Live Review: The Faint at Sokol Auditorium…

Category: Blog,Reviews — Tags: , — @ 12:54 pm June 16, 2014
The Faint at Sokol Auditorium June 12, 2014.

From the balcony, The Faint at Sokol Auditorium June 12, 2014.

by Tim McMahan,

When it comes to reviewing Faint shows in Omaha, you have to specify location in the title, especially after this weekend. Three shows, three different venues. The Slowdown’s free Faint show Sunday night was added after Saturday night’s show at The Waiting Room.

Why so many shows? Better question: Why not? From The Slowdown’s perspective, putting on a free Faint show is a great way to coax people to come down and check out the College World Series beer-soaked carnival atmosphere and discover that parking and crowds aren’t as bad as they may think.

From the floor, The Faint at Sokol Auditorium, June 13, 2014.

From the floor, The Faint at Sokol Auditorium, June 13, 2014.

Regardless, I only made it to one Faint production this past weekend, and it was a doozy. The production was so elaborate it provided a completely different experience from the Sokol’s balcony to the floor below.

From the floor, it’s all about the dancing, or more accurately, hopping since no one’s really dancing. They’re bouncing or “humping” to the electro-throb. Those in the middle of the mob become part of the collective body grooving where the Sokol’s oak floor has (apparently) been replaced with a trampoline.

It’s been this way for more than a decade. The usually reserved Omaha audience usually content watching shows with a crossed-arm head nod is given permission to let go at Faint shows. I remember a similar vibe at 311 shows I covered in the ‘90s. If you weren’t part of the dance collective, then get out of the way and stand with the old people and extreme introverts along the wall.

The balcony experience — or the view from anywhere near the furthest reaches of the Sokol floor — was electrifying in a different way. In fact, the technology forces viewing at a distance to take in the full scope. You’ve no doubt seen the photos on your Facebook or Twitter feed — the blinding, sequenced spotlights burned across the auditorium like weapons. And woe is you if you happen to be staring right into the lens.

Augmenting the modern kliegs were large LED panels — like portions of arena scoreboards — placed on stage and under the drum riser that displayed digital illustrations in sync with the beat. Add various colored gel accent lighting and voila! the perfect multi-media presentation. Lord only knows what (or who) was responsible for the programming, but it must have been a monumental effort to create each song’s lighting sequence. The result was an edgy drama that pushed the performance to arena levels as good as anything I’ve seen at the CLink, albeit on a smaller scale.

From the dance floor, the enormity of the light show was marginalized — if you get too close to those LED panels you lose the effect. But if you’re on the dance floor, you’re not watching the lights anyway — you’re sweating your ass off to the beat.

Which brings us to the music.

The Faint sounded pretty much how I remember them sounding a decade or so ago down in Sokol Underground. You’d never know they were missing a (formerly) core member — i.e.,  bass player Joel Peteresen, who left the band after Fasciinatiion was released. So who’s playing bass now? I saw Todd Fink with a bass on one song (“Dropkick the Punks”), but that’s it. I assume the all-encompassing, deep, gut-rattling bass was the product of the keyboards or sampling.

It’s amazing how well songs from the band’s new album, Doom Abuse, seamlessly blended within the band’s hit-laden set. Opener “Animal Needs” was a strong way to kick things off. “Mental Radio” and “Evil Voices” felt like typical Faint songs next to standards like “Desperate Guys” and “I Disappear.” A stand-out moment was the downshift to the funky sway of “Damage Control.”

The show was nearly flawless, right up to the encore that featured two all-time Faint classics “Paranoiattack” and the bomb called “Glass Danse,” which is guaranteed to blow up any dance floor. There appeared to be some sort of technical glitch that took place before lighting the fuse, however, as the LED screens kept flashing numeric panel markers while the band waiting around on stage. What kind of Faint show would it have been without technical difficulties?  It was, indeed, just like old times.

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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: St. Vincent (I liked her so much better when she was human); Warpaint, Digital Leather tonight…

Category: Blog,Reviews — Tags: , , — @ 12:56 pm April 2, 2014
St. Vincent at Sokol Auditorium, April 1, 2014.

St. Vincent at Sokol Auditorium, April 1, 2014.

by Tim McMahan,

Annie Clark looked like a kabuki toy standing center stage in her pretty outfit, a field of red rose petals covered the front across and down her skirt, her face painted / powdered white, cheeks blushed with rouge, her hair bleached and punk, a porcelain anime doll with big round eyes, a beautiful painting incomplete until the tech walked out and handed her a black electric guitar.

