Mogis/Walcott soundtrack; Desa to play TWR; Alessi’s Ark vid; Simon Joyner’s latest; I’m Wide Awake goes gold…

by Tim McMahan,

Here’s some news bits found whilst going through my email box this morning:

For what may be the closest thing you’re going to get to a new Bright Eyes album in the foreseeable future, Varèse Sarabande Records will release the Stuck in Love – Original Motion Picture Soundtrack digitally May 28 and on CD and vinyl June 11, 2013.

Written and directed by Josh Boone, the film features an original score by Mike Mogis and Nathaniel Walcott (of Bright Eyes), and new songs “At Your Door” (by Mike Mogis and Nathaniel Walcott featuring Big Harp), “You Are Your Mother’s Child” (by Conor Oberst) and “Somersaults In Spring” (by Friends of Gemini: Corina Figueroa Escamilla, Nathaniel Walcott and Mike Mogis). The film, which IMDB lists as 2012 release but is slated for theaters June 13, 2013, stars Greg Kinnear, Jennifer Connelly, and Kristen Bell.

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Speaking of Oberst projects, Desaparecidos announced this morning that they will playing at The Waiting Room Oct. 22. Tix go on sale this Friday at 10 a.m. for $25. The gig is part of a 12-date tour that starts Oct. 20 in Englewood, CO, and closes out Nov. 4 at The Fonda Theater in LA.

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You remember Alessi Laurent-Marke, don’t you? The super talented, super-cute Brit who once called Omaha home has a band that goes by the name Alessi’s Ark, and the video for that band’s first single, “Tin Smithing,” from their new album, The Still Life (Bella Union) just went online (embedded below). Alessi’s headed to these shores on tour, but so far, no Omaha date. We miss you Alessi!

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Omaha’s songwriter laureate Simon Joyner announced yesterday that he’s teaming up with Dennis Callaci of the band Refrigerator (and of the label Shrimper) for a new 11-track LP titled New Secrets. Backing the duo are members of Simon’s band The Ghosts as well as guest spots by Franklin Bruno (Human Hearts, Nothing Painted Blue) & Kevin Morby (Woods / The Babies). The new record hits the bins June 11 on Shrimper. Check out track “The Frayed End of the Rope,” below:

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And finally, eight years after its release, Saddle Creek Records announced today that I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning has been certified gold (500,000 units sold) by the Recording Industry Association of America.

Measuring the value of art based on sales figures is a ridiculous idea; and clearly there is no direct correlation between album sales and quality,” said label chief Robb Nansel in this online message. “But every once in a while we get reminded of why we do what we do; that our efforts aren’t completely futile; and that music, as cliché as it may sound, can change the world. This feels like that type of moment.”

Congrats to Robb, Jason, Conor and everyone who took part in the making of that record. Soak in the achievement, because gold records for indie labels were extremely rare to begin with, and the way the industry has gone over the past decade, are destined to be a thing of the past.

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Read Tim McMahan’s blog daily at — an online music magazine that includes feature interviews, reviews and news. The focus is on the national indie music scene with a special emphasis on the best original bands in the Omaha area. Copyright © 2013 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.


Oberst: More Desa, solo recordings on the way; Icky in Huffington; the Hug Culture (in the column); Springsteen tonight…

Category: Blog — Tags: , , , — @ 1:51 pm November 15, 2012

by Tim McMahan,

In an interview with the Philadelphia Inquirer released this morning, Conor Oberst talked about writing solo material, the future of Desaparecidos and Bright Eyes.

On Desa: “They haven’t announced it yet, but we are going to do some more shows and put out more music next year.” With Obama winning the election, I can imagine the edge of the Desa knife slightly dulled. Had Romney won, I could see a very fierce future for the band, because there’s nothing like having an asshole in office to spur a punk message. Either way, it’ll be good to get some new Desa. Now if they could just get me that 7-inch single that I ordered last summer; its ship date has been postposted until mid-November.

On his solo work: “My main thing is just to keep writing. I’ve been doing some songwriting that’s for my own record, I suppose. That’ll happen next year, under my own name.”

But Oberst reiterated that Bright Eyes ain’t over. “No. I love playing with Mike and Nate. Hopefully, we’ll do that sometime in the near future. . . . They both worked on a movie called ‘Writers’ that I wrote a song for that will be out next year.”

Read the whole interview here.

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There was a nice feature on Icky Blossoms posted this morning in The Huffington Post. Curious quote: “It can get tricky knowing which band a song belongs to,” Pressnal — who is in five bands — said. Five bands? Let’s see, Tilly, Icky, Flowers… and then… what?

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In this week’s column, how we’re living in a culture where people say hello with a hug, and how I just don’t fit in. Read it in this week’s issue of The Reader, or online right here.

