Rating the classics (Bright Eyes, Cursive); Damien Jurado, Chris Pureka tonight…

Category: Blog — Tags: , , , , — @ 7:35 am April 26, 2023

by Tim McMahan, Lazy-i.com

First off, I thought The Hard Times only published Onion-like parody articles about the indie and punk lifestyle. Then last week these two article showed up, both well written, though their content (and opinions) were a bit sketchy. 

The first was “Every Bright Eyes Album Ranked.” At the bottom is A Collection of Songs Written… the collection of very early Bright Eyes tracks, many written and recorded when Conor was in middle school (or younger), and they sound that way. I can’t quibble with this opinion. The collection was for completists only.

At the top of the list: 2000’s Fevers and Mirrors. Says writer Corey Montgomery, “If anyone ever tells you this album isn’t the best one, politely tell them to eat shit and die. Just be sure to turn around before they see the single tear running down your cheek.” So yeah, maybe this article was a joke after all, though Corey certainly has listened to these records before. 

Of course his ranking is wrong, imho. He has Lifted… listed in the six hole, saying it “feels overcooked and desperate to please.” In fact, along with I’m Wide Away It’s Morning, ranked No. 2, will stand as Bright Eyes’ magnum opus(es).

A few days later, Mr. Montgomery ranked “every Cursive album” and while he got No. 9 correct (2012’s I Am Gemini is, uh, a difficult listen), he ranked 2007’s Happy Hollow No. 1, and with a straight face said “Not enough can be said about this record’s accidental timelessness.” While I can get behind this pick — Happy Hollow is a great record — everyone knows The Ugly Organ is the top classic, followed closely by Domestica, which most others would place in the first spot. 

If you’ve never heard Domestica performed live, btw, you’ll get a chance May 16 at The Waiting Room — that is if you have a ticket. The show sold out a long time ago. 

The Hard Times can be pretty freakin’ funny (Check out “Uh Oh! I Butt Dialed Conor Oberst and Now It’s the First Track on His New Album”), but I kind of dig this content, too. There’s room for both, Hard Times! Now where’s your ranking for 3very album by The Faint?

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One of my all time favorite albums is Damien Jurado’s 1999 album Rehearsals for Departure. I think I lucked into it via a random CD promo mailing sent by his label back in the day and for the longest time, the song “Ohio” made it onto my mix tapes. 

Jurado’s latest album, Sometimes You Hurt the Ones You Hate, is pretty good, too. I’m sure you’ll hear songs off this one as well as “Ohio” (which is typically his set-opener) tonight when he plays at Reverb. Opening is Portland singer/songwriter Chris Pureka. $20, 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 © 2023 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.


Live Review: Maha Music Festival Day One: Courtney Barnett, Jenny Lewis, Snail Mail; late night with BareBear; Damien Jurado tonight…

Category: Reviews — Tags: , , , , , — @ 12:46 pm August 19, 2019

Courtney Barnett at the Maha Music Festival, Aug. 16, 2019.

by Tim McMahan, Lazy-i.com

This is part one of a recap/review of the performances at this year’s Maha Music Festival, held at Stinson Park in Aksarben Village, Omaha, Nebraska, Aug. 16 and 17, 2019. In addition, a second “review” will be published in the September issue of The Reader that talks more about the experience and other issues surrounding the festival, as well as some (I hope) amusing speculation about the 2020 MMF.

This is far from comprehensive. I watched less than half the bands this year. I paid for my VIP ticket to Friday night’s show and had a media pass for Saturday. While this was, in my opinion, the best collection of acts for a Maha Festival, it also had a lot of bands and performers who simply didn’t interest me, or who I never heard of. But isn’t that the way of all music festivals? There was a time when I would have felt obligated to watch everything placed on stage. Those days are long gone.

Snail Mail at the Maha Music Festival, Aug. 16, 2019.

Anyway, we didn’t arrive Friday night until after Snail Mail began their set on the “little stage” — the stage has a name, but let’s face it, there’s a big stage and a little stage at Maha, and if you’re relegated to the little stage, it means something. Someone made the decision to place you there rather than the big stage.

And while the little stage is by all means functional, it isn’t nearly as nice as the big stage. The lighting is poor, the sound is… different, the viewing experience is awkward, especially for fans of the band who want to get up close and personal. In that way, it’s actually better than the large stage because you can (almost) walk right up to the edge, though you better have a good center of gravity because you’ll be standing on the up-rise of a rather steep hill.

Snail Mail’s fans were balanced on that hill, up close as the band played through songs from their latest album. I like Snail Mail and think think Lush, their 2018 Matador release, is right up there with the best of the bedroom indie rock genre that’s crowded with similar singer/songwriters, mostly women.

Frontwoman Lindsey Jordan can hang with the best of them, especially when backed by her band. That said, she spent the last 15 minutes of her set doing solo electric renditions of new material that didn’t do it any favors, especially when experienced from across the field. No doubt it felt more intimate if you were standing along the edge of the little stage, but by then I’d already scooted back to the VIP confines and wondered why she had dispatched her band, not hearing that she was filling time with the new material — a festival probably isn’t the best place for that sort of thing.

