern-day indie, and is better  for it.

The band formed in the fall of 2009 when Ladyfinger was on a break from touring. Machmuller said he started working on some new material, which he bounced off friend and “very capable piano and keyboard player” Dan McCarthy.

“I’d already talked to Brendan and Dan (Kemp) about forming a new project,” Machmuller said. “Then I gave (guitarist) Alex McManus a call, and he was aboard from the get go.”

Calling themselves So-So Sailors, the band played its first show opening for The Mynabirds’ CD release party at Slowdown May 2, 2010. The debut was something of a surprise to those who had only known Machmuller as the screaming guitarist in Ladyfinger. With So-So Sailors Machmuller emerged as a crooner seated behind a keyboard, his scratchy voice fully exposed for all to hear for the first time.

Later that year the band began recording with engineer Ben Brodin at ARC Studios. The 12 songs produced from those sessions clocked in at over an hour — too much to include on a vinyl LP, a format the band prefers. Instead, they proposed releasing some of the material as a CD EP. After Saddle Creek Records – Ladyfinger’s record label – passed on the project, the band decided to release it themselves in the U.S., while the EP is being released digitally in Europe in January on No Dancing Records.

The longterm plan is to include a few of the songs from Young Hearts along with new material on a vinyl LP to be released sometime next year. In the meantime, the sailors will support the EP with limited local large-market touring, while they continue to try and line up something even more elusive than a record label – a booking agent. Machmuller said despite being signed by a well-known label like Saddle Creek, Ladyfinger never was able to sign with a national booking agent.

“If you have a booking agent, it’s a lot easier to secure a record label,” Greene-Walsh said. But landing a booking agent during an era when the music industry continues to spiral downward is akin to winning a lottery.

“The odds are a thousand to one,” Machmuller said. But even if they never get a break outside of Omaha, he said he and the rest of the band will continue to make music together.

“There’s something inside you that keeps you going,” Greene-Walsh said. “I took a couple years off from playing and severely missed sitting in a room with creative minds and bouncing ideas off each other, and then having the space to create something new.”

“Being in a band is almost like being back at school,” Kemp said, “and I miss school, to be honest with you. I’d be super drunk all the time if I didn’t do music.”

“I wouldn’t hang myself if I didn’t play music,” Machmuller said, “but there’s a compulsion. I’ve been writing songs since I was 15 years old, and (today) I’m not a rich man or a veteran of world tours, but I’m still doing it.”

So-So Sailors plays with Sam Knutson and Kevin Pike & John Kotchian Friday, Dec. 9, at Slowdown, 729 No. 14th St.. Showtime is 9 p.m. Admission is $10 and includes a copy of the new CD. For more information, call 402.345.7569 or visit theshowdown.com.

* * *

Tomorrow’s column: The 7-Year Itch

* * *

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.

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Live Review: Digital Leather, So-So Sailors; Envy Corps, Conduits tonight; Cold Cave Sunday…

Category: Blog,Reviews — Tags: , , — @ 6:33 pm July 29, 2011
So-So Sailors at the MAHA / Hear Nebraska Showcase at The Slowdown, July 28, 2011.

So-So Sailors at the MAHA / Hear Nebraska Showcase at The Slowdown, July 28, 2011.

by Tim McMahan, Lazy-i.com

I don’t know what more to say about Digital Leather that I haven’t already said. The band continues to be one of my favorites, not only in Omaha, but anywhere. Last night at the MAHA/Hear Nebraska Showcase at The Slowdown, DL sported the same three-piece configuration they had at O’Leaver’s in May: John Vredenburg on bass, Jeff Lambelet on drums, and guitarist/vocalist Shawn Foree in the lead — a lean, mean trio burning brightly through their set as if they had nothing to lose.

Digital Leather at the MAHA / Hear Nebraska Showcase at The Slowdown, July 28, 2011.

Digital Leather at the MAHA / Hear Nebraska Showcase at The Slowdown, July 28, 2011.

Yeah, I loved the old synth-driven version of Digital Leather (One person asked me last night, “Where’s the digital part?”), but I dig the raw energy of this stripped down version almost as much. Foree is an electric, muscular frontman, Vredenburg is a chaotic, spitting punk madman, and Lambelet is out of control, driving his kick drum to the edge of the stage with every song, knocking cymbals off the tee for audience members to run on stage and fix (touching moments indeed). Imagine how these guys would have sounded sandwiched between J. Mascis and Guided By Voices at the MAHA Music Festival. Oh well, maybe next year, that is if they’re available. By then they’ll have a new record out on Absolutely Kosher and will likely be on an unending national/international tour, well on their way to becoming great big rock stars.

