Over the Edge: Lasting Impressions – a look back at the 2008 Lazy-i Top 20 list; Built to Spill tonight…

Category: Column — @ 12:24 pm June 27, 2019

by Tim McMahan, Lazy-i.com

The following Over the Edge column also is in the printed version of the June issue of The Reader. It hasn’t gone on their site yet, and I don’t know if it will (but it probably will). Perfect for #TBT…

Lasting Impressions
A Look Back to 2008 Shows the More Things Change, the More They Stay the Same

By Tim McMahan

As I was putting together my top 20 list of favorite local bands for this, the annual Music Issue of The Reader, it dawned on me that many of the names looked, um … familiar.

I did a little research and discovered we began putting together top 20 lists way back in the October 2006 issue of The Reader. It was a novel idea that, if memory serves me, came about after bouncing concepts back and forth between myself and then-Reader music editor Andy Norman (who these days heads stellar nonprofit Rabble Mill, including remnants of Hear Nebraska, which I’m told will rise again, but that’s another story …).

Despite digging through my closet of yellowed Reader back issues, I couldn’t find that 2006 issue or that first top 20 list. I did find in my archives my 2008 top 20 and “Next 15” lists, and to my surprise discovered many of the same acts are on my 2019 list.

How did those 2008 top 20 bands fare a decade later? Let’s take a look:

Brad Hoshaw — Hoshaw, who’s on the 2019 list, is putting the finishing touches on an album recorded in Redwood Studio in Denton, Texas.

Brimstone Howl — Fronted by John Ziegler, the band evolved into The Lupines, who are on the 2019 list.

Conor Oberst remains Conor Oberst, and is on the 2019 list.

Eagle*Seagull — Fronted by singer/songwriter Eli Mardock, at the time the band was thought to be Nebraska’s “next big thing,” but broke up in 2010. Mardock and his wife, Carrie, also a former member of Eagle*Seagull, now run the Royal Grove in Lincoln. Eli just released a new project on Warner Music Germany called The Kiez with Hamburg native Lucas Kochbeck.

The Faint — Also on the 2019 list.

Filter Kings — Omaha’s favorite (and only?) outlaw-country band disappeared a few years after making this list, but occasionally makes a stage appearance fronted by the legendary Gerald Lee Jr.

Flowers Forever — Led by Derek Pressnall, who also was a member of Tilly and the Wall. Pressnall now fronts Saddle Creek Records band Icky Blossoms, which hasn’t produced new music since 2015’s Mask.

For Against — The ’80s-era Lincoln dream pop band re-emerged in 2008 and 2009 with new records, and then submerged itself once again. Indie labels Captured Tracks and Saint Marie Records reissued a number of their early recordings in recent years.

The Good Life — The other project of Cursive’s Tim Kasher currently is on hiatus while Cursive barnstorms the country supporting its new album, Vitriola. Cursive is on the 2019 list.

Malpais — Whatever happened to frontman Greg Loftis? Check the Nebraska Department of Correctional Services.

McCarthy Trenching — Dan McCarthy remains Omaha’s favorite troubadour, recently having one of his songs covered by none other than Phoebe Bridgers and Jackson Browne.

Midwest Dilemma — The folk-rock project by singer/songwriter Justin Lamoureux has yet to follow up the release of 2008 album Timelines & Tragedies.

The Monroes — One of the many musical projects of Gary Dean Davis, former frontman of ’90s tractor-punk legends Frontier Trust. The Monroes folded, and Davis re-emerged in The Wagon Blasters, who are on the 2019 list.

Neva Divona — The project of frontman Jake Bellows appears to be on permanent hiatus. Bellows now lives in Los Angeles and plays in Supermoon with Morgan Nagler of Whispertown.

The Show Is the Rainbow a.k.a. Darren Keen is living and working in Lincoln again after spending years in Brooklyn.

Son, Ambulance is still alive and kicking and, rumor has it, working on a new set of songs.

Thunder Power continued to play and record music through 2012 before disbanding.

Tilly and the Wall — The tap-dance powered phenoms haven’t released an album since 2012’s Heavy Mood (Team Love Records).

UUVVWWZ — The Lincoln-based art-rock project followed its self-titled Saddle Creek Records debut with 2013’s The Trusted Language. Last I heard frontwoman Teal Gardner was living and making art in Boise, Idaho. Guitarist Jim Schroeder is in a number of Omaha projects, including The David Nance Group, which is on the 2019 list.

The Whipkey Three — Matt Whipkey is on the 2019 list.

From 2008’s “The Next 15” list, Simon Joyner, Little Brazil and Talkin’ Mountain’s Jason Steady all made the 2019 list.

That makes 11 artists from 2008 with connections to this year’s top 20 list.

Back then, I introduced these lists with an essay that said, to paraphrase myself, “Lists don’t matter,” written (I suppose) to appease those who weren’t on it. A decade later, I can tell you that lists do matter if only to provide a guidepost in an era when we’re surrounded by too many paths.

Beyond the fundamental arguments we’re all familiar with about streaming music — that the sound quality is sub-par, that it cheats artists who could have made money by selling physical copies (which is bogus for young acts. How many bands do you know with unopened cases of their albums moldering in their basement?) — the biggest conundrum is there’s just too much of it. Anyone can release an album on Bandcamp or one of the streaming services, but few can get people to actually listen to it.

Lists like the top 20 point people to the good stuff, at least as it’s perceived by the publication or critic. It cuts through a mighty dense fog, and you can either follow the light or move on to the next lighthouse.

The fact that 12 of the Top 20 artists this year were on the 2008 list can be viewed as evidence of the lethargy of our scene, of how little things have changed in a decade.

But it also can be viewed as proof of that old list’s accuracy. These artists are still around, they’re still creating high-quality music, they’re still making a difference — if not with their own creations, then by influencing others on the list who have joined them.

Over The Edge is a monthly column by Reader senior contributing writer Tim McMahan focused on culture, society, music, the media and the arts. Email Tim at tim.mcmahan@gmail.com.