That was it for the little stage Friday night. The next two bands were big stage events. Courtney Barnett should have been the top headliner Friday night. Who knows how those decisions are made. I guess she was billed as a co-headliner. The last time I saw her live was at an industry-type gig at South By Southwest, playing again as a trio but with a much more subdued (i.e., boring) approach. She was on fire Friday night.

I hardly recognized her — she looked about 20 pounds lighter, with a new hair cut, but the same amazing voice and guitar prowess. She tore through a true festival set, performing all my favorites (“Avant Gardener,” “Depreston,” “An Illustration of Loneliness (Sleepless in New York)” “History Eraser”) as well as a ton of more recent songs.

Barnett’s strengths are: 1) her songwriting, 2) her guitar playing, 3) her voice, and finally 4) her live performance, but she upped the performance aspect a couple slots Friday night. There was nothing fancy staging-wise, no interesting lighting gimmicks, just her and the band crushing her songs.

Jenny Lewis at the Maha Music Festival, Aug. 16, 2019.

It was quite a contrast to Jenny Lewis’ set. Lewis entered in a spectacular gold lamé dress, sat down behind a hand-painted piano surrounded by her band, and launched into songs off her latest, rather droll new album, On the Line (2019, Warner Bros). For that first song, “Heads Gonna Roll,” there was nothing on her vocals coming off the soundboard, just her out there alone, sounding thin as if not having warmed up, especially on the creaky high notes.

Her voice got into a groove and the sound crew adjusted as the night wore on. I kept waiting for the hits, but never got them, instead we got more songs off the new album. This was a festival, so you’d expect to hear the beloved numbers, like “Rise Up with Fists” or maybe take advantage of the fact that you’re in Omaha and sing “Execution of All Things” with its classic Omaha reference. Instead, we got her typical touring set, and a flat one at that.

It felt old compared to Barnett and Snail Mail. I feel lucky having seen Lewis when she played at the downtown Scottish Rite Lodge with the Watson Twins touring Rabbit Fur Coat back in 2006. At her peak. Where Barnett is today and where Snail Mail may be in a few years. Lewis’ new music is about looking back with regret, while Barnett’s music is about living in the moment and everything that goes with it.

Jenny did throw us a bone at the end with an impromptu version of “With Arms Outstretched” accompanied by the Omaha Girls Rock crew, standing in the dark lit by the audience’s outstretched smartphones. It was a highlight that ended awkwardly when the audience realized it was actually the end of the set. Is she done? Yeah, she’s done.

Tomorrow: Oh Sees, Matt & Kim and Lizzo…

My Friday night did not end at Maha. I made what would become a tactical error as far as the weekend was concerned. I drove to O’Leaver’s to catch a set by BareBear. These days I never stay out past midnight. I would regret it the next morning.

BareBear at O’Leaver’s, Aug. 16, 2019.

BareBear came on at around 12:30 and played their entire new album front to back. The band hadn’t played live in about two years, and the only place it showed was in frontman Rob Walters’ vocals. Let’s be honest, they were… rough. But what Walters lacked in tonal control he made up for in chutzpah and some mighty fine bass playing.

And the rest of the band was absolutely on point. This was one of my favorite guitar performances by Nik Fackler, who just slayed on his rhythms and leads. Drummer Matt Focht proved again why he’s among the best stickmen to get behind a drum set in Nebraska. And then there was Jacob “Cubby” Phillips, a guy who looks young enough to be Walters’ son. The term “virtuoso” comes to mind as does “wunderkind.” Phillips, whose background I’m told is in the jazz world, made playing in Barebear look like child’s play — just amazing guitar tone with a seemingly effortless style.

So what if Walters’ vocals barely resembled what’s heard on their new album? The set was fun. And for fans of Paul Stanley-flavored glam rock, you need to check out this surprisingly good album – The Party’s Over.

I ended up getting to bed at around 2:30 — a mistake that I would pay for most of the following day.

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Tonight at Slowdown Jr…. Damien Jurado’s Rehearsals for Departure (1999, Sub Pop) is one of my all-time favorite albums from the ’90s. He’s released around 16 albums since then, including his latest, In the Shape of a Storm (2019, Mama Bird Recording Co.). Corrina Repp, who played on another favorite of mine, Viva Voce’s 2009 album Rose City (Barsuk), opens at 8 p.m. $18.

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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.


Matthew Sweet: New album could arrive this summer; new music from Damien Jurado, HÆLOS, The Thermals…

Category: Blog — Tags: , , , , — @ 1:59 pm January 12, 2016

Matthew Sweet center stage at the 1200 Club March 28, 2015. Sweet gave an update on his upcoming album.

Matthew Sweet center stage at the 1200 Club March 28, 2015. Sweet gave an update on his upcoming album.

by Tim McMahan, Lazy-i.com

Did you participate in Matthew Sweet’s Kickstarter campaign back in the summer of 2014? Wondering where the new album is that had an estimated delivery date of April 2015?

Well, Sweet chimed in with an update yesterday to campaign contributors saying that recording has been completed, mostly.

