Column 82: Conor in the park, and welcome to Fun City; The Fiery Furnaces tonight…

Category: Blog — @ 12:05 pm June 22, 2006

The final word on the Bright Eyes show now that we’re all toweled off; and, of course, some thoughts on the Omaha World-Herald‘s new designation for Omaha…

Column 82 — Living in Fun City
It’s all about furniture and cheesecake.
So I was in the park Saturday night to watch Bright Eyes. Were you?

A lot of you were, maybe 10,000, maybe 8,000, maybe 5,000. Depends who you ask. No one really knows for sure. There were a lot of people there. And all of them were wet. Just like me.

A few brief observation about the “event.” As expected, it wasn’t nearly the size of gathering that 311 was two years ago. Why would it be? Bright Eyes is under the radar, folks. Conor Oberst writes intelligent music that demands an investment from its listeners. It’s not head-bobbing groove candy that asks nothing from the brain pan other than the ability to recognize primordial rhythms. Nothing wrong with dance music. It is, as we all know, the mode o’ day of the status quo. Bright Eyes, on the other hand, whose music is at times beautiful and always lyrically interesting, ain’t exactly the bread-and-butter of Clear Channel-infected commercial radio, keeping it safely under the radar. Which makes Saturday’s opening acts Neva Dinova and Gruff Rhys downright underground.

So while you could argue that most of the people in the park on Saturday afternoon were there only to enjoy a free “event” with their families, and that the entertainment could just as well have been three guys and bagpipe, you’d be wrong. The rain proved it. No casual park-goers would have stood their ground from the nexus of that monsoon. It wasn’t just raining. It was gushing. Forget about cats and dogs, this was biblical. And throughout the maelstrom, thousands refused to leave, both young and old (though mostly young). Talk about your acid test in the park. Conor Oberst found out who his true fan base was in his hometown. They were standing right in front of him, shivering wet, wanting to hear more.

Which brings us to the Omaha World-Herald and its bizarre declaration of the city’s victory over the boredom. Glancing at the cover of the Sunday paper, there on top of the page was a “news story” headlined “Young Omahans hail new Fun City.” Yes, folks, in case you were wondering, we now live in Fun City. Evidence of this is the Qwest Center and its endless stream of vintage-rock concerts whose tickets cost more than a typical “young Omahan” brings home in a week at his minimum-wage job. “Fun” also means lots of shopping opportunities, too. As the story boasted, by god, Omaha now has high-end retailers like Williams-Sonoma and Pottery Barn. And, as everyone knows, once you get a Cheesecake Factory, you’ve made it. Finally, there was that Bright Eyes concert and the “thousands of mostly young people who packed the grassy bowl of Memorial Park” who “seemed to be finding life here pretty good.” (Incidentally, I guess Fun City doesn’t have many black citizens. I only saw three in the crowd, and one was performing on stage. Maybe all the black people were busy picking out cookware at Williams-Sonoma).

Who knows why the Omaha World-Herald choose to place this editorial masquerading as a news story on its front page, essentially declaring “Mission Accomplished” like Bush on the deck of a battleship. Nothing much has changed in Omaha over the past decade, unless you view urban sprawl as an accomplishment. Conor Oberst sure doesn’t. With his now sadly-defunct punk band, Desaparecidos, he wrote an entire album railing against it and the consumer-driven paradise defined by the Omaha World-Herald and the Chamber of Commerce. A year later, he moved to New York City. Oberst and most of the people who withstood God’s wrath Saturday consider that kind of “fun” to represent everything that’s wrong with America.

Because when you take away the shopping opportunities and the overpriced concerts at the Qwest Center there ain’t much “fun” stuff left to do, especially if you’re a youth in this faceless city. Sure, there’s the One Percent indie rock shows that draw maybe a thousand kids every weekend to the city’s one all-ages venue. There’s the College World Series (that strangely, the article forgot to mention). But what else? Why would any youth want to live and die in Omaha? The answer overwhelmingly is the same as it was before the consultants declared war on boredom: Omaha is “a great place to raise a family.” Fine, but what’s that got to do with Fun City?

It reminds me of a chat I had with a friend of mine in his 20s who recently moved into one of those high-style condos downtown. I asked him what he thought of his “hip” new place, and he looked at me disappointedly and said, “It’s designed by someone in their 40s who thinks they know how someone in their 20s wants to live.”

Which perfectly sums up what’s wrong with Fun City. The city fathers have forgotten who or what “youth” really is. It sure ain’t some guy in his 40s pulling down $80k a year. It’s that guy’s son and daughter, who this weekend will be driving around Dodge Street looking for something to do. And not finding it. Unless, of course the World-Herald is right and today’s youth thinks “fun” means aimlessly spending money on furniture and cheesecake. If so, God help us all.

Tonight, The Fiery Furnaces with Kite Pilot down at Sokol Underground for what is sure to be a sell-out, right?. Among the promotion for this show is the Omaha World Herald “Fun City” article referenced above in which Filmstreams organizer Rachel Jacobson was quoted as saying, “There’s 30,000 people who go to U2, but there’s also 1,000 people excited about seeing the Fiery Furnaces at Sokol Underground.” Hmm… maybe One Percent should have moved this show upstairs…

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