Live Review: Ondara; Say Hi Wednesday somewhere in Dundee…

Category: Blog,Reviews — Tags: , — @ 7:29 am May 30, 2023
Ondara at Slowdown, Jr., May 27, 2023.

by Tim McMahan,

The crowd last Saturday night for Ondara at Slowdown Jr. was unusual in that almost all of the mostly older folks were seated at high-top tables that filled the room. I don’t remember ever seeing a set-up like that at Slowdown. Opener Kiely Connell was finishing her set when I walked in and noticed not a soul standing in front of the stage. It felt like a formal jazz lounge.

Before he took the stage, I stood back along the edge toward the door that leads to the patio, having spent the between-set time sitting alone outside. Ondara stood in the make-shift “backstage” area behind the curtain off of stage left, not quite pacing next to the pool table, but looking down as he quietly sang to himself in a sort of pre-show voice-warmup ritual. Then he stood up straight and strolled onto the stage to warm applause.

It’s been a long time since I’ve heard anyone with a voice as strong and sure as Ondara’s. He started his set with an a-cappella number that had the crowd mesmerized. And then he methodically went through a set list of a little over a dozen songs, all accompanied by his simple acoustic guitar, all reminding me of early Tracy Chapman — both in melody and vocal style — and it just so happens that I adore Tracy Chapman.

The difference between Ondara and Chapman is in his lack of variety – most of his songs have a similar mid-tempo four-chord style – and his lyrics that, while personal, are nowhere near as gut-wrenchingly confessional as Chapman’s early material, which was revelatory for its time. That said, his songs are no less depressing, introducing them with “Here’s another sad one” and closing out the evening by saying “Time goes by quickly when you’re sad,” though he looked anything but sad as he rifled through the set list, explaining how some of the songs came along. This one is a lock-down song; this one is about aliens, and so on. 

Really beautiful stuff and, like I said, sung with a strong, confident voice so unlike the style of singing I’m accustomed to hearing at indie shows where vocals hold a distant third behind the lyrics and instrumentation, almost as if an after-thought (“hey, someone has to sing these lines.”). 

Not Ondara. His voice alone is a treasure. To underscore this, the first of his three-song encore was another a-cappella number, sung perfectly, unwavering, again mesmerizing the strange, seated crowd. 

. 0 0 0 . 

In the early 2000, one of the staple indie acts that toured throughout the country and into Omaha was Say Hi to Your Mom, a one-man act consisting of singer/songwriter Eric Elbogen. We used to call his kind of records “bedroom recordings” because the artist typically recorded the albums themselves on computer. playing all the parts. Thus was how Elbogen did it for his first album, 2002’s Discosadness, and for many that would be released over the next 20 years, some on the PNW label Barsuk Records, whose massive roster also included Mates of State, Death Cab for Cutie, Rilo Kiley, Starlight Mints, Viva Voce, Ra Ra Riot and a ton more of bands I love. 

Sometime over the course of that 20 years, Say Hi to Your Mom became just Say Hi. I guess Elbogen outgrew that earlier name. And now you’ll have a chance to see Say Hi yourself, as Elbogen brings his one-man show to a home in Dundee this Wednesday as part of his Undertow Tour – a tour played entirely in people’s homes. So where is the actual location? All I know is that it’s somewhere in Dundee and that you’ll be notified when you buy your ticket, which is $25 and available for purchase online at this website. Don’t worry, it’s probably a super nice place. Hurry, there are only 18 tickets left as of this writing, and Say Hi shows have a way of selling out. Starts at 8 p.m. 

* * *

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 © 2023 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.


Live Review: The Killers at Steelhouse Omaha; Man or Astro-Man?, Solid Goldberg tonight…

Category: Reviews — Tags: , — @ 7:53 am May 15, 2023
The Killers at Steelhouse Omaha, May 12, 2023.

by Tim McMahan,

In case it slipped your mind, The Killers are from “fabulous Las Vegas” and they’ll never let you forget it. 

Frontman / telethon host Brandon Flowers reminded the crowd multiple times throughout Friday night’s set at the grand opening of Steelhouse Omaha, strutting across the enormous stage in a purple tux jacket, leading the confetti-covered crowd through a tight, well-choreographed evening of fist-pump anthems.