So-So Sailors had no problem following DL. The line-up included Ben Brodin on keys, replacing (for the evening) a busy Dan McCarthy, and doing a fine job. I’m so used to hearing S-SS’s set that each song is like an old friend, familiar and comfortable, as if their record came out a year ago when in fact it hasn’t been released yet. Imagine how “familiar” we’re going to be with these songs a year from now when they’re still playing them, supporting their debut release… Something tells me I won’t mind, although I’m already dying to hear some new material.

Speaking of comfortable bands, Fortnight continues to refine its Midwestern indie-rock sound, reaching out the furthest on their last song. I’d like to see these folks push their sound even further.

* * *

Tonight, more MAHA star power as The Envy Corps play at The Waiting Room with Conduits and Tangent Arc. $8, 9 p.m.

Meanwhile, over at O’Leaver’s tonight it’s Cloven Path, Blyeth and Flesh Eat Skin Disease. The usual 9:30 start, the usual $5.

At Barley St. tonight, Lonely Estates plays with Blue Rosa. 9 p.m. $5.

Talking Mountain continues to bombard Omaha with its spazz-aholic, smoke-choking, laser-blinded pop goodness at O’Leavers Saturday night, along with Mammoth Life. 9:30, $5.

Sunday is the biggest show of the weekend: Cold Cave with Astra and Touch People (the indescribable Darren Keen) at The Waiting Room. $10 now, $12 DOS. 9 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 © 2011 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

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Live Review: Dundee Spring Fling; Foo Fighters, Motorhead tonight…

Category: Blog,Reviews — Tags: , , — @ 12:55 pm May 23, 2011
Conduits at Dundee Spring Fling, May 21, 2011.

Conduits at Dundee Spring Fling, May 21, 2011.

by Tim McMahan, Lazy-i.com

Ah, the joys of being an amateur meteorologist. The various and sundry weather services had warned all day that there would be thunderstorms Saturday evening, and lo and behold, the skies became angry just as the Dundee Spring Fling was about to erupt just past the rapture hour of 6 p.m. A glance at the radar indicated a line of hail-laden thunderstorms bearing north from Lincoln, so I sat tight and waited out Armageddon at home. I’m told the sky began falling about halfway through Gus & Call’s set. People ran for cover under the beer tents as pea-sized hail began to bounce off their heads.

The So-So Sailors at Dundee Spring Fling, May 21, 2011.

The So-So Sailors at Dundee Spring Fling, May 21, 2011.

I arrived at Underwood Street at around 9 p.m., after the storm had passed… mostly. As So-So Sailors got ready on stage, streaks of lightning veined across the sky just to the north. SSS’s frontman Chris Machmuller looked a tad nervous, but said that the show would go on, and indeed it did. Unlike Jake’s Block Party last weekend, the sound system was unreal, just terrific sound, and SSS took full advantage of it, playing to a crowd of a few hundred booze-soaked neighbors. The band — which was back to its usual 5-piece configuration (only two keyboards this time, and no Laura Burhann) ran through their non-released hits one after another in sort of medley fashion, right up to the last tune, where Machmuller said something like, “If this is the Rapture, take me home Jesus” before the band exploded in rock ‘n’ roll bliss.

Before Conduits came on, Gus & Call was called back on stage to finish off their interrupted set. Dan McCarthy sang lead on one song that channeled The Band circa 1968/Big Pink. They closed with what’s becoming their signature tune, “The Other Side of Jordan,” played with the same energy as that night I first saw them play it at Slowdown. This is a band to seek out; a band that could break out if they could ever find the right balance between their fun rock stuff and their slow-stroll boot-gaze drone ballads.

Finally at around 10:45, Conduits lit up the stage sounding like a black-light Euro dance band, thanks to Roger Lewis’ pulsing drums. Yes, they are self-proclaimed shoe-gazers, lovers of the drone, but there was a bigger swing to their sound Saturday night, a righteous throb that enhanced the overall glow.

