The record distribution mess: Saddle Creek, 4AD and others leave ADA for Redeye Distribution…

Category: Blog — Tags: , , , , , , — @ 1:45 pm January 7, 2020

Redeye is now the distributor for Saddle Creek Records.

by Tim McMahan,

A couple weeks ago I read a rather lengthy and alarming story in Pitchfork where they talked about a company called Direct Shot and how it’s screwing up the distribution channels for record labels. It’s a long read, but it basically details how Direct Shot has dropped the ball getting vinyl and other orders to outlets.

Among the largest labels impacted by Direct Shot is Warner Music Group, who switched distributors to Direct Shot last April.

This switch also extended to the indie labels that work with Warner’s Alternative Distribution Alliance (ADA), which has Sub Pop, 4AD, Matador, Rough Trade, XL, Domino, and Saddle Creek listed as partners on its website. “ said the article.

Well, that switch really messed up a lot of labels’ ability to fulfill orders because of Direct Shot’s struggles with getting their part of the job — the distribution part — done efficiently.

I emailed Saddle Creek Records’ head honcho Robb Nansel at the time and asked if Saddle Creek was being impacted by the Direct Shot fiasco.

“It has impacted everyone, yes,” Nansel said, always a man of few words.

Welp, yesterday Saddle Creek was among a handful of indie labels that announced they have left ADA. The labels include 4AD, Matador, Rough Trade, Young Turks, Domino and XL. Their new distributor: North Carolina’s Redeye Distribution.

Over the years, I remember Redeye being a tiny player in the indie distribution game. Way back in March 2006 Mt. Fuji Records (the label operated by former Omahan Mike Jaworski and that included among its foster Little Brazil) signed a deal with Redeye, who at the time was working with the likes of  Yep Rock, Gern Blandsten, Flameshovel, Parasol and GSL.

Redeye was one of the small distro houses that made it possible for the little guys to get their records in stores across the country. So it’s kind of cool to see them playing a role in trying to fix the enormous distribution problems facing the music industry.

From the MusicBusiness Worldwide article about the deal:

Redeye feels like the right place for us to be,” said Saddle Creek’s Robb Nansel. “With a staff that is clearly made up of music fans and creators, we are excited to be a part of the independent community at Redeye and we look forward to growing together in the future.

No doubt the Direct Shot distribution headache has impacted record stores as well, including our very own Homer’s. Just ask Homer’s General Manager Mike Fratt.

“It’s been one of the biggest challenges we have faced in my 40 years at music retail,” Fratt said. “With the move of a half dozen major indies to Redeye, they become a major player going forward.”

The move to Redeye may solve Saddle Creek’s and those other indies’ distro problems, but when it comes to the industry as a whole, there’s still a whole lot of work that needs to be done…

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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 © 2020 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.


When Black Friday comes…RSD preview; See Through Dresses, Benson Songwriter Showcase tonight; Miwi La Lupa, Landon Hedges Thursday…

Category: Blog — Tags: , , , , — @ 1:49 pm November 25, 2015
When Black Friday comes, I'm gonna find myself a hole...

When Black Friday comes, I’m gonna dig myself a hole…

by Tim McMahan,

Just in case I forget to say it later, Happy Thanksgiving. If you live in the Omaha metro area, good luck. Sounds like it’s going to be Ice Station Zebra around here come tomorrow afternoon. Keep your fingers crossed that your power doesn’t go out and your turkey doesn’t catch cold.

Alright, so enough about the holidays. Friday is Black Friday and the folks at our area record stores are hoping to Make BF a BFD™.

Before you venture out into the ice, make sure you review the official Black Friday Record Store Day list, right here: I’ve been told that Homer’s and Drastic Plastic are stocking up on the majority (if not all) of these titles. There are literally crates of records piling up in their back rooms waiting to be released to the public at 10 a.m. Friday.

Mike Fratt, Homer’s general manager, said in addition to those Black Friday titles, Homer’s will have dozens of 2015 releases on CD at $9.99, “like Elle King, Father John Misty, Beach House, Disclosure, etc. We also have a couple dozen 2015 CD releases at $6.99, like Weeknd, Ryan Adams, Dr Dre, Nathaniel Rateliff, etc.”

And in addition, Homer’s will have a large new vinyl sale at 25% to 40% off, more than a thousand titles, “and, of course, we have Adele on CD at $9.99, vinyl at $24.99.” Adele! And if you’re shopping for the perfect Christmas present for the special someone who just discovered the joy of vinyl, Homer’s has “a dozen used turntables in stock and new ones, too, starting at $129.99.”

I asked Homer’s employee (and Milk Run proprietor) Chris Aponick to pick a few must-haves from the BF list, and he spit out The Eazy E Christmas 7-inch, the new Pujol single, and “the Neil Finn/Paul Kelly split thing, but I’m sure nobody else is after that.” WRONG Mr. Aponick. I love Paul Kelly.

Meanwhile, across the street at Drastic Plastic, DP dude (and For Against musician) Jeff Runnings tells me, “We’re having hot coffee and Drastic fudge brownies for those braving the possibly shitty weather—and we’re bringing in absolutely EVERYthing for BF.”

Yeah, but what our your picks, Jeff? “My picks?  The brilliant first Buzzcocks album on orange; the delicious dbl ‘best of’ LP Ciao! by Lush on translucent red, and the B-52’s “live” from 1979.”

How can we live without those? WE CAN’T!

Which brings us to Almost Music in Benson. Proprietor Brad Smith says, “I will have a ton of new stock, including Black Friday Record Store Day exclusives from Ty Segall, T Rex, The Sonics box set, etc.”