But before I get to that, first Steelhouse Omaha itself. Located at 11th and Dodge St. only a stone’s throw from the Holland Performing Arts Center, the new facility is destined to become a landmark for live music. From the ground up, it is an ultra-modern concert hall that appears to have erupted right out of the concrete in downtown Omaha. 

Announced at the height of COVID in November 2019, many thought it could be a fool’s dream — no one knew what was going to happen with the pandemic. At the same time, it was a beacon of hope, assurance that somehow we’d get through all this sickness and death, that Omaha Performing Arts and its patrons must know something or they wouldn’t commit north of $110 million in a new facility designed to host a crowd like a herd of cattle, standing shoulder-to-shoulder in a windowless, confined hall – the absolute last place you’d want to be in the middle of an airborne-spread pandemic.

Yet, here we were, three-and-a-half years later, Covid all but eradicated, waiting to dive head-first into a maskless crowd. Ain’t humanity amazing?

I arrived at around 7:15 and stood in the short queue to get in. The first checkpoint was an ID check for an alcohol wristband, located outside the facility. Through the door and some sort of high-tech metal detector (no need to empty your pockets), I made a beeline to the box office, where my ticket was waiting in will-call. Most older box offices  have multiple windows – this was one walk-up hole in the wall, which made me think they must really want to sell advance tickets because if they ever have a large walk-up crowd, this small ticket window would be a challenge (and you know what they say — Omaha is a walk-up city).

From there, it was right into the venue. Booking The Killers – a band that usually plays 20,000-seat arenas — was like learning to swim by being tossed into a deep, dark lake. I guess if you’re going to pressure-test the system, do it right out of the box. To their credit, Steelhouse passed the hospitality portion of the test with flying colors, thanks to a massive phalanx of smiling, crew-shirted staff at every turn (reminding me of the Maha Festival, whose success has floated on its own massive volunteer staff). No gruff, overworked bouncers here, these folks all looked like they were having a good time. 

The lobby held a large merch area and bar, then through the doors on your right and you entered the enormous main hall cram-packed with T-shirt-clad fans holding plastic cups. Stairs on either side were well-guarded to keep riff-raff without club tickets (like me) from going upstairs. 

Bars (concessions) were built into the walls on either side of the hall, and in back – seemed like they were everywhere. Even with a sold-out crowd, I had no problem buying my $13 pint of wheat beer. All purchases are cashless, so grab your credit card and ID and leave your wallet at home. 

With my beer in hand, this was when things got tricky. The main floor was already crush-filled. I stepped into the mass of humanity a couple times just to check out the sight-lines. Instead of being sloped, the main, standing-floor area seemed flat, but the stage was raised high enough that sightlines would only be a problem for the most height-challenged. 

Somehow, I ended standing on one of the elevated decks along stage right, where I noticed a guy manning what looked like a battery of T-shirt cannons.

“Confetti cannons?” I asked. He nodded, smiling. “When will those go off? At the beginning? At the end?”

“All night,” the guy said. “The Killers love their confetti.”

The Killers at Steelhouse Omaha, May 12, 2023.

We all discovered this shortly after 8 p.m. when the band took the stage and – bamf! — off went the cannons in a glittering cloud of paper as the Killers slammed into their opening number, “My Own Soul’s Warning.” And the crowd, as they say, went nuts.

It’s here that I should tell you I’m not a fan of The Killers. I think their music is fine if not a bit generic and by-the-numbers for my personal taste. With their hooks and their sing-along choruses, I understand why the mostly older crowd loved them. Frontman Flowers has a stage presence that seems to emote “We’re here all week with two shows a day on weekends,” ticking off the hits the fans so desperately want to hear. 

The room sounded overall pretty good, if a bit tinny and oversaturated on the high end. Volume was even throughout the entire facility. The arsenal of lighting was impressive, as was the giant backdrop video that augmented every song, as if The Killers had brought a Las Vegas stage show to Omaha (because they sort of did).

Problems began when I turned around to make my way to the back of the room. There were no walk-throughs and people were smashed all the way across the aisles, requiring that I shoulder my way against the current of flesh. Still, I never really felt trapped. The main auditorium is designed with large exit doors that open into a secondary lounge where the bathrooms are located, which then exits into a large patio area — both nice touches and areas to escape to when you feel overwhelmed by the sound and noise. 

Sunday I went to the Steelhouse Open House to get a look at the facility without all the people, and yes, it does feel rather sterile in the cold light of day. But you go for the rock show, not the feng shui.

