Flaming Lips tonight and a review of Steelhouse Omaha…

Category: Blog,Column — Tags: , — @ 7:38 am June 16, 2023
Flaming Lips at The Maha Music Festival, Aug. 17, 2013. The band performs tonight at Steelhouse Omaha.

by Tim McMahan, Lazy-i.com

Flaming Lips’ 2002 album Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots is a ubiquitous indie moment from a band that had already been around for nearly 20 years, an album that itself is now 21 years old. It’s also clearly the band’s most “pop” moment and most successful release, selling more than 500,000 copies according to Nielsen SoundScan. Single “Do You Realize?” — once the “official rock song of Oklahoma” — was written by frontman Wayne Coyne as a reaction to seeing fellow band member Steven Drozd suffer from heroin withdrawal, and for my money by itself is worth the price of the album… and a ticket to tonight’s performance at Steelhouse Omaha.

If the show is anything like Tuesday’s gig at Riverside Theater in Milwaukee (setlist here), expect them to run through the entire album followed by a 10-song second set that includes really their only other hits, “She Don’t Use Jelly” and “Race for the Prize” from 1999’s The Soft Bulletin, as well as a cover (They did Madonna’s “Borderline” in Milwaukee). All followed by a three song-encore. and upchuck-inducing recording of Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World.”

No doubt it will be a spectacle as Coyne is nothing if not a showman (Get out those confetti cannons!) If you’re wondering what you’re in for, check out my review of Steelhouse Omaha that was published in the current issue of The Reader (also below). For many indie fans, this will be their first venture into the facility. My advice – stand up and enjoy the ride (cuz there ain’t no seats). 

You can purchase directly from the Steelhouse website for as low as $50. Starts at 8:30 p.m. 

And that, my friends, is about it for the weekend. Nothing worth mentioning at 1% venues and Slowdown is in CWS mode. If I missed your show, put it in the comments section. Have a great weekend.

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First published in The Reader, June 2023:

A Killer of a Grand Opening

Steelhouse Omaha Is a Testament to the City’s Resolve

Although still fresh in most of our memories, we have to acknowledge what we were about to face in November 2019 when Omaha Performing Arts (O-pa) announced the yet-to-be-named, $109 million project that would become Steelhouse Omaha.

The idea of a world-crippling pandemic was the last thing on anyone’s mind at the time. That would come a few months later, in March 2020, when COVID-19 became the center of everything, shutting down our world and the music industry with it.

O-pa’s plan suddenly seemed like a fool’s dream — no one knew what was going to happen with the pandemic. At the same time, the project was a beacon of hope, assurance that somehow we’d get through all the sickness and death, that O-pa and its patrons must know something or they wouldn’t hold onto a commitment to build a facility designed to host a crowd of 3,000 like a herd of cattle, standing shoulder to shoulder in a windowless, confined hall – the absolute last place anyone would want to be in the middle of an airborne-spread health crisis.

And yet, here I was, three-and-a-half years later, COVID-19 much less threatening, standing in a security line next to a bank of search lights on the night of Steelhouse Omaha’s grand opening, waiting to dive head-first into a maskless crowd. Ain’t humanity amazing?

Located at 11th and Dodge, only a stone’s throw from the Holland Performing Arts Center, Steelhouse 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. 

For its May 12 grand opening, 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. Tickets sold out in minutes. I guess if you’re going to pressure-test the system, do it right out of the box.

To O-pa’s 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. No gruff, overworked bouncers here — all these folks looked like they were having a good time. After walking through the lobby with its large merch and bar/concessions areas, I bee-lined to the main hall — cram-packed with T-shirt-clad fans holding plastic cups.

First impressions: Wow, this is big and wide open. Concession stands were built into the walls on each side of the hall and in the back – they were everywhere. Even with a sold-out crowd, I had no problem buying my $13 pint of mango wheat beer. All purchases were cashless, so if you go, grab your credit card and ID and leave your wallet at home. 

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

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

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. And the crowd, as they say, went wild.

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

The challenges began when I turned around to make my way to the back of the hall. People were smashed all the way across the aisles, requiring that I shoulder my way against the current of flesh. Still, I never felt trapped. The main auditorium is designed with large exit doors that open into a secondary lounge where the bathrooms are located, then into a large patio area — both nice touches and places to escape to when you feel overwhelmed by the sound and noise. 

Later that weekend, I returned to the Steelhouse Open House to get a look at the facility without all the people, and yes, all the metal and concrete did feel rather sterile in the cold light of day. But you go for the rock show, not the feng shui.

