Thoughts on Maha 2016 (Passion Pit, Grimes); Sam Martin tonight; High Up, Anna McClellan Saturday; Frankie Cosmos, Eskimeaux Sunday…

Category: Blog — Tags: , , , — @ 12:46 pm April 22, 2016
Passion Pit is the 2016 Maha Music Festival headliner.

Passion Pit is the 2016 Maha Music Festival headliner.

by Tim McMahan,

Before I get started, I’ve had a few people ask me what I think of this year’s Maha Music Festival line-up, which was announced last night. Maybe a half-dozen, not a lot. The bottom line: It doesn’t matter what I or anyone else thinks of the line-up as long as it sells tickets.

This isn’t an art show, it’s a rock concert, and the decisions made by the talented board of Maha, while taking into consideration the quality of the bands and their music, very likely also considered how well the bands would draw. What are the bands’ “metrics”? How well does the band do in Spotify? How many Facebook fans does it have? What is its track record at other festivals? How big is its YouTube presence? Does the band have strong “buzz” — whatever that means? And so on.

Add to all that this very important question: How much is it going to cost?

If someone were to ask me to curate a music festival, two things would happen — either virtually no one would show up, or the bands would cost well north of a million dollars. In the first instance, I’d select bands that, while respected in the indie community, are virtually unknown beyond the 300 or so who are ensconced in the local indie music scene, or I’d pick bands like Beck or Arcade Fire or LCD Soundsystem that demand a bazillion-dollar contract.

Either way, my festival would lose money.

So, no it doesn’t matter what I think of the line-up. Or what some snobby guy or gal who’s really into garage rock or ’80s ambient bands or obscure Euro-dance acts or ancient glam bands thinks, especially if that guy or gal has never bought a ticket to past Maha festivals. What matters is that the thing sells. And this line-up looks like it’ll (probably) sell quite well.

Passion Pit is the headliner. I’ve seen them before at SXSW early in their careers, back when Michael Angelakos and his band were lost in the blur of bands that sound like Vampire Weekend and Phoenix and MGMT. I didn’t keep up with them other than their song “Take a Walk,” which was turned into a Taco Bell commercial. I couldn’t tell you the name of their last album or if a local radio station plays their music.

But I assume they have very strong “metrics” or they wouldn’t be the headliner, and lo and behold, taking a look at their Spotify numbers, their 10 “popular” tracks in Spotify have a total of just under 300 million plays.

Grimes at the 9th & Trinity parking garage, SXSW, March 16, 2012.

Grimes at the 9th & Trinity parking garage, SXSW, March 16, 2012.

Grimes, who is sort of a co-headliner at Maha this year, has a lot fewer Spotify plays. Her top-10 add up to just under 100 million plays. I’ve also seen Grimes perform at SXSW a few years ago, right around the release of Visions, her 2012 breakthrough album. She played on the top level of a parking garage a few blocks north of 6th St., a performance that consisted of her standing behind a laptop computer with a guy playing guitar. I assume she’s picked things up a bit since then.

Passion Pit, who started out on Frenchkiss, is now a major-label (Columbia) pop act that plays a glossy style of dance music. Grimes’ last album came out on respected large-indie 4AD. I actually wouldn’t consider either of them dance bands, but that’s what they’re being marketed as, and clearly more people will be dancing to them then, say, Deathcab for Cutie.

Matthew Sweet and Jay Farrar appear to be nods toward the older Maha fan. Sweet has a rich back catalog and is from Lincoln. Farrar, a former member of Uncle Tupelo, is known for his work in Son Volt, and will be playing that band’s album, Trace, which came out more than 20 years ago (Matthew Sweet’s Girlfriend album was released 25 years ago).

I literally heard the name Vince Staples for the first time in conjunction with Maha. I’ve heard not a single note of his music, but when it comes to modern hip-hop, the only games in town for me are Kendrick and Kanye. Part of the fun of festivals is being introduced to new music. I’d never heard of Matisyahu prior to his appearance at Maha a few years ago (and, honestly, haven’t listened to him since).

Then there’s The Joy Formidable, a London-based alt rock band that records on major labels Atlantic and Warners. What can I say, I’ve only seen or heard them on TV. As an indie music fan, they’re out of my wheelhouse, but I’m looking forward to hearing them live.

Then we come to the festival’s sweet spot, for me, anyway. Car Seat Headrest, Diet Cig and See Through Dresses are young, important indie rock bands, all of whom have played in small clubs in Omaha before. CSH just played at Lookout Lounge. Diet Cig plays Slowdown the first week of May and STD is, of course, local heroes who are breaking nationally. These are the bands I’m most excited to see. Combined, they probably couldn’t sell out The Waiting Room, so hats off to Maha for taking a chance on them.

The other locals, Josh Hoyer & Soul Colossal and CJ Mills, uphold Maha’s fine tradition of booking quality local acts.

Finally, I saw Diarrhea Planet a few years ago at SXSW. Back then they were sort of a power-pop-punk act. Their novelty-flavored name will raise some eyebrows among the Maha sponsors, but, let’s face it, their name is their most offensive attribute.

The buzz before yesterday’s announcement was that Maha is reaching toward a younger, more dance-loving audience. Maybe, maybe… I don’t view any of the bands on the bill to be dance-focused acts, though they certainly have a more lively beat to their music than some of the previous Maha acts. As for skewing “younger,” how is this line-up skewing any younger than last year’s bands like Alvvays, Speedy Ortiz or Purity Ring?

Will it sell out? We’ll have to wait and see, though if it does, I can’t see the demand for tickets being much higher than last year’s sell out. Maha seems to be settling in on Stinson and a sub-10,000 ticket audience. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

* * *

Onto the weekend.

Tonight Sam Martin headlines a show at fabulous O’Leaver’s. Sam has a new album coming out called Get with the Programmed, and methinks we may be hearing songs from that tonight. Also on the bill are Muscle Cousins (Andy from Capgun Coup) and Javid & the Qualified Suspects (Javid, I assume, is Javid Dabestani, because really, how many Javids can there be in Nebraska?). $5, 9 p.m.

Also tonight, a fundraiser for Habitat for Humanity is being held at The Slowdown. Featured acts include Satchel Grande, Matt Whipkey and Kethro. $15, 9 p.m. More info here.

Tomorrow night Omaha’s hottest new combo, High Up, headlines at Milk Run. The full band will take up half the space on their own. Just kidding, Milk Run. Also on the bill are Halfloves and Ridgelines. Tickets are $5 Adv./$7 DOS. Show starts at 9 p.m.

Also Saturday night, singer/songwriter Anna McClellan plays at The Sydney. Also on the bill are Emily Ward and Rogue Moon. $5, 9 p.m.

And you’ll have another chance to see Clarence Tilton at The Barley Street Saturday night. The band opens for The Bottle Tops and The Hanging Cowboys. Bring your boots and hat, pahdner. $5, 9 p.m.

Then comes Sunday and that sold out Frankie Cosmos show featuring Eskimeaux, Yowler and Anna McClellan. Sold out means sold out. Starts early at 9 p.m.

That’s all I got. If I missed your show put it in the comments section. Have a great weekend.

* * *

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 © 2016 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

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