Flowers and Co. slammed through one song after the next, never slowing down and only briefly acknowledging that they had the honor of playing the grand opening. “We’ve been asked to christen The Steelhouse,” Flowers yelled. “Usually we’re asked to blow the roof off the place!” 

Yeah! the crowd roared, and then they fired right into one of their more lyrically in-ept songs, “Human,” with the robot chorus, “Are we human or are we dancer?” (sic). Lots of air punches ensued. 

Later in the set, Flowers brought the vibe down.  “We usually play larger rooms than this,” he said. “This next song is perfect for this room. We made a Bright Eyes record during Covid called Pressure Machine. Wherever Conor is tonight, this is for him.” Little did he realize few in the audience knew who he was talking about as he sang the acoustic-guitar-drive “Runaway Horses,” a song that sounds nothing like a Bright Eyes song. 

After about 75 minutes, they closed out their set with another fan favorite, “All These Things That I’ve Done,” where the crowd sang along to the repeated line, “I’ve got soul but I’m not a soldier.” OK. Instead of a typical encore, the set ended with about five minutes of low-end hum and smoke from smoke machines. 

I stood in the back, taking it in, when a short, young, bearded guy came up to me and asked, “Did they do ‘Brightside’ yet?” I said I didn’t know. He shook his head and walked off before I could add, “because I have no idea what that song is.” 

The band then came back for the visually homo-erotic “The Man,” followed by, you guessed it, “Mr. Brightside.” And Bamf! more confetti! And there you have it. I walked out to the patio and escaped into the night. All in all, a big success for Steelhouse. I’m looking forward to going back to see a band that I actually want to see. Now if they would only book one.

. 0 0 0 . 

Speaking of standing-room shows, there’s one tonight at Reverb Lounge. Quirky ‘90s-era surf rock act Man or Astro-Man? headlines a four-band bill that includes the always-amazing Solid Goldberg. Also on the scorecard are laughingthrush & B.Sonnier. $28, 8 p.m. 

* * *

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 © 2023 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.


Live Review: Deeper at Reverb Lounge…

Category: Reviews — Tags: , — @ 7:36 am May 11, 2023
Deeper at Reverb Lounge, May 10, 2023.

by TIm McMahan,

Way back in 2016, I went to a show at the now long-defunct Milk Run featuring a Sub Pop band called Arbor Labor Union. Milk Run was a venue located around 20-something and Leavenworth that was the size of a large walk-in closet. Despite its size, they put on a number of interesting shows in their tiny lifetime. 

I left that show back then with a copy of Arbor Labor Union’s Sub Pop debut and a premonition that they could maybe one day be huge, and I could say I saw them play first at the closet-sized Milk Run.

Well, seven years later, Arbor Labor Union is no longer on Sub Pop, but still exists (in fact, they released a new album in January on Sophomore Lounge Records), but they’re not the huge hit I thought they could be.

So, here we are in 2023 and along comes Deeper, who played last night at Reverb Lounge. The band recently released a single on Sub Pop – their first with the label — after receiving accolades from Pitchfork about their previous album released on Fire Records. I hadn’t heard of them before this show, but, hey, they’re on Sub Pop, so… Any time any Omaha club hosts a traveling indie band that’s on a recognizable, nationally distributed indie label, I’m going to try my darnedest to catch their show.

Deeper was musically everything I’d hoped they’d be – a solid post-punk band clearly influenced by Joy Division / New Order with a modern, chiming guitar sound in line with an act like Preoccupations, which they’ve been compared to. I was also reminded of early French Kiss guitar bands and acts from my youth, like Manishevitz.

Frontman/guitarist Nic Gohl has a throaty vocal delivery that sort of sounds like David Byrne during his weirder moments, barking out lyrics that, unfortunately unlike Byrne (who is a great enunciator), were impossible to understand. The basic formula for most songs was drummer Shiraz Bhatti creating a throbbing beat to be joined in with a groovy bassline from Drew McBride, a repeated acidic guitar riff by Mike Clawson and then in comes Gohl with his own guitar part and his distinctive bark. As the songs went on, they locked into a hypnotic groove, with Clawson occasionally adding a New Order-ish synth line.

Very cool stuff, but they’re one of those “stand up there and play” bands, which was enough for the 50 or so in the very young crowd (likely there to see the openers and sticking around for the headliners). Arbor Labor Union’s performance back in 2016 was pretty much the same – stand up and play – and that’s fine because like Deeper, their music, played with extreme precision, carried the day. 