That evening The Killers 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,” frontman Brandon Flowers yelled.“Usually we’re asked to blow the roof off the place!” 

Not tonight. All in all, the grand opening felt like a success for Steelhouse and for a city that somehow soldiered through a catastrophe and found music on the other side.

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

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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: At Age 5, Maha Is All Growed Up (in the column); Klemmensen hits goal, Vovk/Carl go Kickstarter; Beach Boys tonight…

Maha's cup overfloweth. A view at the crowd at this year's festival while the Thermals perform.

Maha’s cup overfloweth: A view of the crowd at this year’s festival while the Thermals perform.

by Tim McMahan, Lazy-i.com

In this week’s column, a recap of this year’s Maha Music Festival. You can read it in this week’s issue of The Reader or online right here. Or heck, why not just read it below?

Over the Edge: At Age 5, the Maha Music Festival Is All Growed Up

Was this year’s Maha Music Festival a success?

The concert, held last Saturday at Stinson Park in Aksarben Village, drew 5,100 people. If that number seems light — especially compared to your typical CenturyLink Arena concert — consider that you cannot hear any of the bands that performed at Maha on your local FM radio. None. They don’t call it “indie rock” for nothing.

Tre Brashear, one of the festival’s organizers, said Saturday’s 5,100 was a 20 percent increase in attendance compared to the 4,300 there last year to see Garbage and Desaparecidos in the rain.

It was a big crowd. In fact the first thing I noticed after walking through the gates was that Maha had somehow made the park shrink. There wasn’t much green space for the crowds between the massive duo stages, the food vendors on Mercy Street, The Globe performance tent and the Bellevue University Community Campus.

Despite that, Brashear said Maha has yet to outgrow Aksarben Village, at least from a music standpoint. “Stinson is large and can hold more,” he said. “Furthermore, parking still continues to be pretty easy and convenient.”

On the other hand, Maha’s vendor space on Mercy Street has become too constrained. “People want more food options, more vendors,” Brashear said, “but we don’t have any place to put them unless we can figure out a way to put more items on the far side of the park.”

But beyond vendor congestion, if Maha ever bags its dream act — Wilco — organizers will have little choice but to look elsewhere, as the band could easily attract well over the park’s 10,000 capacity.

Enough about logistics. Here’s rundown of the bands I saw after arriving midway through the concert.

Saddle Creek Records’ latest recruits, The Thermals, played the straight-forward power-punk the trio is known for, including a number of songs off their latest album, Desperate Ground. The crowd seemed to like it, though they stood like scarecrows holding their beers and nodding their heads to the unchanging straight-four beat.

While The Thermals sounded good on the massive “Weitz Stage,” local boys Criteria sounded even better on the smaller “Centris Stage.” Don’t ask me why, but that junior-sized set-up sounded fuller (and louder) than its big brother, but maybe the band had something to do with it. Criteria, also a Saddle Creek act, boasts more dynamic songwriting vs. The Thermals’ play-and-repeat, one-gear punk style.

None of that mattered when Bob Mould took the main stage and blew them both away. Grinning throughout the set, Mould rifled through a “greatest hits” selection that included favorites off his Sugar albums, new stuff off his lastest solo record, The Silver Age, and classic Hüsker Dü in the form of “I Apologize” off New Day Rising. Bassist Jason Narducy filled out the vocals when Mould couldn’t, adding tasty harmonies throughout the set.

Mould was the highlight of the day for me and for a lot of others I spoke to including Brashear, who said Maha had been trying to book him since the festival began five years ago. As for those who complained that Mould’s set was “too loud,” the term “pussy” comes to mind. It’s Bob frickin’ Mould, folks. What did you expect?

Which brings us to Digital Leather. A few years ago during a lunch meeting I tried to convince the Maha guys to book the band by playing songs off their album, Blow Machine. When the execs heard stand-out track “Studs in Love,” with lines “I like Wrangler butts / I like hairy asses / I like men” they just shook their heads and said, “Maha’s a family event; we can’t have that.”

Cut to last Saturday and there was Digital Leather on stage singing about hairy asses to a crowd that barely noticed. Why would they? Isn’t rock ‘n’ roll supposed to be controversial and/or risky? What’s risky about hairy asses?

The thought that Maha organizers would be offended by Digital Leather seemed ridiculous after Matt & Kim took the stage. The keyboard-and-drums duo that plays cute, shiney indie pop dance tunes spent most of the time between songs yelling profanities at the audience. Every other word out of drummer Kim Schifino began with an F or MF. I guess they needed something to “rough up” their cutesy veneer and all those colored balloons just wasn’t cutting it.