Brad’s Picks? “Definitely The Sonics’ 50 box set, and The Revolutionaries’ Revolutionaries Sounds Vol. 2 LP.”

So what are my picks? Well in addition to those mentioned above, I’m eyeing that Jesus and Mary Chain Barbed Wire Kisses on double blood-red vinyl, Gang of Four Songs of the Free LP on blue/purple/yellow splatter vinyl, and maybe even that Earth, Wind and Fire Greatest Hits Vol. 1, unless I can find a clean used copy (Can you believe I don’t have an EW&F album?)…

Like I said, all three stores — Homer’s, Drastic Plastic, and Almost Music — open at 10 a.m. Friday morning. Happy hunting.

* * *

No doubt the bars will be packed tonight as they always are the day before Thanksgiving, regardless of any live music. Clubs like to book cover bands during the holidays, and there are plenty of those going ’round.

That said, Reverb has some original rock happening tonight. See Through Dresses headlines, with Lawrence singer/songwriter La Guerre. $7, 9 p.m.

Also tonight is the Canned in Benson Songwriter Showcase at The Barley Street Tavern. Scheduled performers include Reagan Roeder, Edward Spencer, Kait Berreckman, Travis Sing, Gerald Lee, Jr., Joe Watson, John Klemmensen, Nick Carl, Vern Fergesen, Korey Anderson, Rebecca Lowry and Matt Cox. Food and cash donations to benefit the Food Bank For The Heartland will be collected at the door. Starts at 8.

Tomorrow night is basically a black hole for live music except for one exciting show: Team Love recording artist Miwi La Lupa is headlining at festive O’Leaver’s Thanksgiving night. Joining him is CJ Mills and Landon Hedges of Little Brazil and Desaparecidos fame. $5, 9 p.m.

Then along comes the weekend, which is rather packed. I’ll provide an update on Friday. Gobble-gobble….

* * *

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 © 2015 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.


Homer’s Mike Fratt on ‘New Music Friday’ (spoiler alert: He doesn’t like it); new Protomartyr; Melvins tonight…

Category: Blog,Interviews — Tags: , , , , — @ 12:53 pm July 14, 2015
Melvins play tonight at The Waiting Room.

Melvins play tonight at The Waiting Room.

by Tim McMahan,

When the first New Music Friday happened last week — forever changing release date for new albums from Tuesdays to Fridays — I asked Homer’s General Manager Mike Fratt for his take on the change. Here’s what he had to say, via email:

“I fought very hard against this while on the Music Business Association board. The idea came from Universal’s Global head of digital sales. There was no research to support this move and when we pushed back they presented this trumped up nonsense they called research. Funny to see it mentioned in the NPR piece as it was total bullshit.

“I am against removing a traffic driver from the middle of the week to the weekend. As the face of the fight against this I was on the cover of the Wall Street Journal back in November of 2014.

“It is stupid to move the dependency to just the weekend and to move away from the release date we shared with books, movies, comics, video games, etc. Doing so creates logistics issues for our suppliers, who ship all the products to stores together. Now they will have to manage new release shipments twice a week to accommodate music separate from the other categories.

“There is also concern about sales. Currently, if a new release blows up stores can easily restock for the weekend. Now, if something blows up on Friday there will be no restocking ’til Tuesday at the earliest. Dumb.

“We were for a global release day, just not Friday. We (U.S. retail) and the trade association for music retailers in the UK (ERA) agreed to both use Monday in an effort to keep it during the week but align to one day.

“Universal threatened to leave the Music Biz Association if the board approved the move to Monday as they were invested in it being Friday. I had the votes on the board lined up to approve Monday. That threat would have crushed Music Biz Assoc as Universal is the largest member and pays the largest dues. I was so disgusted by this unprofessional action that, after nine years on the board, I resigned.

“Soundscan has yet to get all retailers to alter their reporting of sales dates (during the week) to reflect this move to Friday through Thursday from the current Sunday to Saturday, so the first eight weeks’ sales numbers will be royally fucked up and very likely just made up.”

I asked Fratt, in this new streaming age does the release date matter to anyone except brick-and-mortar stores? Are we headed toward an age when music is released digitally whenever? His response:

“Regarding your question about digital, this aligns digital and physical even more so. So, I don’t see digital going rogue and releasing on different days than physical. But pay for digital album sales are falling faster than physical. And if all indie stores sales were actually counted (only 60 report to soundscan) we would see physical sales are actually pretty healthy.

“Streaming is the new radio, as you so often write. It creates awareness for releases, artists, music. We’re seeing it positively impact physical sales.”

A post script to all of this:

Last Friday the Saddle Creek Shop, located in north downtown in the Slowdown complex, announced it no longer will stock non-Saddle Creek Records titles, and that the store will only be open one day a week — Friday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

* * *

In other news, Protomartyr released the first song from their upcoming album, The Agent Intellect, out Oct. 9 on Hardly Art. Check it out.

* * *

Iconic ’80s/’90s/today doom/sludge/stoner/metal/grunge band Melvins plays tonight at The Waiting Room. If you’re wondering if you should go, here’s a review of last Wednesday’s Melvins show in Chicago, complete with set list, to help you decide. Le Butcherettes opens the show at 9 p.m. $17.

* *

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 © 2015 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.


Record Store Day 2015 (Almost Music Fest, Twinsmith, rain?); Blue Bird tonight; Hear Nebraska album release show (Ladyfinger, Jake Bellows), Clarence Tilton Saturday; Soft Moon Sunday…

Category: Blog — Tags: , , , — @ 12:52 pm April 17, 2015
Record Store Day is Saturday, April 18!