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Based on the last time he came through town, I’m not surprised that tonight’s Bruce Springsteen concert isn’t sold out. That show, in March 2008, sucked. S U C K E D. The review is online here. The only saving grace to having gone to that concert was being able to see Clarence Clemons perform before he died. What would be awesome: Instead of seeing Springsteen at the Century Link echo chamber from a mile away play three hours of redundant, boring songs, seeing him play in a much smaller venue and be forced to do a one-hour set — now that I’d pay big dollars to see.

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Read Tim McMahan’s blog daily at — an online music magazine that includes feature interviews, reviews and news. The focus is on the national indie music scene with a special emphasis on the best original bands in the Omaha area. Copyright © 2012 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.


Bright Eyes sells Zillow (and why it doesn’t matter); Corporate Cup post script (in the column); Swans (in Lincoln), Built to Spill tonight…

Category: Blog — Tags: , , — @ 12:42 pm September 20, 2012

by Tim McMahan,

I was up late last night watching Iron Maiden: Flight 666 on Palladia. The 2009 documentary follows the band on its Somewhere Back in Time Tour — 50,000 miles by way of Ed Force One — a retrofitted Boeing 757 flown by the band’s lead singer Bruce Dickinson. Talk about your Spinal Tap lifestyle. Man, they love their Maiden in South America.

Anyway, during a commercial break on comes a familiar song — Bright Eyes “First Day of My Life” — selling, the online real estate website. Very tastefully done. You can view the commercial above, or on  YouTube here.

As far as I know (other than movie trailers) this was the first time a Bright Eyes recording was used in a TV commercial. In the old days upon seeing an ad like this indie music fans would jump on top of their milk-crate book cases, rip off their flannel shirts and self-righteously pound their chests screaming “SELL OUT!” at their TV screens.

But today, with the music industry drying up like last summer’s drought-baked crops, selling the rights to one of your songs for a TV commercial not only is grudgingly accepted, it’s recognized as just another necessity if you want to feed yourself by making music. In fact, having your music used in a commercial can even be something to be proud of as long as it’s not selling mundane products like baby-back ribs or maxi pads.

I don’t know anything about Zillow, but the company must be reputable or Oberst (probably) wouldn’t let one of his songs be used to sell it. Conversely, Zillow’s ad agency must be hyper-aware of Conor’s past highly vocal political stands and is leveraging that rep not only to attract a late-20s/early 30s demographic who grew up with his music but who also know that Oberst wouldn’t sell a company that screws people. If Conor says Zillow is OK, it must be OK, right?

Needless to say, Conor wasn’t thinking of Zillow when he wrote one of my favorite songs off I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning, a song that according to Wikipedia also has been used in in the 2007 film Elvis and Anabelle and was featured in an episode of NBC’s Chuck. Should artists only be concerned solely about the original intent of their art and wash their hands with how it’s used beyond that original intent? I don’t think that they can be so cavalier. But in an era when most listeners are stealing music online or listening to it on sub-penny-per-play streaming services like Spotify, artists have little choice but to turn their heads when it comes to how their music is used in “secondary markets.” They gave birth to the child; they can’t be responsible for what it does after it leaves the nest…

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In this week’s column, an account of the Corporate Cup from the back of the pack. It’s in this week’s issue of The Reader, or you can read it online right here.

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Fantastic show tonight… in Lincoln. Swans is playing at the Bourbon Theater. One of the most important post New Wave noise bands ever will be performing songs from their latest album, The Seer. Expect ear-bleeding volumes. This should be a fantastic show, too bad it’s in Lincoln and I have to work tomorrow morning. Opening is Xiu Xiu and Vverevvolf Grehv (Dapose from The Faint). $25, 9 p.m.

For those of us stuck here in Omaha, Built to Spill returns to The Slowdown. Doug Martsch and Co. should be named honorary Omahans considering the number of times they’ve played here in the last few years. Opening is Helvetia and Sister Crayon. $20, 9 p.m.

Meanwhile over at The Barley Street Tavern the Electroliners headline a show with Fizzle Like a Flood and Jessica Errett. $5, 9:30 p.m.

Last but not least, old school punk maniacs The Vibrators are playing at The Hideout, 320 So. 72nd St., with local old-school punkers Cordial Spew, SVS, The Shidiots and Barley and Hops (ex shaken babies). $8, 9 p.m.

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Read Tim McMahan’s blog daily at — an online music magazine that includes feature interviews, reviews and news. The focus is on the national indie music scene with a special emphasis on the best original bands in the Omaha area. Copyright © 2012 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.


Saddle Creek capitalizes on that enormous back catalog, and is ‘free CD with vinyl purchase’ the new model?

Category: Blog — Tags: , — @ 1:57 pm January 24, 2012

by Tim McMahan,

Bright Eyes bundleSaddle Creek Records announced today that it’s re-releasing six early Bright Eyes albums on vinyl. We’re talking A Collection of Songs…(2 LPs), Oh Holy Fools (Son Ambulance lives!), Letting Off the HappinessEvery Day and Every Night, Fevers and Mirrors (2 LPs), and There Is No Beginning to the Story.

