Live Review: America, Matt Whipkey at The Holland Center…

Category: Reviews — Tags: , , — @ 1:10 pm June 19, 2022
America at The Holland Performing Arts Center, June 18, 2022.

by Tim McMahan,

What are you going to be doing at age 70? Would you be satisfied flying around he country to venues like The Holland Performing Arts Center (or Memorial Park, for that matter) playing songs you wrote 50 years ago to people who just want to hear the songs you wrote 50 years ago?

Sounds pretty good to me, though at what point do become more of a performer than an artist? The last studio album by America, who played at Holland Center Saturday night, was Lost & Found, released in 2015, and included tracks recorded as far back as 2000. And their Holland set included the album’s opening track, “Driving.”

But looking around at the audience made up mostly of fans who could have bought their ‘70s albums when they were first released, I wondered how many wanted to hear anything other than the hits.

And man, America has a lot of them. They kicked off the night with “Tin Man” from their ’74 album Holiday, which was followed by “You Can Do Magic” from their ’84 album View from the Ground (and their last big U.S. hit), and then my personal fave, “Daisy Jane,” from ’75’s Hearts.

Looking like a hip college professor, co-frontman Gerry Beckley, age 69, handled most of the vocals alongside Dewey Bunnell (the guy on the Horse with No Name, age 70), and both sounded in fine voice, backed in harmonies by three other latter-day traveling members. The third original core member of America, Dan Peek, passed away in 2011, but had left the band in ’77 never to return.

Surprisingly Beckley and Bunnell never mentioned their old compatriot, though he was seen in some of the vintage images shown on the big screen throughout the set. I guess when you play 100 shows a year for 52 years, mentioning an old band member every night would get redundant, though last night’s gig was likely the first time many in the audience have seen America perform.

The show is part of the 50 Year Anniversary Tour, no longer marking 50 years of America, but 50 years of their debut album, released in ’71. To celebrate, the band played three songs from the debut in succession, including their first hit, “I Need You.” If you’re my age, you’d recognize it immediately.

They were followed by one of their most popular hits, “Ventura Highway,” (no doubt the influence to “Theme from The Californians”). It’s FM gold, and the crowd went wild. Then came old sad sack “Lonely People,” which would be the last hit for awhile, as the band then played a number of songs I didn’t recognize. The crowd responded respectfully, waiting patiently for the next hit.

Instead, the got a cover of The Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby” in honor of Paul McCartney’s 80th birthday, as well as a cover of “California Dreaming.” This is how you fill a 90-minute set, but let’s be honest, the crowd would have been just as happy to only hear the hits and those covers, which alone would encompass 11 songs — just the right length for a park festival, but maybe not long enough for a theater gig like this (though I would have happy).

In the end, the fans got what they wanted, as the set closed with anti-war song “Sandman” and mega-hit “Sister Golden Hair,” that got them on their feet. The band left their biggest hit of all, “Horse with No Name,” as the encore (of course).

Matt Whipkey at The Holland Performing Arts Center, June 18, 2022.

Opening the show was singer/songwriter local hero Matt Whipkey, who made the most of his just over 30-minute set. With acoustic guitar and accompanied on keyboards by longtime sideman Scott Gaeta, Whipkey charmed an audience of strangers with songs off his recent album, Hard, as well as a few chestnuts (such us my all-time fave of his, 2008’s “Separation,” which kicked off the set at 7 p.m. sharp).

You’d expect to see some nerves showing from a guy who typically plays to crowds of 100 or so at local bars, now standing in the spotlight in front of a few thousand. But Whipkey made it look like a walk in the park, getting the crowd laughing between songs, even making fun of the giant “Matt Whipkey” sign that blared behind him throughout the set.

Paraphrasing here, Whipkey quipped, “I love playing at O’Leaver’s, it’s one of my favorite places, but this is a little bit better,” with Gaeta quickly adding, “It smells better, too.”

The highlights included “Mayday” and “Overboard” from Hard, “Underwater” from the album of the same name, super-old song “17,” and his cover of “Drive My Car,” also dedicated to McCartney (afterward, I heard some guy behind me playing the Beatles’ version on his phone). It was a great way to kick off the evening, and another in a series of career highlights for Whipkey.

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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 © 2022 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.


Live Review: Digital Leather, Big Harp, Kill County at Holland Center’s 1200 Club…

Digital Leather at the 1200 Club, June 7, 2013.

Digital Leather at the 1200 Club, June 7, 2013.

by Tim McMahan,

Here’s a late review of last Friday’s Holland Center/1200 Club show. In fact, Lazy-i reception will be a bit spotty this week as I’ll be headed out of town for a few days. I’ll try to update when/if I can.