Record Store Day is Saturday, April 18!

by Tim McMahan,

Saturday is a very special holiday for vinyl record lovers and all fans of recorded music. It’s Record Store Day, that annual event that brings out music fans by the droves eager to snatch up as many valuable, limited-edition sheets of plastic as they can find… or afford.

Almost Music in Benson — a veritable shrine to used vinyl — is going all out again this year. The store opens at 10 a.m. with live music beginning at noon: Here’s the schedule:

Sun-Less Trio 12:00-12:30
Kate Berreckman 12:45-1:15
Dereck Higgins 1:30-2:00
The Broke Loose 2:15-2:45
Wagon Blasters 3:00-3:30
Andy Berkley 3:30-4:00
Razors 4:00-4:30
Those Far Out Arrows 4:45-5:15
Big Slur 5:30-6:00
Matt Tillwick 6:00-6:30
Dead Flower Preservation Club Band 6:30-7:00
Well Aimed Arrows 7:15-7:45

Brad Smith, Almost Music’s proprietor, promises food and drink along with RSD exclusive releases, new T-shirt designs by Robert Cook and, of course plenty of used vinyl and new arrivals.

Now if only someone could do something about the forecast. The weatherman says it’s going to rain tomorrow. Then again, they said it was going to rain yesterday afternoon but there was nary a drop as I lounged on my patio with an ice cold Blue Moon.

Certainly the folks who will be waiting outside of Homer’s down in the Old Market tomorrow morning will be praying for dry weather. But nothing short of gale-force winds is going to stop that dedicated horde from pouncing once Homer’s General Manager Mike Fratt swings wide the door at 10 a.m.

While they stand, Fratt says line-waiters will be serenaded by Saddle Creek Records band Twinsmith (starting at 9:15), and there’s talk of donuts, breakfast burritos and coffee to keep their energy levels up.

“Of course we ordered a gargantuan amount of product this year, even more than last year,” Fratt said of RSD merchandise. Fratt rattled off a long list of special edition merch that Homer’s is offering tomorrow in this week’s Lazy-i Podcast (listen to it here or below). Among the goodies is an exclusive pressing of 311’s Hydroponic, originally a cassette-only local release. Fratt said it was pressed in small quantities for the 311 Fan Club. “They allowed us to buy some directly from them, so we’ll have 50 of those,” Fratt said. “We’ll be the only retailer in the country with that item.”

Among the items Fratt listed in the podcast is RSD releases by Metallica, Bruce Springsteen, Johnny Cash, Citizen Dick (fake band from the movie Singles), Graham Parsons, Black Keys, Freedy Johnston, Bob Dylan, Foo Fighters, White Stripes, The Replacements, Miles Davis, Elvis Presley. Fratt said there is somewhere around 450 releases, and he bought so much stock that he’s “nervous.”

What record store owner wouldn’t be when you consider that vinyl is “one way” and stores can’t return unsold stock. Fratt said Homer’s still has some RSD merch from previous years in the bins. In the podcast, he talks about the risks involved in RSD for retailers, efforts to keep product out of the marketplace before the official RSD start time, and the impact on small labels. Give it a listen.

Along with Almost Music and Homer’s, records stores Drastic Plastic and the Saddle Creek Shop also are participating in Record Store Day Saturday.

Drastic Plastic Records (DPR) is releasing fan-favorite songs by Bauhaus, Love and Rockets, and Tones on Tail with the release of Daniel Ash’s album, Stripped. “The double record pressed on 180 gram yellow vinyl, features these songs reimagined and re-worked by Ash into infectious, synth-driven, dance music and also includes one new song titled, ‘Come On,‘” said DPR in a release.

* * *

So what’s going on this weekend?

Tonight (Friday) Super Ghost plays at The Barley Street Tavern with Blue Bird and Two Drag Club. $5, 9 p.m.

Also tonight Mat Shoare headlines at fabulous OLeaver’s with Uh Oh and Nathan Ma and the Rosettes. $5, 9:30 p.m.

Saturday is Earth Day (in Omaha anyway). The Earth Day folks are having their usual bash in Elmwood Park all day, and it includes the usual live stage.  The most notable performer on the schedule is McCarthy Trenching at 3 p.m. It’s free.

And then Saturday night is a show dear to me heart: The Hear Nebraska Vol. 3 Compilation release show at The Waiting Room, just in time for Record Store Day. Headlining the festivities is Ladyfinger, who’s joined by the beloved Jake Bellows and hip-hop act Both.

HN Compilation Vol. 3 features tracks from all three of the above bands, along with tracks by John Klemmensen and the Party, Josh Hoyer and the Shadowboxers, Cursive, M34n St33t, Halfwit, Outlaw Con Bandana and The Bottle Tops. You need this limited edition vinyl. Pick up a copy at the show. Cover is $7, and it starts at 9 p.m.

Also Saturday night, Clarence Tilton celebrates the release of their debut CD at the Reverb Lounge. Opening is Monday Mourners and Kelly Maxwell. $7, 9 p.m.

Finally Sunday night Captured Tracks artist The Soft Moon a.k.a. Luis Vasquez plays at the Reverb Lounge with Noveller. $12, 9 p.m.

That’s all I got. If I missed your show, put it in the comments section. Have a great weekend.

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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 © 2015 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.


Does it really matter that there hasn’t been a platinum-selling album in 2014?

