Two turntables, no microphone; Live Review: The Decemberists…

Category: Blog,Reviews — Tags: , — @ 1:07 pm April 19, 2011
The Decemberists at The Holland Performing Arts Center, April 17, 2011.

The Decemberists at The Holland Performing Arts Center, April 17, 2011.

by Tim McMahan,

At one point I closed my eyes and thought to myself, “This is all a dream…”

Things were getting out of hand down in the pseudo pit that formed just to the right of the DVD rack, next to the cut-out bin. Two of the Homer’s guys huddled together behind the cash register and wondered out loud if maybe it was time to call the cops. But it was too late for that. The mob had taken over 20 minutes earlier, pushing aside the heavy CD and record bins to make room for more more more people who kept pushing through the door like desperate strangers trying to get into a fallout shelter seconds after the bomb went off. I tried to ignore the chaos and focus on the turntables, but I couldn’t take my eyes off the crowd — hundreds of people — all ages — bouncing in unison to the downcast Smog track that only fanned the flames I had innocently ignited with my latent skills. No one had expected anything like this. Just a moment earlier during the Justin Warfield track (“K Sera Sera”) they had coaxed me to the top of the counter waving their arms and yelling in unison “Jump Jump Jump…” And that’s exactly what I did, falling into their outstretched arms that glided me over their heads, around the T-shirt rack and above the “smooth jazz” section. I looked up at Mike Fratt, the one who had gotten me into this, and he just shrugged his shoulders. He was as shocked as any of us when a small group of the topless women blacked-out the windows and mounted the strobes to the walls, creating a makeshift disco. Things had gotten out of hand all right, but the real shock didn’t come until I pulled back a corner of the black vinyl film window covering and looked outside and saw Howard St. filled like a soccer stadium — thousands of people with their hands in the air bouncing to the music that was piped into the street. Music that I had “selected.” Me. The DJ. Aponick, tears in his eyes (but smiling), croaked over and over “I didn’t know. I didn’t know. I didn’t know…” No one did, I said as I pulled him from his knees… No one did….

Actually, my DJ stint as part of Homer’s Record Store Day this last Saturday wasn’t quite that exciting. The fine folks at the store set me up behind the counter next to a CD player and a couple turntables supplied by DJ Kobrakyle, who had “spun” earlier in the day. I brought in a bag of records and CDs and played songs for a little over an hour to a crowd of at least 20 people, none of whom knew or cared who I was. I did get a couple “bites” from listeners who asked about a few songs (“Saturn” by Evil Tambourines, “Woman King” by Iron & Wine, “Step Off” by El Fino Imperials (Mousetrap)). In my defense, I had asked before I started if it was OK to play “adult material” — stuff with cussing in it. Aponick said, “Sure, play whatever you want.” So I went ahead and played “Please Be Quiet” by Digital Leather, whose pseudo-refrain is “Shut the fuck up.” After about 30 seconds of that I was told nervously that maybe we should switch songs. So I played Yo La Tengo’s cover of Sun Ra’s “Nuclear War,” having forgotten about the choir of children who chanted, “It’s a mother fucker.” Store manager Eric kindly asked if I had any songs that weren’t laced with obscenities, but he didn’t ask me to cut it (after all, it’s a classic).

Fratt told me that RSD was a huge business day for both the downtown and Orchard Plaza stores. It’s impossible not to recognize how successful RSD has become for music retailers — it’s starting to gain a “Black Friday” vibe, at least among collectors. That said, I’ll ask the same question that I asked after last year’s success: How do you make RSD last all year long; how do you keep the fever high week after week? I think it could be done, but it’d take extreme coordination between the retailers, the labels and the artists. Too bad labels couldn’t move their national release day from Tuesdays to Saturdays, helping create a weekly RSD…

* * *

I don’t know if Sunday’s Decemberists show at The Holland ever finally sold out. The day before, One Percent had posted on Facebook that they were just 50 shy of a sell-out. I assume the problem was the $35 price point. I can tell you that the show was worth every penny, and this comes from someone who’s not a big Decemberists fan. In fact, the only album of theirs that I own is the new one, The King Is Dead. I’ve listened to their breakthrough, The Crane Wife, a few times and just didn’t feel it. Live, the music was transformed…

The show began dead-on at 8 p.m. when Justin Townes Earle strolled on stage in front of the Decemberists’ band set-up with an acoustic guitar and a violin player and proceeded to play 30 minutes of amazing honky-tonk style acoustic country. The guy has an incredible voice, as did his violin player. He also had a handful of personal stories, many centered around his drug history, that got the crowd laughing.

