Column 139 — Ode to O’Leaver’s; The Forecast, LotM tonight; Daniel G. Harmann…

Category: Blog — @ 12:36 pm August 30, 2007

One aspect of O’Leaver’s business plan that I kept out of the story due to lack of space — O’Leaver’s always has had a policy of giving bands free beer all night. Mello and Conway said they just figured it was standard policy at any venue (They’re wrong, of course). The only time that policy has become a financial risk is when Bloodcow plays at O’Leaver’s. “Every time they play, they cash a keg,” Mello said. “They had 49 pints one night between the four or five of them.” Conway said that’s about $250 in lost beer sales — serious money for a place like O’Leaver’s. On the other hand, there are nights when bands don’t drink at all because they have to drive to Denver or Minneapolis right after the show, so it all evens out in the end. Probably.

The birthday bash Saturday should be a real hoot. Performing out on the tarmac next to the volleyball courts (in this order) are Ric Rhythm & the Revengers, Dance Me Pregnant, The Third Men, Sarah Benck and The Robbers, Coyote Bones, Life After Laserdisque, Ted Stevens, McCarthy Trenching, Neva Dinova and Little Brazil. Food shall be available. Rumplemintz shall flow like wine. The event already has been thrown one curve ball with the Nebraska game being rescheduled to start at 1 p.m. That could really screw things up for the first couple of bands. But we’re talking Nevada here. The game should be decided in the first quarter, right?

Column 139: Word to the Totally
O’Leaver’s turns 5

Five years ago it was only a dirty, smelly, drunken dream. Today, it’s a dirty, smelly, drunken reality.

That’s right, O’Leaver’s turns five years old this Saturday, and you’re all invited to the birthday party — a day-long drunkfest featuring 10 of Omaha’s finest bands playing in the parking lot.

No one thought the little tyke would ever grow old enough to walk, let alone crawl. And now here it is at its furious fives, a beer in one hand and a cigarette in the other, filled to the gills every weekend with near-deaf drunks stumbling out of their vinyl-covered bar stools, blindly looking for the john while pointing at a pint glass for the bartender to “do it again.”

In those five years, O’Leaver’s, located at 1322 So. Saddle Creek Rd., has managed to place itself alongside such legends as Kilgore’s, the downtown Music Box, the original Howard St. Tavern, the Capitol Bar and Grill and The Cog Factory as one of the city’s important venues, forever etched in the history of Omaha music.

No one is more surprised than owners/operators Chris Mello and Sean Conway. “I never thought we’d be a music bar,” Mello says, recalling the first show featuring Shawn Cox’s band, Microphone Jones. “I thought it was gonna bust. I thought it was too small. I didn’t know.”

There was never any intention of making O’Leaver’s a music venue when the duo “lost their first dollar” on Sept. 7, 2002. “Volleyball was the bread-and-butter for the previous owner,” Conway said. “The bar was just a place to serve the regulars. It was a Nascar bar back then.”

After a series of the usual gimmicks — karaoke, cheap beer specials, etc., — Mello and Conway decided to host a Wednesday acoustic night. When musician Matt Whipkey set up his PA and left it there, the duo figured why not use it. At the time, The 49’r was slowing down on shows. “We picked up what they didn’t want anymore,” Mello said.

The tone changed, however, when Simon Joyner and Tim Kasher (Cursive, The Good Life) decided to do a show there. “That was the first time Marc Leibowitz stepped into the bar,” Conway said. Leibowitz and Jim Johnson, operators of One Percent Productions, saw O’Leaver’s as a place to book bands that were too small for Sokol Underground, and before long, One Percent and fellow promoter Someday Never began bringing in a higher quality product.

It was a strange time for the music scene. In ’02-’03, Omaha was under the microscope of the national music press, hailed as the “New Seattle,” thanks to the success of Saddle Creek Records acts like Bright Eyes, Cursive and The Faint. But at the same time, clubs were closing their doors, and none were opening in their place.

“There was nowhere else to play,” Conway said. “It was weird. The Music Box closed, the Howard St. closed downtown, no one wanted to play at The Ranch Bowl. There was no Slowdown or Waiting Room. The scene was getting all this buzz and there was nowhere for the bands to play.”

Nowhere, that is, but O’Leaver’s. Then as now, the place didn’t have much to offer. There is no real stage or stage lights, and only a sub-par, though functional, PA. Bands play in a corner in front of a big screen TV surrounded by the owners’ tattered record collection staple-gunned to the wall as if it was a teenagers’ bedroom.

Still, it was good enough to host some of the best touring indie bands in the country, including Har Mar Superstar, Cursive, Bettie Seveert, The Rosebuds, Two Gallants, U.S.E., NOMO, The Silos, Oakley Hall, The Like Young, Okkervil River, Criteria, Ladyfinger, Voxtrot, The Willowz, System & Station, David Dondero, Tristeza, The Ex-Models, The Forecast, Dios Malos, Will Whitmore, Scout Niblett, Matson Jones, Tilly and the Wall, as well as local legends like Brimstone Howl, The Terminals, Little Brazil, Todd Grant, Cloven Path and The Monroes.

“I can only imagine what cats think when they enter the parking lot,” Conway said. “They stop in and say, ‘What the fuck? Is this it?’ They’re lucky it’s this big.” Bands quickly forget all that when they walk through the place before showtime and discover a rowdy crowd of discriminating — albeit drunk — music lovers. “You get 30 people in here and it seems crowded,” Conway said. “Especially if they’re hootin’ and hollerin’.”

O’Leaver’s quickly built a reputation as a port in the storm for touring bands crossing the country, looking for a place to land for the evening. Some of the venue’s best shows were last-minute additions. “If you’re gonna have any sort of scene, there has to be a place for a band to play that’s on its first or second tour,” Conway said, adding that the venue has done more than 500 shows and has no intention of ever stopping.

They have, however slowed down. “We’ve cut way back,” Mello said. “We have just as good a crowd or better without bands. And now there are 10 other places that have music.”

“The other venues have big sound systems,” Conway said. “It’s a spectacle to play at those places. Bands can come here and get hammered and play for their friends. That’s the appeal.”

And though rumors continue to circulate that the bar is for sale, nothing is in the works. Looks like Conway and Mello are stuck with it. They don’t seem to mind.

“It can be a grind,” Mello said.

“But it’s been a good time,” Conway added, “all things considered.”

Tonight, Peoria band The Forecast returns to O’Leaver’s for the fourth or fifth time — they must really love the place. Landing on the Moon opens for a show that’s as good as a preview of Saturday’s action as anything. $5, 9:30 p.m.

Cold Call (CD review) — Daniel G. Harmann, Anthems from the Gentle War (Hello Tower Media) — The problem is getting past the first impressions — the plodding monotonous rhythms (a la Red House Painters), the mossy falsetto that becomes easy to ignore after the first few songs, the chiming, echo-filled guitars that show an adoration for shoe-gazers. It’d be easy to discard it as not tuneful enough, but downbeat hey-look-at-me anthems like “Beer from a Bottle”, “Last Swim of the Year” and “I’ve Turned to a Life of Crime,” (which ends with Harmann “beggin you to stay”) catch your gaze and holds it. Produced by Graig Markel of New Sweet Breath (remember those guys?), taken as a whole, it soars more than plods. Rating: Yes

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