The doubles are $23 (180-gram), the EPs are $13 and the LPs are $15 (180-gram). Or you can get the lot for $99. Each reissue contains a CD of the album packaged in the jacket. And you also get the digital download for free. That’s a lot of content, folks. Too bad they didn’t get this ready in time for Christmas.

Fevers is the golden one here. And if you’re wondering, the Saddle Creek online store already offers everything including and beyond Lifted on vinyl.

So this got me wondering what was available by the other members of the Creek triumverate. All of Cursive’s LPs from Domestica on are available on vinyl, as are all The Faint’s LP’s from Blank-Wave Arcade on. Saddle Creek always has done a good job with vinyl.

The biggest areas for future exploitation are The Good Life catalog — only Album of the Year and Help Wanted Nights are available on vinyl, which leaves Black Out and one of their best, Novena On a Nocturn, ripe for vinyl reissue. Also for consideration: the entire Now It’s Overhead catalog.

So will all future Saddle Creek vinyl releases come with a free CD and download? For example: You can preorder Cursive’s I Am Gemini for $11 on CD, or for just $4 more get the vinyl, CD and mp3 file. Hey, might as well just buy the vinyl, kids. So far, this free-CD-with-vinyl approach hasn’t become the industry model. Neither Sub Pop, Matador nor Merge are offering a similar deal, yet…

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Read Tim McMahan’s blog daily at — an online music magazine that includes feature interviews, reviews and news. The focus is on the national indie music scene with a special emphasis on the best original bands in the Omaha area. Copyright © 2012 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.


Are touring indie bands avoiding Omaha? Bright Eyes misses year-end lists…

Category: Blog — Tags: , — @ 1:49 pm December 21, 2011

by Tim McMahan,

When it comes to rock shows, these indeed are the holiday/winter doldrums, especially this year. No holiday reunion shows. No big national indie shows to speak of, and very few for the foreseeable future. The only national indie shows I’m looking forward to are Har Mar Superstar Dec. 30; Craig Finn Feb. 3, Tennis Feb. 22, and Cursive March 3. That’s it. Yeah, I know Lemonheads are coming, but I’ve always thought they sucked.

A Lazy-i reader recently e-mailed asking if I thought there was an unnatural downturn in national shows coming through Omaha.  He pointed out that Cults, Magnetic Fields, Zola Jesus, M83 and Neon Indian are all coming through the area but routing past Omaha. I told him I didn’t know, but that I doubted it. We always experience a lull in touring indie shows during the winter months. A glance at touring indie shows I went to last year at this time: Cursive played Domestica last January, followed by Interpol, Best Coast/Wavves, Pete Yorn and Smith Westerns all last February. Not much else.

We get spoiled in the warmer months with fantastic national touring shows almost every weekend. So spoiled, in fact, that some of the best ones go virtually unattended. I went to a number of shows this past fall that had terrible attendance despite the quality of bands (Future Islands and Milegras come  to mind). I’ll say what I said back then: If you want to continue getting cutting-edge indie bands at our clubs, you need to go to the shows, and when possible, buy tickets in advance. As things warm up, hopefully we’ll begin to see more bands coming through. In the meantime, continue to support our local heroes, who continue to work throughout the winter months…

A few other news and notes on this boring Wednesday…

Bright Eyes, The People's Key (2011, Saddle Creek)

Bright Eyes, The People's Key (2011, Saddle Creek)

Pitchfork posted its annual list of the top-50 albums last week.The one band missing is also missing from a lot of other year-end lists: Bright Eyes. The People’s Key didn’t make the Pitchfork top 50.  Or the Rolling Stone top 50  or the SPIN top 50  or the Filter Top 20  or even the Paste top 50.

In fact, the only lists I’ve found that included The People’s Key are Magnet‘s top 20 (where it was No. 7),  American Songwriter‘s top 50 (No. 22),  BBC‘s top 25 (No. 25)  and Drowned in Sound‘s top 50 (No. 8). Disappointing? Probably, though I doubt Conor and Co. give a shit. Is the lack of inclusion a reflection of Bright Eyes’ waning popularity or was The People’s Key a misfire? The only thing that matters is how well the album sold and if Bright Eyes continues to draw crowds to concerts. So did The People’s Key make it on the Lazy-i Best of 2011 list? You’ll just have to wait and see.

By the way, you can find almost all of the year-end lists at the fantastic Album of the Year website.

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Tomorrow: Predictions Pt. 1: Looking back at last year’s predictions. Yikes.

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Read Tim McMahan’s blog daily at — an online music magazine that includes feature interviews, reviews and news. The focus is on the national indie music scene with a special emphasis on the best original bands in the Omaha area. Copyright © 2011 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.