Still, I have to wonder if I just saw a band on the verge of becoming huge or another Arbor Labor Union, who will be around in seven years, but on a different label doing different things somewhere far away from Omaha. 

* * *

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 © 2023 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.


Live Reviews: The New Pornographers, Crocodiles, Las Cruxes…

Category: Reviews — Tags: , , — @ 7:04 am May 1, 2023
The New Pornographers at a crowded Waiting Room April 28, 2023.

by Tim McMahan,

I have no idea how they determine when a show is “sold out.” One assumes they keep count of the ticket sales and when they reach a certain number, that’s it. They must have reached that number Friday night for The New Pornographers show at The Waiting Room because it sure felt packed in there. I can’t remember a show more packed with people, and yet, when I checked the website or looked at the front door, there was no indication the show had sold out. 

So crowded that once inside there was no where to go except the corner of the bar right in front of the door, where I got my usual tallboy of Rolling Rock, and then somehow squeezed through the crowd while opening band Wild Pink finished their set. Part of the crowding on this side of the bar was due to a huge, long table set up next to the booths where people were handing out Amnesty International literature. I stood next to it, looking like one of the volunteers, though no one asked me any questions about human rights violations. 

The cramped crowd seemed to ease a little when Wild Pink wrapped things up, and I was able to make my way to the sound board area, where I found a cubby space that would be my home for the next two hours. The New Pornographers came on stage at around a quarter after nine, opening with “Marie and the Undersea,” from their new album Continue as a Guest.

The seven-piece band was fronted by Neko Case, looking more and more like a middle-aged Stevie Nicks, and Carl Newman, who is starting to resemble a short version of Steve Martin. Whenever I see Neko sing I want to run on stage and lower her microphone because it always looks like she’s stretching to sing into it. I guess that’s her style. Maybe it was the mix, but she sounded a bit lost early in the set but hit her stride five songs in singing the band’s first single, “Really Really Light.” 

From there it was just another New Pornos show, albeit without Dan Bejar, who I guess is now dedicated full time to Destroyer. The standouts to me was the addition of tenor sax player Zach Djanikian, who added some great solos and fills throughout the set, and the always fetching Kathryn Calder on support vocals. If the band seemed a bit laid-back maybe it was because of the laid-back nature of this enormous crowd – a mix of older folks with what looked like their kids — who spent the set standing and staring at the band, nodding their heads to the beat.  

Halfway through, the band announced it was trying a song they’d never played before. “Let’s see how this goes,” Newman said (Case and Newman chatted calmly between the songs like a couple of NPR hosts doing a podcast). The song, btw, was “Bottle Episodes,” also from the new album. The band wrapped up the set with a fine version of “Whiteout Conditions,” before leaving and coming back for a 4-song encore that closed with “The Bleeding Heart Show” — how they’ve been closing all their shows on this tour. 

So, a 90-minute concert, well played as per usual. When I think of New Pornographers I think of an era in indie music dominated by them, Belle & Sebastian and Yo La Tengo — all acts that continue to thrive 20 years or more after their debuts and who no doubt have been instrumental in helping launch other bands. Case and Newman mentioned this from stage, talking when My Morning Jacket and Vampire Weekend opened for them, and jokingly adding they were happy to give those guys a break. 

Las Cruxes at O’Leaver’s, April 29, 2023.

Late on Friday, O’Leaver’s announced a last-minute show Saturday night with San Diego indie act Crocodiles. The band has been around since 2008, created by Brandon Welchez and Charles Rowell out of the ashes of punk bands The Plot to Blow Up the Eiffel Tower and Some Girls. They’ve got a number of releases on Fat Possum Records. and band members have played with a number of other bands, most notably Dum Dum Girls (Welchez apparently was once married to front woman Kristin Kontrol) and Cat Power.

Before they went on, local punk band Las Cruxes played a set as three-piece rather than their usual crowded stage of musicians. I have no idea if this is their new permanent line-up or a one-off thing, but I really dug the set. Eduardo ‘Yayo’ Trujillo was backed by a  drummer and bassist and played a number of songs off their upcoming album, all sung in Spanish and at times sounding like a cross between The Pixies, Galaxy 500 and Luna. At the best moments, the band rolled on longer numbers where Trujillo would rip on guitar solos, backed by that tight rhythm section, the bass really leaning forward on these songs. Just a great set of rock music.