Category: Blog — Tags: , , — @ 1:03 pm October 21, 2014

recordsby Tim McMahan,

By now we’ve all seen the Facebook posts that point to articles declaring that not a single album has sold more than a million copies so far this year. The Forbes‘ version doesn’t point any fingers. Instead, it’s usual the person who posted the article that blames streaming (i.e. Spotify) for the downward sales spiral.

First off, it’s only October. We’ve got the entire Christmas season ahead of us. Second of all, the authors seem to forget that Taylor Swift has a record on deck to be released this year. Swift’s latest LP, 1989,  will most certainly go platinum in 2014.

But in the grand scheme of things, does it really matter that a flavor-of-the-month pop act hasn’t moved a million copies of their bland-ola music to the great unwashed? Who cares if Beyonce only sold 3/4 of a million copies instead of a million? Does it matter that Adele hasn’t pulled the industry out of its perceived “slump” by releasing an album this year? What does any of this have to do with people who like good music or to your run-of-the-mill indie band? Do mid-sized indie labels care?

The only people who might be shaking in their boots are folks who run record stores, say someone like Mike Fratt, the general manager of Homer’s. So I asked Fratt if the lack of a million seller so far this year matters.

“Does it matter? Well, for online journalists who are all digital, maybe it’s some kind of victory in their ever-present need to bash physical music,” Fratt said. “We’ve been hearing for 15 years that record stores will go out of business. Tired narrative.”

Fratt reiterated that a couple late-2013 releases will likely end up selling a million copies before year’s end. He also pointed to the Swift album, Lorde’s latest, Luke Bryan and Sam Smith releases as possible platinum contenders.

Instead of dwelling on the dark side, Fratt pointed to the continued resurgence of vinyl.

“Vinyl is likely to (sell) over 10 million units this year,” Fratt said. “After a new reporting service to rival Soundscan finally debuts late this year or early next year, we’ll find out vinyl is actually closer to 15 million units annually as Soundscan only pulls data from 61 indie stores. 61! Look at the Record Store Day web site. There are 1,200 listed.”

Fratt said overall business is down 13 percent, but indie stores are only down 2 percent. “The real number is indies are up 2 percent,” he said. “Heck, even our CD biz is up this year.”

Indie sector market share is growing as well, up from 9 percent from a decade ago to 13.5 percent today, Fratt said, and more likely somewhere around 17 percent.

So what about those who say streaming is killing the music business? Fratt said sales of digital downloads are feeling the brunt of the Spotify effect.

“Digital is struggling as more adopt streaming,” Fratt said. “Streaming, as you have written, is the new radio. Data supports that heavy streamers are also very active buyers of physical. We see it every day. But, just like vibrant radio from the ’70s caused many not to buy music because they could listen every day, there is a quantity of streamers that only stream. Those that subscribe, pay for streaming, are even more active purchasers.”

For what it’s worth, I’ve purchased more music so far this year than any post-CD era year, and almost all of it is on vinyl. The packaging, the experience of vinyl albums are special to me, and I believe that’s the case for most serious music fans.

Does that mean that vinyl is the cavalry that will save the industry? No. But I believe there always will be a market for music and music-related “hard assets,” such as vinyl and CDs, if only to support the “collectors market.” People who buy Taylor Swift or Adele records aren’t part of that collectors market, and I have no doubt that if it wasn’t this year that it would be 2016 (Adele’s new one comes out in 2015) when we finally go without a having platinum-selling record by a vanilla-flavored pop star. And it won’t make a bit of difference to anyone.

* * *

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 © 2014 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.


Prepping for Record Store Day (Saturday); the house project pt. 3 (in the column)…

Category: Blog — Tags: , , — @ 12:57 pm April 18, 2013

Record Store Dayby Tim McMahan,

Record Store Day is Saturday. This Saturday. All the usual local shops will be participating (except, of course, for The Antiquarium, which no longer exists). Mike Fratt, who runs Homer’s, said his shop is going “all in” this year.

“We ordered about 45 percent more product compared to last year so we have a lot of product,” he said. “Well into the tens of thousands of dollars worth. We have 20 to 40 of a number of items, so we are really well stocked.”

Some things are heavily allocated, like offerings from Dave Matthews, Moby/Mark Lanegan, Sigur Ros, “so we have only a few of these,” he said. Some items were region specific, meaning primarily for the Southeast, and those items were pressed in very small quantities. Homer’s might not have those.

“Of the 350 or so titles, we probably have 325ish,” Fratt said. “As for the rest of the store, we are stocked in new vinyl and CDs at a level we have not been in almost 10 years.” He said the staff is struggling trying to find places to put all of it. While you’re in the store, check out the new custom-built vinyl browsers.

The store opens at 10 a.m., and rock band Pretty & Nice will perform for those of you who are standing in line at 9. Fratt says they’ll be doling out coffee and donuts for you greedy bastards who get there before the shotgun start.

If you’re into this, it’s worth your time to check out and see what’s going to be offered. The releases that caught my attention include a Big Star double 12-inch, Brian Eno releases, new stuff by Bowie, a Husker Du 7-inch, that Moby/Mark Lanegan release, and whatever’s being released by Pulp. Sounds like numbers will be tight on all those items, which means I’ll probably be SOL as there’s no way I’ll be down there by 10 a.m.

I told Fratt that this has to be exciting for he and his staff, like Christmas in April. “Yes, bigger than Christmas,” he said. Ho Ho Ho…

* * *

In this week’s column, Pt. 3 of The Project series, wherein I discuss a homeowner’s trepidation about letting go of his past. It’s in this week’s issue of The Reader and online right here.

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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.


