Domestica celebrates Domestica 3 in Lincoln, Bloodcow tonight; Millions of Boys, FITNESS Saturday; Big Harp Sunday…

Category: Blog — Tags: , , , — @ 10:46 am June 19, 2015
Domestica at The Sydney, Dec. 3, 2011.

Domestica at The Sydney, Dec. 3, 2011. The band celebrates the release of their new EP, Domestica 3, tonight at Plowshare Brewing Co. in Lincoln.

by Tim McMahan,

Esteemed Lincoln critic L. Kent Wolgamott weighs in on the new EP by Domestica — titled Domestica 3 — in Ground Zero, giving it a solid “A” rating and saying the EP is “a recording on which Domestica takes an impressive step forward while rocking as hard as ever.” Read the entire review here.

Little more can I add except a brief history lesson. Before Domestica there was Mercy Rule, a band I fell in love with way back in 1993 with the release of God Protects Fools by local label Caulfield Records. Relativity put out Providence in 1994 and the band was back on Caulfield for the seminal album, Flat Black Chronicles, in 1998. The story behind that record is documented at Lazy-i right here and continues to stand as a lesson for bands even in these days of digital streaming (because despite the technology, crappy record labels continue to exist).

Some might say Domestica is merely Mercy Rule with a different drummer — Pawl Tisdale (Sideshow) replacing Ron Albertson. Certainly the power and the fury are the same. But some would be wrong, because Domestica — both lyrically and musically — feels more thought-out, more mature, more realized. The songs still have a huge, anthemic quality, but the arrangements are tighter, the riffs grittier and the entire package is more compact and streamlined.

Domestica, Domestica 3 (Tremulant, 2015)

Domestica, Domestica 3 (Tremulant, 2015)

Opening track “What of Me” is the EP’s high water mark, with co-front-person Heidi Ore at her howlin’ best, breaking your heart when the song drops and she sings “What of me / said the sorrow / said the anger / and the pain” before blowing the whole goddamn thing up all over again. It’s frickin’ fantastic, but I wonder where a song like this fits into today’s music world, where weirdo psychedelia is the norm. What will the kids think of this track, of this album?

In the context of modern rock, Domestica is as relevant as any other ’90s act such as Superchunk or even Desaparecidos, which is experiencing a bit of a resurgence with their new album, which comes out next Tuesday. If ’90s indie punk is indeed coming back in style, Domestica could stand at the forefront of the revival.

The other big news with Domestica 3 (which L Kent led with) is the addition of Jon Taylor on vocals. Jon sings leads on half the songs, including the blazing “More” and the clap-powered album closer “Got It Right.” He surprises with a strong, slightly nasal voice that reminded me of John Linnell of They Might be Giants. Heidi completes the overall picture with her sharp, soaring harmonies. Massive indeed.

Released by Tremulant Records, you can find Domestica 3 at CD Baby (here) and of course on iTunes and (here) for a mere $5.94. You can also find it at tonight’s album release show, being held among the fermenting tanks at Ploughshare Brewing Co., 1630 P Street in Lincoln. Opening is Dirty Talker (members of Her Flyaway Manner). Show starts at 8 and is absolutely free. More info here.

Meanwhile, back here in Omaha, Bloodcow headlines a show at fabulous O’Leaver’s with American Wasted and Mint Wad Wally. No, this is not the album release show for Bloodcow’s Crystals & Lasers. That doesn’t happen until mid-July. Still, you’ll probably hear plenty from the new album tonight. $5, 9:30 p.m.

Saturday night Millions of Boys headlines a show at Sweatshop Gallery with Manic Pixie Dream Girls, Lincoln’s Once a Pawn and Big Slur. $7, 9 p.m.

Also Saturday night, FITNESS #000008 comes to The Brothers Lounge. Featured bands are Ruby Block, Forest Television, Chalant and Grottos. $5, 9:30 p.m.

Sunday it’s back to O’Leaver’s for the return of Big Harp. Opening is Ted Stevens Unknown Project (although the show listing says “maybe”).  $5, 9:30 p.m.

That’s what I got. If I missed your show, put it in the comments section. Have a great 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 © 2015 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.