Crocodiles at O’Leaver’s, April 29, 2023.

After much sound checking to fix an errant bass drum that was feeding back through the PA, Crocodiles ripped into their set. I’ve only heard a couple songs online from their Bandcamp page. Frontman Welchez was in fine form playing as if in front of a 1,000 people instead of fewer than 20. This is one of the tightest bands I’ve seen in awhile and they sounded great on O’Leaver’s “stage.” 

Where else can a band introduce themselves between songs and order their after-set dinner? Welchez ordered chicken strips, the guitarist had wings; the bass player, a burger to go and the drummer, tequila. 

It’s been awhile since I’ve said this, but it was another fantastic night at O’Leaver’s. And while there’s no question they’ve gone all-in on the restaurant side of things (a new flat screen monitor has been placed above the booths by the stage that constantly shows a rotation of burgers, fries and other menu items), the Club hasn’t lost sight of its heritage as one of Omaha’s premiere hole-in-the-wall performance spaces. So much so that they’ve got a David Nance show booked for this coming Saturday and I’m told will try to book at least a couple shows a month moving forward. Hear! Hear!

* * *

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 © 2023 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.


Live review: Snail Mail, Water from Your Eyes…

Category: Reviews — Tags: , — @ 7:10 am April 10, 2023
Snail Mail at The Slowdown, April 8, 2023.

by Tim McMahan,

If it wasn’t a sell out it was the closest thing to it Saturday night at The Slowdown. Water from Your Eyes had just started their set when I arrived at after 9. They played as a three piece – guitarist Nate Amos and vocalist Rachel Brown with a bass player. The drums were prerecorded backing tracks that Amos controlled from a MacBook that sat next to his pedal board — full-on synth tracks and beats, which he cued up throughout the evening. 

Their set was almost identical to what they played at Reverb Lounge late last year opening for Palm, switching between mid-tempo, meandering crooners and harsh, brittle, noise symphonies that saw Amos playing cut-jab guitar riffs over acidic synth tones while Brown either spoke or sang lyrics in beat with the dissonance. Those art-noise experiments were the evening’s highlight, wonky and off-kilter and at times unsettling and/or groovy. I hope this is where they’re headed on their upcoming album rather than the serene tone poems heard on earlier recordings. 

Water from Your Eyes at The Slowdown, April 8, 2023.

Brown looked like a 13-year-old boy wandering around stage between songs while Amos re-tuned or cued up the next song on the playlist. The seemed like a very young band halfway to figuring out where they want their sound to go. I can’t imagine what Snail Mail fans thought of them.

That said, their set was far more dynamic and interesting than Snail Mail’s, which was low-energy by-the-numbers female-fronted indie rock. Lead singer Lindsey Jordan‘s voice sounded remarkably pedestrian in a mix that only highlighted her limitations. 

Jordan talked about tour bus problems (break-downs, crashes, near-death experiences) and mentioned recently firing a member of the band, which I assume was their guitarist. All this after being on the road for a solid year touring this record. She spoke about having written one song with a difficult guitar part, but thinking “it doesn’t matter because I won’t be the one who has to play it.” I guess the joke was on her. 

A flat performance, but it didn’t matter to the capacity crowd squeezed onto the floor in front of the stage who came to hear these songs and sing along, as they did throughout the night. 

* * *

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 © 2023 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.


Live Review: Scout Gillett; Maria Elena Silva (Chicago) tonight…

Category: Reviews — Tags: , , — @ 7:15 am April 3, 2023
Scout Gillett at O’Leaver’s, March 31, 2023.

by Tim McMahan,

A friend of mine met me at O’Leaver’s last Friday night for the Scout Gillett set. The show was scheduled to start at 10 p.m. with Anna McClellan, but by the time I arrived a little after 10, McClellan had already wrapped up her set, so they must have moved her start time.

There was my friend with his beer. While I hadn’t been to O’Leaver’s in at least six months or more, he hadn’t been there in a number of years. 

“Were those booths there before?” he asked, pointing at two sets of black leather booths installed along the south wall, directly in front of “stage right.” No, those are new, at least new post-Covid, when O’Leaver’s changed their business plan to become more of a burger joint and less of a rock club. 

