Live Review: Civicminded, Summer Birds in the Cellar; a quiet weekend ahead…

Category: Blog — @ 5:04 pm November 25, 2005

It seems unfair to make any comments about Civicminded’s set Wednesday night at O’Leaver’s. The sound couldn’t have been any worse. Look, everyone knows that O’Leaver’s has an inferior PA, but some nights bands sound pretty damn good (bordering on great). Wednesday night wasn’t one of them, at least not for Civicminded. I was curious about these guys after hearing their song on the First National Bank comp. I know that they do a lot of gigs in the West Omaha club world. Their stage presence reflected this. Not that there’s anything wrong with the frontman saying “How’s everybody doin’ tonight?” halfway through a song, it’s just not what I’m accustomed to at indie shows. Most indie bands slouch onto the stage, plug in and play their entire set without acknowledging that there’s anyone else in the room. A common question during an indie band’s set “Who are these guys?” No one seems to know, and you usually don’t find out until after the set, when you can ask the frontman (and he might even tell you). That wasn’t a problem with Civicminded (or the headliner, for that matter). The frontman announced, “We’re Civicminded, thanks for coming out,” after almost every song. Again, nothing wrong with that, it’s just something I’m more used to hearing at The Ranch Bowl or from a cover band.

Civicminded seems to be somewhere between being a radio-alt band and something different, something better. They’re teetering on the edge of heading different places than the run-of-the-mill alt-band. A couple of their songs (the track, for instance) wander from the typical radio formula to more interesting territory. It’s their rhythm section that seems to be in limbo. Most of the time, the bass and drums were playing atypical heavy-metal backbeat rhythms a la cover bands. This music, especially the guitars and keyboards, demand something more creative than that. Too often the compositions seemed formulaic, as if someone came up with the riffs and everyone else nodded and smiled and thought “Oh, it’s one of those songs” and then went into auto pilot. That style — that straight-on alt rock/bar rock style — is exactly what 85 percent of a typical bar audience wants to hear. They want the familiar. They want Pearl Jam. That won’t cut it with the 15 percenters who are used to hearing more unique (or oddball) stuff that typifies college/indie music. But then again, I have no idea where these guys want to go. Maybe they’re targeting the FM alt-radio crowd. And that’s fine, too. But if they’re interested in doing something more creative (and better), the potential is most definitely there.

It’s impossible to comment much further because of the horrible, muddy, cluttered mix. Civicminded is a five-piece that features a frontman (who only sings, he plays no instrument), two guitars (one guy also plays keyboards), bass and drums. Rarely could you make out the second guitar line in the fog of noise. The vocal pick-up was worse than bad — at moments the guy sounded like he was blowing out the stage-right amp with his voice (He has classic rock frontman tendencies that don’t lend themselves to O’Leaver’s RadioShack microphones). The proof in the pudding lies in how they would sound on a better PA…

The inferior sound system was no problem for Summer Birds in the Cellar. They spent about 15 minutes dragging a mountain of amps onto the stage and stacking them under, then in front of, the plasma TV. The additional firepower made all the difference. But even then, there were problems. Thing kept getting unplugged to the bass head, and someone would constantly have to lean over and plug stuff back in. Despite the technical glitches, these guys were pretty amazing, with a sound that combines dance rhythms with Cure-style drone guitars and intricate, repeated riffs that pulled songs out with extended, jammy endings that you didn’t want to stop. The frontman introduced the last song with “I hope we win the war on terror, because I hate it,” or something like that. About halfway through, however, the bass head apparently fell off the stack of amplifiers. Once they lifted it back onto the stack, they declared that the bass head was blown, fiddled around with some wires, and started the song over from the beginning, declaring it was the first encore they ever performed. Great set, great band. I should have bought a copy of their CD that night.

As for the weekend: For me it’ll probably start at The Brothers tonight since there’s no shows to speak of. There might be a show at O’Leaver’s but who knows? They quit updating their calendar again and sending out information on their e-mail list. I do know, however, that they’ve got a hot show tomorrow — Bad Luck Charm with The Black Rabbits — this one will be packed. $5, 9:30 p.m. And that about does it for the weekend. Blame the holiday for the lame schedule.

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