First published in the June 2019 issue of The Reader. Copyright © 2019 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

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If that wasn’t #TBT enough for you, Built to Spill returns to The Waiting Room tonight to perform seminal 1992 album Keep it Like a Secret. Orua and Clark and the Himselfs also are on the bill. $25, 8 p.m.

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Read Tim McMahan’s blog daily at Lazy-i.com — 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 © 2019 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.


#TBT: When are you too old to rock? (Lazy-i: Feb. 5, 2009)…

Category: Column — Tags: , , — @ 1:42 pm February 14, 2019

And then there’s Keith…

by Tim McMahan, Lazy-i.com

Ten years later this message still applies. And while I’m no less enamored with music — old or new — I’ve slowed down when it comes to going to shows, both because of work-related reasons and the fact that there simply are fewer indie shows these days (though things are looking up).

One other side note: A local musician recently asked me to help promote an upcoming show in Lazy-i and asked if I knew other channels that might be appropriate. I mentioned a couple folks with strong social media presences and strong connections to the scene. It dawned on me afterward both people I mentioned were in their 60s, and I’m in my 50s. Where are all the young champions for local music and shows?

Column 208: Greasy Kid’s Stuff
Age and music.
Lazy-i, Feb. 5, 2009

I was feeling just fine about everything until Barack decided to join in with his “Let us set aside childish things” rant during the inauguration. What exactly was he saying? Who was he talking to?

After awhile, it does begin to pile up. The whole age thing never occurs to me unless someone else mentions it — directly or indirectly.

Last week a friend who works at The City Weekly pointed out that Mike Fratt “went after me” in his column. Really? By name? No, he never used your name, my friend said. He merely referenced “Omaha’s own aging indie-hipster blogger street weekly writer…” I was flattered that Mike would think anyone would even know who he was talking about (and without that knowledge, a reader would think Fratt was being self-deprecating instead of just snarky — he is, after all, considerably older than I am).

A week before that, I was at a local watering hole listening to a band when one of the city’s better musicians said, not off-handedly, “Why would a 20-year-old want to know what a 40-year-old guy thinks about new music?” He was making a point about himself, of course; about how he thinks no one cares what his favorite music was from 2008 (but we do). I’m sure the fact that I’m in my 40s and still write about indie music never crossed his mind. Did it?

And then there was the time I was speaking in front of a class alongside a former mover-and-shaker in local music retail. I asked him what he thought of Saddle Creek Records. He said he only listens to blues these days. “I outgrew that stuff a long time ago.”

It comes down to the notion that rock music — specifically new rock music — should only be enjoyed by young people. That people beyond their 20s (some say beyond their teens) should have moved on from listening to rock or any music for that matter.

I remember as a teen-ager listening to albums with my headphones on, wondering how much I’d miss it when I got older because, well, “old people” don’t listen to music. Certainly my dad didn’t.

That same backward thinking applies to rock shows — when are you too old to go see a band (other than a dinosaur act at the Qwest Center)? Is it when your friends quit going to shows? Or when you have kids and reprioritize your life so that music no longer plays a role? I can’t speak to the issue of getting married and having a family. I can say that a lot of people I know put music away when their children arrived, and use their family life as an excuse for not going out any more (or doing anything creative, for that matter). And that’s fine. Chances are even if they didn’t have kids they would have quit going to shows anyway. Rare is the person who can continue to “get into” new music after they reach their 30s. That’s just the way it is.

I made that point on my blog, and one reader took offense. He said he used to go to shows at The Cog Factory and Kilgore’s before moving to Chicago and getting involved in the music business himself. He ended up in California “…and then, I had kids. Now you can chalk it up as an ‘excuse’ to ‘quit’ the pursuit of music-passion (or other cultural endeavors), but I actually blame it as much on not only a re-prioritizing of priorities as I do finances,” he said in an email. “When you’ve got a young mouth (or in my case two young mouths) to feed, given the choice between buying groceries or going out to a club to see a band play and then proceed to spend $25 on drinks….well, the choice should be pretty clear.”

I guess it’s like those commercials say: “Having a baby changes everything.” I don’t doubt that. Still, this guy said he continues to subscribe to Magnet and The Big Takeover, and makes notes about bands that might interest him. That alone makes him a rarity. Because most people I know who have kids go home after work and sit in front of the TV for five hours and then go to sleep. Every night. They feel entitled. They’ve worked hard all day, they want to come home and “unwind.” These are people in their late 20s and 30s (and 40s). And before they know it, they’re in their 50s and 60s and then they’re dead. But, dammit, they accomplished something. They raised those kids. And that’s more than I can say for myself.

Would I still be going to shows if I had kids? Well, not 80 to 100 shows a year, but yeah, I’d like to think that I’d definitely make it out at least a couple times a month. But we’ll never know.

Age isn’t so much a state of mind as it is surrendering to a state of mind. I don’t think my personal writing guru, former Village Voice columnist and now Rolling Stone critic Robert Christgau, who’ll turn 67 in April, thought for a second about what was appropriate for someone his age to listen to when he was reviewing the latest albums by Glasvegas (which he gave in A) or Jay Reatard (which he gave an A-). Is he worried that a 20-year-old might scoff at his opinion? I don’t think it crossed his mind. It certainly doesn’t cross mine when I’m writing about the new Animal Collective or Ladyfinger CDs or watching Stolen Kisses or Perry H. Matthews.

Nor should it. Rock was never meant to be only a young man’s game. Just ask this aging indie-hipster blogger street weekly writer. — Lazy-i Feb. 5, 2009, this also was published in The City Weekly at around the same time.

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By the way, Robert Christgau has a new book out called Is It Still Good to Ya?: Fifty Years of Rock Criticism, 1967-2017, which is definitely worth your time, not to mention his XGau Sez entries, which are somewhat awesome. He’s not slowing down at all.

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Read Tim McMahan’s blog daily at Lazy-i.com — 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 © 2019 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.