Bright Eyes ain’t over (again); Oberst ‘out of the music business’; Kasher’s new vid; Lazy-i Vault, Aug. 2000: The Music Box lifts smoking ban…

Category: Blog — Tags: , , , , — @ 1:01 pm August 24, 2011

by Tim McMahan,

A couple interesting new Conor Oberst interviews have surfaced in the past couple days. Both restate what Oberst has been saying for months — Bright Eyes will not be deep-sixed, sun-setted, placed in mothballs and/or permanently unplugged after support tours for The People’s Key conclude.

In a brief Q&A at Canada’s MetroNews site, Oberst again tried to clarify an earlier statement regarding Bright Eyes reported demise: “No, not definitively. We don’t really have any plans for the future at this point, but as far as that whole thing, that was something where someone took a quote that I said [out of context] and that was something that other people decided. We never made an official announcement. Even if it were our last record, we wouldn’t say it was our last record. As the rumour mill works, that’s kind of the way it goes. You can definitely quote me, this is not the last Bright Eyes for sure.”

Oberst reiterated the statement again in this story at In addition to the breakup denial, the story states that Oberst has no definite plans for any project, including Monsters of Folk or a solo effort. The article also says that Oberst is now living in New York City, though let’s be honest, these days he’s living on the road.

And then there’s this from the article:

Oberst has “gotten out of the music business” in regards to his former label ventures, with Saddle Creek and Team Love. Were he to release an album next year, he’s not even positive what label it’d be on. “Will there even be records in a couple years?” he asked. When it comes to digital channels and pay models like newly launched Spotify, “It’s still sort of the Wild West.”

Though Saddle Creek doesn’t sign multi-release agreements with its artists, I’ve always assumed that any future Bright Eyes LPs would be released on the label, and I still do…

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Speaking of Saddle Creek artists, Tim Kasher has a new video, produced by the crazy kids at Love Drunk, for “Opening Night,” a track off his just-released EP Bigamy, More Songs from the Monogamy Sessions. Try as I might, I can’t get the video to imbed into my WordPress files, so here’s a link. Check it out. It was shot at Saddle Creek’s Ink Tank screen printing plant.

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From the Lazy-i Vault, Aug. 24, 2000: The Music Box had a surprise in store last week. Walking up the venue’s ramp to the front door, you knew something was definitely up. Where was the huddled mass of smokers who usually crowded the deck, sharing ashtrays along with their addiction? Once inside, an old familiar odor answered the question. 

I asked a bartender when they had lifted the prohibition on smoking, a feature that the owners staunchly stood behind when the venue opened a year ago.

“Last Wednesday,” he hollered over the racket.

“Why’d they change their policy?” I yelled.

“To make money.”

Well, it wasn’t all about the Benjamins, Manager J. Rankin said. “This is what the people wanted,” he said. “In all honesty, I would like to see the nonsmoking thing still work, but it’s tough to pull off in the Midwest.”

The idea must have been in the works for a few weeks, judging by the cool little black-and-silver matchboxes embossed with The Music Box logo scattered around the tables. Smoking is limited to the upper-tier bar, as no-smoking signs are everywhere in the lower section. Despite the fact that nary a puff can be smelt in the lower bar, Rankin said further precautions are being taken to keep the smoke out of your eyes. “We’re in the process of adding an additional 15 tons of ventilation,” he said. “The units have 12-inch-thick charcoal filters that take everything out of the air.”

Chances are the fancy air conditioners won’t be up and running for this Saturday’s American Diabetes Association benefit featuring eight bands, including Spiral Locomotive, Project Wet, 8th Wave, The Fonzarellies, Jimmy Skaffa and Chesire Grin. A $10 donation gets you in to the festival-like party that runs from 6 p.m. to 1 a.m.

 Other upcoming acts of note include legendary harmonica player and bluesman Rod Piazza & The Mighty Flyers, along with the Shufflecats and Lincoln’s Baby Jason and the Spankers Aug. 30; and the reigning father of British Blues John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers, Sept. 18.

Rankin insists the bar isn’t turning into a blues club. “We’re adding about one blues event a month, which is about the maximum for us on a regular basis,” he said, pointing to an upcoming show featuring former Ozzy Osbourne guitarist Zakk Wylde Oct. 7.

But what about the local acts? “There’s a multitude of great bands out there we haven’t had in yet, but there’s only so many days in a week,” he said.

Business is good at the Music Box, Rankin said, but there’s still a lot of work to do. “Once summer is over, all the alternative things going on will disappear. We’ll come to our own this fall and winter because of lack of options in town.”