Happy Birthday Drastic Plastic, OFF!, Spits, Helio Sequence tonight…

Category: Blog — Tags: , , — @ 12:57 pm October 30, 2012

by Tim McMahan,

Drastic Plastic turns 30

Drastic Plastic turns 30

Did Drastic Plastic play a more significant role in the creation of today’s “Omaha Music Scene” then, say, Homer’s Records (who has been around longer), or The Antiquarium, which for years was viewed as Omaha’s indie ground zero? Does it matter?

Fact is Drastic has stayed in business for 30 years — that’s an achievement for any record store. I’ve always looked at Drastic as more of a T-shirt shop (thanks to Impact) than a record store, though recorded music has always been a staple. According to their press release:

Drastic also promoted some of Omaha’s first alternative shows, such as Black Flag, Husker Du, Dead Kennedys and Toxic Reasons.  The cover of Black Flag’s live album Who’s Got the 10 ½? immortalizes the store’s telephone number.  Drastic also started one of Omaha’s first record labels, Fat Bat Records, which released then local sensation Apathy’s LP Out the Window. “

The tradition continues with Drastic Plastic Records, which reissues classic punk albums on vinyl, along with discs on the Silver Saucer CDs imprint.

So Happy Birthday Drastic Plastic. To celebrate the occasion, Drastic is hosting a show tonight at the Waiting Room headlined by OFF!, the LA hardcore band whose members include Circle Jerks/Black Flag singer Keith Morris, Burning Brides frontman Dimitri Coats, Red Kross bassist Steven Shane McDonald and Rocket From the Crypt/Hot Snakes drummer Mario Rubalcaba. Opening is Seattle punkers The Spits and Raleigh hardcore band Double Negative. $12, 8 p.m.

Also tonight, Sub Pop band Helio Sequence plays at Slowdown Jr. with Betsy Wells. $10, 9 p.m.

Meanwhile, over at fabulous O’Leaver’s Rake Kash (L. Eugene Methe) headlines a show with Still Sweet and Noah Sterba. $5, 9:30 p.m.

* * *

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


Homer’s, Lips score big at Record Store Day (but not according to Soundscan); Live Review: The Drums, Craft Spells; Dim Light tonight…

Category: Blog,Interviews,Reviews — Tags: , , , , — @ 1:08 pm May 2, 2012
The Drums at The Waiting Room, May 1, 2012.

The Drums at The Waiting Room, May 1, 2012.

by Tim McMahan,

Just how big was Record Store Day last weekend for Homer’s. Let’s just say sales were at “historic” levels, said Homer’s General Manager Mike Fratt. “We are extremely thankful for all the customer support and all the excitement they create,” he said. “It’s very enjoyable to see fans come out in such large numbers.”

RSD has become a marketing phenomenon of unequaled proportions. The only thing you can compare it to is, say, Black Friday or when Apple launches a new iPhone. It’s huge, not only for Homer’s but for every independent record store in the country. “But with that comes considerable risk as purchases of RSD exclusive product can amount to tens of thousands of dollars, and it’s all sold one way. No returns,” Fratt said. “It is amazing how big an event Record Store Day has become, and it continues to spread internationally. Europe, Asia, South America, Australia. And the indies did this. It dominates Google trends in the week prior, is covered by all major media, and generates positive karma for music and the music business.”

To give you an idea of the enormity for Homer’s: “We brought in more product this year than the last three years combined,” Fratt said. “(It) freaked us out how much we bought, but it turned out well. We sold 66 percent of what we brought in, and have been able to reload on some titles we sold out of since then.”

Among the huge sellers was The Flaming Lips’ Heady LP, which Fratt said not only sold out quickly in Omaha, but sold enough copies that it would have charted in the top 40 on the Billboard charts, and we’re talking about a vinyl release. The key phrase in the last sentence is “would have,” because Fratt said Soundscan somehow didn’t properly report sales on RSD.

“Soundscan showed many cities reported none (of the Lips record) sold (including in Omaha), although we sold all 30 of ours,” Fratt said. “In LA, Soundscan showed just 183 sold when all stores there reported selling all they had, which would have sent the number into the hundreds. Soundscan showed sales in Detroit of negative 400.” Yeah, you read that right.

“Not only did it damage reporting on the three or four titles that would have hit the charts, it also ends up unreporting total impact of RSD, by probably enough to push overall weekly sales up another percent or two — a significant achievement on the part of the indie sector.”

It’s a fuck-up literally of national proportions at a time when the record industry — and indie music stores — can ill afford one. But was Soundscan’s misreporting just a one-time thing or a symptom of a systemic problem? Fratt said the indie music coalition is meeting in LA next week to address the problem. “We are not only concerned about RSD, but ongoing reporting errors,” Fratt said. “Could this loss of reporting move the total national year to date sales up 1 or 2 percent? That is significant if true. No one really knows yet.”

Regardless, there’s no denying that last weekend was wildly successful. Cold hard cash does not lie. “The Indie Retail community saw a 40% increase from last week,” Fratt said. “The overall business conditions were up 3% from last week – which is cool because mass merchants were about even and digital scans were down about 4%.” If that isn’t proof that vinyl is making an impact, nothing is.

While I have your attention, Fratt wanted to pass along some upcoming special events at his store, including in-store performances by My Darkest Days on May 22 and Tech n9ne on May 27, along with listening parties for Beach House and Best Coast May 14 and Sigor Ros May 28.

* * *

Craft Spells at The Waiting Room, May 1, 2012.

Craft Spells at The Waiting Room, May 1, 2012.

Briefly… I am a sucker for ’80s electronic music a la Factory Records bands such as Joy Division and New Order. So last night’s show at The Waiting Room clearly was right up my alley.