Saddle Creek signs Black Belt Eagle Scout; Fable of the Reconstruction (in the column); Quintron & Miss Pussycat tonight…

Rusty Lord at O’Leaver’s, June 23, 2017. They play tonight at O’Leaver’s.

by Tim McMahan, Lazy-i.com

The New Era at Saddle Creek Records continues with yesterday’s announcement that the label signed Portland’s Black Belt Eagle Scout.

The project is headed by singer/songwriter Katherine Paul, who “grew up in a small Indian reservation, the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community, surrounded by family focused on native drumming, singing, and arts,” according to the Creek press release.

Her Saddle Creek debut, Mother of My Children, is actually a re-release of an album that came out a year ago. Maybe you caught BBES when they opened for Built to Spill earlier this year? That was around the time when Saddle Creek was considering the band (or so they said. Maybe they’d already made a decision). At the time Mother of My Children was already in Spotify, and I can attest that it’s pretty tasty (It has since been pulled from Spotify, durn).

Anyway, the re-release comes out Sept. 14 and you can pre-order it here.

So let’s see, last month Saddle Creek signed Tomberline; then there’s Young Jesus and Stef Chura signed late last year, not to mention a new Sam Evian album that came out June 1. Holy smokes, what’s next? Saddle Creek is really making year 25 count.

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I may have gotten too clever for my own good with the title of this month’s Over the Edge column: Fable of the Reconstruction. While those of you who followed indie music back in the day will immediately recognize it as a reference to the 1985 album Fables of the Reconstruction, it has nothing to do with R.E.M. Rather, it’s a look at a post-Trump America. It’s never too soon to dream (All it’ll take is for you to get off your ass and vote). You can read online right here or in its printed July issue, on newsstands now.

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Tonight at fabulous O’Leaver’s it’s the return of Quintron & Miss Pussycat. From the Prospect New Orleans website:

Quintron has been making genre-defying noise, soundscape, and house rocking dance music in New Orleans for over 20 years. The majority of his fifteen full-length albums, many created with artist / puppeteer Panacea Theriac (aka Miss Pussycat), have the psychedelic soul of New Orleans party jams as filtered through tough distorted organs and a junk heap of self-made electronic instruments.

Rusty Lord opens (replacing Sucettes). $10, 9 p.m.

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Read Tim McMahan’s blog daily at Lazy-i.com — 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.


2017: Music Year in Review (the people and places that impacted Omaha’s indie music scene)…

Category: Blog,Column — Tags: — @ 12:45 pm January 1, 2018

by Tim McMahan, Lazy-i.com

This was posted in The Reader yesterday (here), so you might already have seen it. It’s also in the printed edition, which hits the streets this week. I include it here for posterity (so if The Reader ever goes belly-up, it’ll still be online somewhere, cuz Lazy-i is forever). The infamous “Predictions” story goes online at The Reader this afternoon. I’ll post it here tomorrow.

Did I forget to say Happy New Year? Happy New Year! We go back to regular programming on Wednesday with a review of Saturday night’s Little Brazil/Criteria show at The Waiting Room. See you then.

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2017: The Year in Music

It’s been a turbulent year for local indie music, a year marked by highs, lows and everything in between.

We’ll get to all that, but first we can’t overlook the obvious: It’s been another great year for new music. While whispers of a dying music industry have been echoing around us for over a decade, more remarkable music was produced last year than in recent memory. So much that it’s impossible to keep up with it all.

In the old days, if you were an indie music fan like me, all you had to do to keep up with the good stuff was know your record labels; but these days I’m starting to wonder if labels are going the way of the dinosaur.

Case in point, open your Spotify app on your phone or your desktop and pull up a playlist. You’ll find a list of band names, a list of titles, but you’ve really gotta dig to figure out which record label an artist is signed to. To folks who consume music via streaming services, record labels don’t matter and probably never did.

But for others, record labels meant everything. Before streaming, serious indie fans purchased music based on record label alone. If the artist was on, for examples, Matador or Sub Pop or 4AD or Rhymesayers or Saddle Creek, a purchase was made with nary a note heard, because you trusted the labels’ taste in artists. And sometimes you blew it but most times you got your money’s worth.

Streaming is changing everything. I mean, does anyone even buy music anymore?

Midway through 2017, the American music industry boasted revenue growth of 17 percent, with retail income at $4 billion. The numbers were fueled not by records sales, but by more than 30 million subscriptions to streaming services that now comprise 62 percent of the total music market, according to the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). Physical sales of vinyl and CDs only comprised 16 percent of music industry revenue through mid-year.

“More than any other creative industry, music is a digital business, with approximately 80% of our revenues coming from a wide array of digital services,” said the RIAA in its mid-year press release.

And yet, labels are still very much with us. Case in point: Our own Saddle Creek Records enjoyed a robust year, signing new acts Stef Chura and Young Jesus while basking in the glow of the continued success of new-hires Hop Along and especially Big Thief, whose release, Capacity, is on every prominent music journal’s “best of” list, from Rolling Stone to Pitchfork.

With a just-opened office in Los Angeles, what does Saddle Creek Records have up its sleeve for 2018?

Saddle Creek’s resurgence wasn’t the only local headline last year. Among the other noteworthy stories in 2017:

  • In September DIY music club Milk Run was shut down, apparently for good. According to a Hear Nebraska report, cops showed up during the Nebraska Hardcore Showcase and locked down the cavernous show space, located in the basement of Midtown Art Supply at 2578 Harney. The building’s landlord said no more, and while the remaining schedule of Milk Run shows were performed in venues around mid-town, a new location has yet to be identified. Is this the end of Milk Run?
  • Local musicians Orenda Fink, Simon Joyner and Noah Sterba were ensconced in controversy over their music and their performances, driven in part by outspoken critics organized in Facebook. The issues involved race, accusations of cultural approbation and artistic freedom, and the impacts are likely to be felt well into the future, unfortunately.
  • Nebraska music non-profit Hear Nebraska joined forces with Lincoln non-profit The Bay to form a new umbrella organization called Rabble Mill, which launched Jan. 1. Rabble Mill’s goal is to enable kids to “discover their passion and build valuable life and professional skills.” Hear Nebraska, which was formed in 2010, will continue as part of Rabble Mill, but expect to see a lot of changes.
  • After operating for more than a year as a hush-hush private club, Hi-Fi House finally went public in September. The spacious high-end music listening room, located at 3724 Farnam St. in the Blackstone District, offers access to its ever-growing, massive private vinyl collection as well as other special programming. Founder Kate Dussault said the Omaha Hi-Fi House is merely the first of what she hopes will be a nationwide network of private listening rooms.
  • Speaking of indie labels, in January, the guys from Cursive — Tim Kasher, Matt Maginn and Ted Stevens — launched their own label, 15 Passenger Records. Their first release was Kasher’s third solo album, No Resolution, while the label closed out the year by reissuing Cursive’s first two albums with promises of new Cursive material in the near future.
  • And finally, Omaha’s two best music venues — The Waiting Room and The Slowdown — celebrated their 10 year anniversaries this summer. Both venues have been stalwarts of the local music scene as well as conduits that brought the nation’s best indie music to Omaha for the past decade.

Which brings us to the “list” part of the Year in Review.

As mentioned above, last year was as strong a year as I can remember for indie releases (located right here); Still, last year I went to fewer rock shows than any year since the ’90s, when indie music was underground (literally). I likely missed more shows than I saw, but that said, here are my favorite shows from 2017:

Umm at Reverb Lounge, April 13, 2016

Umm at Reverb Lounge, April 13 — Umm is a new project by Stef Drootin and Chris Sensensey that sounds nothing like their other band, Big Harp. The rock style, the blistering pace, the guitar/bass tones, even Senseney’s voice — now cool and easy — was a big contrast to the grave-pit vocals heard on Big Harp albums.

Jon Langford & Friends at O’Leaver’s, May 29 — Langford of The Mekons performed a cracking set that included songs from his upcoming album as well as some Mekons’ gold and songs from his Waco Brothers project. I was expecting a C&W set, but Langford’s style was more of a rootsy British folk-meets-rock mix.

David Nance at The Sydney, July 7, 2017.

David Nance at The Sydney, July 10— His guitar work was already respected — ranging from big riffs to lead fills to walls of feedback — now his voice is taking center stage. The only comparison in my mind is early Jon Spencer, and Nance does have a similar stage appeal, albeit hidden behind that huge head of hair.

Tobin Sprout at Reverb Lounge, July 21— What I love about his and Guided By Voices’ songs, beyond the riffs and bright, energetic melodies, is their brevity. Sprout songs rarely last longer than three minutes. Get in, get out, move on. And though the crowd was small, it was lively, comprised mostly of old-time fans who weren’t afraid to pump their fists or pogo or cheer when one of their favorites began.

Those Far Out Arrows at Slowdown Jr., Aug. 8 — I knew they were getting to this very young crowd (who, btw, likely never heard of TFOAs prior to this show) when the pack in front of the stage naturally erupted into a pseudo-mosh pit, pushing and shoving and jumping along with one of the band’s mid-set songs. It’s been awhile since I’ve seen that at a garage-rock show.

Stephen Sheehan and his band at Reverb Lounge, Aug. 18, 2017.

Stephen Sheehan at Reverb Lounge, Aug. 18 — The frontman to ’80s-’90s post-punk bands Digital Sex and The World, Sheehan surrounded himself with a talented group of musicians who brought his musical past to life. Fans heard the best of Digital Sex, including “In Her Smile,” “Roses on Wednesday,” “The Days Go” and “Red Girl,” but the most daring and provocative moments were The World songs that showcased guitarist Ben Sieff at his revved-up best.

Maha Music Festival at Stinson Park, Aug. 19 — Another banner year for Omaha’s best music festival, highlights included Belle & Sebastian, Downtown Boys, local heroes High Up and The Faint, while headliner Run the Jewels had its set cut short by the weather. How will Maha top it for its 10th anniversary?

Beck at Stir Cove, Sept. 9

Beck at Stir Cove, Sept. 9 — Highlights of his flawless performance included “Qué Onda Güero,” which turned the place into a dance party, and a smoking version of “Dreams.” And then there was “Loser,” a shopping-mall anthem for the dad-rock set that got the crowd singing along with gusto.

Sextile at Meatball, Sept. 16 — A raging electronic No Wave sound barrage, chaotic and fierce, they reminded me of the very early days of The Faint, though the venue made it feel (and look) like an in-store.

Tears of Silver at Hi-Fi House, Oct. 2, 2017.

Tears of Silver at Hi-Fi House, Oct. 2 — Fronted by Posies’ Ken Stringfellow and Mercury Rev’s Jonathan Donahue, the band played a set that included covers of songs by Neil Young, Flaming Lips and Al Kooper, as well as favorites by the members’ respective bands: Posies, Mercury Rev and Midlake, closing the night with a Big Star cover. Sublime.

Zola Jesus at The Waiting Room, Oct. 11 — This goth-tinged dance party was fueled by dark pop songs with big beats, thick bass and Rosa Danilova’s amazing voice that (to me) recalled early Sinead O’Connor.

Minneapolis Uranium Club at Pet Shop Gallery Dec. 9, 2017.

Minneapolis Uranium Club at Pet Shop Gallery, Dec. 9 — This is what would happen if a computer scientist digitally combined Devo, The Dismemberment Plan and Wall of Voodoo into one diabolic sound file — quirky, jittery, precise (and fast) post-punk guitar rock combined with smart, ironic observations about our devolving society and the world around us. And they freakin’ rocked.

First published in The Reader, Dec. 31, 2017. © Copyright 2018 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

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Lazy-i Best of 2017

Hey, don’t forget to enter to win a copy of Lazy-i Best of 2017 Comp CD!

The collection includes my favorite indie tunes I’ve come across throughout last year as part of my tireless work as a music critic for Lazy-i. Among those represented: Luna, CLOSENESS, Slowdive, !!!, Digital Leather, Perfume Genius, Big Thief, Wilder Maker and lots more. The full track listing is here, or take a listen if you have Spotify.

