Continued website problems; Live Review: Art Bell, Drakes Hotel…

Category: Blog — @ 2:28 pm November 27, 2006

The site has been in a state of disarray over the last week because of ongoing technical issues which I hope to have resolved this week. I woke up this morning to discover that every link on the homepage (including in this blog) was broken and had to be reset. Not fun. Thanks for your continued patience.

I only went to one show this holiday weekend, but it was a doozy — Art Bell at Saddle Creek Bar Friday night. It was (surprise, surprise) packed. After three different shows at the Saddle Creek over the past few weeks — Virgasound, Eagle*Seagull and now Art Bell, I’m convinced that the club could become a player in the local music scene (for what that’s worth). The caveat is that they must get someone to take a serious look at their PA. Over the past three shows, the sound has been hit and miss. Ultimately, there are limits to what they’ll be able to do with such old equipment. Those two huge arrays of speakers on either side of the stage are ancient, and though I’m no sound engineer, even I can hear that something’s wrong with them.

Every musician and music pro that I’ve talked to about the bar’s sound has said the same thing — the PA needs to be replaced. Friday night’s show might have been a breaking point. A few minutes into Art Bell’s set, every bass note was met with a loud rattle from the left set of speakers, as if one of the units was blown. After about 20 seconds, the sound guy smoothed it out. At all three of the past shows, however, the vocals sounded hollow and tinty, like a PA you’d hear on the floor of a convention hall. I’m told the microphones are top-notch, that the problem, again, is the PA.

Another musician who’s played at The Saddle Creek on and off over the past decade told me that the room has never sounded good, partially because the stage is like playing inside a box. Club owner Mike Coldeway said the stage design prevents him from booking hugely loud metal bands because of noise issues. I doubt anything can be done about that.

That said — as has happened at every show I’ve attended there — a couple rather prominent musicians from the scene (one from the Saddle Creek stable) asked me what I thought of the place, and I told them what I’ve told everyone — I love its size and the overall vibe of the room. It reminds me of The Bottleneck in Lawrence. And the location couldn’t be any better — about a mile away from my front door. Add to that $2.25 Rolling Rocks (the lowest price I’ve paid for the beer anywhere in Omaha) and a $5 cover ($6 Friday night, for some reason) and I’m in heaven. Those musicians I talked to said the same thing. They also agreed that there’s something wrong with the PA. One of them wondered if the tables could be cleared out — that they created a natural barrier between the bands and the crowd. That can easily be done — and should be done for the upcoming Good Life show. Indie and punk bands don’t like people sitting around — they want them standing, preferably right in front of the stage — and to be honest, there’s nothing stopping them from standing in front right now, other than concern that they might be blocking the view of those seated (We are a courteous bunch here in Omaha, aren’t we?).

So that’s the executive summary on The Saddle Creek Bar. Check it out for yourself when the Danny Pound Band comes through on Dec. 9. Drakes Hotel sounded like Omaha’s version of Jesus and Mary Chain, complete with droning feedback and doom-laden mid-tempo beats brought to you in care of a drum machine. The thump-thump-thump was more than adequate to move this luxurious show-gazer fare in a right, moody direction, while the female lead singer provided the counterpoint to the droning bass. I liked it, especially when the band stepped it up a notch, wrestling itself out of its mid-tempo rut. The set, however, was too much of a good thing, and seemed to go on forever, especially considering that Jake Bellows didn’t start the night until well past 10 o’clock (but only played for about 15 minutes).

As mentioned before, Art Bell is a natural evolution for an Orenda Fink, an artist who has been defined by the warm, heart-throbbing style heard in Azure Ray. With a veritable supergroup of musicians backing her, Fink reinvents herself as a rock musician, taking her natural ear for melodies and galvanizing them with solid guitar and a rhythm section anchored by one of the city’s best drummers — Corey Broman, who’s played with Little Brazil, Statistics and Kite Pilot, among others. If the band’s recordings are anything like the live show, someone is going to have a hit on their hands — will it be Saddle Creek Records?

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