Opening band Part Time set the mood with a micro-set that lasted less than a half hour. So shortcthat it was hard to absorb what they were doing on stage. Add to that the fact that they seemed to just want to get it over with didn’t help matters.

They were followed by Craft Spells, who sounded like, well, a cross between New Order and Joy Division. It was all there in the oh so familiar guitar lines, synth parts and up-tempo rhythm section that was straight off of Brotherhood. It’s one thing to be derivative of a style, it’s another to wholly embody it. There’s no question what these guys were trying to do, and they did it well, though I couldn’t tell you a word of what the frontman was mumbling into the microphone during their short set. I can tell you they were the best band on stage last night.

Here I was thinking I might get home by 11, but The Drums put on a long, if not adventureless, performance. With a sound that undoubtedly has its origins in the ’80s, it hinted at something slightly more modern (as in The Strokes). Blond frontman Jonny Pierce spent most of the set sashaying around the darkened stage vocally emulating Bono. In fact, their music tried to harken back to very early U2, but lacked that band’s anthemic hubris.

Watching Pierce skip and sway through his set without engaging the audience made me remember what made Bono such an incredible frontman back in U2’s glory days — he brought his audience along with him on every song. He was mesmerizing, nearly confrontational, determined to make everyone in the audience care about what he was singing about. Pierce could have been singing words out of a telephone book, which is a shame because The Drums lyrics deserve more effort than that.

* * *

Snake Island headlines a show tonight at The Waiting Room with Lightning Bug, Dim Light and  Swamp Walk. $5, 9 p.m.

* * *

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


Column 317: Record Store Day (April 16) is all about the vinyl; Dave Dondero, Franz Nicolay, Bret Vovk tonight…

Category: Blog,Column,Interviews — Tags: , , , , — @ 12:54 pm April 7, 2011

Record Store Day 2011Column 317: Hot Wax Holiday

Locals indies celebrate Record Store Day April 16

by Tim McMahan,

We had time to kill before the 7:45 show at Aksarben Cinema, and having already grabbed a bite to eat decided for reasons of proximity to walk through Kohl’s Department Store, whose overly ambitious catchphrase is “Expect Great Things.” As I was strolling down one of the fluorescent-bright main aisles, somewhere between the jewelry counter and “notions,” I nearly stumbled over a stack of turntables smack-dab in the middle of the floor, marked $70 each.

And I thought to myself, well, there really is no reason for any right-headed music fan to not buy vinyl now. If a place like Kohl’s, the very essence of mid-American retail homogeneity, sells turntables (and for $70), all excuses have flown out the window.

I tell you this as a precursor to heralding that Record Store Day is a week from Saturday — April 16. Begun a mere three years ago as a “celebration of the unique culture surrounding over 700 independently owned record stores in the USA” Record Store Day has become something of a holiday for collectors of music, whether it be released on vinyl or not. In Omaha, it’s celebrated by The Antiquarium, Drastic Plastic and the largest of the bunch, Homer’s Records.

“It reconnects music fans with music stores,” said Homer’s general manager Mike Fratt. “After consumer habits (were) shifted away from music stores over the last 15 years by aggressive mass merchants, this gives indie stores an opportunity to level the playing field and generate loyalty.”

If anything, Record Store Day is a reminder of what record stores used to be — way stations on the road to artistic maturity where fans discovered new music, new ideas, new possibilities that they never would have discovered on their own or on the radio. At their very core were the “record store guys,” whose job was to ask what you were into, and then point you in the direction of something you may not have considered of even heard of. It was from a Homer’s record store guy that I first discovered The Pixies, way before they became one of the most influential bands of the late-’80s early-90s.

All that, of course, was before the Internet, which while making music immediately accessible to just about everyone, also has effectively taken away most of the magic and mystery behind record collecting, while systematically crippling the industry.

But I digress.

What started as a niche concept in ’08 has turned into a full-blown industry bonanza for record stores, labels and artists. “Just about any big name has a piece for RSD this year,” Fratt said, “from Lady Gaga to the Rolling Stones, from Syd Barrett to Rush.”

And why not? When you consider that vinyl sales have nearly tripled since ’07, to 3 million units sold in 2010, you can see why major labels are beginning to get into the act, though Fratt said almost 90 percent of vinyl sales have been from indie label offerings.

He said among the highlights for RSD this year are an AC/DC 7-inch, a “test pressing” of Big Star’s Third, a pink 10-inch from Kate Bush, a 12-inch of a new Fleet Foxes tune, a Jimi Hendrix 7-inch and a Nirvana 12-inch that reissues tunes of covers previously only released in Australia years ago. “Rush has a 7-inch, as does Pearl Jam, and Ryan Adams has a double 7-inch package,” Fratt said. It’s not just vinyl. The Decemberists recorded an in-store performance at Bull Moose (an indie store in Maine), which is one of a few CD offerings this year.

“The Rolling Stones and Bruce Springsteen both have 7-inch releases, and the Flaming Lips collect their first five albums into an LP box set,” Fratt said. “The Lips LPs no longer are available separately, so this should be a big demand — albeit expensive — item.”

He added that Warner Brothers Records has put together four, colored-vinyl split 7-inch singles that feature a different band on each side performing the same tune. “So, Green Day records a Husker Du classic with Husker’s version on the other side” Fratt said. “The others include Jenny & Johnny with Gram Parsons & Emmy Lou Harris, Mastodon with ZZ Top, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers with the Ramones.”

Hot stuff, and all in very limited supply. Fratt said with product available on a first-come basis, expect long lines at both the Old Market and Orchard Plaza stores. Both locations also will host special performances in the afternoon, including School of Rock out at Orchard, and a handful of DJ’s downtown (including, believe it or not, yours truly at 3 p.m.).