Annie Clark, a.k.a. St. Vincent, her voice thin and raspy, stared straight forward while she sang. When she wasn’t plucking out an electronic melody on her ax, she moved and bent and contorted her arms like a pantomime robot, doing Shields and Yarnell (look it up) with her fellow guitarist / keyboardist / vocalist. If Clark learned anything from touring with David Byrne it’s how to “dance” like an alien life form trying to communicate through arm gestures and hand signals. I don’t remember such theatrics the last time she came through town, so I have no choice but to blame Byrne who made a career out of his geek spastic dance motions throughout his time as a Talking Head.

I like it when Byrne does it; it seemed to make sense with his music. I don’t mind it when Clark does it, either, though her actions felt disconnected to what she was singing, as if she were trying to force a mechanical element onto something meant to be purely organic. The same thing can be said about her music. While I like the sterile beats, the oddly archaic rhythm-cut instrumentation (contrasted by a sonic blanket of synths), too often her melodies were reduced to elevating vocal tones crawling up and down a pentatonic scale.

All the while, Annie Clark was hatchet lit from below or shadowed by blazing-white LED panels that burned the retinas of a packed house who stood mesmerized more than moved by her music.

Between song sections, Clark performed short, pre-written monologues recited dryly and rehearsed. She told stories of how she and us weren’t so different. In fact, we were the same, as evidenced by her shared memories of lighting fires with a magnifying glass, feeling ill after telling a lie, admitting that her (our) friends don’t know us as well as they think they do.

I’m sure turning her concert into prolonged musical theater sounded like a good idea during tour rehearsals. The whole are-we-not-human? shtick worked well for Devo because it was weird and different and their matching jumpsuits made you want to believe it. Costumes are everything. I’d like to tell you that it was more interesting than previous St. Vincent shows, but it wasn’t. It looked and felt forced and uncomfortable, purposely rigid and thoroughly counter to the loose-and-rough spontaneity of rock. Instead, it was more of an attempt at art rock, but without the limitlessness of a Laurie Anderson.

Worst of all, after about a half hour, it became boring.

I fear that the bigger Clark/Vincent gets, the more disconnected she’ll become with her audience. I liked her better when she spontaneously paced around stage with her guitar and blazed the fretboard with the confidence of Prince. We saw a glimpse of the old Annie during the encore. After a quick wardrobe change, Clark reappeared alone on top of a tower of boxes and performed a sweet version of “Strange Mercy” off the 2011 album of the same name. For the first time that evening, her guitar sounded like a guitar, and her voice sounded oh so human.

* * *

Side notes…

If you’re looking for a set list for (and a different perspective of) last night’s show, Kevin Coffey has both at the OWH website, here.

With this show and last Saturday’s Neutral Milk Hotel show, I can’t remember Sokol Auditorium sounding better, in fact sounding better then I ever thought it could. I’ve seen some boomy shows at the ol’ gymnasium/dance hall (Regina Spektor comes to mind). Today’s audio technology can make any room sound awesome. Sokol has always been an alternative for shows too big for Slowdown. Now it no longer seems like a compromise. Conor, The Faint and Manchester Orchestra are all booked at Sokol for upcoming shows. Get your tix while you can.

I’ve also figured out how to park at sold-out Sokol shows — just put it on 16th St. and walk down the hill. When the show’s over, it’s a straight shot back to downtown.

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There’s another in this week-long string of amazing show going on tonight.

Warpaint plays at The Waiting Room. The band’s new self-titled album, released on Rough Trade, was produced by Flood (PJ Harvey, U2, New Order) and is one of my favorites this year (I like it a lot more than the new St. Vincent record). And get this: Digital Leather is opening. $17, 9 p.m. See you there.

Also tonight, And You Will Know Us By The Trail of Dead plays at The Slowdown. They’ll be performing Source Tags and Codes. La Femme opens. $20, 8 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: Neutral Milk Hotel at Sokol Auditorium (and maybe all shows should ban cell phone photos?)…

Category: Blog,Reviews — Tags: , , — @ 12:56 pm March 31, 2014

Neutral Milk Hotel as seen from the edge of the crowd at Sokol Auditorium March 29.

by Tim McMahan,

I have a theory why Neutral Milk Hotel is held with such reverence by so many. In 1999, Jeff Mangum did what Kurt Cobain did in ’94. Mangum turned off Neutral Milk Hotel, walking away from the band after it released its masterpiece, Aeroplane Over the Sea. Shortly after the album dropped in ’98, he did a few shows with the band, than simply…stopped. There was no grand announcement, Mangum just went away, leaving his audience wanting more. And he did it without dying.