Night Three of Cursive w/Ted Stevens, Ladyfinger tonight…

Category: Blog — Tags: , , — @ 1:44 pm December 19, 2013

by Tim McMahan,

You could look at the last two Cursive “residency” shows at The Waiting Room (the past two Thursday) as Acts I and II of a 3-act play. If so, tonight’s show would be the pay-off act, where everything comes together.

Or, you could view tonight’s show as a 90-minute Cursive finale following two marathon sets.

Me, I see tonight as a chance for the band to navigate uncharted territory. Cursive is recording all three nights for a possible live album. Night 1 (Dec. 5) was a straight reading of the source material. Night 2 (Dec. 12) had the feel of an arena concert tucked into a nightclub. Needless to say, they got enough from the first two nights — well over 40 songs recorded — to fill a handsome double album.

But now comes Night 3. With the first two shows securely “in the can” they can do whatever they want whatever way they want to. But it’s hard to imagine them rolling out anything more obscure from the Cursive catalog than what they’ve already played. So what will they do? Only one way to find out.

Opening tonight’s show is Ted Stevens Unknown Project — that means Ted’s pulling double-duty. Also on the bill: Ladyfinger (which means Chris Machmuller also is pulling double duty as he’s playing sax with Cursive). Get there early. I bet tonight will be as packed as last week’s show (which was a crush mob). If you’re worried about a sell-out, do something about it. $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.


Cursive Buys, Takes Over O’Leaver’s Pub; Night Moves, Renfields tonight…

Category: Blog — Tags: , , , , , — @ 1:29 pm December 5, 2012
O'Leaver's is under new management, and they're a bunch of martyrs.

O’Leaver’s is under new management, and they’re a bunch of martyrs.

by Tim McMahan,

Remember way back in October when I said two bits of red hot news fell into my lap? One bit was that Red Sky Festival was dead (ho-hum); the other I said you’d have to wait for. Well now the news can be told (though just about everyone who follows local music already knows it).

The guys in Cursive bought — and are now the proprietors of  — O’Leaver’s, Omaha’s garage rock ground zero and home to the functionally inebriated. Last Saturday night, the George Washington of O’Leaver’s — Chris Mello — handed over the keys to Tim Kasher, Matt Maginn and Ted Stevens, along with the fourth partner in the venture, Chris Machmuller, who I think is actually a permanent fixture of the club like the album-sleeve-covered walls and the smell.

The full story about the handover is in my column in this week’s issue of The Reader and includes an interview with Cursive bass player and paint fetcher Matt Maginn. Matt talks about why they bought the club and what they plan to do with it. It’s online here. Go read it now and we’ll discuss. Go on, we’re waiting….

Done? OK. The central news from a music perspective is that O’Leaver’s will continue to book bands at the same pace it did before — just enough to keep music fans coming but not too much as to alienate the smelly drunks who JUST WANT TO BE LEFT ALONE.

A few musicians have snickered at the news, worried that the new management will ruin their playpen and will no longer allow their bands to play there. Poppycock. That’s the last thing they’d ever do, though Maginn said Stevens might try to help book a wider variety of bands, which has been sorely needed. For the past year there’s been a revolving door of about six bands that play O’Leaver’s regularly. At the very least, Maginn said they’d like to extend an invitation to bands they meet on the road to come and play at the club the next time their tour crosses the Nebraska landscape.

I doubt anything will change at O’Leaver’s except perhaps the smell. Here are a few other things that didn’t make it into the column: The new crew plans on putting a functional tiki bar in the back room where the Foosball table and punching bag machine (soon to leave) are now located. It’ll be a place where people can hang out if they want to escape the music. I’ve seen the new bar — its uber cool.

I also forgot to mention that the volleyball facilities were part of the deal. It’s a well-kept secret that all three Cursive guys are former collegiate sand volleyball stars with the tan lines to prove it. I suspect we’ll be seeing all three in Speedos and sunblock come next summer.

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Fantastic show tonight at Slowdown Jr. — Domino Records artist Night Moves headlines a show with Lincoln band The Renfields and Omaha surf rock kids Adult Films. $7, 9 p.m.

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Tomorrow: The Reader AND The Lazy-i Top 20 (and Next 10) of 2012. Don’t miss it.

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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 © 2012 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.