It took about a dozen grips a half hour to get the set ready for festival closer The Flaming Lips. T-shirted stage hands carried huge chrome-plated globes while electricians carefully draped light strings from massive overhead crossbars. A few minutes before the set, out walked frontman/messiah Wayne Coyne in his shiny electric-blue suit, his graying mane blowing in the summer breeze. Coyne climbed atop the mountain of silver embryos and stood like a hipster Jesus grasping a weird fetus doll in his left hand.

If you came for the spectacle, you got it. The Lips’ amazing light show included a huge digital back-screen that blazed with glowing imagery while pin-lights flowed from above Coyne down the chrome mountain and back to the sky like an LED volcano.

Yes, there was plenty of smoke; yes there was confetti. Too bad there weren’t many hits. Coyne and Co. spent the first 20 minutes droning through depressing tonal music indicative of the band’s most recent album, The Terror. They would close out their set with hit, “Do You Realize?” but by then I was pedaling through Elmwood Park on my way home.

So was Maha a success? Artistically, it was the strongest festival they’ve ever put on. Brashear said it was financially successful as well, thanks to strong sponsorships, heavy donations throughout the year, and best-ever ticket sales.

“We definitely made a profit,” Brashear said. “That profit is going to get rolled into making next year’s Maha ‘better.’ What does that mean? We don’t know just yet. Could mean more expensive talent and/or an additional day. It’s too early to tell.”

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

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John Klemmensen met his piddly Kickstarter goal of $500, actually exceeded it by a couple hundred dollars. I am among those who donated enough to get JK to do cover. I’m still mulling my choice  — should I select one of my favorite Buckingham Nicks songs or ask John to breath new life into a song by a local artist? Decisions, decisions…

Meanwhile, Bret Vovk (a.k.a. Under Water Dream Machine) and Nick Carl (a.k.a. Kicky Von Narl) just launched a Kickstarter in support of their upcoming 3-week tour of the American Southwest and West Coast. “All the proceeds gathered will go toward the happenings of a successful tour and production of a brand new split LP, available exclusively (for a time) to their Kickstarter backers,” they say. Get in on the action right here.

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Been kind of quiet show-wise since Maha. Not much happening tonight either, except for the next installment of The Record Club @ the Saddle Creek Shop (located in the Slowdown Compound), this time featuring The Beach Boy’s classic Pet Sounds album. The needle drops at 7 p.m. followed by a critical discussion of the record. As always, the event is free.

Also tonight, singer-songwriter Damon Dotson plays at Slowdown Jr. $5, 9 p.m.

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


Live Review: The Men, Baby Tears, Gordon; Flaming Lips, Bob Mould headline Maha 2013…

Category: Blog,Reviews — Tags: , , , , , — @ 12:57 pm May 1, 2013

The Men at Slowdown Jr., April 27, 2013.

The Men at Slowdown Jr., April 27, 2013.

by Tim McMahan, Lazy-i.com

Here we are, a few days late. Don’t blame me, blame my work. Someone has to pay the bills, and it ain’t you.

Anyway… It’s been a few days since The Men played at Slowdown Jr., but my memory of the performance is still somewhat vivid. Just prior to their set I chatted with one of the venue’s bartenders who also happens to be an accomplished musician. He hadn’t heard the band before and asked me what I thought. I recapped my SXSW story (posted last Friday) and said I wasn’t sure what we were in for. That the new album had shades of Centro-matic about it. He nodded. He likes Centro-matic.

Well, just like in Austin, the band climbed on stage and proceeded to rip into three hard fast rock songs that were more garage or punk than anything with a twang. This even though one of the band members was now playing keyboards. “(The bartender) must think I’m nuts or an idiot or both,” I thought.

It took about a half hour, but eventually The Men began to slow it down and bring up that keyboard along with the twang in the form of dueling guitars that sounded like something off The Allman Brothers Band’s Eat a Peach album. Here was a band that could effortlessly switch between hyper-rock and something vaguely resembling alt-country while always maintaining their speed, power, grace. It was good stuff that in its own way had an epic flair similar to what Titus Andronicus brings, but with a more refined songwriting style.

Somewhere in the middle of the set, between songs, one of the guys said, “Being New Yorkers, we’re not a sentimental bunch, but this next one is a tribute to someone who died yesterday.” With that, the band tore into its own unique rendition of George Jones’ “White Lightning.” A fitting tribute indeed.

By the time the band got to the end of its set — more than an hour after it began — The Men’s sound had transformed again, this time into something resembling psych-rock, but again without losing their signature power and drive. It was an exhausting set that left (most of) the crowd of around 75 satisfied..

