Live Review: Criteria, Little Brazil rock The Waiting Room at holiday showcase…

Category: Reviews — Tags: , , — @ 1:48 pm January 3, 2018

Criteria at The Waiting Room, Dec. 30, 2017.

by Tim McMahan, Lazy-i.com

You’d think sub-zero weather would have shooed fans away from going to The Waiting Room last Saturday night. No sir. A rather large and festive crowd showed up to see a line-up of acts that first made their mark in the mid 2000s perform with the same vigor they showed in their hey-day, and maybe give us hope in this modern age we live in.

Little Brazil at The Waiting Room Dec. 30, 2017.

Little Brazil boasted yet another new line-up. The core duo of Landon Hedges and Danny Maxwell remain intact, but now Shawn Cox, who you may remember from Landing on the Moon or Microphone Jones, is handling lead guitars while See Through Dresses’ Nate Van Fleet was behind the drum kit. The result was a different sound for LB, most notably coming from Cox, whose more controlled style is a contrast to former guitarist Mike Friedman’s edgy, frenetic sound. Cox’s solos had a melodic and (dare I say it) Clapton-esque feel (And this isn’t a jab at Friedman, who I think is one of the best guitarists to ever come out of Omaha).

LB played old favorites including “Brighton Beach” and “You and Me,” but really uncorked it on a number of new songs, including one they’d never played live before, which was my favorite of the evening. Or maybe I’m just excited to hear new stuff from LB. The band is about to put out a new album (recorded years ago) on new label Max Trax Records. Hedges says he also has a gaggle of even newer songs queued up and ready for a return to the studio. Call it a second coming for Little Brazil, and who knows what will happen if they get their show on the road…

Criteria remains ageless. Frontman/heart-throb/teen idol Stephen Pedersen — in trademark striped T-shirt — has lost none of the panache. I kept waiting for him to step into a pothole on those high notes, but he hit them all night. While the rest of the crew — drummer Mike Sweeney, bassist A.J. Mogis and guitarist Aaron Druery — played as if they just finished a month-long tour instead of performing one of their semi-annual shows.

Criteria transitioned into a weekend warrior act back in 2008 or so but never lost its edge, and continues to write and perform new material, though a rumored new record never seems to materialize. That kind of thing costs money, and if you’re not going to hit the road, does it make sense to release new stuff? I say “why not?” though I’m not the one footing the bill.

That said, while Saddle Creek might be too busy with shiny pennies like Big Thief and Hop Along, labels like 15 Passenger (Cursive’s new label) or the aforementioned Max Trax could be interesting homes for new Criteria material.

Regardless of what happens, this holiday concert, which also featured opener Noah’s Ark Was a Spaceship, has become an Omaha tradition that never gets old, right along with these bands…

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Lazy-i Best of 2017

Here’s another thing that never gets old: the Lazy-i Best of 2017 Comp CD.

The collection includes my favorite indie tunes from last year, including songs from SUSTO, David Nance, Alvvays, Luna, The Lupines, LCD Soundsystem, Digital Leather, Beck, CLOSENESS, King Krule, Courtney Barnett & Kurt Vile and lots more. The full track listing is here, or take a listen if you have Spotify.

Want one? Enter to my drawing to win a copy of this limited-edition, hand-crafted CD. To enter, either: 1. Send an email with your mailing address to tim.mcmahan@gmail.com, or 2) Write a comment on one of my Lazy-i related posts in Facebook, or 3) Retweet a Lazy-i tweet. You also can enter by sending me a direct message in Facebook or Twitter. Hurry, contest deadline is midnight Jan. 5.

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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 © 2018 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

Lazy-i

TBT: Live Review Criteria, Tilly and the Wall, Statistics June 15, 2003; Conor Oberst (SOLD OUT), Deerpeople tonight…

Category: Blog — Tags: , , , , , — @ 1:02 pm June 18, 2015

by Tim McMahan, Lazy-i.com

On this Throwback Thursday, here’s another tumble into the past via a live review of three brand new bands on the scene… in 2003. BTW, is this the first documented use of the term “kill” in a live music review?

Live review: Criteria, Statistics, Tilly and the Wall — a night of pop – June 15, 2003

This was probably my favorite overall show of the year thus far, because each band complimented the other with its unique take on pop. For one night, melody reigned at the Sokol Underground with three unabashed lovers of pure rock smiling from the stage.