I should point out here that Earle and Decemberists were the best sounding shows I’ve heard at The Holland. From my perch in front of the first balcony, the mix was unreal it was so good, and that hasn’t always been my experience at The Holland.

Decemberists’ frontman Colin Meloy is a pure entertainer in addition to a helluva singer and songwriter. He had the crowd in the palm of his hand throughout almost two hours of music, which included most of the songs off the new album and plenty of old stuff from Crane Wife. My favorite moment was when the band brought out drums and banged along to “The Rake’s Song” lit by blood red stage lights. But that moment was eclipsed during the first encore,  “The Mariner’s Revenge Song,” where the audience was prompted to scream as if being eaten by a whale, and actually did. By then, the crowd had come to its feet, a few songs after Meloy had chided them for sitting in their seats, which he said (and I’m paraphrasing) were “paid for with insurance money.”

Should the crowd have stood up the entire show, especially at a place like The Holland? If Meloy expected/wanted them  dancing, he should have returned to Sokol Underground or taken it Slowdown. It just wasn’t going to happen at The Holland. I wasn’t about to stand up and block two rows of middle-aged people sitting behind me who paid $35 a ticket to sit down and enjoy the show.

Meloy and Co. finished the night with a second encore of “June Hymn” and a standing ovation. Top-10 show of 2011…? Maybe…

* * *

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 © 2011 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

1 Comment »

  • On Saturday, I decided I was going to get out of the house and participate in RSD. My 22 year old son and I wanted to make a day of it and went to Joe Tess Fish, ate and had a couple beers and headed down to the Old Market. We thumbed thru the handful of record bins at Drastic Plastic, talked to an older gentleman there, purchased a couple albums (Agent Orange, Tom Petty, Murder City Devils) and then made our way across the street to Homer’s where we bought a few more albums (Minutemen, Black Sabbath, The Stooges, Van Halen, Pixies). It was… nice.

    Now… On one hand we did this to support local business and the fledgling record stores. More importantly, I wanted to do it to give my son a glimpse into my past. As a young teen, I would scrounge up $.50 for a round trip bus ride from the dinky apartment I grew up in to either Drastic Plastic (which, at the time, was in downtown South Omaha) or Homer’s (Old market). I didn’t have any money to buy records, but I would arrive and say ‘Hi’ to all of the employees who I had come to know, talk to them about new arrivals and then start at the “A’s” and work my way around to the “Various Artists” bin. I would absorb everything about every album… album art, who did the album art, who produced/engineered, what studio was it recorded in, who was in the band, song titles… everything the band/artist was willing to tell me on the outside cover of the album. I would do this until I had covered every bin, say my goodbyes to the employees, and then head home.

    This would be my day. This is what I did. Everything I learned about music as a youth was at these record stores. Talking with the employees. Thumbing thru every album in the place. This eventually led to me working part time at Homer’s as a general ‘gopher’ and working their record conventions with my old friend Alfie Allen (then a Homer’s full time employee).

    Back in those days (yikes… can’t avoid that phrase) record stores were organized and easily navigated. Now, you have to walk thru a merchandise store (Drastic Plastic) are an impenetrable gauntlet of disorganized bins of God-knows-what (Homer’s) just to find a novel old record that you may or may not have but decide to purchase anyway for nostalgia’s sake.

    I don’t blame downloading/internet for the demise of the record store. I blame CD’s… and then I blame the record stores themselves. When CD’s made the album as a package unnecessary, the decline began. Then, when the record store had more room because it doesn’t take as much space to sell a CD as it did to sell a vinyl record, they crammed as much crap/merch as they could into the store. About this time I realized I could avoid the pain in the ass of navigating what had become a Salvation Army store of mashed together bric-a-brac, weed t-shirts, and incense and order records online.

    Downloading didn’t kill it. It just threw the dirt in the hole.

    Just my opinion, though.

    All that said… my son and I really did enjoy ourselves while searching for that old record store.

    Comment by Alan Mansfield — April 19, 2011 @ 2:05 pm

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