So the big news is you, too, could win a copy of the CD. To enter, either: 1. Send an email with your mailing address to tim.mcmahan@gmail.com, or 2) Write a comment on one of my Lazy-i related posts in Facebook, or 3) Retweet a Lazy-i tweet. You also can enter by sending me a direct message in Facebook or Twitter. Hurry, contest deadline is midnight Jan. 5.

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Read Tim McMahan’s blog daily at Lazy-i.com — 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.


Favorite indie albums of 2017 (Locals and otherwise)…

Category: Blog,Column — Tags: — @ 1:23 pm December 12, 2017

Some of my faves from 2017, top row from left, Alvvays, King Krule, Strand of Oaks; bottom row from left, Ted Leo, David Nance, Slowdive.

by Tim McMahan, Lazy-i.com

We’re doing things a lil’ bit differently this year. I usually consolidate my favorite albums list with my Year in Review and favorite rock shows list, all in one package, published in The Reader. This year I split out the album selections, where were published in the December issue of The Reader (right here) for reasons detailed below. The annual Year in Review and 2018 Predictions articles will both appear in the January issue of The Reader, and eventually online here.

The Ones that Stuck with Me
Favorite albums of 2017

We used to close out the year at The Reader with our “Year in Review” issue, but after we went from a weekly to a monthly publication a year ago the editors moved the “year in review” to the January issue. I guess it’s a completists’ approach, so as to be able to include December releases.

My problem: By the time January rolls around I’ve already turned my back on the previous year and am looking with unbridled optimism toward the the future.

As such, I’m breaking the rules. Below is my year-end list of favorite indie music releases, right here, right now. Apologies to the missing Decemberists (Is that where the band got its name?).

Despite the fact that live indie music began to wane in Omaha this past year, the number of indie music releases in 2017 has to be some sort of record. It was virtually impossible to keep up with all of them, which is why I’m not calling this a “best of 2017” list. Of the hundreds of releases I listened to last year, these are the ones that stuck with me, and that I suggest you investigate further.

Strand of Oaks, Hard Love (Dead Oceans) — This strong follow-up to 2014’s HEAL finds Tim Showalter at his epic best a la The Who, though he could use a little more Townshend to cut through all the Daltrey.

SUSTO, & I’m Fine Today (Caroline) —Frontman Justin Osborne’s voice is at times the spitting image of Jackson Browne’s, though musically the band veers between that Laurel Canyon sunset rock and more modern indie. It’s a surprising record.

Sheer Mag, Need to Feel Your Love (Wilsuns RC) — Kind of reminds me of The Ark combined with Butch Walker and modern garage rock but fronted by a firecracker of a lead singer in Tina Halladay, whose pouty growl is unforgettable.

NE-HI, Offers (Grand Jury) — Jangle-buzz garage rock recorded live to capture that house-show energy, though no recording can match their real live show.

Alvvays, Antisocialites (Polyvinyl) — Lilting, pulsing indie pop powered by frontwoman Molly Rankin’s sweet, shy croon, if FM radio (really) still existed, this would be on heavy rotation everywhere (and “Dreams Tonite” would be this generation’s prom song).

Ted Leo, The Hanged Man (self-release) — Ambitious double LP by way of Kickstarter is everything his old fans want and new fans need. Smart, catchy, snarky.

Young Jesus, S/T (Gigantic Noise / Saddle Creek) — Beyond the obvious indie pop, they try their hand at long-form epics that recall droner acts like The New Year/Bedhead and Red House Painters, and succeed. Now on Saddle Creek.

Uranium Club, All of Them Naturals (Static Shock/Fashionable Idiots) — Brittle post-punk a la early Devo w/guitars instead of digitals. Quirky, jagged and fast as a 45, this slim EP is worth finding.

Courtney Barnett & Kurt Vile, Lotta Sea Lice (Matador) — Two of Matador’s best songwriters together, so what could possibly go wrong? I found myself wanting more Courtney and less Kurt, but in the end, the combination was peanut butter and chocolate all over again.

Beck, Colors (Capitol) —Vilified by some who wanted another drowsy Morning Phase, for me it’s the best (upbeat) Beck record since The Information and easily blows that one away with its sheer party intensity. Never a dull moment.

King Krule, The OOZ (True Panther) — Weirdly reminds me of Beck’s Mellow Gold and will probably have the same break-out effect, thanks to the droll barbiturate groove of “Dum Surfer.” Strange and new, just what we needed.

Perfume Genius, No Shape (Matador) — Mike Hadreas’ first fully realized masterpiece is loaded with anthems and heart breakers. I’d compare him to Sufjan Stevens, but there’s really no one like him.

Slowdive, Slowdive (Dead Oceans) — The first new studio album in 22 years from one of the few giants of the ’90s, it sounds like they never left. Haunting, intimate, ambitious and as relevant now as they’ve ever been.

Spoon, Hot Thoughts (Matador) — Britt Daniel has always had a thing for hot beats but he’s never been quite so dance-y. This time he steals from The Cure and The Cars, but so what? One of the funnest records of the year.

!!!, Shake The Shudder (Warp) — I was told by one local promoter that “no one listens to those guys anymore.” Really? Well, maybe they should. Guaranteed to make any dance floor glow (especially bum shaker “NRGQ”).

LCD Soundsystem, American Dream (Columbia) — I kind of wanted to not like this one because, after all, didn’t he retire? But it blows away his last (rather dull) album. A return to relevance; a return to the stadium.

Local Favorites

Closeness, Personality Therapy (Graveface) — Whereas Faint songs (especially the early ones) have a sinister, pleatherish quality, Orenda’s sound always has been ethereal (by nature of her sterling voice). This electronic hybrid doesn’t so much combine the best of both worlds as create something new and glisteningly futuristic.

Conor Oberst, Salutations (Nonesuch) — The beefed version of last year’s Ruminations is his best full band release since the 2008 eponymous record, though the jury’s still out whether he should have just left the 4-track version alone.