Tilly and the Wall at Sokol Underground June 14, 2003.

Tilly and the Wall at Sokol Underground June 14, 2003.

The show started later than normal at around 10:15, I’m told because they expected the sets to be short — these are three brand new bands here with a limited repertoire. Tilly and the Wall took the stage like a team of waiters at Grisanti’s making their way to a table to do a “happy birthday” chant — clapping and stomping their feet as they hopped into position.

Tilly is three girls (two of whom were in Magic Kiss) and two guys on guitar and keyboard. The drums were replaced with Jamie Williams’ tap shoes and plenty of hand claps, absolutely appropriate for these happy, peppy, fun-loving acoustic songs sung mainly by the women, with the guitarist adding some vocals here and there. Imagine Park Ave. mixed with an upbeat Azure Ray and you begin to get the picture. It was fun, and cute… maybe a bit too cute toward the end, but hey, everyone was having a good time.

I made this statement last night and I stand by it this morning with the fog of alcohol firmly lifted from my judgment: Tap-dancing will sweep the nation and UK as the primary form of rock percussion by this time next year. Who can deny its infectious nature and pure staging value? Williams’ feet cut through the noise crisply, thanks to what appeared to be a microphoned plywood amplification box. The downside (for Williams) is that there’s no way she’ll be able to do that on any sort of sizable tour, especially if their set ever grows beyond its current 20 minutes. She looked bushed by the end of the second song, and who can blame her?

Statistics at Sokol Underground, June 14, 2003.

Statistics at Sokol Underground, June 14, 2003.

Statistics, headed by Denver Dalley of Desaparecidos (I didn’t recognize the rest of the trio on drums and bass). The band played songs off their soon-to-be-released Jade Tree EP and they sounded pretty good, though Denver’s vocals were a wee bit off. Part of it was that his mic wasn’t turned up enough. But most of it was his uncertainty on stage. Watching from the side, Dalley seem a bit hesitant to belt out the vocals and as a result, they were thin and slightly off pitch. Chock it up to stage rust — his tour only just began a few days ago. I suspect as he gets more comfortable on stage and listens to the playback he’ll either get more confident. Musically, the compositions are as first-rate as they are on the CD, but more guitar- than electronically-driven. I liked the tone, and the girls seemed to like looking at Denver. Someone yelled “Take off your clothes!” from the audience. Denver shielded his eyes, gazing out through the crowd, and said, “Mom? Are you out there?” Funny.

Then Criteria came on and killed everyone.

Criteria at Sokol Underground, June 14, 2003.

Criteria at Sokol Underground, June 14, 2003.

With this performance, they immediately put themselves on top of the list as one of the best Omaha/Lincoln bands for pure-energy post-punk. Stephen Pedersen has surrounded himself with some amazing musicians, not the least of which is AJ Mogis on bass and backing vocals. Mogis, with his receding hairline, glasses and beard looked like a radio DJ or a ’70s-era Walter Becker standing next to the suave Pedersen all covered with sweat like a young Rock Hudson. Pedersen is a phenomenal guitarist, but second guitarist Aaron Druery is just as remarkable. Drummer Mike Sweeney topped it off with pounding precision — he would give even Clint Schnase a run for his money. The comparison is apt when you consider that Criteria’s music is clearly an off-shoot of early Cursive, right down to Pedersen’s Kasher-like vocals.

With such a prof line-up, the band is amazingly tight, and lord knows they have to be considering the intricacy of their music — time changes, syncopation and massive breaks abound. Beneath it all are some of the most hummable post-punk melodies you will hear from anyone in the business these days. Pedersen looked elated to be on stage again, and the whole band glowed with an energy akin to pride. They performed every song off their Initial Records’ debut, En garde, and what I believe was an early Cursive song — I’m bad with song titles. It was introduced by Pedersen saying, “This next one will show our age.”

The irony of Criteria is that there are no plans for them to play again in the near future. Pedersen told me during our interview that only this Sokol date had been set up — they hadn’t even lined up a Lincoln gig yet (though he acknowledged he’d like to do a show there, but didn’t know where or how). There are no plans to tour, though he’ll continue to play local shows. He said the band hopes to hit the road sometime this summer, when Pedersen can take some vacation time from his attorney gig. It’s a shame because this band is ready right now and would conquer any tour they could line up. They would be a sure crowd-pleaser on a Cursive tour — something that probably won’t be happening too soon as I’ve heard Cursive will take some time off when they finish this tour so Kasher can get to work writing the next Good Life CD. It could be a long time until out-of-towners get a glimpse of Criteria.

