Live Review: Memorial Park invasion; Concert for Equality announced (Bright Eyes, Cursive, Lullaby, Desa); The Hold Steady tonight…

Kansas at Memorial Park, July 3, 2010.

Kansas at Memorial Park, July 3, 2010.

by Tim McMahan,

The above photo isn’t of the main stage at Friday night’s Grampa-rock-fest at Memorial Park. In fact it’s a photo of the south side of the park — the overflow crowd that couldn’t find a place to stand in the park’s west bowl where the main stage was actually located. The organizers wisely set up a large, high-def screen that projected live footage of the bands playing just over the ridge, and even that area filled to capacity. The published crowd estimate was 80,000. How someone came up with that number is a mystery. I will say that the crowd was larger than the estimated 50k supposedly on hand a few years ago for 311 (and about 79k more than were there for last year’s Gomez concert). Omaha does love its arena rock, even if the bands are 40 years old.

We walked to the park at 6 to see Kansas with the intention of turning around after their set, walking back home for dinner than returning for the fireworks. We ended up seeing most of Styx and more than enough of Foreigner’s set. Of the three bands, Kansas sounded the most authentic, pulling out songs that I haven’t heard in 20 years. Other than “Carry On Wayward Son” and “Dust in the Wind,” Kansas isn’t heard much on your favorite classic rock station these days. Styx got the best crowd response because Styx had the best songs. Without Dennis DeYoung, Tommy Shaw has become the band’s ad hoc frontman, for better or worse (mostly worse). Looking like a bleach-blond, bearded trailer park woman, Shaw has managed to maintain a pretty good voice over the years. But despite Styx having one of the larger catalogs of hits from the ’70s, the crowd was subjected to at least one Damn Yankees song, I’m assuming on Shaw’s insistence — proof that he could make it without Styx, even though that was the band he was fronting that evening. The guy filling in for DeYoung wasn’t awful — he certainly could win a karaoke contest — but songs like “Lady” underscored his, um, lacking abilities. Foreigner got the headliner slot, and was the weakest band of the evening. Without Lou Gramm the band has become a glorified tribute act, and a weak one at that. Hits like “I Want to Know What Love Is (the dangling participle song)” and “Hot Blooded” sounded limp and old. The whole evening was very casino, and so was the crowd. It was a white trash fantasy camp, where shoes were most-definitely optional despite a sidewalk littered with broken glass, snot and other bodily fluids. The crowd in front of the stage seemed genuinely focused on their arena heroes, and to be fair, even a large portion of the rest of the audience had their head bobbing to “Sweet Madame Blue.” As the sun began to set, out came the glowsticks-on-a-string, like carny jewelry lighting up an army of unwashed, tattooed necks. The next morning, small piles of the milky-plastic cartridges gathered along the curbs like empty drug vials. Their glow was fleeting, and you could say the same thing about these bands, except in Omaha where decades after their fame has passed, they continue to burn brighter than any other star, 80,000 fans strong. Either that, or everyone was there for the fireworks.

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Well the big show that everyone was talking about last week is now official. One Percent this morning announced the “Concert for Equality” July 31 in Downtown Benson. And it’s a Saddle Creek Records all-star line-up featuring a reunited Desaparecidos, Cursive, Bright Eyes, and a reunited Lullaby For The Working Class, and that’s just for starters. Don’t be surprised if a gaggle of Conor Oberst’s pals also show up. All proceeds go to the ACLU Nebraska’s effort to repeal Fremont’s “Anti-Immigrant” Law. Tickets for the Concert for Equality will be available July 10 — this Saturday — at General admission is $20. There also is a limited number of Deluxe Tickets available for $50 that includes access to an additional show inside The Waiting Room the night of the event.

I’m not sure how something like this sells out, but if it can, it will.

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Speaking of big shows… there’s one going on tonight at The Slowdown when The Hold Steady take the stage with The Whigs. Their performance the April before last was rather flat (see review), but I’ve been told by a number of their local mega-fans that it was just an off night. Too bad I won’t find out if that’s true (as I’m not on the list this time!). $18, 9 p.m.

Also tonight, Roger Clyne and the Peacemakers are playing at The Waiting Room with Brad Hoshaw and Vago. $15, 8 p.m.

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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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