David Nance, Negative Boogie (Ba Da Bing) — Scratchy noise anthems by Omaha’s now not-so-hidden gem, Nance takes guitar rock to a static extreme not heard since Jon Spencer. Testify.

Matthew Sweet, Tomorrow Forever (Honeycomb Hideout) — A return to form and his most accessible collection since 100% Fun or that Japanese “thank you” record, 2003’s Kimi Ga Suki, though it’s no Girlfriend (but what is?).

See Through Dresses, Horse of the Other World (Tiny Engines) — A breakthrough for a band that too often sounded like a reincarnation of ’90s college rock (as in Dinosaur Jr.). They come to their own combining post-punk shimmer with classic dream-pop drone for an end-product reminiscent of Saturdays = Youth-era M83 or early New Order.

The Lupines, Mountain of Love (SPEED! Nebraska) — John Zielger and the boys crawl out of the garage rock cellar to create something huge, majestic, like watching a’70s-era 70-millimeter western saga on the big screen.

Simon Joyner, Step into the Earthquake (Ba Da Bing!) — At it’s best, it blazes with a ’70s thrill of a Kristofferson album (or movie) combined with the urban grit of Lou Reed, all without losing the lonely tang of his unique voice.

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Read Tim McMahan’s blog daily at Lazy-i.com — 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 © 2017 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.


Sara Bertuldo (See Through Dresses) on racism and exploitation in art; Thick Paint, Anna McClellan tonight…

by Tim McMahan, Lazy-i.com

In my November column in The Reader, I wrote an essay titled “With the Best of Intentions: Yellow face, the N-word and a divided music community.” The column discussed accusations of racism made toward members of the Omaha music community. If you haven’t already, read the column now to understand the context of the rest of this post.

As an addendum at Lazy-i.com, I also posted a Q&A with Simon Joyner about the controversy, which you can read here.

After I posted links to both the column and the Q&A in Facebook, a number of people reacted, saying I didn’t capture both sides of the issue. Someone suggested I ask See Through Dresses front woman Sara Bertuldo for her thoughts on the matter, and Bertuldo indicated she’d be willing to do an interview or answer questions.

See Through Dresses was on tour at the time, so I suggested we do it via email (as I’d done with Joyner’s Q&A), and sent Sara the following questions to be published with her responses as a post in Lazy-i.

My questions:

— What was your reaction to: Joyner’s song, Noah Sterba’s song, Harouki Zombi?

— Do you think the artists in question have done anything wrong or were trying to intentionally hurt anyone through their actions?

— Is it OK for artists and musicians to broach these sorts of topics in their work? Why or why not?

— Were you satisfied with the apologies or explanations offered by these artists about their choices?

Sara sent her responses late last week in the form of the following essay:

The first reaction is anger.

Imagine someone says something bad about you. What you did. What you said. Or maybe what you wore. How would you feel? I’d feel pretty angry. Is it really bad? Was it something to feel ashamed about? Did you make a mistake? Can you apologize for it? Should you?

Now imagine someone says something else bad about you. Only this time it’s something undeniably true, like something about your identity. Or the color of your skin or shape of your eyes. Something you can literally do nothing to change. How does it feel? I know I was angry. 

When you react with anger, people say things like “don’t take it the wrong way” or “it’s a joke” to minimize it. What it feels like when that happens is that they minimize me and my experience.


It’s a scary word to a lot of people.

My experience with racism is like a book I carry with me. That book is a heavy weight that sits on my chest. And every time I experience something like this, that book opens. It is filled with my memories of prejudice. Memories of being asked if I was Chinese or Japanese in elementary school, being told I “act white,” being fetishized, and learning my mother withheld our language from me to make me more American. She did this to help me fit in. She was treated poorly because of her accent when she immigrated to the U.S. in the 1970s. When she had children she promised herself that wouldn’t happen to them.


Racism is a normal word to me.

I believe it is embedded in all of us and the only way we can fix it is by educating ourselves.

I’m really tired of absorbing everything and keeping silent. It makes me feel sick.

There was a time that I let things slide. I kept quiet because I wanted to preserve some sort of peace. Talking about it was way too real. And people say things that make you question how you feel. To make you quiet. But all these little things that have been said just add up. Every single thing I hear or read, it just eats at me.

Link: http://seethroughdressesband.com/post/161006916559/

I had written something before detailing my experience post-Harouki Zombi stuff. I personally left out names. I didn’t want people to feel attacked. I did not want them to feel the way I felt. I was so angry when this all started, but I tried to let go of that for a moment and write my story. I felt by offering a personal account on what it feels like to be a person of color I could help them see how upset I was. I thought my way for me to change someone’s views was through compassion and not anger.

But months later, it keeps coming up so here we are again.

So to Orenda, Noah, and Simon:

With all due respect, yes, you are all artists. And you are all white. You benefit from things I do not. You absolutely have the freedom to do whatever you wish in your art. But if you are so progressive minded, if you are as compassionate as your friends say you are, please treat our culture and words with reverence. Keep making art, but please do not exploit us. I don’t believe there was intent to cause harm. But the fact of the matter is, you did. I believe it’s more meaningful to take a step back and listen now. Listen to us.

I resent this whole ordeal. I am upset it’s taken so much time from me. I spent so much time thinking about it, crying about it. I’ve cancelled band practice over it, been depressed about it at work, and now I’m out on tour writing about it when I should be enjoying where I am.

And to the people that were so outwardly angry about it, I sympathize with that anger. I really do. People called them bored, childish, social just warriors… You know why marginalized people react that way sometimes? It’s because people don’t listen to us. And it happens again and again.

Here is one marginalized person’s opinion. Because we coexist in this community, I thought you should hear it. You can take it or leave it.

I find solace in my friends and family that support me. I can only work on the people I care about or people that want to be better and if you don’t want to learn from this, that is totally fine.

I’m sorry if that sounds angry, but if anger is all you see then you’re missing the point.
— Sara Bertuldo

Thanks, Sara, for the thoughtful comments on a very difficult subject.