As for the crowd, it was a regular Who’s Who of the Omaha indie scene. Among the 300 on hand were most of the members of Bright Eyes (including Oberst), most of the members of The Faint, Azure Ray, half the Saddle Creek office staff, members of The Carsinogents, Little Brazil, Fizzle Like a Flood, The Movies, Bliss Repair, The Mariannes, Oil, and maybe most astounding of all, local legend Dave Sink, operator of The Antiquarium record store, who rarely attends shows these days. The last time was a Monroes show a month ago, before that, maybe two years since I’d seen him in a club.–June 15, 2003

Dave, we all miss you.

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Welp, good ol’ Conor Oberst returns to The Waiting Room tonight. Conor’s out supporting his most recent solo album, Upside Down Mountain (2014, Nonesuch). Alas, the show is sold out. And if you didn’t get tickets in time, you’re not alone. I also didn’t get tix in time. We snooze, we lose. Opening is The Felice Brothers. Starts at 9 p.m.

Also tonight, Oklahoma indie band Deerpeople plays at fabulous O’Leaver’s along with Lincoln’s Universe Contest and headliner Lightning Bug. $5, 9:30 p.m.

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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 © 2015 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

Lazy-i

Live Review: Criteria rocks the CWS; Hear Nebraska launches new website and HN Radio…

Category: Blog,Reviews — Tags: , , , , — @ 12:51 pm June 23, 2014
Criteria at The Slowdown, June 21, 2014.

Criteria at The Slowdown, June 21, 2014.

by Tim McMahan, Lazy-i.com

Well, Jason Kulbel was right. I had no problem finding on-street parking when I drove downtown Saturday night to catch Criteria at Slowdown. I spent the evening closely monitoring the College World Series game on TV (which went into extra innings), worrying it might push into the Criteria set time. I didn’t want to get caught in a post-game traffic quagmire. With the last out I headed downtown, avoiding Cuming Street, taking Dodge, and eventually running into crowds and cops navigating 14th St. I found a spot about three blocks away near the UP daycare center. So much for all the whining.

If the chaos that was taking place in Slowdown’s tented parking lot is any indication, we’ll soon be seeing Mr. Kulbel and Mr. Nansel driving ’round in brand new Bentleys. It looked like spring break in Bro-land, a sea of backwards baseball caps carrying Silver Bullets looking for someone to high five. Needless to say, I didn’t spend much time outside.

Inside the climate-controlled trappings of The Slowdown it felt like any other show except for the TV screens showing highlights from the game that just ended and the Slowdown staff decked out in matching “staff” baseball shirts. CWS refugees mixed with the regular crowd, I doubt they knew what they were in for when Criteria rolled on stage launching into a set of indie-rock anthems with their usual panache. Those looking for dance beats and/or “hot action” exited through the back door.

“Sounds like there’s some fat beats going on out there,” said dashing frontman Stephen Pedersen between songs, as you could hear the dull thump through Slowdown’s cinderblock. “We’re more of a treble band.”  Those who hung around — my guestimate: 100-150 — got exactly what they came for.

I’ve been watching Criteria perform live for well over a decade. I’ve never seen a crowd respond to them the way last Saturday night’s crowd did. The floor in front of the stage became an ad hoc mosh pit with rabid fans pounding each other and/or doing some sort of improvised hoe-down dance. Fans leapt onto the stage, but finding the crowd too sparse to jump on top of instead jumped back down to the floor and were carried overhead in a weird ritual that looked more like piggyback riding than crowd-surfing. Needless to say, these fans knew the words to all the hits, which they screamed back at the stage. No doubt Criteria still has a rabid base dying for their return.

And return they shall, with a new album Pedersen said was “almost done” and ready for shopping to a label willing to back an act that hasn’t put out new material in nine years and/or doesn’t do extensive touring. Something tells me they’ll find a taker right here in Omaha (if they want it).

