Column 36: Remembering Dead Cops… millions of them; Live Review: Mariannes, Voxtrot; Planes Mistaken for Stars tonight

Category: Blog — @ 12:26 pm August 4, 2005

Excuse the enormous length of this blog entry, but there’s just too much stuff I need to get online. Actually, over the next four days I’ll be killing myself on deadlines for content that will probably be avalanched onto the site on one day as I’ll once again be going on a short hiatus next week. Anyway…

It’s fun to see bands constantly evolve. The Mariannes that I saw last night at O’Leaver’s sounded a ton different than the band I saw a little over two and a half years ago at Sokol Underground. They’ve simplified their approach, made everything a bit more, well, poppy, while at the same time upgraded their guitar tone. Although it all sounded new to me, frontman Matt Stamp said they played some old ones, too, during their 30-minute set last night. Their music is hard to describe — a somewhat low-key trio with Stamp on guitar and vocals playing solos that border on improvisation floating over Robert Little’s slumped-shouldered bass and Steve Micek’s everything-but-the kitchen-sink drumming. Micek keeps the tempo just fine, but throws in enough small details to remind you that there’s something on his mind. That adds to The Mariannes’ improv feel, along with Stamp’s Neil Youngian hang-dog howl. Their songs are more free-flow meditations than pop tunes, so low-key that it’ll be interesting to see how it sounds through the huge system that’ll power the Aug. 16 Faint show at Sokol Auditorium, which they’re opening along with Orenda Fink.

By contrast, the six-piece Voxtrot was a tight, slightly retro pop-rock explosion. The guy next to me said they sounded like a straight-up Elephant 6 band. I can see that. They reminded me more of fellow Austin band Spoon, what with their handclaps and keyboard, though you could argue that Voxtrot’s music is even poppier. The key to their success is the rhythm section — a ridiculously tight drummer who cracked the whip as well as anyone I’ve heard at O’Leaver’s (and that includes the guy from The Silos). The set was slow out of the gate, with flaccid, overcomplicated songs, but as the night wore on, their music got simpler, and better, creating a tight core between the vocalist, keyboards and rhythm section (by the way, the bassist played a bass that looked exactly like the one Paul McCartney played and everyone seemed to notice — he also had McCartney’s hair circa 1964). Before long, there were about a half-dozen hipsters dancing in front of the band (sizable, when you consider only about 40 were there to begin with). By the end of the night, Voxtrot won over the tiny crowd, and I can see why they’ve been selling out shows on this tour.

A side-note: O’Leaver’s has done some remodeling. Gone is the fireplace/big screen TV combo from the back wall, replaced with a wallful of record covers matching the rest of the décor. There were other small additions throughout the bar. Where’d this ledge come from? Is that a tiny plasma-screen TV? It’s almost as if they’ve begun to evolve into a regular rock club.

Now, onward to this week’s column, a sentimental trip down memory lane…

Column 36: Reliving the Dead
Remembering Millions of Dead Cops
The recently announced Millions of Dead Cops (MDC) show at Knickerbockers Sept 29 took me back oh so many years ago to a kinder, gentler time, back before Saddle Creek Records and Sokol Underground, before the “Omaha scene” was even a scene at all.

The first real rock story I ever wrote was about an MDC show held at South Omaha’s Our Lady of Guadeloupe Parish Hall way back in April 1987. I was just a green UNO J-school imp given his first break by the city’s leading alternative newspaper. No, it wasn’t The Reader, it was a little publication called The Metropolitan.

On a whim last weekend, I scurried through the crud-covered boxes in my attic searching for that article, desperately trying to relive those golden days of yesteryear. Just when I was about to give up hope of finding it, there it was amidst a stack of moldering UNO Gateway clips. The yellowed newsprint dated April 15, 1987, bore the bold headline: “At the Henry Doorly Zoo” by Lynn Sanchez. Lynn was just one of my personal local writing heroes employed by The Metropolitan along with former Linoma Masher Dan Prescher, snarky Lisa Stankus and columnist Warren Franke (now an Omaha Reader contributor).

Flipping past a review of the Del Fuegos’ Stand Up LP, past Prescher’s review of long-gone restaurant Suehiro on 19th and Farnam, past ads for Peemer’s and Pickles and Peony Park, there was my story, titled “Punk Rock Concerts Are Unique” (No, I didn’t write the headline). Few things are more painful and embarrassing than looking back at what you’ve written before you really knew what you were doing. This story is no exception, though much to my surprise, it wasn’t that bad (Thanks, of course, to editor Sanchez).

After a brief editor’s note warning readers who are easily offended by street language to “skip this article” was my ominous lead: “This is the first time we’ve had one of these shows,” said the renter of the hall, a man who appeared to be in his late 40s. “We had our thing when we were young. These kids gotta have an outlet, too. I think it’s all right as long as they have respect for us.”

The story dived right in with a description of the ’80s-era punkers with their “slashed, faded blue jeans or camouflage plants, heavy black work or ‘combat’ boots and hair ranging from a shocking Mohawk horse’s mane to long, flat locks that fell over a face from one side.” Funny how little things have changed.

That night I spoke with earnest MDC bassist “Franco” who resembled Dennis Hopper from Easy Rider, and slightly overweight, long-haired lead vocalist, Dave “Knucklehead” Dictor, who explained what happened the evening prior. “They closed us down last night in Lincoln because someone broke a window in a building next door,” he had said, adding that the band ended up getting arrested after refusing to quit playing on the sidewalk outside the venue.

The Omaha show had its share of problems as well. Opening acts Double You and Cordial Spew canceled, but local band Jealous Balz still played, along with the cleverly named U.P.S. (Useless Pieces of Shit). Finally MDC took the stage after Franco’s heart-tugging speech about Native Americans that was met with a rousing “Who gives a shit!” The band played old favorites “John Wayne Was a Nazi,” “Corporate Deathburgers” and their just-released single “No More Cops.” Unlike today, at least 50 kids slam-danced in the “pit” in front of the stage.

The story ended with a comment from a sweaty punker who was asked what his parents thought of the “violent punk-rock scene.”

“They hate it,” he said. “They want to know why I don’t listen to popular music like normal kids do. I asked them why they don’t listen to anything besides Frank Sinatra.” Nice.

My MDC story was last one that I’d write for The Metropolitan. Shortly thereafter, the paper folded, and I went on to write music stories for a Lawrence, Kansas, music monthly called The Note before an upstart weekly called The Reader was launched. But that’s another story.

Tonight’s shows: the post-hardcore stylings of Peoria’s Planes Mistaken for Stars at Sokol Underground with Glass and Ashes and Love Me Destroyer. $7, 9 p.m., while O’Leaver’s is featuring Denver’s avant-pop bands The Emmas and Little Fyodor. $5, 9:30 p.m.

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