Column 279: Lincoln Invasion recap; Benson hostel benefit tonight; now open ’til 2 a.m…

Mercy Rule at The Waiting Room, July 9, 2010.

Mercy Rule at The Waiting Room, Lincoln Invasion, July 9, 2010.

by Tim McMahan,

Lincoln Invasion organizer Jeremy Buckley e-mailed late yesterday to say that bands who took part in this year’s festival took home $80 each vs. $30 each at least year’s event — quite a bump in pay. Yeah, I know, $80 ain’t much, but at least it’s something, especially considering that the bands had to make the drive from Lincoln — most of them in gas-guzzling Econolines. Ain’t nothing wrong with getting paid…

Column 279: Attack from Star City!!!!

Live Review: Lincoln Invasion, Pt. II

Another Lincoln Invasion has come and gone. And so the question begs to be asked: Which city — Omaha or Lincoln — has the better band roster?

But before we get to that, Lincoln Invasion organizer Jeremy Buckley chimed in to say that last Friday night’s “festival,” featuring more than 20 Lincoln bands at six Benson venues, was a moderate success. “The attendance numbers will be impossible to calculate completely accurately, but if we assume that every patron paid $8 to attend ($5 got you into one venue) then we had about 326 paid,” he said. “So that would be the low end for overall attendance. For last year I’d have to guess but I’d bet we had about 300 paid over the course of two days. So yeah, better all around. Here’s to hoping next year we have even better luck, though this year was more than we could’ve expected.”

Fewer bands but higher attendance should have translated into more money per band — that’s right, unlike the OEAA Benson festivals, bands actually get paid to play Lincoln Invasion via a split of the overall door take — a novel idea. Here’s my recap:

Singer/songwriter Ember Schrag closed out the early bill at Benson Grind. With her ’70s chop haircut and plaid skirt, Schrag reminded me of one of the Tuscadaro sisters — Leather or Pinky, I’m not sure which — but sounded like Regina Spektor backed by a bass player and Omahan Gary Foster on drums. Her easy-going acoustic ballads had the rural flair of Basia Bulat and the sophistication of Suzanne Vega, though Schrag sings as well or better than either of them. Too bad an ever-present buzzing from the PA effectively killed my buzz throughout her set.

Next up down at The Barley Street was Shipbuilding Company, a five-piece with keyboards and wobbly voiced frontman Mike Elsener (ex-Head of Femur) on acoustic guitar. Their music seemed to target a slacker / Pavement / low-fi crowd, and most of the time just missed the mark as it wandered over a baroque landscape that was a bit too frilly for my taste. That is until their finale, when the keyboardist pulled out a melodica and it all came crashing together on a roaring indie pop rocker that I’d like to hear again right now.

Masses at The Waiting Room was an endurance test. The guitar-heavy four-piece launched its set with some spacey, trance-y stuff that quickly shifted into catchy math. But it was all downhill after that, as the instrumental-only outfit poured it on way too heavy, and turned into a messy cacophony of noise where everything blurred into everything else until you began to wonder if they knew what they were doing. Did I mention it was loud — thunderously, painfully loud? People escaped onto the sidewalk in front of the club holding their ears, catching a break from the throbbing, raw din that rolled and rolled and rolled always at the same plodding, Excedrine headache pace. How about some dynamics, boys? Without it, you’re just making intricate, painful noise. The set became a sonic wrestling match between the band and the crowd, and by the end it felt like a bully standing on your neck, testing to see how much more you could take.

After the feedback cleared, the crowd slowly funneled back into The Waiting Room for legendary ’90s band Mercy Rule. What can I say that hasn’t already been said about the trio other than their sound never seems to age? Earnest, stoic working-man guitarist Jon Taylor hasn’t lost his angry touch, nor his love for ear-bleeding volume.  So just like every other Mercy Rule shows from back in the day, lead vocalist Heidi Ore’s delicate crooning was lost and buried beneath the guitar-fueled tonnage — and it’s still a shame.