Criteria played at least four songs from that yet-to-be-released album, including a couple they’ve never performed live. One, played toward the very end of the set, was classic Criteria, as good as anything they’ve done in the past. The band continues to age well. Pedersen can still strike hot with his vocal contortions, glancing off the high notes as if he were still in his 20s (though he had to be grateful he doesn’t have to do it every night).

With the last song, the fans began chanting for an encore. They got two more songs for their efforts, including a transcendent version of “Prevent the World” that left them satisfied.

This show plus The Faint last week are evidence that Slowdown is proud of the music that helped put Omaha on the indie music map and wants to share it with the great unwashed masses that attend the CWS. Here’s hoping they continue the tradition at next year’s CWS.

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Drumroll please….

The redesigned hearnebraska.org website finally went live this morning. Go take a look. The cleaner, easier-to-navigate design is fully responsive — that means it looks and behaves as well on your smart phone or tablet as it does on your desktop browser.

But maybe the most important new feature of hearnebraska.org is the launch of HN Radio — that’s the music player located at the top of the homepage. The goal is to provide an online channel that makes available music from local bands. The current playlist includes songs by Once a Pawn, Digital Leather, Dumb Beach and Anna McClellan.

HN Radio also ia premiering Live at O’Leaver’s. For the past few months (year?) O’Leaver’s has been recording live performances at the club, the quality of which is amazing. The current HN Radio playlist includes tracks by Deleted Scenes and Eli Mardock recorded as part of the O’Leaver’s series. My only gripe about HN radio is that the playlist is too short, but methinks this is merely V 1.0. Expect a lot more music — and content — at HN Radio in the very near future.

Congratulations to Andy Norman and the entire Hear Nebraska staff for getting the new design and HN Radio afloat. Check out the site and give them your feedback.

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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 © 2014 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

Lazy-i

Live Review: Pinkerton; Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr., EMA tonight…

Category: Blog,Reviews — Tags: , , , — @ 12:49 pm June 13, 2011
Pinkerton at The Waiting Room, June 11, 2011.

Pinkerton at The Waiting Room, June 11, 2011.

by Tim McMahan, Lazy-i.com

The problem with seeing Pinkerton this past Saturday night at The Waiting Room: I’ve had that “Buddy Holly” song stuck in my head all weekend. Pinkerton wasn’t so much a “Weezer tribute band” as a band that played Weezer songs. Fronted by Stephen Pedersen (Criteria) and including Clint Schnase (Cursive) on drums, the four-piece played stripped down, sweaty versions of songs off the first two Weezer albums — arguably the only two Weezer albums worth owning.

But along the way they took some liberties with some of the arrangements. As Pedersen said from stage, Weezer songs only have four chords so they had to do something to make things a little more interesting. That usually involved heavier arrangements of favorites like “Undone – The Sweater Song” and set closer “Tired of Sex.” So no, these weren’t note-for-note renditions of the classics (heck, there wasn’t even any keyboards, and yes, I missed them), but they did their job of getting the healthy-sized audience (100+) singing along, and with gusto.

One other footnote: Schnase is, indeed, back. No doubt he’ll be ready for his return to Cursive at MAHA in August.

* * *

Tonight, at The Waiting Room it’s Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. and EMA. I don’t know much about DEJJ, but I can tell you that EMA is a force to be reckoned with. EMA stands for Erika M. Anderson, a native of South Dakota, whose music is described as Drone Folk. On her debut, Past Life Martyred Saints (Souterrain Transmissions) she puts it all out there lyrically in a way I haven’t heard since maybe Liz Phair’s Matador debut, all the while drenching each song with layers of guitar/keyboards/static/feedback/numbed pain. The centerpiece is “California,” an anti-ode to the Golden State, with lines like “You’re bleeding from the fingertips / You rubbed me raw, you rubbed me wrong” and “What does failure taste like? / To me it tastes like dirt / I’m begging you please to look away.” Harsh. Hard. Fantastic. And worth the $10 all by herself. Show starts at 9.

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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 © 2011 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

Lazy-i

Column 271: Stephen Pedersen and the return of Criteria…

Category: Column,Interviews — Tags: , , — @ 7:55 am May 19, 2010

Column 271: Comfort Zone

The return of Criteria.

Criteria frontman Stephen Pedersen has a problem that most of us would die for: He’s completely content.