Back to the Present: After lifting its smoking ban, the Music Box stayed open only three more years, closing its doors in October 2003 after an “impasse” with the landlord (or so they said at the time). With what many believed was among the area’s best sound and lighting systems at the time, the club booked a number of interesting national and local bands, including Pinetop Seven, Richard Thompson and locals like Oil and The Good Life. They catered toward more of a mainstream clientele, only occasionally booking indie bands. Strangely, its biggest criticism came from those who thought the club was too sterile, too clean, “too nice.” A few years after it closed, the building that housed The Music Box — and Sharky’s and Firmatures before that — was demolished to make way for a new 24-Hour Fitness.

As for their original non-smoking policy, The Music Box proved to be way ahead of its time, being the only music club that banned the habit back then. Four years after it closed, The Slowdown would adopt the same policy when it opened in June 2007. A year later, a local ordinance banned smoking  altogether in Omaha bars, in June 2008.

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Read Tim McMahan’s blog daily at — an online music magazine that includes feature interviews, reviews and news. The focus is on the national indie music scene with a special emphasis on the best original bands in the Omaha area. Copyright © 2011 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.


Bright Eyes’ Budokan? Okkervil River, Titus Andronicus tonight…

Category: Blog — Tags: , — @ 12:54 pm June 14, 2011

by Tim McMahan,

Remember that brief aside I made during my review of Bright Eyes’ Westfair Amphitheater concert, the one where I said if the concert had been recorded, it could have been Oberst’s Live at Budokan? Sure you do.

Well, it turns out that while last Saturday night’s show wasn’t recorded, other shows from this tour apparently were, and portions of those shows are going to be released next month as a new EP called Live Recordings, available exclusively through HMV and limited to 1,000 digipack CDs. According to this article in NME, the 6-song recording includes “Firewall,” “Shell Games,” “Ladder Song,” “Arc of Time” “Bowl of Oranges” and “Lover I Don’t Have to Love.”  OK, so maybe it won’t be Oberst’s Budokan after all. What’s that your asking, what exactly is HMV? Well, it’s a U.K.-based music store of which there are none in this country, so I’m thinking you’re probably not going to snag one of those 1,000 digipacks unless you’re headed over the water in the near future.

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BTW, Bright Eyes released a video for its latest single, “Jejune Stars,” which you can watch right here on the YouTube or by clicking above. Very nice, but really, how much different is it than your typical Love Drunk video? Something tells me Django G-S could have done just as good a job, but for slightly less money than was charged by “acclaimed cinematographer Lance Acord” (Being John Malkovich, Lost in Translation).

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It’s surprising to me that tonight’s show at The Slowdown featuring Okkervil River and Titus Andronicus hasn’t sold out yet. Okkervil River will soon be making the momentous jump from a tour van to a tour bus (if they haven’t already). They’re fan base has consistently grown since they first played at The Junction way back in 2002 to 10 people (me among them). I haven’t heard a stitch off their new album, but I know it’s charting well on CMJ. Titus Andronicus is probably still touring in a van, but won’t be for long. With their rousing, epic sing-along punk, I could see them eventually touching a similar audience as The Hold Steady, especially if their show last September is any indication. There is a third opener tonight — Asthmatic Kitty artist Julianna Barwick. All for $18. Starts at 9.

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Read Tim McMahan’s blog daily at — an online music magazine that includes feature interviews, reviews and news. The focus is on the national indie music scene with a special emphasis on the best original bands in the Omaha area. Copyright © 2010 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.


Column 326: Live Review, Bright Eyes at Westfair Amphitheater; Union Specific at Duffy’s tonight…

Category: Blog,Reviews — Tags: , — @ 12:43 pm June 8, 2011

Bright Eyes at Westfair Amphitheater, June 4, 2011

Bright Eyes at Westfair Amphitheater, June 4, 2011

Column 326: Live Review: Bright Eyes at Westfair Amphiteater, 6/4/11

by Tim McMahan,

I begin what seems like my 100th review of a Bright Eyes concert by saying that last Saturday night’s performance at Westfair Amphitheater may have been their best.

Simple put, Conor Oberst put on a rock concert. Not an indie-folk show; not an “intimate acoustic evening of personal confessions.” A rock concert. As heavy a show as he’s probably capable of or would ever want to do. You can say you witnessed Bright Eyes at its peak, if you were there.

It’s a shame so few people were. It would be generous to say 500 were in the crowd by the time I arrived at Westfair at around 7:30. David Bazan a.k.a. Pedro the Lion was finishing a set of droll, dead-pan voiced indie rock songs; it was still light out when Jenny and Johnny hit the stage just after 8, playing what felt like the identical set played at their Waiting Room gig last September.

A few words about the Westfair Amphitheater, a concert venue that’s been around for years but that I’ve never stepped foot in mainly because its usual programming involves Monsters of Rock and/or River-sponsored goon fests. To my knowledge Westfair has never hosted an indie rock show. Hopefully that will change in the future.