Live Review: Slowdown Virginia, Polecat…

Category: Blog,Reviews — Tags: , , , , — @ 11:02 am December 24, 2010
Slowdown Virginia at Slowdown, Dec. 23, 2010.

Slowdown Virginia at Slowdown, Dec. 23, 2010.

by TIm McMahan,

Time has been kind to these bands. There’s little question that, other than the fact that Slowdown Virginia frontman Tim Kasher can’t hit those insane, adolescent high notes any longer (no one over the age of 17 except a girl could) that the band (despite only having a few days together to practice this material) is obviously better than it was 15 years ago when they last played. And they should be. Kasher, bassist Matt Maginn and guitarist Stephen Pedersen went onto become Cursive (Pedersen’s Cursive career was short-lived, and he went on to form Criteria). The wild card was Casey Caniglia, who went onto become a restauranteer (at the Venice Inn steak house). But you couldn’t tell Casey hadn’t played drums on stage since the ’90s. Behind a kit that Neil Peart would be proud of, Caniglia literally and figuratively didn’t miss a beat. Neither did the rest of the band… except for those vocal nuances I mentioned earlier. I was talking with another musician before the gig and he also wondered if Kasher would be able to screech the dog-whistle notes in “Whipping Stick.” When the time came, Kasher came surprisingly close, dropping his voice down a few dBs to help the cause. It didn’t matter. It still sounded good. And no one in the sold-out crowd was keeping score anyway.

Polecat at Slowdown, Dec. 23, 2010.

Polecat at Slowdown, Dec. 23, 2010.

The evening began with a reunion of Polecat — the trio of Ted Stevens, Boz Hicks and Oli Blaha. This time it was Blaha who was the odd man out (Stevens is in Cursive, and among Hicks’ bands are (were) Domestica and Her Flyaway Manner), and like Caniglia, he handled his instrument (bass) like a seasoned pro. If there was a gripe, it’s that there was too much bass in a mix that was overly muddy. Again, it didn’t matter, as the folks on hand were there to hear the old songs come to life once again, and they did. Of all the Saddle Creek legends, Stevens has the most forlorn voice of the bunch — there’s something lost and lonely about his vocals even when he’s rocking out. It’s that quality that would go on to make Lullaby for the Working Class so hauntingly good.  Adding to the thunderous ennui was a moody video projected behind the band that showed texturized, colorized moving images of people, buildings, things.

The mix was much cleaner for Slowdown Virginia, who came on a little after 11 and played for an hour. This material has aged well indeed, and during our interview, there was a recounting of interest by a certain local record label to remaster and rerelease the material. I also was told that it will never happen, though Maginn did uncover many of the original recordings during a recent dig through the band’s storage area. Those recordings could be made available again, but not necessarily to the general public. And it’s a shame, because there’s a lot of people who would love to hear all that old stuff and dream about what could have been.

The night closed with a two-song encore — a campy, kooky cover of “We’re Not Gonna Take It,” and the song that most of the crowd had been waiting all night to hear — the opening track on Dead Space, “Supernova 75.” Everyone  knew it was coming, and erupted from the opening bass line. It was the kind of moment that makes reunion shows so necessary, so important, and so good.

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I won’t be checking in for a couple days, so here’s hoping you have a safe and happy holiday.

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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 © 2010 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.


Lazy-i Interview: The rise and fall and return of Slowdown Virginia and Polecat…

Category: Blog,Interviews — Tags: , , , — @ 1:28 pm December 22, 2010

Slowdown Virginia circa 2010, from left, are Matt Maginn, Tim Kasher, Stephen Pedersen and Casey Caniglia. Photo by Bryce Bridges.

Slowdown Virginia b/w Polecat
Two legendary Nebraska bands reunite for one night only.

by Tim McMahan,

When Jason Kulbel and Robb Nansel opened Slowdown in the summer of 2007, it was inevitable that there would be a Slowdown Virginia reunion on the stage of the club named after the legendary band. But when that reunion would happen would come down to timing.

“We had the idea in our heads around the time Slowdown opened, but the schedules didn’t work out,” said Slowdown Virginia bass player and sometimes vocalist Matt Maginn from the dining room of guitarist Stephen Pedersen’s stylish midtown home. Sitting across from Pedersen and Maginn was drummer Casey Caniglia. The only one missing from this evening’s Slowdown Virginia reunion was frontman Tim Kasher, who was somewhere on the road touring in support of his debut solo album. And his absence was indeed, a problem.