The crowd looked like a typical packed night at The Waiting Room — a lot of familiar faces and fixtures of the local music scene. But in addition were the college kids, the big white bald guys, the backward hatters and the out-of-place high heels, the kind of crowd that you’d expect to see at a small-town street dance. And though these weren’t the usual cover bands and shallow pop acts that usually play at Dundee Days, the crowd still seemed into it. In some ways, this show was a dream come true — a showcase of some of Omaha’s best indie bands performing in the heart of the city, outside of both the bands’ comfort zone (i.e., not in Benson) and the crowd’s. Here’s hoping the fine folks at Amsterdam Felafel get another chance to book this event next year.

* * *

Tonight at The Mid-America Center in Council Bluffs it’s the Foo Fighters with Motorhead and Biffy Clyro. General admission tickets are $58.75 from Ticketmaster. Show starts at 7.

* * *

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 © 2011 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

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Live Review: So-So Sailors, Ted Stevens, The Bruces; Young Love showcase tonight…

Category: Reviews — Tags: , , , — @ 12:41 pm August 12, 2010
So-So Sailors at The Waiting Room, Aug. 11, 2010.

So-So Sailors at The Waiting Room, Aug. 11, 2010.

by Tim McMahan, Lazy-i.com

The best part about music criticism other than the free CDs is following young bands, watching them from their first performance, seeing where they’re headed, and in the case of an act like It’s True, watching them burst into flames just as they begin to reach their zenith.

Along those lines, it’s a pleasure to watch So-So Sailors evolve right before my eyes. When I saw their “debut” at The Slowdown a few months ago, their music was interesting, but the band, especially frontman Chris Machmuller, seemed tentative and unsure. It was, after all, their first gig. What did you expect? But if they could pull something off in that situation, and pique your interest to see them again — and then again like last night — well, they must have something going on.

I wouldn’t call last night’s set, played in front of about 65 people at The Waiting Room, a “night and day” performance compared to the Slowdown set; instead it was more like “night and daybreak,” when the light is just beginning to come up and you can begin to make out features in the landscape that were invisible only a few moments earlier. So-So Sailors’ sound has become more visible, but not all the features are well-defined.

Their first song last night turned out to be their best — a tune that took advantage of the two-piano attack (Machmuller on one keyboard, Dan McCarthy on the other across the stage) along with Machmuller’s voice. As I’ve said before, if you’re expecting the pained screech-howl that he uses for Ladyfinger, it’s not there. Instead, Machmuller sings with a sweet, high voice reminiscent of very early, quiet (and forlorn) Neil Young. And when he pulls out his alto sax, you can’t help but smile.

As a whole, all the songs and arrangement last night were very Young-ian; there was even one soft tune that I thought could be a Neil cover. The formula calls for the rest of the band — Alex McManus on guitar, Dan Kemp on drums and Brendan Greene-Walsh on bass — to come in after a quiet intro verse by Machmuller and the keyboard(s), turning songs into crashing, grand rock odysseys that are arty and jazzy and bittersweet, especially after everyone pulls back again at the end, inevitably leaving Machmuller and the keyboard(s) to walk away alone into the dark.

Machmuller’s voice did lose some of its oomph toward the end of the set, like a balloon slowly deflating, eventually getting lost in the mix (especially on the last song). But that will only get better over time. It already has, compared to their debut. There’s a buzz around town about So-So Sailors, and there should be because they’re doing something that’s beyond the norm for this neck of the woods. It beacons back to ’70s rock, but without the chug-a-lug stomp or tired Americana twang. It’s both nostalgic and completely modern, and sounds like it’s still being distilled. I can’t wait to see where they take it next.

Ted Stevens kicked off the night with a solo set that was at its best when he loosened up and let himself be inventive with his electric guitar rather than merely sing over chords. He played some licks last night that took his sound in an entirely different direction than I’ve heard either with his past solo work or with Mayday.

The Bruces at The Waiting Room, Aug. 11, 2010.

The Bruces at The Waiting Room, Aug. 11, 2010.

The Bruces were a highlight. The line-up was Alex McManus on electric guitar and vocals, and Steve Micek on drums. Micek was as much in focus on stage as McManus, playing inventive, almost improvisational drum fills that gave a backbone to every song. This wasn’t McManus folk, it was McManus rock, but with a keen appreciation for melodies  — I’ve seen Alex do solo electric sets in the past that, quite frankly, were simply too dissonant for my taste. Instead, these were terrific songs with downtrodden and oftentimes strange lyrics painting stark, unique, lonely images. At times, it reminded me of darker Silver Jews material, but McManus’ voice is richer and more soulful than David Berman’s. Add Micek’s throaty drums and it came together as a special treat, one of the best live sets of music I’ve heard from McManus.