“What’s with the projector screen behind the band?” he asked. I told him once upon a time, O’Leaver’s installed a big screen TV that was behind bands, and then created some sort of cover-up for it and then took it down. Now it appears they’re using a projection TV and no longer lift the screen, giving the staging area an office party vibe. Not sure why they’d leave the screen down unless they were watching the women’s Final Four game before the set and forgot to close it. 

The wall of electronic candles also was new, as were a couple beer signs I didn’t recognize, and every so often someone would emerge from where the Tiki Bar used to be with baskets of French Fries, but all in all, O’Leaver’s hadn’t changed much. I told my friend how despite its tiny size and lack of a real stage The Club used to be one of the most important — and fun — places to see a band, and some pretty remarkable bands at that. 

You can still relive some of those crazy O’Leaver’s nights at, where high-quality soundcloud files of sets are still stored and playable online, including by bands like Johnathan Rice, Xetas, Head of Femur, Dolores Diaz & the Standby Club (Conor Oberst project), Speedy Ortiz, Cursive, Bob Log III, Orenda Fink, Mike Schlesinger, Simon Joyner, Matthew Sweet, Iska Dhaaf, Digital Leather and tons more. 

Anyway… Scout Gillett and her band kicked off their set at around 10:30. Playing as a four-piece, the Brooklyn crew sounded more straightforward and less hazy and moody than what’s heard on their delectable No Roof No Floor (Captured Tracks) album, more like a bar band than shoe-gazers, surrounded by around 30 people in the half-filled club as the Iowa women’s team celebrated their Final Four victory on the overhead TVs. 

The highlight was Gillett’s lead guitarist, whose name I didn’t catch and who isn’t listed on her Bandcamp page. He played some soaring fills and solos over a band that you could tell has the fire power to fill a big stage when/if the situation calls for it, unlike Friday night when a more subdued rhythm section was the state of play. At one point late in the set Gillett walked through the main floor area playing her guitar, the only thing missing was a basket of Fries. 

O’Leaver’s has yet another show coming up May 6 with David Nance & Mowed Sound and French rockers En Attendant Ana. Oui Oui!

. 0 0 0 . 

Pageturners has another of their sneaky Monday night shows tonight with Chicago singer/songwriter Maria Elena Silva. “Sweet, spacious songs sung in English and en español that evoke endless prairie,” says the Viking Choice Guide to Bandcamp 2021.  Omaha ambient artist Phill Smith opens at 8 p.m. $10 suggested donation.

* * *

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 © 2023 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.


Live Review: Protomartyr’s Joe Casey sings, spoils Cocaine Bear…

Category: Reviews — Tags: , , — @ 7:36 am March 30, 2023
Protomartyr’s Joe Casey at Slowdown Jr., March 29, 2023.

by Tim McMahan,

About three times as many people were on hand at Slowdown Jr. last night for Protomartyr than the previous evening’s Titus Andronicus show. Someone who read yesterday’s blog asked how the band has changed since I first saw them in 2014, and the answer: very little. Protomartyr’s sound and style, which is combination of influences from The Fall to Gang of Four to The Pixies, is centered around a post-punk energy created by drummer Alex Leonard, bassist Scott Davidson and guitarist Greg Ahee.

At the center is vocalist Joe Casey, looking a little older, a little rounder than I remember from the last decade. Casey is at once a magnetic figure who demands your attention while at the same time looking like an everyday guy. 

Glancing at my notes from last night: “He looks like an Irish Gandolfini, he looks like my accountant, he looks like my lawyer, in that black sports jacket he could be mistaken for a priest. He looks like my shop teacher, he looks like an angry plainclothes detective, he looks like Alfred Hitchcock, like every umpire in Boston, like a very upset  neighbor.” 

With a low-boy can of Budweiser in one hand and the microphone in the other, Casey spat out lyrics – mostly yelling, sometimes talking, sometimes chanting – his voice cut through the throbbing punk like a blunt-force instrument through a skull. Most of it was undecipherable, which is a shame because Casey’s lyrics are like blank verse observations of the messed up world we live in, often dark and pessimistic and the perfect match for this music. 

The well-mannered crowd mostly stood and bobbed their heads but one small knot of energy frantically danced to every song and sometimes added their own rants, which were welcome.

I tried to imagine what this music would sound like with a traditional vocalist singing traditional rock melodies and of course it wouldn’t work; it would be something different, something I wouldn’t like. 

