Column 129 — Omaha’s Farewell Tour; an unusually busy Thursday night …

Category: Blog — @ 12:24 pm June 21, 2007

The Associated Press article referenced below for which I was interviewed is here. The quote attributed to me is 180 degrees different than the response stated in my column below (I can hear every person who ever thought they were misquoted by me chuckling to themselves, thinking “Now you know what it’s like, TMac.”). I don’t think Slowdown will draw new and different indie bands to Omaha. It could, however, impact where you see those bands when they come here, that is, if you get off your ass and actually go to the show.

Column 129: Omaha’s Farewell Tour
If a Tortoise falls in a forest…
Legendary indie rock band Tortoise played last Sunday night at The Waiting Room in another in a series of Omaha farewell concerts.

“Farewell” in that the band performing will never come back. Tortoise all but defined the concept of the indie rock instrumental band, influencing literally hundreds of other bands through their innovative merging of rock, jazz and deconstructed ambient music. They sell out shows in Chicago, Seattle, New York City, but failed to sell out a room with the lowly capacity of 225.

For Tortoise, the great experiment was a failure. Somehow, they had managed to avoid Omaha for years. Actually, our little village probably never crossed their minds. But this year, the band or its booking agent ran its finger across the red ribbon of I-80 on the ol’ Rand McNally and thought, “Hmmm, Nebraska. Isn’t that supposed to be an indie-music hotbed? We should play there.”

It was a great show. You should have been there. Really.

Last weekend I got a call from The Associated Press out of New York City. The reporter, a former Omahan, had been in town visiting her family and fell into the rabbit-hole of hype surrounding the opening of Slowdown. She traveled back to Gotham City thinking it would make an interesting story, and found me via the Interweb.

The phoner went something like this: So tell me about the enormous impact Slowdown will have on Omaha’s local music scene.

I paused for a moment, then replied: “Why, it won’t impact it at all.”

Yes, it’s an amazing club with a state-of-the-art sound system. Yes, its owners and operators are the celebrities behind Saddle Creek Records. But ultimately, it’s just a 500-capacity room that books indie-rock shows in a town filled with venues that book indie-rock shows. What impact could it have?

The reporter reasonably assumed that the venue’s (or the owners’) reputation would draw bands to Omaha that never considered playing here before. Bands like Built to Spill and Tokyo Police Club, who actually have played here before, albeit in smaller rooms. Bands like Silversun Pickups or The Rentals, who, if Slowdown wasn’t here, would have played at Sokol anyway. Bands like Wilco and The Flaming Lips, who are way too big for Slowdown.

Bands like, well, Tortoise.

See, the problem isn’t getting good shows to Omaha. The problem is getting Omaha to good shows. And when you’re talking about indie rock shows — the bread-and-butter for most clubs I cover — that problem becomes multi-faceted.

The fact that Tortoise drew only 200 people might have been a big disappointment for the guys who booked the show, but it couldn’t have been a surprise. If you’re a regular reader of this column, you’re probably familiar with Tortoise, and were either at the show or at least thought about going. Unfortunately, your numbers aren’t growing — they’re dwindling, thanks to marriage and kids and day jobs that require you to be up-and-at-‘um at 5 a.m. the next morning. You’re getting old.

So what of the next generation? Well, why should they know who Tortoise is? Sure, they might have seen a concert poster in the window of Homer’s or the show listed in the newspaper. But amidst the white noise of all the other bands crowding the scene, why should they go out of their way to find out what a band sounds like that they’ve never even heard of?

MySpace — the technological panacea that’s supposed to magically bring the youth of today up to speed on quality bands — isn’t the answer. What started with good intentions has turned into yet another overcrowded, useless Internet tool. There are now millions of bands grazing in MySpace. How is anyone supposed to find the prize Gurney among the overcrowded, amateur-laden, tuneless herd?

Back in the old days (he said, leaning on his cane), we found out about new bands by going to record stores and — believe it or not — actually talking to people about music. But record stores — those great hubs of music knowledge — are slowly, surely becoming a thing of the past. Thanks, again, to the ‘net.

In the end, there’s only one technology that can wake up the next generation to quality music, an ancient technology called radio. Unfortunately, Omaha doesn’t have a college radio station that plays indie music. And without one, there’s no way a kid at Westside or Morton or Millard North is going to hear a band like Tortoise.

You can build all the shiny music palaces you desire, adorn them with the finest sound equipment and lure the best bands in the country to play their gilded stages, but if no one shows up to see them, they’re all doomed to becoming sports bars.

The farewell tour continues. Thank you, Omaha, and good night.

There are quite a few shows happening around town tonight. Five bands I’ve never heard of before are playing at Sokol Underground, headlined by Hymns, a New York band by way of North Carolina who record on Blackland Records, and who are disciples of Pavement and Neil Young. Among the openers is Thrift Store Clerks, a new local band that plays feedback-drenched slacker indie rock, judging by the one mp3 file that they sent me. $8, 8 p.m.

The 49’r is hosting a rare Thursday night snow with Dallas band Brickfight! and Omaha’s own Fonzarellis. $3, 10 p.m.

Continuing a week filled with jazzy rock, The Waiting Room is hosting The Jazzwholes with Shiver Shiver & Thousand Houses. $5, 9 p.m.

And the Saddle Creek Bar is hosting five bands, including Tie These Hands. $5, 9 p.m.

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