Live Review: Middle Kids at The Sydney, Protomartyr, Preoccupations at The Waiting Room…

Category: Reviews — Tags: , , , — @ 2:21 pm December 10, 2018

Middle Kids at The Sydney, Dec. 8, 2018.

by Tim McMahan,

Great weekend of shows. Let’s start with Middle Kids at The Sydney Saturday night and go from there…

The show was a curiosity in itself in that The Sydney isn’t your usual venue for rising, nationally touring indie rock bands. Instead, the club has a reputation for being a Benson neighborhood bar that occasionally hosts local bands (specifically on First Fridays).

But this past summer One Percent Productions, the fine folks who own and book The Waiting Room and Reverb Lounge as well as book the bands at the annual Maha Music festival, bought The Sydney. They had no initial intention of making it another One Percent venue, rather they left the booking in the able hands of Zach Schmieder, who has been booking the club for quite awhile.

However, I have to assume that when One Percent was offered Middle Kids, a band whose music is a staple on Sirius XMU and has been a regular on college music charts, they took it even though their other venues already had been booked that night for the annual Pine Ridge Toy Drive concert. Why not move Middle Kids to The Sydney, after all, the band is from Sydney Australia — makes perfect sense.

Well, within the months that One Percent purchased The Sydney and this concert, the venue has seen a number of adjustments to its sound system. Even the sound board had been replaced (at least for Saturday night) with something more high-tech and ready to handle what ended up being a sold out show.

Since The Sydney isn’t exactly a huge club, I expected the room to be crushed, but instead, the audience was simply cozy. I was told by the woman at the door that “sold out” meant 150 tickets were sold. There was plenty of room to move around, in fact you could walk pretty close to the stage. I took my position off stage left against the wall next to a massive subwoofer on the floor that acted as a perfect barrier to keep the crowd at bay.

But while the sight lines were good where I stood, the sound was bass-heavy and muffled because I was situated behind the overhead amps. Halfway through the set I moved back by the bar, where the sound was primo but the sight lines were for shit because The Sydney only has a short platform a few inches high for a stage, keeping the band essentially at crowd level (though my 6-foot-2 frame still gave me a view of most of the band). With that the sound system vastly improved, one hopes they install if not a proper stage, at least something that lifts the band a foot or more above the crowd.

One last technical note: The Sydney still uses old-fashioned — as in not digital — spotlights, which provide warm, gorgeous tones on stage. Here’s hoping they don’t swap them out for a digital lighting system, which is cold, harsh and photographs poorly (yeah, I know those digital light rigs are cheaper, so I’m not holding my breath here…).

OK, so what about the band? Middle Kids played as a four-piece with an added guitarist (“Kyle”) that gave their sound a much-needed boost. Front woman Hannah Joy was in great voice, standing on point belting out every song the band knows — literally (at the end of the encore she said they had virtually no other material to perform).

I’ve compared these folks to a number of acts, but the one they really reminded me of most was 10,000 Maniacs; Joy’s voice having a similar Natalie Merchant tone and quiver. The mostly younger crowd (lots of big X’s on the back of hands) stood close and sang to the hits, especially on “Edge of Town,” which became a room-filled sing-along.

Protomartyr at The Waiting Room, Dec. 7, 2018.

Backing up a night to Friday at The Waiting Room…

This was sort of a shared headliner affair, with Protomartyr sandwiched into the second slot. I’ve seen Joe Casey and company three or four times. There he was up front again, dressed like an insurance salesman or someone’s dad, barking out lines like a snapping turtle taking bites out of a dead body, while the rest of the band did their usual crushing performance.

I went to the show with a pal who hadn’t seen either band before and only became familiar with their music a few days prior (thanks to my prodding). Music-wise, he said he preferred Preoccupations more than Protomartry, but after the show, he changed his tune, saying he much preferred Protomartyr live if only for Casey’s brackish charisma. He couldn’t take his eyes off him.

I’d already seen his act, which is maybe why I was so enamored with the band, specifically guitarist Greg Ahee who absolutely ripped. If there’s a minus to Protomartyr it’s that their songs sound the same — Casey doesn’t so much sing as yell words into the microphone. So it’s up to the rest of the band to provide the depth, variety and dynamics to the music, which we got in spades.

Preoccupations at The Waiting Room, Dec. 7, 2018.

As good as Protomartyr was, Preoccupations was next level. Playing mostly songs off New Material (2018, Jagjaguwar) as well as a few older tracks, the band came out with guitars blazing before working in synths three songs into the set.

Compared to Casey, frontman/bassist Matt Flegel is a virtual opera singer, channeling Ceremony’s Ross Farrar on post-punk New Wave-esque songs that would fit in rotation on Sirius’ First Wave station. While Scott Munro shined on guitar, it was the duo synths working along with drummer Mike Wallace that raised the bar on New Material tracks like “Disarray” and “Espionage.” It was dance music… for people who don’t dance.

It was a great weekend of shows  and a great way to send off 2018, as I don’t see any other national touring indie bands coming through for the balance of the year…

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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 © 2018 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

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