What’s the old story about always wanting the girl you can never have? Absence makes the heart grow fonder; while denial makes love that much more intense. Mangum has been around all these years doing other things, but denied fans a performance. As a result, whether he intended to or not, he turned Neutral Milk Hotel into the kind of legend reserved for bands that ended after tragedy. He created a modern myth. Rare is the person who can walk away while standing on top of the mountain; and I don’t know anyone who did it like Mangum.

So, after more than a decade of silence, Mangum came back to life in 2010 with a surprise guest appearance at a benefit concert. That was followed by more surprise appearances. Then came a tour. And then another. Fans who long ago gave up hope of ever seeing a Neutral Milk Hotel show were finally getting their wish.

Omaha fans got their wish Saturday night at a long sold-out Sokol Auditorium show. I saw it with my own eyes: There on stage, singing “Two-Headed Boy” was Jeff Mangum. He looked like one of the Duck Dynasty guys. Actually, he looked more like Tom Hanks at the end of the marathon-running sequence of Forrest Gump — full, graying beard, hair sticking from beneath a Castro hat, baggy jeans, he looked like a recluse who had just rolled out of hiding.

Maybe that’s why they banned the cameras. Throughout Sokol flyers were taped to walls that read, “Out of respect for the artists, no photography allowed, including cell phones.” Sokol’s T-shirted security team watched like hawks for anyone pointing a phone at the stage. When they saw one, they swooped down, briskly pushing into the crowd toward the person taking the picture. In one case, the bouncer firmly shook the flyer under the nose of the scared hipster.

I doubt the photo ban had anything to do with Mangum looking like a street guy. Instead it was about feeding the Neutral Milk Hotel myth. No photos or videos on the web means growing mystery.

So why the mystery? Who knows. Why stop performing for more than a decade? Especially when your voice and your musicianship is in prime form. Mangum sounded amazing Saturday night as he brought Aeroplane back to life on stage, backed by his original band and Elephant 6 compatriots playings horns, accordion, even a willowy, haunted saw.

From my vantage point way off stage left, the crowd reacted as if seeing a ghost come back to life. Fans I spoke to never expected to see this band play again, let alone play in Omaha. And here they were, playing their best songs spot-on with every nuance from the original recording. It was a dream come true, but not for me. I’ve only been a passing Neutral Milk Hotel fan, having come to the party long after it ended. There’s no denying that Aeroplane is a modern indie-rock masterpiece, its influence can be heard on every Arcade Fire, Decemberists and Bon Iver album, though no band has ever quite matched the album’s twisted lyrical genius.

Maybe that’s another reason Mangum disappeared. He knew he’d never be able to recreate the magic of Aeroplane. Just thinking about it may have driven him mad. Why even try?

Saturday night’s setlist is online right here. Despite everything he’d seen and heard that night, the guy next to me was disappointed they didn’t play his favorite song, “Communist Daughter.” Maybe next time, I said, if there is one. Something tells me there will be.

* * *

One other aside about last Saturday night’s show: The photography ban (including with cell phones) changed the tone of the audience and maybe the performance. Instead of seeing a sea of lights held overhead throughout the set, Mangum and Co. were treated to a crowd that danced and writhed with ecstasy, a crowd of people who were paying attention to what was going on in front of them. There no longer was a need (or an ability) to shoot a photo, no need to post it to your Facebook or Instagram or Twitter account. The only thing left to do was to pay attention and enjoy the show. It was a like watching an audience circa 1999, back when we all did just fine without texting and Facebook and cell phones and the endless electronic distractions that get in the way with living our lives…

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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.


Neutral Milk Hotel nearly sold out; Burkum Boys (Skypiper) tonight…

Category: Blog — Tags: , — @ 1:51 pm December 17, 2013

by Tim McMahan,

A quick head’s up: One Percent Productions announced today that fewer than 10 percent of tickets are available for the March 29 Neutral Milk Hotel show at Sokol Auditorium (w/Elf Power). I suspect this one will sell out in the coming hours or day(s). Tickets are $33 ($38.12 after fees) available online here. You’ve been warned.

One Percent also announced today Okkervil River is playing at Slowdown April 7.

Other than that…

The Burkum Boys (the main guys in Skypiper) headline tonight at O’Leaver’s. Opening is the C&W stylings of Minneapolis duo The Cactus Blossoms and Ojai. $5, 9:30 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.