* * *

Tonight at Brothers Lounge it’s the return of Thick Paint. The band has been on the road for awhile and swings back into Omaha with Anna McClellan, who just leaked the first single, “Heart of Hearts,” from her forthcoming album Yes and No, due in February on Father/Daughter. Dilute also is on tonight’s bill. $5, 9 p.m.

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Read Tim McMahan’s blog daily at Lazy-i.com — 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 © 2017 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.


With the Best of Intentions: Harouki Zombi, Noah Sterba, Simon Joyner and a divided music scene (In the column)…

Category: Blog,Column — Tags: , , , — @ 1:41 pm November 13, 2017

by Tim McMahan, Lazy-i.com

Before you read my column in this month’s issue of The Reader that briefly outlines the recent controversy surrounding Orenda Fink, Noah Sterba and Simon Joyner, this note: I was reticent about writing on this topic for fear that it would only stir the pot all over again.

In fact, I told Orenda Fink when the controversy surrounding Harouki Zombi flared up this past summer to keep a low profile and wait for it to pass. Now here I am writing about it. The reason I moved forward was because of  Joyner’s own lengthy defense of Sterba and Orenda (It’s linked within the column).

So without further ado, here’s the column, which you also can read in the November issue of The Reader, on newsstands now. More tomorrow, including comments from Joyner about his song “As Long As We’re in Danger,” the language he used, and its timing…

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Read Tim McMahan’s blog daily at Lazy-i.com — 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 © 2017 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.


Umm ain’t Big Harp (but sorta is…); Leafblower’s rock ‘n’ roll prescription; the last VW (in the column)…

Category: Blog,Column — Tags: , , , , , — @ 12:42 pm April 12, 2017

Big Harp at The Slowdown, Nov. 28, 2015. Two of them are back as Umm tomorrow at Reverb Lounge.

by Tim McMahan, Lazy-i.com

Tomorrow night (April 13) Umm plays at Reverb lounge. Umm is the duo of Stefanie Drootin and Chris Senseney, who also are the core duo behind Big Harp. So Umm is Big Harp, right?

No, says Drootin.

“This is the first time we’ve made a record that’s truly just the two of us,” she said in an email back-and-forth earlier this week. “We’ve always had drummers and this time I played drums along with old drum machines and loops. Also, Chris and I were listening to The Everly Brother a lot and were inspired to make a record where we sing harmony vocals basically all the time, which is a change from Big Harp.

“Really we’ve been moving away from the rootsier vibe since the first record and it felt like time to formalize the break. This probably could, and maybe should, have happened on our last album.”

OK, so the duo-only project is called Umm while Big Harp is the name of the trio (or larger)?

“Not exactly. Umm doesn’t have to be a duo,” Stef said. “Partly we just wanted to start a new project and not have to worry about playing old songs or upsetting people by NOT playing old songs. To us, the music sounds different, but I guess people will have to formulate their own opinions on that.”

Ah, OK. Sort of like Cursive vs. Good Life — two projects fronted by Tim Kasher (one of which (The Good Life) Drootin also plays in)?

“Not exactly ’cause those are two bands that are 75% different members. Both of these are Chris and I. :)”

So… Umm is just a way to avoid playing older material?

“No, not really. That’s one part of it, but it’s really just a different project,” Drootin said.  “We co-sing constantly. We play with drum loops. The songs are looser and longer. It’s different music. But yes, it’s still Chris and I.”

And that’s where I left it — no more clear about the name change than I was before, other than Chris and Stef see Umm as a completely different project than Big Harp, and don’t want to play Big Harp songs Thursday night. They are, in essence, turning band branding on its ear. Imagine every time a band puts out a new record it renames itself.

If so, not a bad strategy, especially when you consider the number of bands that launch with big success only to fall flat on their second release, the fans of the debut apparently uninterested in hearing what comes next. In the old days (*he says from his rocking chair*) a band put out multiple albums trying to build up an audience and catalog of music. Sure, it was a drag when the crowd zoned out during the “new stuff,” but that’s a pain point every band went through.

Now, simply rename your band and start over with every album. How many iterations of Ty Segall are out there. Fuzz? Muggers? Ty Segall Band? Conor Oberst has Bright Eyes, Desaparecidos, Monsters of Folk, Mystic Valley Band and his solo output, though he played a “Poison Oak” (a Bright Eyes song) at his last solo show. Does it really matter what he calls himself since he writes all the songs?

Anyway… Joining Umm tomorrow night is Oquoa and BareBear. $7, 9 p.m. Hey, we all have Good Friday off the next day anyway, right?

* * *

Speaking of upcoming shows (I’m getting a head start to the weekend) Leafblower has a cassette release show Saturday night at The Brothers Lounge with David Nance and one other band. They dropped the first song off the album Monday,

“We recorded with Mike Friedman, and Mike Saklar mastered it,” saidl Leafblower’s Danny Maxwell. “The inserts were designed and screen printed by Ben Allen, and we hand-scored them and numbered them. The tapes are green and hand stamped by none other than Mr. Craig Fort.” How can you go wrong? Check out the new track, titled “RX,” below.

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Random non-music item: I write about my 1966 VW Beetle, my 2017 VW Beetle and how it might be the last car I ever own (because of the advent of self-driving vehicles and Uber) in this month’s Over the Edge column in The Reader. Check it out right here.

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Read Tim McMahan’s blog daily at Lazy-i.com — 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 © 2017 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.


Was I duped by a rock ‘n’ roll band? (in the column)…

Category: Blog,Column — @ 12:59 pm March 22, 2017

by Tim McMahan, Lazy-i.com

This month’s Over the Edge column in The Reader, which came out three weeks ago but has just now gone online, leads with an analogy about truthiness in journalism involving a story I wrote for The Note more than 20 years ago.

The column’s lead:

As we enter the “fake news” era, here is my first run-in with the genre.