The Antiquarium, home of Omaha’s punk and indie music scene, also is getting in on the RSD action with limited-edition vinyl releases from a handful of larger indie labels, including Matador, Sub Pop and Merge. While you’re there, check out their large selection of used vinyl and locally produced sides from such labels like Speed! Nebraska, who’s been been carrying the vinyl torch since the mid-’90s.

So mark April 16 on your calendar, go to for more details, and get ready to celebrate vinyl. And remember, Record Store Day doesn’t have to be just one day a year.

* * *

So again, Record Store Day isn’t this Saturday, it’s next Saturday. And yes, you read that right, I will be DJ-ing at the Old Market Homer’s at 3 p.m. that day, though I wouldn’t call what I’ll be doing “DJ-ing” in the Brent Crampton/Kobrakyle sense of the word. Fratt simply asked if I’d like to come down and spin some music for an hour, so if you’re there, you’ll hear some of my old and new faves. Omaha World-Herald music guy Kevin Coffey also will be taking over the turntable for an hour, along with DJ Kobrakyle and the international winner of the Belle & Sebastian essay contest, John Ficenac. Fun!

* * *

The hot show of the evening is Omaha adopted son Dave Dondero at Slowdown Jr. Dave’s lastest, Pre-Existing Condition, was released on Ghostmeat earlier this year. Pitchfork gave it a 6.0. I have not heard the disc, but gotta believe it rates higher than that with normal people. Maybe Dave was docked by PF because of his long-standing association with Nebraska and Saddle Creek. Also on the bill is former Hold Steady keyboard player Franz Nicolay. $10, 9 p.m.

Also tonight, Bret Vovk is playing at The Barley Street either as The Ghost of Bret Vovk or simply Bret Vovk (as the Barley Street website has it listed). You may remember Vovk from Underwater Dream Machine. Opening is the appetizingly named Parasite Diet. $5, 9 p.m.

* * *

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


Column 309: Bright Eyes, The People’s Key reviewed; where will it chart?; Interpol tonight…

Category: Blog,Column,Reviews — Tags: , , , , , — @ 1:42 pm February 9, 2011

Column 309: Here it comes, that heavy love…

CD Review: Bright Eyes, The People’s Key

by Tim McMahan,

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

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

Bright Eyes’ new album, The People’s Key, comes out Feb. 15 on Saddle Creek Records. Conor Oberst’s publicist tells me that the band, which had just started rehearsals, has put all press inquiries on hold for the time being. Maybe when Bright Eyes gets ready for his June 4 show at WestFair we’ll get Conor’s perspective on the album, but until then, you’ll have to settle for mine in this review., who has been streaming the album in its entirety for the past few weeks, came right out of the gate declaring it the “best record Bright Eyes has ever made. In fact, it’s the best record the band’s frontman, Conor Oberst, has ever been a part of.” Only time will prove if NPR is right, though I don’t know how you could declare any album as being an artist’s “best.” It might be your favorite, but “best”? Come on…

I will say this: I like The People’s Key much more than Oberst’s last solo album and his Monsters of Folk material, and that’s somewhat concerning to me as I’ve always said that all this talk about this being “Bright Eyes final album,” was pure silliness since Bright Eyes at its core is Oberst. However, there’s no denying that Oberst is a different man when it comes to Bright Eyes. From both a musical and lyrical standpoint, Bright Eyes records just hold together better, like reading a great novel as compared to a collection of short stories. The thematic essence of Bright Eyes albums is more consistent and, well, satisfying than what he’s produced under his solo banner.

The album keeps with the Bright Eyes tradition of starting with a spoken-word audio clip. For Cassadaga, Bright Eyes’ last album, it featured a (presumably) big-haired southern woman talking about spiritual centers that attract “believers,” like the Florida town the album was named after. This time it’s “Shamanic” vocalist Denny Brewer of the band Refried Icecream doing an L. Ron Hubbard-esque spiel about spaceships and lizard men at the beginning of the world. Brewer occasionally sticks his head in between songs, sounding like Will Ferrell imitating Harry Caray. For long-time fans, this eccentric touch is part of what you come to a Bright Eyes album for, though later on you’ll find yourself figuring out ways to cut out those opening two and a half minutes so you can get right to the first song.

In this case, that song is “Firewall,” a simple melody draped in dread built upon a sinister, circular electric guitar line. Oberst spits out his vision of talking ravens and artificial theme parks before getting to his own artificial reality and his escape from it via jump ropes and slit wrists. Breaching the “firewall” opens the melody to the glorious heavens, before it comes back down.

If there’s a theme that ties the album together its Oberst’s dwelling on the inevitability of death. Every song has an allusion to death or dying, a theme approached now with resignation, though it’s something (based on earlier Bright Eyes material) that Oberst figured out long ago.

That theme is most obvious on the album’s ultimate downer number, “Ladder Song,” with its subtle opening lines:

No one knows where the ladder goes

You’re gonna lose what you love the most

You’re not alone in anything

You’re not unique in dying

Mournful piano and Conor at his most quivering. In the old days, this would have been a song about a broken heart or a strung-out night spent in Manhattan. My how things change as you get older. And unlike, say, Prince’s song about a ladder, there’s no salvation or hope at the end of this one. About to turn 31, Conor seems too young to be dwelling on death, but then again, there were those who wondered if he’d even live to see 30.