The venue is a huge natural amphitheater, sort of like Memorial Park but with steeper slopes and a giant permanent cow palace-style stage. Fans can huddle on the concrete slab in front or set up camp on the grassy banks. Beer tents stood by the sound board and along the ridge where food tents shoveled out pizza and nachos.

No Smoking signs were posted along the perimeter fencing. Considerate smokers were herded to a tiny “smoking corral” at the top of the bowl, presumably away from the healthy people, while the rebels casually lit up throughout the compound, the blue-shirted security bulls casting a blind eye.

A VIP area fenced off with fluorescent orange netting stood along the steep bank off stage right. Inside, members of the Saddle Creek family and their families, friends and bandmates chatted and drank beers — gray-haired men mixed with skinny-jeaned hipsters greeting every visitor with deep hugs and smiles.

Jenny & Johnny, Westfair, 6/4/11

Jenny & Johnny, Westfair, 6/4/11

Killing the love buzz from stage was surly “Johnny” Rice, who bragged about “throttling” an investment banker during a Christmas family gathering. “And I only wish I could extend the same to the motherfuckers at Goldman Sachs and ING.” Please. Johnathan Rice is a lot of things, but he ain’t a tough guy.

Jenny and Johnny’s 45-minute set closed with a Rilo Kiley song, “Silver Lining,” that had little Jenny Lewis singing, “Hurray, hurray, I’m your silver lining / Hurray Hurray, but now I’m gold” as dusk set in.

It was almost dark when Bright Eyes finally arrived. The crowd, which had ballooned to what looked like a little over 1,000, erupted when the stage lights dropped and a recording came on of crazy Denny Brewer of Refried Icecream doing his now famous spaceship rant that leads into “Firewall,” the opening number on The People’s Key and among only five songs performed from Bright Eyes’ latest album.

On stage, Oberst and his band glowed pink and purple, their microphone stands lit with strings of LED lights. Behind two glowing umbrella-like stage shells was a large JumboTron that showed video close-ups of a guitar strumming or drums or keyboards or colorful abstract images.

Oberst was clearly in a good mood — a rarity back in the old Wide Awake days. Looking natural with guitar in hand, he put it down only for one keyboard tune and during “Approximate Sunlight,” a low-slung rock song passing as a hip-hop number that saw Oberst strutting around stage like the whitest MC in America, selling each lyric with hand gestures in classic Team Rigge fashion. Awkward. He leaned over the edge of the stage spitting out lines, touching outstretched hands.

Most of the set was a selection from albums past, including chestnuts “Falling Out of Love at This Volume,” and “A Celebration Upon Completion,” both from Bright Eyes’ debut A Collection of Songs Written and Recorded 1995-1997.

There were a few somber moments, but for the most part it was a heavy set driven by The Faint’s Clark Baechle, the best drummer Oberst has ever played with. The guitars were huge and loud. If it had been recorded, this could have been Oberst’s Live at Budokan.

Critics around the country are selling it as Bright Eyes’ farewell tour, and I’m still not sure why. Eyebrows were raised the first time Oberst mentioned he might retire the Bright Eyes moniker. I didn’t believe it; I didn’t care. Oberst is Bright Eyes. But I’ve seen his solo/Mystic Valley/Monsters of Folk outings. None of them had a tenth of the energy on stage Saturday night.

Bright Eyes will always be Oberst’s sweet spot for reasons I’m not entirely sure. Since Cassadaga, he has walked out on stage and stuck the landing every night. It helps that his Bright Eyes’ oeuvre blows away his other projects’ best songs. None of his solo output comes near BE classics like “Lover You Don’t Have to Love” or “Lua” or “Waste of Paint.” And despite being his weakest album since Digital Ash in a Digital Urn,The People’s Key is still better than any of his solo records.

After this endless tour finally ends, Conor Oberst may take a different guise, but we haven’t seen the last of Bright Eyes.

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This one is on my radar simply because of the band’s name — Union Specific, whose catchphrase is “Building Americana.” Nice. The Austin band is playing tonight at Duffy’s in Lincoln with The Betties, Travelling Mercies and Manny Coon. Can’t seem to find a price for this one; starts at 9 p.m. According to the Union Specific website, they band is playing at Crane’s Coffee here in Omaha tomorrow, while has them playing at the Fort Cody Trading Post in North Platte tomorrow. I have no idea which one’s right, so buyer beware…

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Read Tim McMahan’s blog daily at — an online music magazine that includes feature interviews, reviews and news. The focus is on the national indie music scene with a special emphasis on the best original bands in the Omaha area. Copyright © 2011 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.


Column 325: Conor Oberst’s Silent Treatment (and the times when he wasn’t so quiet)…

Category: Blog,Column — Tags: , — @ 12:27 pm June 2, 2011

Bright Eyes

Conor's the one on the left...