“So we talked about a reunion off and on and then time and space aligned,” Maginn continued. “Tim (Kasher) moved back to Omaha in July. Cursive is in a writing phase and not touring, and it was the first time we saw an open window, which has now closed. We’d already confirmed the show by the time Tim’s solo tour was booked.”

“We’ll be fine,” Caniglia said.

“We decided a couple practices ago that we didn’t need Tim,” Pedersen quipped. “We’ll call people from the audience, and they’ll handle the singing.”

The funny thing is, there’s a good chance that the band could get away with that. A sizeable chunk of local talent — including most of the bands that would eventually make up the core of Saddle Creek Records’ all-star roster — likely will be in the audience Dec. 23 when Slowdown Virginia makes its celebrated return to the stage some 18 years after its debut.

Recalling the history of the band was a challenge, thanks in part to the passage of time and the glasses of dark red wine that Pedersen continued to pour throughout the evening. But Maginn was determined to get the record straight even when small arguments broke out over little details, like who Slowdown Virginia played with back in the day, circa 1994.

Maginn ticked off the names. “There was Mousetrap, Polecat, Frontier Trust, Mercy Rule…” What about 311? And Ritual Device? No one could quite remember.

“It gets confusing,” Maginn said. “We were friends with these bands and hung out with them at shows, but did we actually play with them? I’m not sure.”

Vintage Slowdown, from left, Caniglia, Maginn, Pedersen and Kasher.

Vintage Slowdown, from left, Caniglia, Maginn, Pedersen and Kasher.

It started sometime in 1992 when all four were at Creighton Prep. “We recorded our first five songs after the band was created out of another band, March Hares,” Maginn said. “We knew we needed something recorded to leave at shows.”

March Hares was a five-piece fronted by vocalist Jim Robino. After that band broke up and Robino moved on, Kasher slid into the frontman position and the new band became Slowdown Virginia, presumably a tribute to Kasher’s cat, Virginia, who was named after the song “Yes, Virginia,” by another local band, The Acorns.

Anyway… The band recorded those first five songs at Junior’s Motel, a ramshackle chicken coop converted into a recording studio in tiny Otho, Iowa, about 100 miles northwest of Des Moines run by Kirk Kaufman, former member of ’80s power-pop band The Hawks.

“We mixed the tracks at Digisound, which was overpriced,” Maginn said. “So we made the cheapest cassette covers we could using Stephen’s brother’s computer.”

Despite losing their asses financially on the cassette tape, the band kept trudging out to Otho to record, taking full advantage of its low-budget rates and Kaufman’s habit of letting them take over the studio after 9 p.m. “We continued to write and always had stuff to record,” Maginn said. “We’d record six or 10 songs and come home and mix them ourselves.”

By 1994, the band began working with a couple of producers — Melvin James, who was a friend of Kaufman’s, and Shimmy Disc founder Kramer, who mixed some of the tracks that eventually became Dead Space — the band’s full-length debut and the first CD ever released on Lumberjack Records — the label that would eventually be renamed Saddle Creek Records.

“It was Ted Stevens’ idea to put out the CD,” Maginn said. “He had heard every track we ever recorded at Otho. He talked me into it while we were driving around in his Cutlass, this long, red two-door that looked like a Monopoly car.”

“It was actually a Monte Carlo,” Stevens said a few days later. “I remember we all thought they were being courted by this label, and they were — by a couple labels, actually. Word on the street was they were saving these recordings for a record deal, but we had a feeling that the manager they were working with didn’t like the songs and wouldn’t put it out. We reached a point where even Conor (Oberst) had put out a tape, and Slowdown still hadn’t done anything in years.”

Slowdown Virginia, Dead Space (1994, Lumberjack Records)

Slowdown Virginia, Dead Space (1994, Lumberjack Records)

Listening to the tracks today, it’s easy to understand why Stevens was so eager to see Dead Space released. There’s something young and exciting and brazenly unchartered about the album, from the opening salvo “Supernova ’75” where Kasher spits out the lines “It’s automatic / It’s systematic / It’s hydromatic / It’s kind of tragic,” to the banging pop of “Whipping Stick,” where he screws his voice into a bizarre adolescent yowl, howling “Yeah, yeah I know you’re sick of me by now / Well thanks a lot for hanging ’round.” Throughout the disc, the music is equal parts chiming guitars and pulsing bass and drums, always taking an unexpected turn into some strangely different rhythm or tone. It was punk, it was post-hardcore, and yeah, it was emo, but it was the good kind of emo, the Rites of Spring/Minor Threat kind of emo.