The People’s Key might be Bright Eyes’ most consistent album from a songcraft perspective. There is a straightforward quality here that is undeniable; everything seems self-contained, pulled together and kept from going on tangents. The end product is an even line from beginning to end. Predictable, and for a lot of music-goers, that can be very satisfying.

But there is something missing. On every other Bright Eyes album, there was one perfect moment that jumped off the disc, unique and demanding a rewind, the perfect song for the mix tape. From I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning it was “Lua.” From Cassadaga it was “I Must Belong Somewhere.” From Lifted, it was “Nothing Gets Crossed Out” and “Lover I Don’t Have to Love” and “Bowl of Oranges” and  “You. Will. You. Will? You. Will? You. Will?” and “Waste of Paint” — a song that you can’t turn off or skip over after it’s begun.

I’ve been listening to this album for a couple weeks and that song hasn’t jumped up and waved its arms at me yet. Maybe it will later, I don’t know. Maybe it’s more than I should expect.

That’s the thing about Bright Eyes albums. Those of us who have followed the band since the days when Conor wore glasses expect every release to be a masterpiece. And maybe that’s what separates Oberst’s solo work from his Bright Eyes efforts — that he and cohorts Mike Mogis and Nate Walcott also approach each album as if it were something more than just a collection of songs.

Time will tell if The People’s Key was a just a collection of songs or a “masterpiece” or a “best” or just a favorite. Right now it’s just a good album.

* * *

So my rating for The People’s Key is a firm “Yes.” Let me echo Omaha World Herald music guy King Kevin Coffey and ask, “Will it top the Billboard charts when it’s released next week?” I don’t see much standing it its way. There are new ones coming out by Sonic Youth (Hey, MAHA, now there’s a band to consider), P.J. Harvey, Mogwai and Drive-By Truckers, none of which are a threat to Conor and Co.

It doesn’t take much anymore to top the charts. Decemberist’s awesome The King Is Dead was a Billboard No. 1 only needing to move 94,000 copies during its debut week to mount the summit. It helps when the mp3 download is only $7.99 at Amazon (or in Arcade Fire’s case, as low as $3.99 during its release week). How low will The People’s Key be offered on Amazon (or iTunes)? If it’s a $3.99 download, look out.

But what do I know about the music business? When it comes to these sorts of discussions, I always turn to Mike Fratt, who runs Homer’s Records. Mike is more skeptical. He doesn’t think The People’s Key will top the charts. “Because the Soundscan week includes the Valentine’s weekend (historically a good week for music sales) and the week post-Grammys (2/13) I don’t think Bright Eyes will hit No. 1,” Fratt said. “I do think it will achieve top 5, but at a lower number than 2007’s Cassadega.”

He thinks Arcade Fire, Mumford & Sons, Eminem, Taylor Swift and Katy Perry all will chart higher than People’s Key, helped along by Grammy performances. “Looking at this week’s Soundscan, Conor & Co. may have to generate at least 30 to 35(000) to make top 5,” Fratt said. “I’d be surprised if they make that, although the album sounds good.”

Cassadaga logged in at No. 4 on the Billboard charts with first-week sales at just slightly north of 58,000. And 11,000 of those sales were digital downloads — around 19 percent. If Amazon offers The People’s Key at $3.99, you could see downloads grab a bigger percentage this time ’round.

Fratt predicts total first-week sales to be around 27,000, and he hopes a ton of those are bought at Homer’s, where they’re guaranteeing the album will be in stock through Feb. 27. “We bought a lot, but if we run out (Saddle Creek) will drop some off vs. us having to reorder through ADA or a one stop.  CD = $9.99  LP = $19.99! through 2/27.” Get your ass to Homer’s, people.

* * *

Pitchfork reported yesterday that Titus Andronicus has been added to a few Bright Eyes dates, which should make for an entertaining evening considering how Titus frontman Patrick Stickles’s vocals are forever being compared to Conor Oberst’s vocals. Here’s what Stickles told me last September when I asked him about the Oberst comprisons:

“I’ll tell you because you rep the Omaha readership,” Stickles said. “I think it’s a little short-sighted. The constant comparisons to anyone gets old, even if it’s Jesus Christ. Doesn’t everyone want to be themselves? Don’t we all want to blaze our own trail, though I know this is rock and roll, and there’s not too much under the sun? But it seems kind of like, uh, cheapening slightly to say that if you’ve heard one guy you can pretty much guess what this guy is going to sound like. After awhile it feels like a feedback loop, a house of mirrors, like sometimes (reviewers) get these things to sound so similar that I’m reading reviews of other reviews. But maybe that’s me being a self-righteous, entitled type. Even if it were true, is it helpful? Who’s to say? It’s not in my control. As I put my art out into the world, it’s out of my hands. History will judge.”

It will indeed.

* * *

It’s going to be cold outside but oh so hot inside The Slowdown tonight for Interpol. Opening is School of Seven Bells, who came through The Waiting Room last September. Here’s the review from that show:

The best moments came when guitarist Benjamin Curtis was allowed to run wild run free. His tone was amazing; it reminded me of every great soaring guitar solo of ’80s post-New Wave/dream rock era. The Deheza sisters sounded like what you’d imagine Azure Ray would sound like fronting a dance band. Unfortunately, too often the vocals were buried in the mix and sounded limp, like an afterthought. As with the opener, the sound would have benefited from more bottom end (no bass again). The 70 or 80 people on hand spent the night huddled by the stage, but few if any danced, except for one girl who spent the evening with her arms in the air. Maybe that’s why they didn’t come out for an encore after their 45 minute set concluded. A pity. I could have listened to them for another hour.

Get there early and get out of the cold. See you at the show…

* * *

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.