His search for contentment began in 2005 when Pedersen quit a posh job as a lawyer at Omaha’s most prestigious law firm — Kutak Rock — to hit the road with his band Criteria under the proud banner of Saddle Creek Records. But, as the story goes, things didn’t quite work out as planned. And Pedersen returned from the road, put his guitar away, pulled the business suit out of the closet and returned to his leather chair and desk and daily lawyer grind with full knowledge that at least he tried to make it as a rock star. How many of us can say we took an honest stab at following our dreams?

Now, almost four years later Pedersen has no regrets. In fact, he couldn’t be happier. And as any artist or musician can tell you, that can be problem when it comes time to draw from your creative well for new material. What is there to sing about when you’ve got everything? It’s a problem, especially when you’ve got a reunion show coming up — this Saturday to be exact, with pals Ladyfinger at The Waiting Room.

“There are new songs, and we’ll play some of them on Saturday,” Pedersen said from the comfort of his elegant midtown living room, a glass of dark red wine in hand, picking his words judiciously, thoughtfully, as any good lawyer would. “My context has always been based on some kind of frustration or latent aggravation in my life, whether it was politics or a relationship or my career getting in the way of my dream. Now I’m content, and it’s been harder to come up with lyrical content from that emotional place.”

He casts aside the idea that he simply is no longer inspired. “I’m inspired by my group of friends, my wife, things that are hard to articulate. It’s a context that doesn’t lend itself to this. You can only write so many thank you letters in song.”

And despite some precedent-setting tunes such as Sammy Hagar’s “I Can’t Drive 55,” and Judas Priest’s “Breaking the Law,” there isn’t much to sing about when it comes to the legal profession. “My job is intellectually stimulating, but it doesn’t lend itself to songwriting,” Pedersen said.

So what’s left to sing about? “Right now, it’s about trying to be happy in the moment,” Pedersen said. “So much of my adult life is spent looking at the future at the next task to accomplish that I have a very difficult time being in the present.”

Maybe he’s not so content after all. And as much as he loves being around his bandmates — drummer Mike Sweeney, bassist A.J. Mogis and guitarist Aaron Druery — Pedersen said he hasn’t exactly pined for the stage. “This is the bizarre thing about being a musician at this stage of my life, I don’t miss it like I would have if I was 25. I have a very full life outside of rock music, but I’m looking forward to the show now that it’s booked, practiced and ready to play.”

He’ll probably only roll out three new songs Saturday in a set that will lean heavily on classics from his two Saddle Creek releases, En Garde (2003) and When We Break (2005). Pedersen said that those old songs have held up over time. “I still see it as modern rock,” he said. “The bands that journalists write about and friends talk about are not rock bands, certainly not in the style of Ladyfinger or Criteria, which play heavy but with a sense of melody based on a verse-chorus-bridge structure. Vampire Weekend is a rock band, but there’s not a lot of distortion in those guitars. There are no bands like Quicksand and Superchunk and Fugazi and Cursive (before the turn of the century) that were making very visceral, full-bodied rock music.”

He says all of this, however, while Thelonious Monk plays in the background from hidden speakers. Something tells me that Pedersen doesn’t listen to much rock music these days, and he never liked going to rock shows. “I treat rock music like sports — I’m not interested in watching it, I’m interested in playing it.”

And he certainly isn’t interested in taking another shot at making a living off of it. Pedersen agreed that the Internet has changed the rules so dramatically that it’s no longer possible to judge a band’s success based on record sales. On the flipside, technology has never made music more accessible. “I believe the positives outweigh what are pretty harsh negatives in that a really talented kid can make an album on his own on his computer and put it onto the Internet, and if it’s great, it’ll find its way into your life. That could not happen seven years ago.

“We are in such a transitional phase between the old system and what will be a new ecosystem rather than a system,” he added. “It’s going to float a lot more boats, but in some respects, it’s more challenging for artists to distinguish themselves from the pack.”

He also wouldn’t want to start a record label now, or be running one. “It’s a difficult business model with which to generate income,” Pedersen said. “The new business model is being the band. As the band, if you have your wits about you, you can manage the distribution and the booking and the recording in a way you couldn’t 10 years ago. Part of that began with Fugazi, but the advent of technology from a recording and distribution standpoint has made it so much easier to untether yourself from labels. If you’re savvy enough, you can find success without leaning on that old model.”

Whether that logic applies to Criteria, however, we’ll likely never know.

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Thursday: The Lepers

Lazy-i