Throughout the set Casey politely thanked the crowd between songs, reminding us that the band is from Detroit and that they’ve been here many times. Later in the set he spoiled the plot to Cocaine Bear, saying actor Ray Liotta (“who is now dead”) gets torn apart, and then explained the plot to 2014 film The Identical, also starring now dead Liotta, about a guy who looks like Elvis. It was weird, and strangely appropriate. Here’s hoping they come back soon. 

* * *

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 © 2023 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.


Live Review: Titus Andronicus; Protomartyr, Healer tonight…

Category: Blog,Reviews — Tags: , , — @ 7:26 am March 29, 2023
Titus Andronicus at The Slowdown, March 28, 2023.

by Tim McMahan,

What to say about Patrick Stickles a.k.a. Patty Stax and his band, Titus Andronicus, who played a crushing set last night at Slowdown Jr.? In the four times or so that I’ve seen them, this was my favorite set. It also was their shortest set. Titus Andronicus sets used to be notoriously looooong; so long, in fact, after 90 minutes or more I would find myself hoping the next bludgeoning ballad was the last, but no, there was always another…

Performing last night as a five-piece, Titus Andronicus played a tight one-hour set that included a few new songs off their latest album along with a handful of their classics, which they packaged at the end in a sort of medley that included “Four Score and Seven,” “A More Perfect Union” and “Titus Andronicus Forever.” Those fist-pump almost-Celtic-flavored anthems were in stark contrast to the songs from their new album, The Will to Live, which had more in common with the Stones or Cheap Trick, complete with scorching guitar solos. 

And as much as I liked the three-song epic closer, my favorite moment was a rousing version of “Tumult Around the World” off 2019’s An Obelisk, which sounded like a hyper-active version of “Sweet Jane” played by Thin Lizzy.  Actually, every song felt like a high-voltage energy buzzsaw, with Stickles lighting the fuse from one explosive rocker to the next, backed by a rock solid band of brothers. I get a sense that, from one town to the next, whether playing in front of 50 like last night or 500 or 15, Stickles and Co. always bring the same manic perfection and will from now until the end of time. 

. 0 0 0 . 

Protomartyr at French Legation Park / Pitchfork Day Party at SXSW 2014. The band plays tonight at Slowdown Jr.

Tonight, it’s back to The Slowdown for the return of Detroit post-punk legends Protomartyr. Their last full length was 2020’s Ultimate Success Today (Domino Records), but they’ve got a new one waiting in the wings called Formal Growth in the Desert, slated for a June 2 release on Domino. 

According to the one-sheet, “Formal Growth In The Desert is a testament to conflicting realities — the inevitability of loss, the necessity of finding joy through it and persisting — that come with living longer and continuing to create. It begins with pain but endures through it, cracking itself open into a gently-sweeping torrent of sound that is, for Protomartyr, totally new.

I’m not sure what they’re talking about, although it might have something to do with frontman Joe Casey’s “period of colossal transition” that took place with the death of his mother.  The band just wrapped up four days at South by Southwest, where (like Titus Andronicus) I first saw them play in 2014, where I described them this way:

“The Detroit-based punk band is fronted by a guy who looks like an insurance salesman, complete with a sensible haircut and full-on business attire, but who has a singing style akin to Husker-era Mould or The Fall’s Mark E. Smith. Deadpan anger, straight-faced disgust, like an upset father with a controlled rage and a back-up band that is pure Gang of Four post punk.”

Hopefully nothing has changed. Opening tonight at Slowdown Jr. is Dan Brennan’s band Healer, a local supergroup that includes two members of Noah’s Ark Was a Spaceship — Andrew Gustafson on guitar and John Svatos on bass — and two members of UUVVWWZ — David Ozinga on drums and Jim Schroeder on bass VI and Rhodes. Or at least it did the last time I saw them. 

Show starts at 8 p.m., $22, and you may want to get tickets now because this one could sell out. 

* * *

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 © 2023 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.


Live Review: GoatFest 2023 (Those Far Out Arrows, Bad Bad Men, beer, goats)…

Category: Blog,Reviews — Tags: , , , — @ 7:20 am March 13, 2023
Those Far Out Arrows at GoatFest, March 11, 2023.

by Tim McMahan,

Was it the first-time novelty of the event or a reflection of an actual thirst for Saturday afternoon rock shows? Whatever the reason, Saturday’s GoatFest was a marvelous success judging by the crowd and the good times. When I arrived at a little past 3 p.m., punk-trio Bad Bad Men was already playing in the back corner of Scriptown Brewery, hidden behind a crowd that ran along both sides of the enormous bar all the way to the entrance. From the looks of it, as many people were there to sample a pint of Scriptown’s tasty, just-released Goatsmack Helles Bock as enjoy the music. 

