Column 96 — The Trouble with Lists; Benevento-Russo Duo tonight…

Category: Blog — @ 12:27 pm October 12, 2006

This column was written in conjunction with The Reader‘s annual “music issue” which features a list of the area’s top-20 bands and the next 15 bands. I don’t have an accurate list to show you because it changed before publication for whatever reason. I assume editor Andy Norman will share the process by which the list was created — i.e., music writers at The Reader were asked to contribute their lists, and Andy used a method to consolidate them involving votes, etc. But before those lists were sent in, a number of the writers met at The Dundee Dell to discuss the guidelines, and arguments ensued – not angry, fist-shaking scream-a-thons, but lively exchanges about what should and shouldn’t be allowed. That’s where the question regarding Saddle Creek bands’ inclusion surfaced. Are Creek bands “local” or not? I argue that they are, some say they aren’t, which makes no sense to me. In the end, my side of the argument prevailed, as you’ll be able to see when the issue hits the streets today. Andy plans to make the lists an annual event.

Column 96: What’s the Point?
The trouble with lists.
The core problem with creating a special “music issue” of The Reader that includes a “list” of the 20 “best bands” in the Omaha/Lincoln area is obvious. You’re forced to answer the question: “What’s the point?” Why place bands in a pecking order based on the (hopefully, though unlikely) well-informed opinion of a group of faceless critics who feel compelled to tell the public what is good and what isn’t?

The argument against such a list gets down to one undeniable fact: When it comes to art, competition sucks. It serves no purpose. It makes friends enemies. It creates pride, envy and doubt in the heart of the artists. It discourages as much as it encourages new art, new ideas, risk-taking.

And yet, “best of” lists and the endless string of award shows have become an acknowledged method of recognizing art and music in our culture, even though the determination of what’s good and what isn’t ultimately rests solely in the eyes and ears of the beholder. You can tell me a thousand times that something is great or something sucks, but in the end, I’ll decide for myself (Unless, of course, I’m a sheep).

So why do it? Why make a list of the best and a list of runners-up (and, by default, a list of those that didn’t make the lists)? The most obvious reason: Because it’s fun. It’s controversial. And most importantly, because people love their lists and awards. They need to have their opinions validated, to affirm that they, indeed, have “good taste.” So I guess it all comes down to ego, and doesn’t ego fuel all art? Perhaps, perhaps…

What I can tell you with extreme confidence is that no matter how Editor Andy and the rest of the staff cut it, the list will piss people off. Hell, I don’t even like the list. Where’s Mal Madrigal and Outlaw Con Bandana? Where’s Brimstone Howl? WHERE THE HELL IS THE MONROES?

But let’s start with the obvious complaint: Of the top 20 “best bands” 40 percent of them are Saddle Creek Records artists — Neva Dinova, Tilly and the Wall, Cursive, Criteria, Bright Eyes, The Faint, Ladyfinger and The Good Life. The discussion whether to include Saddle Creek bands was — to say the least — heated. The core arguments against it: They’re not local bands, they’re national bands that happen to live in Omaha. They’ve already “made it.” They’re mentioned constantly in the national press, why do they need any more recognition? Aren’t they all millionaires? Hell, they rarely even play in Omaha. And so on.

But to not include Saddle Creek artists would have made the list more pointless than it already is. Cursive and Bright Eyes and The Faint are Omaha bands — they live here, they interact with other local musicians, they go to local shows, they drink booze at O’Leaver’s and Sokol and The Brothers like the rest of us. They love Omaha or else they would have moved away a long, long time ago. But the most obvious argument: They’re the sole reason the Omaha music scene is recognized east of the Missouri River and west of Elkhorn.

Yeah, they’re successful, and they don’t need any more pats on the back. And I can pretty much promise you that the one-sheet included with Bright Eyes’ next release will not include the accolade, “Named one of Omaha’s top-20 bands of 2006 by The Reader.” But one-sheets for Anonymous American and Prospect Avenue and Jazzwholes might. How valuable is it for those bands to be on the same list as Saddle Creek acts in terms of just capturing the attention of an out-of-town club owner or small indie label?

Look, there’s no way The Reader was going to completely satisfy anyone with this list. And from that standpoint, it’s a failure before it was ever printed. But will it get people thinking, arguing, debating the music scene, defending their favorite band, discussing the merits of another, discovering a new band that they never heard before? Perhaps, perhaps…

So don’t get mad. Relax. It’s all in good fun. You already know that your favorite band is good, whether the idiots at The Reader know it or not. And maybe next year those asswipes will remember The Monroes and Mal Madrigal and everyone else that didn’t make the list. But somehow, I doubt it.

Tonight down at Sokol Underground, the Benevento-Russo Duo with Chris Harford’s Band of Changes. Here’s a capsule preview I submitted to The Reader about this show:

Had enough of those guitar-and-drum acts? You know, The White Stripes, The Black Dice, Two Gallants, and on and on? How ’bout an organ-and-drum duo? Now there’s a new twist. The Benevento-Russo Duo are just that. Organist Marco Benevento and drummer Joe Russo can go from loungy jazzy interludes to all-out cacophonous rock anthems in no time flat. The duo started out playing a weekly residency at The Knitting factory in NYC, and have since played everywhere from the Fuji Rockfest in Japan to SXSW to Bonnaroo. How did a Wurlitzer ever get so cool? $10, 9 p.m.

This one has the folks at One Percent excited, and the B-R is doing an in-store performance at the Old Market Homer’s at 5:30.

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