Live Review: Blessed Are the Merciless, Lana Del Rey and Conor Oberst’s secret show…

Category: Blog,Reviews — Tags: , , — @ 1:45 pm January 16, 2012
Blessed Are the Merciless at Sokol Underground, Jan. 14, 2012.

Blessed Are the Merciless at Sokol Underground, Jan. 14, 2012.

by Tim McMahan,

A few things from this past weekend…

One of the longest running traditions in rock music is bands playing to audiences that include their relatives. We’ve all seen them over the years, those out-of-place “old” people tucked back in the corner away from the rest of the crowd, hiding in the shadows with earplugs firmly in place as they suffer through the opening acts waiting for their son’s or daughter’s band to get on stage so they can get the hell out of the club.

Last Friday night I was one of those out-of-touch relatives when I went to see my nephew’s death metal band Blessed Are the Merciless play a showcase at Sokol Underground. It was a pleasure to be back in a performance space that literally helped build the Omaha music scene in the late ‘90s and early 2000s when One Percent Productions booked the room with some of the best indie shows Omaha has ever seen, not the least of which were the Saddle Creek acts that grew up on the Sokol Underground stage.

Those days, of course, are long gone. One Percent hasn’t booked shows at Sokol since The Waiting Room and Slowdown opened four years ago. Today Sokol mainly hosts metal shows, which explains why I haven’t been there in four years. Other than the pay counter moving to the left side of the stairs, the room remains the same dark, dank cavern that it ever was, complete with inconvenient metal poles breaking every sightline.

We showed up at around 8:30, in time to see most of the set by At War With Giants, one of the night’s other metal bands (there was no real headliner) who had invested in large stage display banners. Odd.

Blessed Are the Merciless came on next, a massive five-piece anchored by my nephew, Chris McMahan, on bass and fronted by Kapree Hey, who handled the prerequisite “voice of doom” growl while the rest of the band roared mightily through Sokol’s still formidable PA. Listen, I don’t know shit about death metal, so I can’t tell you if what they played was “good” or “bad” (and if I did, you probably wouldn’t believe my hardly-unbiased account, anyway). I can say that Kapree does have a cool, unpretentious frontman vibe, looking and sounding the part either when he’s screaming over and over “There’s a killer on the moors” or doing comfortable stage patter between songs. And of course, Chris was amazing. But what else is a proud uncle going to say?

One surprise of the evening was seeing the largish crowd (Around 250 paid – not bad) part in the middle (with Kapree’s urging) so a handful of eager fans could form a modified circle slam. I haven’t seen a mosh pit at a show in a few years, and they look as violent and disturbing as ever. The only thing I can tell you about metal is that it’s all about communicating your personal angst and/or aggression on stage in hopes that that audience can share in your distress, and if that’s the measure of success, Blessed Are the Merciless are on their way. You metal heads that missed it can check them out when they play The Sandbox Feb. 10.

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Perhaps the most hyped artist of the last part of 2011 and first part of 2012 is Lana Del Rey, and for good reason. Two songs that she’s released so far – “Video Games” and “Born to Die” – have become instant classics, along with the videos that support them, all of which you can see and hear at So good, in fact, that there were whispers that she could be an intelligent response to Lady Gaga.

Needless to say, there was a lot of build-up to LDR’s debut this weekend on Saturday Night Live, the one-time platform for breaking and underground music talent… 30 years ago. These days, SNL’s musical guests are another reason to thank the technology gods for the fast forward button on your DVR. Ironically, Gaga was the last real “talked-about” performance on SNL because she showcased her actual piano-playing skills, causing people to think that maybe she did have talent.

Just the opposite was the case for LDR’s debut. Instead, there she was, looking nervous and mechanical, like a robotic deer frozen in the spotlight on that famous 30 Rock stage. She sounded frightened and forced and off-kilter, filling in the spaces with awkward hand gestures and a strange 360 twirl about halfway through “Video Games.” The next Stevie Nicks she is not. It was not her finest moment (her handlers should be crucified), and yet, it’ll go down as another classic SNL performance if she honestly breaks through to a larger audience and her Interscope debut (out Jan. 31) contains at least a couple more songs as good as “Video Games.” If it flops – and she flops – the performance will join a long list of other forgotten SNL performances.

But the real gold was the next morning when the media began piling on LDR, reporting her demise as tweeted during the broadcast by the likes of notable has-been Juliette Lewis. Yes, that Juliette Lewis, the one known for the “quality” rock of Juliette and the Licks. If she’s crowing to the twitterverse that you sound like shit, than you really must have something going on. By Monday hundreds of articles were popping up on Google telling the world how much LDR sucks from reporters that had never heard of her before with headlines like “Lana Del Rey Bombs SNL.” And now I’m wondering if the whole thing was a put-on. Would she have received this much attention if she’d nailed the performance?

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Finally, there was last night’s secret show at Krug Park featuring Conor Oberst and Phil Schaffart. Word of the show started filtering out to “the network” at around 6 p.m. on a “keep it on the downlow” basis. Alas, I already knew I wasn’t going to be able to attend as we had company last night at the Lazy-i World Headquarters for the Golden Globes. Plus, I had a 5 a.m. wake-up call this morning, which I knew I wouldn’t make since there is no way to go to Krug and not enjoy the fantastic array of beverages on tap. Judging from the online patter this morning, Conor played a nice acoustic set from in front of the room with onlookers watching from the street outside. It’s good to see that he’s still hanging around Omaha and helping put Benson on the map. Next time, Conor, next time…

Check out some pictures from the show taken by shooter Mike Machian, and read OWH’s Kevin Coffey’s take on the evening.

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Lazy-i Best of 2011

Lazy-i Best of 2011

Speaking of Lana Del Rey, she’s one of the artists on the Lazy-i Best of 2011 Sampler CD. And if you haven’t entered into the drawing to win a copy of this once-in-a-lifetime collectors item, your time is running out as tomorrow is the last day to enter. Also included on this year’s disc are tracks by tUnE-yArDs, St. Vincent, Icky Blossoms, Decemberists, Gus & Call, It’s True, Eleanor Friedberger, Peace of Shit, Digital Leather and a bunch more (check out the track list at the bottom of this blog entry). To enter, just send an e-mail (to with your name and mailing address. Hurry! Deadline is Jan. 17!

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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 © 2012 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

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