Last weekend: The Hype, The Showman, and The Forgotten Genius (and my own regrets)…

Category: Blog — @ 6:41 pm January 7, 2008

This past weekend started out in typical fashion — a perusal of the usual calendar of events at all the usual venues followed by a series of decisions. I started out Friday night at The Waiting Room which boasted a bill that included sludgefest idols Dim Light, old-school (as in ’90s-style) punk rockers Bombardment Society, new kids on the block Perry H. Matthews and the hottest of the hyped Next Wave bands, Capgun Coup, who I hadn’t seen since last summer at Slowdown. Dim Light was on stage when I got there, a four-piece fronted by a guy who looks like a cross between freak-folk hero Devendra Banhart, indie stalwart Jim James and The Unibomber. Their sound was deep-brown sludge-core, loud and grim, tipped by the atonal bleating of a guy on trumpet whose only job was to create a sonic echo as an afterthought. I love sludgecore, that is if I’m in the right mood. Only 15 minutes earlier I had taken a couple ibuprofen for a nagging headache, and Dim Light’s turbulent waves of gloom were only adding to the pain and making me slightly nauseous. That’s not a criticism of the band — the closest I’ve heard anyone come to their sound was the Tim Moss-led stoner rock act Men of Porn a half-decade ago (and that’s not a criticism, either).

After their set, my headache slowly began to subside. The excitement in the mostly underage crowd (judging by all the X’s on their hands and the bad haircuts) was coming to a fever pitch as Capgun Coup was about to take the stage. But what’s this? Capgun Coup, originally slated as the evening’s headliner, consisted only of frontman Sam Martin sitting on a chair with a guitar. Throughout his set, I stood next to a guy (one of the few old enough to drink) who had never seen Capgun before and was curious to see what all the hub-bub was about. Within two minutes of the first couple songs, he turned to me shaking his head with a puzzled I-don’t-get-it look on his face. Martin’s wonky off-pitch singing made Simon Joyner sound like Michael Bublé in comparison. His electric guitar playing was, to say the least, rough and sloppy. “This guy needs to go back and practice some more,” the drinker said. I told him that the wonky effect was probably exactly what Martin was going for. In fact, Martin reminded me of a young Simon Joyner or even, yes, an early incarnation of Conor Oberst, who’s post-Commander Venus acoustic shows were hit and miss (and mostly miss). The kids back then, however, loved Conor and rejoiced in his ineptitude. The same holds true, it seems, for Martin. Despite the sloppy atonal caterwauling, the kids in the crowd were mesmerized. I explained to the guy next to me that this wasn’t really Capgun Coup, whose music is typically somewhat keyboard-heavy. “So this is the next big thing?” the drinker asked. So it would seem. Capgun Coup has been ordained by The Conor himself, embraced within the group-hug known as Team Love and is headed on the road in April with no less local superstars than Cursive. Martin is Omaha’s unlikely Luke Skywalker, the hope for the future of a music scene mired in stagnation. But for me, the jury is still out. Capgun Coup is 1 for 3 for live performances (He got on base that one time at Slowdown).

Maybe it’s an age thing. Maybe the drinker and I were too old to get it. After all, I loved Bombardment Society, who came on next and proceeded to tear the place down with their abrasive post-punk SST-flavored rock. Bombardment probably are viewed as “old guys” by Capgun fans. I wonder what they thought of this style of straight-forward punk. Did they immediately discount it as passé?

Last up was the four-piece band Perry H. Matthews (by the way, which one’s Pink?), but by then, I was getting tired of all the noise. Matthews also plays post-punk but with an even more abrasive, atonal style and glaring vocals that cut like shards of glass. I turned to the drinker and said, “I’m going down to Barley St. to catch Scott Severin.” He replied, “I see. I guess you want to hear some real music.”

It’s always been a matter of bad timing that I’ve never caught a full set of Severin and his band, The Milton Burlesque. In all honesty, I’ve never cared for Severin’s recorded music. But I found out that Severin is a much different animal on stage than on those recordings, thanks in part to a super-tight band of seasoned pro’s who know every turn, every lick of Severin’s old-school, NYC-flavored rock. For that evening, The Barley Street was transformed into a Brooklyn lounge because of Severin’s knack for showmanship, something that has been long dead in the indie world. Most of the slumped-shouldered bands I see at TWR or Slowdown stumble on stage in their T-shirts and jeans and then start playing their janglepop, rarely acknowledging the crowd other than to say “We got one more.” They leave the stage and you wonder if they’re coming back, until the lights comes up and everyone turns to leave.

Severin, on the other hand, commands a room as if he knows and loves everyone there (and considering there were only 20 people in the bar, he very well might have). Vocally, he commits a slight twang that reminds me of John Hiatt, a rocking singer/songwriter that his sound resembles. There were a couple times when his music caught a more progressive groove, including one tune with a repeated outro that seemed to (pleasantly) go on and on. His music is urban but not gritty, almost traditional in its style, a far cry from indie or punk, but still entertaining. The best part was how he ended the evening: While the band continued to play a rendition of “On Broadway,” Severin set his guitar down and picked up a jacket and slung it over his shoulder. He introduced the band — member-by-member — then asked for a cigarette and a light, leaned forward into the microphone and thanked the audience before leaving the stage while the band played on. It was a New York thing or a cabaret thing, and it was great. It was entertaining. And in an era when so many seem to have lost sight of what that word means, it was a welcome oddity.

I’m running a bit long. Tomorrow, part 2, and Brad Hoshaw…

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