* * *

The Young Love Records caravan pulls into The Waiting Room tonight — Setting Sun, Quitzow and Landing on the Moon (for more info, see yesterday’s blog). $7, 9 p.m.

The English Beat returns to The Slowdown again after just being here in March. This time, the more impressive Fishbone isn’t along for the ride. Instead, the openers are Bad Manners and Chris Murray. $20, 8 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 © 2010 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

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Live Review: So-So Sailors, Jeremy Messersmith, The Mynabirds…

Category: Blog — Tags: , , , , — @ 6:35 pm May 3, 2010

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 Saturday night at Slowdown Jr.

The room was only about half-full when Messersmith took the stage for a solo-acoustic set. In most cases, I’d be bummed about a solo set, especially from someone like Messersmith whose records are some of my favorites and are generally played with a full band. But business is business these days, and it’s expensive to haul a band around with you on tour (especially when no one knows who you are). Messersmith made the most of it, augmenting his guitar and voice with a series of effects pedals that nicely filled out the songs — magical pedals that created the effect of two-, three-, four-part harmony, pedals that provided rhythm tracks and pedals that created loops of vocals and guitar lines, all brought together like a modern-day one-man band. Even when he didn’t use the doo-dads, I enjoyed what I heard. Messersmith is an amazing songwriter who has a gift for creating gorgeous melodies and monster sing-along hooks. He also has a huge, high voice (imagine Ben Gibbard if Ben Gibbard could really sing). In addition to playing tunes off his new album and my favorite, The Silver City (download it now at jeremymessersmith.com), Messersmith did two covers — a Red House Painters-style version of “Norwegian Wood,” and his take on The Replacements’ “Skyway” (which also appears on Silver City). We need to get him back here soon (see photo), but with a full band and big amps to drown out the sea of audience chit-chat.

By the time he was done, the room was near capacity. I have no idea if this show was a sell-out, but it was a crush-mob. Next was the stage debut of So-So Sailors, a local supergroup of sorts, anchored by Chris Machmuller (Ladyfinger) on vocals and piano, Dan McCarthy (McCarthy Trenching) on Wurlitzer, Alex McManus (The Bruces) on guitar, Brendan Greene-Walsh (O’Leaver’s) on bass and the former drummer for Bloodcow (whose name I don’t know (Edit: It’s Dan Kemp)).

With Mach on the front end, I guess I was expecting something harsh, uptempo and loud. Instead we got slow, quiet and pretty. Beautiful at times; edgy and proggy at others.  The faster, louder songs fell in line with the slowest moments of Ladyfinger. It was all very moody for the most part and different than anything that any of these guys have done before. Definitely not what I or probably anyone was expecting.  One thing’s for certain, with this band — and this laid-back style of music — Mach has absolutely nowhere to hide. His voice is fully exposed for all to hear. It’s a cool (if not unsteady) voice that sounds like a sleepy, Midwestern version of Roger Waters on songs that often start with Mach playing piano one-handed only to gradually build to a pounding finish. Quite a debut, and quite a buzz afterward (see really lousy photo).

Finally, there was The Mynabirds. I think I made clear in my interview and in the blog that I really like their album, but I wasn’t sure if it would translate well live. The record is a real hodge-podge of styles made popular by some very familiar indie female artists. One song (“Ways of Looking”) sounds EXACTLY like a Mazzy Star tune, complete with droopy guitar line and morning-after vocals. At other times, Laura Burhenn sounds like Jenny Lewis, other times like Chan Marshall of Cat Power, other times like Maria or Orenda, and so on. So while entertaining, I’m still not quite sure I know who Burhenn really sounds like (despite what Pitchfork says). I’m not convinced that she’s defined her own style, yet. The arrangements on the recording are very, very good, but could they pull them off on stage without horns? And how would Burhenn compare to someone like Jenny Lewis, who owns a stage from entrance to exit? Could Burhenn bring out her inner-diva, or would she just stand behind her keyboard all night.

Well, in the end, she did pull it off, though she never strayed from that tiny spot behind her keyboard stand. Playing as a five piece, the music obviously lost some of the dynamic edge heard on the CD, but what did I expect? Burhenn was in good voice, belting out the hits, and to be honest, sounding more unique and on her own than on the record. She has a different delivery on stage — it’s bluesier, looser, more relaxed and natural. It was distinctly Burhenn (even though the person next to me still compared her to Jenny Lewis). Now if we could only get her to loosen up behind the microphone.

Lazy-i