Column 325: Chasing Conor: A look back on 13 years of interviews

by Tim McMahan,

We were driving downtown in my Mini Cooper this past weekend when a Bright Eyes song came on the iPod connected to my car stereo. I leaned forward and skipped past it. Teresa shot me a glance, and I said, “I’m mad at him right now.”

I’d been going back and forth with Bright Eyes’ publicist, Press Here Publicity, since last December trying to line up an interview with Conor Oberst in conjunction with Bright Eyes’ latest album, The People’s Key, which came out on Saddle Creek Records in February. At the time, Oberst was talking to any member of the national press that was willing to listen. Interviews appeared in all the usual magazines, Rolling StoneSPIN, etc. It wasn’t until February that I got a response: “Conor generally doesn’t do much press while on tour, so it’s safe to say he will likely wait for a local date” — i.e., until the S.S. Bright Eyes docked in Omaha or thereabouts, in this case, the Westfair Amphitheater June 4.

I’ve interviewed Oberst upon the release of every full-length Bright Eyes album since 1998’s Letting Off the Happiness, his first record after leaving seminal local-that-became-national emo band Commander Venus. CV was one of those bands that I remember playing at places like the Capitol Bar and Grill, a shrieking trainwreck of a band that thrived on its unique energy. We’re all still waiting for the inevitable Commander Venus reunion, which I’ve been told will never happen.

Anyway, it was Dave Sink, who ran the Antiquarium Record Store in the Old Market, who suggested that I interview Oberst. It seemed like Conor and his ever-changing cast of sidemen played at a different club every weekend back then, to crowds that numbered in the 30s. Some nights it was just Oberst struggling through the set with his acoustic guitar, a twitching mess of angst constantly pushing his eyeglasses back up his nose.

That first interview took place in an apartment that would go by a dozen names, including Gunboat and The Jerk Store. Always a gracious interview, Oberst, then 18, recalled his musical origins, Commander Venus and its breakup, and took me right up to the present.

“The hardest part is the touring — setting up the gigs and affording it,” Oberst said back then. “I’d love to make a living playing music, but the easiest way to do that is to compromise what you’re doing. You cease caring about what you’re doing and caring more about what people think about what you’re doing. All’s I want is to make enough money to live – which is having an apartment and a shitty car. I don’t need a house, but it would be nice.”

Fevers and Mirrors came out two years later. By then, Bright Eyes had emerged as a national force. The first “young Dylan” comparisons began popping up. The album was threatening to break the CMJ top-20 — a big deal. Road trips included whirlwind tours of Japan. Our second interview took place on an upper-floor balcony area of his parents’ midtown home. He was already getting annoyed by fame, or so he said.

“But then there’s all these drawbacks you never thought of, like the press and the whole idea of so many people knowing about you and what you do and your opinions,” Oberst said during the interview. “And then there’s the money people. It can get bad. It comes down to making smart decisions and playing with people who seem honest and good, and trying to ignore the rest of the shit. Some people succeed with that and a lot go crazy and decide to go hide in a cabin. Now I can understand why.”

Two years later, Saddle Creek released Lifted, or The Story Is in the Soil, Keep Your Ear to the Ground, considered by many (including myself) to be his masterwork. We met over coffee at Caffeine Dreams. Oberst seemed nervous and out of sorts the whole time. He talked about his guilt toward long-time fans.

“It gets hard,” he said during the interview. “You feel like an asshole for forgetting people over time. For the most part, everyone understands. It was way easier in the past. You could roll into a town and play for 100 kids and ask for a place to stay and get taken to someone’s house and party. Now it’s not like that. There’s more of a barrier between us and the audience. I want to make relationships with people, but I don’t even have time to be good friends with my actual friends.”

By the time of our 2004 interview for I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning and Digital Ash in a Digital Urn, the writing was on the wall. Oberst had moved to New York City and was hob-knobbing with the likes of Springsteen and Michael Stipe. Despite being a phoner, he was candid and open.

“Music is still the main thing. I feel the best when I’m playing and recording,” he said during the interview. “The rest of the world just kind of washes away, and I feel good and safe and happy. That’s what I do it for. The rest of it… it gets crazy and sometimes unpleasant; exhilarating and sometimes terrifying. But that’s what living is — all that stuff at once, and you have to do the best you can with it.”

Our 2007 interview for Cassadaga took place in an empty Saddle Creek Bar late in the afternoon. Along for the ride was Neva Dinova frontman Jake Bellows. Oberst never seemed more relaxed. Having recently moved back to Omaha, it was as if he’d come to some sort of peace with his career.

That was the last time I spoke to Oberst. The final response to my interview requests came a couple weeks ago: “Conor is taking a break between legs of the Bright Eyes tour and is not doing any promo,” the e-mail said. “Unfortunately, we won’t be able to accommodate your request this time around.”

So I guess this is where the story ends, for now.