And maybe when Stevens listened to those Slowdown Virginia tracks he could hear echoes of the future. The guitar and vocals at the beginning of the anthemic “Blame” and the laid-back “Another Sip” clearly hint at things to come in just a few short years.

Maginn said Stevens along with Conor and Justin Oberst, helped raise the cash needed to press 500 CDs at a cost of around $1,500 — considerably more than what it costs to produce a cassette tape — but worth it for this new technology. “Back then the conversation wasn’t ‘How many CDs did you sell?’ it was ‘We’re putting out a CD,'” Pedersen said. “That alone was the accomplishment. We had no idea what we were going to do with 500 of them.”

“We didn’t sell them all,” Maginn said. “I remember helping with inventory control in the Oberst attic. But we eventually sold enough to pay back the investors.”

If sales were slow it might be because the band rarely played outside of Omaha or Lincoln. The one road trip they remembered was a gig at a biker bar called Joe’s Pub in Council Bluffs. “The promoters gave us money to leave early because the crowd was going to kill us,” Maginn said.

Little did they know how big of an influence Slowdown Virginia would have on the future of the Omaha music scene. “Well, I’d say they had a pretty major impact,” Stevens said. “It’s hard to get a perspective of what their sound was at the time. It seemed so unique, but it was a pretty major influence. A big group of us would listen to Slowdown and get kind of weird. Looking back, we were geeks about it.

“Toward the end, after we met Todd and Clark Baechle (who would go on to form The Faint) and a lot of the Westside crowd, people started coming out to their shows,” Stevens added. “I never had the feeling they were very popular, but they had a die-hard set of followers.”

It was all over by the spring of ’95. Despite recording enough material for another CD, Slowdown Virginia played its final show at the Cultural Center in Lincoln that April. Maginn said the breakup was inevitable. “Tim was leaving town, he was going to go to school at the University of Kansas.”

Caniglia also had had enough. “I was 21 and out,” he said. “I could take it or leave it.”

But there was no stopping the rest of them. A month later, Pedersen’s other band, Smashmouth, which included drummer Clint Schnase, would combine with Slowdown Virginia. The merger resulted in a little band by the name of Cursive.

Skinning a Polecat

While all of that was happening, Ted Stevens was involved in a band of his own. Stevens formed Polecat after his high school band, Gravy Train (which also included Pedersen and Schnase), broke up when he left for college at University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

“I wound up at Abel Hall in a dorm with a bunch of people from Omaha,” Stevens said. “I was introduced to Boz Hicks, who lived a floor below us.” Hicks and Stevens were both fans of free-wheeling tractor-punk band Frontier Trust. “I think it was Gary Dean Davis from Frontier Trust that tipped me off to Oli Blaha.”

Blaha was the drummer in Lincoln band Hour Slave that, like Gravy Train, broke up when its members graduated from high school. “I remember seeing them play at Duffy’s and thinking they were pretty cool,” Stevens said, “so I cold called him.”

Polecat, Dilly Dally (1994, Lumberjack Records)

With Hicks on drums, Blaha on bass and Stevens on guitar and vocals, Polecat headed to the North Platte basement studio of Mike and AJ Mogis in November 1993, where they recorded the tracks for their first cassette, Dilly Dally, released on Lumberjack Records the following spring. It was followed by their first 7-inch — “Saddle Creek” b/w “Chinese Water Torture” — released jointly by Double Zero and -Ism Recordings.

Polecat’s sound was lean, mean Midwestern punk rock covered in a thin layer of prairie dust. Like its predecessor Frontier Trust, their music had a rural flair, but unlike Gary Dean Davis, Stevens could actually carry a tune, even when he was spitting out angst-ridden lines like, “It’s hard to repay all the tears that you give to me / To see the inside jokes turn outside in.” Driving their sound was the trio’s superb balance — no one member outshined the other. Polecat was a perfect corn-fed rock ‘n’ roll machine.