The band took the opportunity to try out a few new songs that were harder and harsher than anything from a catalog that spans 20 years. But it was the old familiar songs that the crowd fully embraced and none more so than set closer “Summer,” where Heidi belted out the tune’s signature line, “I love summer when it’s HOT, HOT HOT.” Mercy Rule continues to be one of Nebraska’s most dynamic and fun bands (and most photogenic, thanks to their trademark floor-mounted flood lights). Their heroic anthems are as relentless as a semi-truck barreling down on you, growing ever larger in the rear-view, about to crush everything in its path. If we’re lucky, it’ll never slow down.

Last stop was at The Barley Street Tavern where punk duo Once A Pawn closed out the evening. Drummer/frontwoman Catherine Balta’s voice kinda/sorta reminded me of Gabby Glaser of Luscious Jackson belting out her punk rants in a slightly atonal caterwaul, while guitarist/co-pilot Eric Scrivens gleefully spun in circles like a dog chasing its tail. As cute as they were angsty, the duo’s Achilles heel was the similitude of their compositions — after awhile, they all began to sound the same, but I guess you could also say that about The Ramones.

So which music scene — Omaha’s or Lincoln’s — has the better collection of bands? These days, Lincoln has the upper hand when it comes to sheer variety, especially when Omaha seems content with its ever-growing parade of Americana folk bands. I guess we’ll have to wait until after this weekend’s Omaha Entertainment and Arts Awards Summer Showcase before we can deterimine a real winner.

* * *

Moments after posting yesterday’s blog update, the listing for the $299 “buy now”-priced pair of Concert for Equality tickets on ebay disappeared. I guess the seller must read Lazy-i or the tickets sold. Then this morning a different pair went up on ebay (here), this time for a buy-now price of $315!

* * *

Earlier this year (or maybe it was late last year?) Singer/songwriter/musician Brad Hoshaw shared an idea with me: To create a musicians’ hostel out of his Benson apartment where out-of-towners could find a cheap, clean, safe place to sleep while in town on tour. If Benson is going to become Omaha’s version of Austin’s 6th Street, there has to be a lodging option besides asking from stage if anyone can spare some floorspace, or spending precious tour revenue on a hotel room located miles away.

Well, months later the Benson Musicians Hostel is open for business. Located at 6051 1/2 Maple St. Apt. #2, the hostel has bed-space for six people, though more can crash on the floor if need be. The price is $10 per bed or $40 for your entire posse. Amenities include a kitchen, stereo (w/turntable and records), an empty “mini-bar” and, of course, a full bathroom.  Judging by the photos on the hostel’s Facebook page, the place looks rather cozy. Sayeth Mr. Hoshaw: “Other than providing a convenience for those that bring art/entertainment into our city, my hope is that the bands will linger in the mornings and spend money on Maple St, before they leave town. Thus helping the retail shops, restaurants, auto mechanics, grocery stores, etc.”

Bravo! To help get the ball rolling, a fundraising concert is beind held tonight at The Barley Street Tavern to raise cash to cover some basic operational expenses and add amenities such as a washer/dryer and WiFi. The cover is $5, and there will be a donation jar on the bar.

The performance line-up:

9 p.m.: Chad Wallin
9:30 p.m.: All Young Girls are Machine Guns –
10 p.m.: Doug Flynn (Comedian)
10:15 p.m.: Brad Hoshaw (Brad Hoshaw & the Seven Deadlies)
10:45 p.m.: Jake Bellows
11:15 p.m.: Justin Lamoureux (Midwest Dilemma)

Midnight: Cass Brostad (Cass Fifty and the Family Gram, Traveling Mercies)

12:30 a.m.: Andrew Bailie (It’s True!, Riverside Anthology, The Wholes)

* * *

The new 2 a.m. closing time for Omaha bars begins tonight. As I reported earlier, One Percent Productions has no intention of pushing band start-times back at its shows. Only time will tell if their approach will also make sense for less-savory places like O’Leaver’s (where I definitely could see shows going later) or fancy-smancy Slowdown (very unlikely  — they rarely run past 12:30 now). In the end, it’s much ado about nothing, at least for me.

* * *

Read Tim McMahan’s blog daily at — an online music magazine that includes feature interviews, reviews and news. The focus is on the national indie music scene with a special emphasis on the best original bands in the Omaha area. Copyright © 2010 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

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