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And in case you were wondering if Conor simply quit doing interviews, here’s one that he did with The Denver Post that went online this morning, conducted May 21.

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BTW, tix are still available for Saturday’s Westfair Amphitheater show, which in addition to Bright Eyes includes Jenny & Johnny, David Bazan, and Con Dios. They’re $25, and available online here. Show starts at 5:30 p.m.

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Read Tim McMahan’s blog daily at — an online music magazine that includes feature interviews, reviews and news. The focus is on the national indie music scene with a special emphasis on the best original bands in the Omaha area. Copyright © 2011 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.


Record Store Day! Bright Eyes on Leno last night; Four-band release show tonight; Photo Atlas (Love Drunk benefit) tomorrow; Decemberists Sunday…

Category: Blog — Tags: , , — @ 12:47 pm April 15, 2011

Record Store Day graphicby Tim McMahan,

Tomorrow is the day all you vinyl lovers have been waiting for – Record Store Day! You can read my recap of what Homer’s has in store for this celebration of music right here. This cold April rain should end by tomorrow morning, which means you will be high and dry while waiting in line to get first dibs on the really exclusive, limited-edition stuff. In fact, the Homer’s Orchard Plaza store will open a half-hour early tomorrow at 9:30 a.m., giving you time run your shaky hands through their vinyl bins before hysterically driving downtown to the Old Market store opening.

And don’t forget The Antiquarium and Drastic Plastic also will have a selection of RSD vinyl on sale tomorrow. RSD is kind of like a treasure hunt — you don’t know exactly what you’re going to find, and product will vary from store to store, though I know Antiquarium’s selection will likely lean heavily toward major indie labels like Matador, Sub Pop and Merge.

To help commemorate the occasion, Homer’s is featuring a few highly sought-after DJ’s tomorrow afternoon at the Old Market Store. DJ Kevin “King” Coffey will be behind the turntable at noon, followed by Gunkmeister DJ Kobrakyle at 1 p.m. while yours truly will take the rear at 3 p.m., long after the RSD excitement has worn off. As an homage to High Fidelity, perhaps I’ll play “Dry the Rain” by the Beta Band… more likely you’ll hear a collection of crusty old vinyl and new mp3s. I still haven’t figured it out yet.

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Some impressions of last night’s Bright Eyes’ performance of “Beginner’s Mind” (above) on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno:

— A trench coat in LA? A smart fashion statement, yes. Teresa’s comment: “He sure has big feet.” Indeed he does, and we all know what that means.

— Who was the guy behind the drum kit? I thought Clark Baechle of The Faint was playing drums for this go ’round of Bright Eyes. Whoever it was, he sounded terrific. In fact, the drums dominated last night.

— I wonder if everyone could hear themselves in the studio, because there were a few vocal bloopers which may or may not have been intentional.

— Leno’s comment as he went to shake Oberst’s hand after the song ended: “I missed you on the bus.” Not sure what that meant because I DVR’d the show so to fast-forward past Leno’s natterings.

— Overall, an interesting BE performance that rates up there with the rest of the band’s and Oberst’s network appearances, which you can see right here at

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There are outstanding shows every night this weekend.

Tonight at The Slowdown is what I’m calling the “Fantastic Four” showcase (which you read about here yesterday) featuring (in this order) Touch People, InDreama, Icky Blossoms and headliner Conduits. Get there early for Touch People (the show is slated to begin at 9 p.m.). And make sure you get a copy of the duo single as sort of a pre-Record Store Day vinyl purchases. Judging by the listing at, this appears to be a “big room” show. Tix are $7.

For you Lincolnites, tonight is the second night of Omaha Invasion. Check out the schedule at the bottom of this blog entry.

Meanwhile, Brad Hoshaw is doing a set tonight at O’Leaver’s with Ashley Raines and the New West Revue. $5, 9:30 p.m.

Speaking of O’Leaver’s, tomorrow night the “bar that time forgot” is hosting a benefit show for Love Drunk Studio, the red-hot video production company that began taking the scene by storm late last year. The Love Drunk team is headed on the road the first couple weeks of May for a tour of central and eastern United States, where they’ll be creating videos for bands they meet. Details of the excursion are right here. Help support the cause by going to tomorrow night’s show, which features The Photo Atlas, The Answer Team, Masses and Ketchup and Mustard Gas. $5, 9:30 p.m.

Also tomorrow night, Beat Seekers headline a show at The Barley Street with Blue Bird, and Travelling Mercies. $5, 9 p.m.

Finally, Sunday, it’s the big Decemberists show at The Holland. Tix are still available for $35 right here at I suspect it’ll be one for the record books. Opening is Justin Townes Earle. Show starts at 8 p.m.

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Read Tim McMahan’s blog daily at — an online music magazine that includes feature interviews, reviews and news. The focus is on the national indie music scene with a special emphasis on the best original bands in the Omaha area. Copyright © 2011 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.