“All the songs I recorded with Ric in October are sung and essentially finished,” he wrote. “Over the next few days, I’ll be writing the very last songs of the project. That’s right, there will be a final batch!…Looks like the final tally will be around 33 songs. Everyone should know I am working, listening and scheming all the time to make this extra special.”

Sweet said later this month The Bangles’ Debbi Peterson will be coming to Omaha to record the very last batch of drums. Other guest musicians for the record have included Greg Leisz, and Val McCallum (who have worked with Lucinda Williams, Eric Clapton and Jackson Browne), Darian Sahanaja (Brian Wilson, Zombies, the Wondermints) and Al Jardine of the Beach Boys. There are a ton more.

“This last batch (of recordings) should be done by April, and detail and guest work for the first 24 songs will also continue til then,” Sweet said. “Then I will be mixing the album in earnest into May. From experience I would say it is very likely the record and rewards will be delivered sometime this summer.”

Gotta love Kickstarter.

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New music is starting to take form for 2016.

Damien Jurado has a new album, Visions of Us on the Land, coming out March 18 on Secretly Canadian. Here’s the first single:

Matador announced that their recent signing, HÆLOS, will see their label debut, Full Circle, released March 18. Here’s the first single, “Oracle.” Very trippy.

And Saddle Creek act The Thermals announced their new album, We Disappear, comes out March 25. Here’s the first single, “Hey You”:

Much more to come…

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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 © 2016 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.


Live Review: Sleater-Kinney; Damien Jurado tonight (and take your chatter outside)…

Category: Blog,Reviews — Tags: , , , , — @ 1:17 pm February 16, 2015

Sleater-Kinney at The Slowdown, Feb. 13, 2015.

Sleater-Kinney at The Slowdown, Feb. 13, 2015.

by Tim McMahan, Lazy-i.com

Sleater-Kinney have never been on top of my “must-listen-to” list. There’s just something harsh and forced about their music, an abrasiveness that utterly lacks melody. It’s tough to sing along to an S-K song unless it’s something mellow like “Modern Girl” off The Woods, which is not characteristic of the band’s usual sound.

Their new album, No Cities to Love, fits right in with the rest of their catalog — a bracing punk rock record loaded with shrill vocals, singing about what I do not know. The title track says it’s not the cities but the weather they love. The rest of the song, the verses, are cryptic: “Atomic tourist / A life in search of power / I found my test sight / I made a ritual of emptiness.” And so on. It’s not so much the words that matter as the energy, and S-K exuded it Friday night at The Slowdown in front of a sold out crowd who loved every minute of it.

The trio, joined by an extra guitarist, rolled right into their set with gusto, with guitarist/vocalist Corin Tucker taking the lead as she would throughout the night, spitting out vocals over the din. There is little doubt that she is the leader of this band, though Carrie Brownstein is the crowd favorite thanks to a brighter, less jagged voice and her notoriety as an actress in Portlandia. Brownstein is a real star among indie stars.

I spent a good part of their set trying to figure out where the bass was coming from, as no one was playing bass guitar. It turned out (I think) that Brownstein and Tucker were trading turns playing their bass strings, though I swear at times neither was playing bass.

Despite taking a few years off the road, the band played as if they’d never left after The Woods came out almost a decade ago. If there was any ring rust, it came early in the set when Tucker sounded like she was trying a bit too hard on vocals (as she does at times on the record). As the set rolled on the band loosened up and got into a groove, injecting more soul into the music.

Holding it all down was drummer Janet Weiss, mesmerizing behind the kit and further enforcing the old punk adage that you’re only as good as your drummer. That being the case, Sleater-Kinney remains one of the finer punk rock bands that emerged out of the ’90s. And while I still don’t care much for their records, after last Friday’s show I’ve grown a new appreciation for their live stuff, which sounds less stiff and more…human than what they’ve put down in the studio.

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While Sleater-Kinney was slaying it at The Slowdown, fellow Seattle-ite Damien Jurado was having less of a good time in Kalamazoo, Michigan. The acoustic folk artist berated the audience at Kalamazoo State Theater after they just wouldn’t shut up. According to this MLive report, during his opening set for Jason Isbell, Jurado was pushed over the edge.

“The best way for me to do my job is to not be distracted by your talking,” Jurado scolded. “If you want to talk there’s lots of room and people out there talking, but this is not the place to do it, okay?”

It goes on from there, peaking with “Laugh all you want man, seriously, but this is not funny. This is my job.”  And, of course, the entire exchange was captured on video, which you can watch here. We’ve all been at shows where the crowd isn’t paying attention to what’s going on up on stage. I, for one, have to hand it to Jurado for telling them to shut up.

No doubt Omaha audiences are much more respectful than Kalamazoo’s, right? So if you’re headed to The Waiting Room tonight to see Jurado headline, take your chatter out to the sidewalk. No one wants to hear it, least of all Jurado, who is on the road supporting last year’s Secretly Canadian release Brothers and Sisters of the Eternal Sun. Opening is Oquoa’s Max Holmquist. $15, 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 © 2015 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.