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,

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

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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.

* * *

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 — 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: Oberhofer, Matt & Kim; an election postscript (in the column); Cheap Girls, Toadies, Helmet tonight…

Category: Blog,Reviews — Tags: , , , — @ 2:04 pm November 7, 2012
Matt and Kim at The Slowdown, Nov. 6, 2012

Matt and Kim at The Slowdown, Nov. 6, 2012

by Tim McMahan,

The youth of America came out in droves last night… to vote for Matt & Kim at The Slowdown.

Ah, now how cheesy does that sound? Judging by their age, I’d say a large portion of the sold-out crowd wasn’t even old enough to vote yesterday. Needless to say, between sets I  huddled in the back of the bar under a large flat-panel TV that glowed with election returns via MSNBC. There was Chris and Rachel and crazy ol’ Ed looking down at us, broadly smiling as the numbers kept rolling in for Obama. I’d like to tell you that I was standing in a crowd, but there were only a handful of other poli-junkies watching the returns.

Actually, who needs a TV to track an election when you’ve got an iPhone dialed into Huffington Post?

Oberhofer at The Slowdown, Nov. 6, 2012.

Oberhofer at The Slowdown, Nov. 6, 2012.

As for the concert, first up was Oberhofer, a randy five-piece from Brooklyn who fall into that playful, high-energy youth-indie category dominated by bands like Vampire Weekend, Islands and Shout Out Louds. Like them they play frenzied up-rhythm music with bright vocals and indistinguishable melodies that get lost in the sound and beat. Frontman Brad Oberhofer riddles every song with a lot of bird-call “oooo’s” (in fact, the band’s first single was called “o0Oo0OoO”) as well as high-kick histrionics — distinguishing factors, along with the music’s unpredictable drops that kept things interesting. The more you watched, the more interesting (and better) they got. “We’re not a band with a big stage or a big light show, we just love to play,” sayeth the frontman. Oberhofer is the perfect band to play at the coolest high school prom in the world.

The whole time I was watching and listening, I tapped my iPhone for election updates, watching  numbers slowly climb. Right before Matt & Kim, MSNBC called the election for Obama. A small clutch of girls yelled and pointed at the TV screen and hugged each other, it was like Christmas in November.

So how did Matt & Kim get so friggin’ big? Two years ago they were playing The Waiting Room with Honey & Darling. Now they’re selling out Slowdown’s big room. Why? Yeah, I know they’re good, but what makes one band sell out a room quick while another one limps along? I do not know. I asked a high-powered music exec in the crowd and he told me that Matt & Kim’s popularity had everything to do with the couple’s rep for putting on over-the-top high-energy shows. Judging by the first song, I got what he was talking about.

Matt Johnson plays keyboards while his “partner in crime” Kim Schifino plays drums (seated, standing, climbing atop the set). The second they ran on stage they were INTO IT, attacking the young crowd to get them cranked to their red-line-on-crack energy level. Big lights, big sound, big fun dance music. Matt looked and sounded like a young, hyperactive Ben Folds as he crooned one pop nugget after another. But it was Kim that mesmerized, playing big-beat rhythms from somewhere on top of the world while the entire audience bounced with their hands in the air. Ah, to be young again…

But after four songs I hit the door hoping to make it home in time to watch Obama’s acceptance speech…

* * *

Speaking of the election, this week’s column is a post-script on last night’s election results written yesterday morning for reasons that were beyond my control. You can read it in this week’s issue of The Reader or online right here. I usually post this on Thursday, but it will seem a little more “fresh” coming the morning after.

* * *

Tonight it’s back down to Slowdown (Jr.) for red hot indie Lansing band Cheap Girls (think Replacements if they were from Denton) with The Front Bottoms and The Thunderbolts. $10, 9 p.m.

If you’re hankerin’ for some more-agressive shit, The Toadies are playing tonight at The Waiting Room with ’90s phenoms Helmet (who remembers Meantime from ’92?) and metal-pop band Ume. $20, 8 p.m.

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


Decision 2012: Election night with Matt & Kim or Supersuckers & Filter Kings?

Category: Blog — Tags: , , , — @ 1:50 pm November 6, 2012

by Tim McMahan,

Tonight’s election is looking like a real nail biter, which makes it hard to get off the couch and go to a show.

That said, I’m told by a highly placed source at The Slowdown that there will be a TV in the house tonight for those of you addicted to the campaign, presumably somewhere far away from the big stage where Matt & Kim are slated to play a sold out show. That’s right, it’s SOLD OUT, which means if you ain’t got tix you’re out of luck. And while the new Matt & Kim album isn’t doing it for me, I’m kinda digging tonight’s opener, Brooklyn indie rockers Oberhofer (Glassnote Records). This one starts at 9.

Oberhofer, “Away Frm You”

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So, no tix? Well tickets are still available for The Supersuckers (SubPop) at The Waiting Room with local heroes Filter Kings. With a room filled with TVs, you’d think that Marc and Jim would have at least one tuned to election coverage (or maybe not). $13, 9 p.m.

Supersuckers, “Marie”

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And before you go out, make sure you make your way to the polls. Let’s keep Omaha blue.

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