On the surface, the line-up for the inaugural Hear Nebraska Live program sponsored by Omaha Performing Arts at the Holland last Friday night was edgy, if not just plain risky. Kill County isn’t exactly a well-known commodity in Omaha. Saddle Creek’s Big Harp was the closest thing to a sure bet, while Digital Leather appeared to be an obvious miss-step — a synth-fueled punk band that you’d think was way too loud for the Holland’s delicate acoustics.

In fact, the program, which was filmed in its entirety by Nebraska Educational Television (NET) was supposed to emulate Austin City Limits, a PBS program whose staple is acoustic, alt-country balladeers that are more storytellers than rock stars. Rarely has ACL featured full on rock bands, probably because its reserved setting seems an ill fit for anarchy.

Kill County at the 1200 Club in The Holland Center, June 7, 2013.

Kill County at the 1200 Club in The Holland Center, June 7, 2013.

Needless to say, of the three bands Kill County was the best suited for the show’s relaxed environment. 1200 Club, located on the second level of the Holland, is a gorgeous sit-down space — round tables and candles on polished oak floors. You know when you walk in that it’s going to be a nice evening as a member of the crack Holland staff points you to your table where moments later one of the black-clad waiters comes and takes your drink (or food) order with a whisper. Very classy.

On Friday night, the corners of the room were filled with NET’s professional television production equipment, including a huge boom-control camera, a stationary camera and a guy walking around with a shoulder-mount camera followed behind by a cable lackey. We arrived during the second half of KC’s reserved alt-country set. Pretty stuff, crowd pleasing, well played, and exactly the kind of music that you’d expect to see on Austin City Limits, which is a nice way of saying their music isn’t anything you haven’t heard before. There is an obvious familiarity with everything they play, and people love listening to music they recognize.

Big Harp at the 1200 Club, The Holland Center, June 7, 2013.

Big Harp at the 1200 Club, The Holland Center, June 7, 2013.

Chris and Stef — i.e. Big Harp — came on stage alone for the first part of their set for a few gorgeous ballads before guest players keyboardist Dan McCarthy and drummer Dan Ocanto joined in and ratcheted up the sound. This band continues to vex me by never hovering for long over any specific genre. Their first album, White Hat, was filled with acoustic ballads while last year’s Chain Letters had a rock sound that seemed to reach for a Black Keys audience. Friday night the band was all over the map, each song carrying a different sonic reference point, a different style, with Chris Senseney’s croaking baritone and agile guitar work providing the common denominator. While rougher (and noisier) than Kill County, Big Harp’s set was still a fine fit for both the broadcast and the venue.

Then came Digital Leather, sounding exactly as I expected. If anyone involved in organizing this program was surprised at what they heard, they didn’t do their homework. In retrospect, it was probably why the band was scheduled last because the organizers knew they’d lose some of their audience in DL’s sound and fury… just like they did.

There were two surprises from DL. First was the addition of new keyboard player Ben VanHoolandt, who plays bass in Pleasure Adapter and is part of the duo known as Dirt. This was BVH’s first show with DL, joining Todd Fink, who remains on keyboards, though the speculation after the show was that BVH is being groomed as a road replacement for Fink. Only frontman Shawn Foree knows for sure. Just a year ago, Foree had turned his back on live synths; now he has two synth players.

The other surprise was hearing Digital Leather play “Modern Castles” off Warm Brother, something I never thought I’d ever hear. Needless to say, the return of keyboards opens horizons for some of Foree’s more tuneful – less punk songs. Now if they could work up a version of “Gold Hearts” I could die a happy man.

While as loud as any Digital Leather show I’ve seen, there’s no question that the band held back for either the venue or the cameras. My wife kept asking if they’d close with “Studs in Love,” the crowd-pleasing homo-anthem off Blow Machine recently returned to their live set (usually as an encore). I just shook my head. They wouldn’t dare, and of course they didn’t (though there’s always the Maha Festival…).

I think a lot of people involved in the program saw it as an experiment. The outcome was — for the most part — a success, though I’m sure they would have liked to have sold more tickets. Still, every table was filled and everyone seemed to have a good time. I can’t wait to see how it’ll translate to the boob tube. The broadcast is slated for airing on NET sometime in the fall (and may even be picked up by PBS nationally).

But the bigger question is whether Omaha Performing Arts, NET and HN will team up (along with the 1200 Club) for another show next year. Keep your fingers crossed.

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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.