The year was 1994. I had been writing about local music for a monthly regional magazine called The Note as a freelancer for two years, in charge of covering Omaha’s indie and punk music scene. The publication’s editor asked me to write a cover story about an Omaha punk band that recently had been signed by a national record label and was about to hit the road for an East Coast tour.

At the time, Nebraska bands rarely performed outside of the state. In fact, the idea that a local band could grab the attention of a national audience, let alone go on tour, was very much a novelty.

For the story, I came up with the idea of asking the band to call me from the road with tour updates. This was years before cell phones, so the calls would come long-distance via pay phones with reverse charges. Every day for a week, someone from the band — usually the frontman — would call from a remote East Coast location and recap road story after road story dripping with unbridled debauchery, kinky depravity and everything else that makes rock ‘n’ roll what it is.

A side note: I knew these guys well, or at least I thought I did. I had interviewed them before, and had watched them perform on Omaha stages numerous times. I trusted them.

Well, I wrote the story and it was published and distributed throughout college towns in Nebraska, Missouri and Kansas. A few days after it hit the streets, I walked in local record store/music Mecca The Antiquarium, and there was proprietor/guru Dave Sink behind the counter holding a copy of the article.

“Great piece,” he said. “I really loved the writing, but you know all those road stories were completely made up, right?”

What happens next and what does it have to do with Trump? You’ll have to go to the column to find out (right here). This is what they call “a tease” in the business, folks. Go read the column and come back. We’ll still be here waiting for you…

Dum-de-dum… *looks at watch*… OK, all done?

By the way, the incident mentioned in the column wasn’t the last time something like that happened. Years later I wrote another rather lengthy band profile and was told afterward (this time via social media) that the entire interview had been a ruse, a lie. Of course I confronted the band who said the guy who posted the comment was Looney Tune-city, completely speaking out his ass.

Still, it never dawns on anyone conducting an interview (especially of an artist) that the person you’re interviewing could be lying directly to your face just for kicks, just so s/he can point at the story to his/her pals in the bar and say, “Check this out, I was bullshitting the whole time.” To my knowledge, it’s never happened to me.

Like any other journalists, I fact-check what is fact-checkable. And if anyone tries to pull the wool over my eyes regarding the local music scene, well, I know people and ain’t afraid to ask more questions. That’s what journalists do.

Still, its’ weird times we live in when we have to assume our president’s words are very likely bald-faced lies…

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Read Tim McMahan’s blog daily at Lazy-i.com — 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 © 2017 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.


Live Review: Landlady, Thick Paint; Milk Run moving locations…

Category: Column,Reviews — Tags: , , , — @ 1:45 pm February 13, 2017

Landlady at O’Leaver’s, Feb. 10, 2017.

by Tim McMahan, Lazy-i.com

Friday night’s Landlady show will likely go down as my first top-5 music moment of 2017. Fronted by Adam Schatz a.k.a. Brown Sugar of the band Man Man, the five-piece played a striking set of proggy indie rock that recalled Schatz’s other band and, for me any ways, acts like Les Savy Fav and Head of Femur. Landlady’s sound is inventive without being disjointed, melodic but sonically adventurous. And there’s nothing quite like Schatz’ voice, a high, cooing nasal delivery that bounces and jumps along with the acidic, almost afrobeat-style rhythms.

Drummer Ian Chang is one of the best stickmen I’ve seen under O’Leaver’s record collection, a marvel of poly-rhythms, he kept the sound boiling as Schatz and company rifled through a set of tunes off the bands’ last couple of albums. Highlights were a raging version of standout tracks “Electric Abdomen” and “Driving in California,” both off stellar new album The World Is a Loud Place (Hometapes, 2017).

At set’s end, Schatz brought up a small horn section, who stayed for the epic closer, a 10-plus-minute performance of “Above My Ground” where-in Schatz climbed above the crowd, leading them in a chorus of “Always, always, always…” that built to a climatic release. Well, you can see and hear for yourself in the following clip recorded from my phone for Facebook Live.

I’m told this was one of first times that opening act Thick Paint has performed as a full-blown band. Joining Graham Patrick Ulicny was a second guitarist, Icky Blossoms’ Sarah Boehling on bass, and two drummers.

Thick Paint at O’Leaver’s, Feb. 10, 2017.

The product was proggy goodness reminiscent of early Talking Heads. Like Schatz, Ulicny has a unique, high-end voice like no one else around here. The only set-back was that the band only played four songs because they’re so new together. We all want more, Mr. Ulicny.

* * *

More about the above video: I am, again, pleasantly surprised at the audio quality one can capture from a handheld iPhone 7. I figured the mics would be blown out, but this doesn’t sound bad at all.

I had someone tell me I should do these iPhone recordings at every show. I don’t for a number of reasons, the first being it’s probably illegal, at least without the band’s permission. Second is that it’s got to be rather annoying for the band to see some guy holding a camera while they’re playing. And third, I’d rather just enjoy the music. Still, if I can sneak one song onto Facebook Live by bands that I know won’t mind, I will. Follow me at facebook.com/mcmahan.

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Arbor Labor Union at Milk Run May 28, 2016.

Word went out over the weekend that Milk Run is leaving its current location at 1907 Leavenworth. In fact, this weekend’s shows were the last at that specific venue, which hosted its first show Nov. 6, 2015.

Sam Parker, one of the founders of Milk Run, confirmed the rumor, saying the all-ages performance space will move to a new location with cheaper rent.

“It’ll be before the end of of the month. Possibly as early as this week,” Parker said. “It’ll be in the midtown area.”

Tried as I might, I could not pry the new location out of Parker. He said the owners will make an announcement this week “when they’re ready.” He did say the new space will be “roughly the same size” as the old Milk Run space. He also said expect the same sort of progressive, indie-flavored bookings.

Milk Run is one of the few places in town that consistently books out-of-town indie, post-punk and progressive bands. I was hoping the new place would be a tad larger than the crackerbox space on Leavenworth. We shall see soon enough…

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Read Tim McMahan’s blog daily at Lazy-i.com — 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 © 2017 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.