Like I said last week, GoatFest had the potential to provide that same warm party vibe as I remembered from South By Southwest day parties. Anyone who’s been to SXSW will tell you the day parties are the best part of the festival – super laid-back events where you can listen to great bands while enjoying some much-needed day drinking. The only difference: It’s usually 80 degrees and sunny at SXSW, whereas it was 30 degrees and snowing in the Blackstone. But that didn’t slow anyone down. 

Someone told me that Blackstone was considering more daytime rock shows on weekends. It’s something the district could become known for — or that Scriptown could corner the market on if so inclined. Would the crowds continue to show up if they hosted rock shows every weekend? 

To me, it depends on the bands. SXSW day shows, for example, involve the best original indie bands in the country. I wouldn’t go if it featured cover bands or blues acts. Still, plenty of serious beer drinkers like both of those “genres,” and  regardless of the band I could definitely see a regular weekend afternoon series catching on, especially if another venue in Blackstone also got into the act — part of SXSW’s appeal is stumbling from one venue to another and back again to listen to bands all afternoon. 

And Blackstone is tailor made for hosting weekend day shows, more so than Benson, whose stages are dedicated to supporting that district’s robust nightlife, or the gentrified Dundee and its vibrant restaurant scene, or the Old Market that despite its hip brick buildings still feels like a tourist scene. 

Bad Bad Men at GoatFest, March 11, 2023.

What more to say about Bad Bad Men that I haven’t already said? They’re a super-fun hard rock band that verges on post-punk, fronted by Omaha legend John Wolf, whose rapid-fire guitar riffs scorch above a rhythm section powered by a Siebken/Hug powertrain. I don’t know what John was singing through that PA and it didn’t matter. Folks not used to this style of music had to wish they brought their ear plugs (as I always do). 

The music only got louder when Those Far Out Arrows took over shortly after 4. They stand side-by-side with David Nance Group as the best full-on psych-rock guitar band in this region. Both bands have a knack for finding a deep, guttural groove and playing it out for all its worth. The differentiator is how the Arrows stand closer to traditional, pure ‘60s garage rock, taking that sound and modernizing it in their own midwestern way. 

The goats of GoatFest.

Amost forgot to mention — what would a GoatFest be without real goats? Two were stabled out back in a small trailer parked near the patio area, no doubt wondering who all these drunks were stumbling out of the building, gawking at them. 

* * *

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 © 2023 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.


Live Review: The Machete Archive, Pagan Athletes…

Category: Blog,Reviews — Tags: , , — @ 8:25 am March 6, 2023
The Machete Archive at The Sydney, March 3, 2023.

by Tim McMahan,

Can’t tell you the last time The Machete Archive played in Omaha, but it was years ago.  I was told band members had moved away and returned to Nebraska, which had something to do with this reunion show Friday night at The Sydney in Benson. The last time I did see them play, their sound was thick, fuzzy and furious. Friday night’s version of the Lincoln trio sounded tighter, leaner and more aggressive; a cleaner, more refined prog sound that boiled with intensity as it raced through a set of stutter-rhythmed (don’t ask me what that time signature was) instrumental art rock. Saber Blazek doesn’t kick as high as he used to but you can tell there’s plenty of power behind those squat thrusts. 

Pagan Athletes at The Sydney, March 3, 2023.

The evening began with a set by Pagan Athletes, the drum/keyboard duo of Nathan and Griffin Wolf. Nathan’s stick work has never sounded better or more technically precise, while Griffin’s keyboard/organ tones were as haunting and weird as ever. I noticed a few more yell vocals thrown in here and there, a welcome addition. The act’s charm comes from being a duo – adding a bass or guitar would only clutter a unique sound that is prog-punk at its heart but has an improvisational feel, even though we all know every note, every sound is intricately calculated.

Sidenote: I walked by The Waiting Room at around 9:30 and Nathan Ma’s set already was in full swing, so I kept on walking, having no interest in seeing Militarie Guns. What I heard from the sidewalk across the street (must have been “Blue Bird”) sounded great.

* * *

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 © 2023 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.