Baby Tears at Slowdown Jr., April 27, 2013.

Baby Tears at Slowdown Jr., April 27, 2013.

If that set sounds long, Baby Tears made up for it with a short set of only four or five blistering, violent noise-rock tunes. The plan called for playing at least one more long number, but the set was marred by a broken kick-drum pedal which blew out after the first song, leaving all of us wanting more.

Gordon at Slowdown Jr., April 27, 2013.

Gordon at Slowdown Jr., April 27, 2013.

Starting things off was a rather straight-forward set by Gordon, at least compared to the last time I saw them play at The Side Door this past January. I have no idea what drove that weird, wonderful performance, but compared to that chaos, the band was downright restrained Saturday night, resting entirely on their songs and musicianship. They are easily the best Omaha band you’ve never heard of, and I’m scratching my head wondering why no one has helped them put out a record. One young label owner asked me if their 5-song demo was online anywhere. It is. In fact, you can download the whole thing right here. Get it.

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While I’ve been away (though I’ve been right here the whole time) the folks at the Maha Music Festival announced their big stage line-up for this year’s extravaganza, which takes place Saturday, Aug. 17 at Stinson Park in Aksarben Village.

The full schedule:

12:05 – OEA Winner
12:40 – Millions of Boys
1:20 – Hers w/Omaha Girls Rock!
1:55 – Sons of Fathers
2:45 – Rock Paper Dynamite
3:20 – Thao and the Get Down Stay Down
4:25 – The Millions
5:00 – The Thermals
6:05 – Criteria
6:45 – Bob Mould
7:55 – Digital Leather
8:55 – Matt & Kim
10:15 – The Flaming Lips
Midnight – Show Over

The reaction from most people I’ve talked to about this line-up has been, “Whoa, Flaming Lips.” Even “civilians” who never go to rock shows are impressed. The Lips’ reputation for putting on over-the-top multi-media parties with confetti cannons and giant balloons is well known even with the stay-home suburban set. Will this be a game-changer for Maha? We’ll have to wait and see.

But as excited as the armchair music fans are about the Lips, the hardcore indie fans are over the moon about Bob Mould.  Then again… I always assumed everyone knew who Mould is, until I ran into a label guy in his 20s this week who didn’t have the foggiest. I told him that Mould was in Sugar. Nothing. “How about Husker Du? Ever heard of them?” He had, but still wasn’t familiar with their music. Fact is, this guy was in diapers when Zen Arcade came out (if he was alive at all).

My young label geek did know who The Thermals are. I didn’t ask him if he’d heard of Matt & Kim (but he probably has, especially since they just played Slowdown last year). Thao and the Get Down Stay Down is a more obscure choice, and even I had never heard of Sons of Fathers until Maha. Based on their iTunes snippets (They don’t have much of an online presence) I’d classify them as alt country or “roots.” We’ll never know the real story about how Maha found these guys (and why the booked them).

So there you have it, the 2013 Maha Music Festival line-up. Will this one be a record-breaker for Maha, the one that finally pushes them out of Stinson Park and into a larger facility (with campgrounds, as is their dream)? And more importantly, who’s going to pick up all that confetti after the show is over?

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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 © 2013 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.


Blood Transplant: Guthrie gets Flaming Lips blood vinyl (in the column); unnamed Jake Bellows band tonight…

Category: Blog,Column — Tags: , , — @ 12:14 pm June 6, 2012

Tim Guthrie, right, receives his copy of the Flaming Lips' "blood vinyl" from Jake.

Tim Guthrie, right, receives his copy of the Flaming Lips' "blood vinyl" from Jake.

by Tim McMahan, Lazy-i.com

This week’s column in The Reader has some obvious musical overhang. It’s the story of how artist/professor/adventurer Tim Guthrie came into possession of a copy of the ultra-rare Flaming Lips “blood vinyl,” and what he plans to do with it. You can read the column in this week’s issue of The Reader or online right here.

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As detailed on Monday (here), tonight is the debut and presumably only local performance by the “unnamed Jake Bellows band” at O’Leaver’s. It will be a madhouse. The band consists of Bellows (Neva Dinova, Whispertown), Todd Fink (The Faint, Depressed Buttons), Ben Brodin (Mal Madrigal, Our Fox), Ryan Fox (Our Fox, The Good Life) and Heath Koontz (Neva Dinova). Hear Nebraska’s Embedded Music Journalist Michael Todd did an interview with Bellows back in May that mentions this project, which you can read here. Simon Joyner opens. $5, 9:30 p.m., I ‘spect you should get there early…

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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 © 2012 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.