The band quietly built a following by performing constantly in Lincoln, Omaha and Western Nebraska. “Boz had bought this conversion van and we were young and having a good time,” Stevens said. “We traveled all through Nebraska — Kearney, Hastings, North Platte.”

Unlike Slowdown Virginia, Polecat even played out-of-state gigs. “I started a relationship over the phone with Dave Dondero and Russ Hallauer of the band Sunbrain,” Stevens said. “We ended up driving down to Atlanta to play with them, followed by Charlotte, North Carolina.”

Ted Stevens back in the day.

Ted Stevens in Polecat circa 199?.

Polecat eventually cut a split 7-inch with Sunbrain that was jointly released by Lumberjack and Hallauer’s Ghostmeat imprint. Ghostmeat would go on to include Polecat on a number of the label’s compilation CDs.

By 1995, Polecat was entering the studio with AJ Mogis again to record an 11-song follow-up to Dilly Dally slated for release as a CD by Lumberjack. But the album never saw the light of day.

“I sure got a lot of grief about it,” Stevens said of the breakup. “We weren’t getting along in the studio very well. I was a little hard headed, and it’s my fault the record never came out. It never sounded right to me. Now I think it’s the best stuff we ever recorded. I’ll take a lot of credit for the band breaking up.”

As luck would have it, the day after Polecat disbanded, indie record label Bar None called Stevens about his other band, Lullaby for the Working Class.

“Mike (Mogis, a member of Lullaby) had been networking with manila envelopes and 8 x 10 promo photos of the band,” Stevens said. “I remember we were all in calculus class, and Boz was bummed out while AJ (who also was in Lullaby) was beaming because we were about to get signed. It looked bad.”

Lullaby for the Working Class would go on to garner international praise for its unique brand if indie chamber pop, culminating in a European tour — something unheard of for a local band at that time. But eventually Lullaby would break up, too.

By 2000, Stevens would wind up as a guitarist/vocalist in Cursive, joining Kasher, Maginn and Schnase. He replaced Pedersen, who quit Cursive when he enrolled in law school at Duke University. Pedersen would eventually form two more bands — The White Octave in 2000, and Criteria in 2003. He’s now an attorney at Omaha’s most prestigious law firm — Kutak Rock.

Despite the unfortunate timing of their breakup, it didn’t take long for Boz Hicks to forgive Stevens. In fact, Polecat had its first reunion show 10 years ago. “At the time, I knew we’d do it again,” Stevens said. “I don’t know why we’re doing it this year. It might have something to do with the Lullaby reunion (which took place this past summer) and how good that felt to be in that band again for the night.”

Stevens said he’s been spending a lot of time with Hicks, who works at Slowdown and plays drums in a number of local bands, including Her Flyaway Manner.

As for Oli Blaha: “When Oli left Lincoln, he really left,” Stevens said. “He went to Edinburgh and then Anchorage. He’s really a jet setter. Now he’s married and living in Oklahoma City where he goes to school.”

With Blaha returning to Nebraska to spend Christmas with his father, Stevens said everything fell into place for a Polecat reunion. And what better way to do it than with Slowdown Virginia at Slowdown?

“When Slowdown opened, I knew the reunion was inevitable and that I better start drumming again,” said Caniglia, who works with his father, Jerry, and his Uncle Chuck at Venice Inn. “Everyone I know has no idea that I was in this band.”

But can they pull it off with Kasher not coming back into town until Dec. 19?

“We’ll be ready,” Pedersen said. “I’m having a blast. It’s all brand new again, and part of that is because my memory is crap.”

“For us, the real fun has been being together again,” Maginn said. “I’m smiling the whole time I’m down in the basement.”

Slowdown Virginia plays with Polecat and DJMBowen Thursday, Dec. 23, at The Slowdown, 729 No. 14th St. Showtime is 9 p.m. Admission is $10. For more information, call 402.345.7569 or visit

Published in The Omaha Reader Dec. 22, 2010. Copyright © 2010 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved. Photo by Bryce Bridges, used with permission. Vintage photos of Slowdown Virginia and Polecat supplied by Rob Walters.

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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 © 2010 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.


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,

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.

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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.

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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 © 2010 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.