The secret show that never happened; Conor Oberst’s new bar; Live Review: Cowboy Junkies, McCarthy Trenching; Back When tonight; Icky Blossoms tomorrow…

Category: Blog,Reviews — Tags: , , , , — @ 1:01 pm April 20, 2012

by Tim McMahan,

I feel an obligation to explain the cryptic message at the end of yesterday’s blog. The message: “One more thing: Omaha peeps keep a close eye on the various and sundry social media sites late today and into the early evening. More than that, I cannot say…

A few days ago I received an email notifying me of a secret show that was to take place at O’Leaver’s last night. The catch: If too many people find out before-hand, the band will cancel the gig, so don’t tell anyone until the night of the performance. Then yesterday at around 6, I got a text that said the show was off. Too many people had heard about it, so the band canceled.

I can’t tell you who the band is because doing so could jeopardize other future shows by this unsaid band. Of course, most people who live in Omaha and read this blog regularly know exactly who I’m talking about, and understand why this band lives under a paranoid veil of secrecy. Or maybe they don’t. I certainly don’t. What is the point of telling people that you’re doing a secret show, and then canceling the show because too many people know about it? And how many, exactly, is “too many people”? And how do you figure out that people are talking? Was a secret poll conducted of people huddled around Smoke Genies throughout the Dundee/Benson bar district?

“The numbers are in, boss. Thirty people confirmed knowledge of the show, with a high concentration located around Jake’s.”

“Fuck it, the show’s off. They knew the rules. I will not be defied.”

The whole sitch was the cause of much mirth at O’Leaver’s last night, where we came up with a new name for the band which combines the first eight letters of the band’s name followed by the word “pussies.” You do the math. I suggested that all this secrecy could hamper the band’s upcoming tour of national secret shows.

“Guys, I just cancelled Chicago. Way too much chitter-chat. And Minneapolis is in jeopardy. When I say ‘No talking,’ I mean no talking. They better learn: I WILL CANCEL EVERY SECRET SHOW ON THIS TOUR IF THEY KEEP IT UP. Now someone go text that…”

It sounds like I was one of the few people that got the 6 p.m. text saying that the show was canceled. I talked to a number of people in the large crowd at O’Leaver’s last night that didn’t find out until after they arrived. Well, at least they were treated to a fine set by McCarthy Trenching.

* * *

Speaking of secrets. A couple weeks ago someone tipped me off that Conor Oberst and Phil Schaffart were planning on opening a bar at 5004 Dodge Street in the old Pageturners storefront. Like the dutiful journalist I am, I emailed Phil and asked if it was true.

His response. “Yes, Conor and I are opening a lounge in the old Pageturners bookstore on Dodge st. We’re still in the planning stage but we hope to be open by mid summer. I appreciate your interest but was hoping you could please refrain from mentioning this in print for the time being? We have yet to be granted our Liquor License and we’d rather not draw any extra attention. Once all the dust has settled, I’d be happy to give you the details on the space and and what we’re planning for it.

So what do you do? I could easily have ran with my information without contacting Phil. I already verified it via public filings. But I thought it would be better to get it from the horse’s mouth. And once I got Phil’s email, I felt obligated to sit on it until Phil said it was OK to run. I didn’t want to fuck up their plans.

Well, last night city councilman Pete Festerson tweeted about the bar, including its location. Moments later I got an email from Phil saying that The Omaha World-Herald was about to publish a story confirming the information. “I apologize if the OWH is able to print this info before you as you were indeed the first to inquire.”

Oh well.

So here’s what I know. The place will be called Pageturners Lounge and will open in late summer. And that’s about it. I haven’t been able to talk to Phil, who is on tour right now with M. Ward. But when I get details, I’ll pass them along.

Again, this wasn’t exactly a well-kept secret. Someone else had told me about it earlier yesterday evening, and I just nodded my head, knowingly. That person asked if Conor and Phil plan on doing live music at their new bar. I said I did not know. Having looked at the space myself, I could tell him that it’s a long, narrow room with a full basement.  Coffee-shop style performances might work; but I couldn’t imagine seeing a band there, but who knows (other than Phil and Conor, who presumably is sequestered inside a bunker deep within his Fairacres mansion)? I said I had a feeling that they may follow the Krug Park model, which so far seems to have been wildly successful at drawing a crowd by simply serving fantastic beer. Time will tell.

This morning’s OWH article seems to confirm my assumptions. I think you can tell by its tone that Phil wasn’t too eager to talk about the project.

* * *

Cowboy Junkies at The Slowdown, April 19, 2012.

Cowboy Junkies at The Slowdown, April 19, 2012.

There were around 200 on hand for last night’s Cowboy Junkies show at The Slowdown, which turned out to be a “sit-down” affair. Rows of folding chairs were placed in the area in front of the stage, apparently to appease an older crowd. And I do mean older; I practically felt like a spring chicken. But in their defense, old people know what’s good and definitely know what they like, and there was a lot to like about last night’s performance.

Margo Timmons and the band came on at 8 and preceded to play two one-hour sets and an encore. The stage felt intimate in the dim light, with Margo seated out front next to a vase filled with red roses. If you’re a fan of this band and were there, you very likely were entranced. At times their set had that same hushed, haunted feel heard on their early records; at other times, they pulled back the lid and rocked. Timmons has a fantastic, even, ethereal voice on haunted songs about haunted lives. To their credit, their new album contains some of the best material of their career.

Chatting with a couple who drove in from Lincoln for the show, I guessed that the band wait until the encore to play their famous cover of Velvet Underground’s “Sweet Jane.” Instead, they launched into it as the first song of their second set, as gorgeous as ever.

I didn’t stay for the whole show, since I wanted to see McCarthy Trenching at O’Leaver’s. Opening was James Maakestad of Gus & Call, who played a set of rustic acoustic jams that highlighted his amazing voice. How would these sound with a full band? Do they even need to be fleshed out with anything beyond his voice and guitar? Maakestad stayed on stage to back Dan McCarthy on stand-up bass. McCarthy is Omaha’s Randy Newman — a musical genius who has a unique, funny and touching way with words. He sang a number of songs from his new album, along with “The Ballad of Dorothy Lynch,” which is bound to be an instant classic.

* * *

Briefly (because this is running long) here’s a recap of some of the better shows this weekend:

Back at O’Leaver’s tonight it’s Back When with Ketchup and Mustard Gas and New Lungs. Bring your earplugs, it gonna be loud. $5, 9:30 p.m.

Tomorrow at Elmwood Park it’s Earth Day. The full schedule of events is right here, but the highlight from a performance standpoint is Icky Blossoms, who play from 3:40 to 4:25. Should be a blast, and it’s free. More info here.

If you’re in Lincoln tomorrow, Duffy’s is hosting a benefit show for KRNU. The lineup: Great American Desert, AZP, Manny Coon, Shipbuilding Co., Good Show Great Show, Pharmacy Spirits, Sun Settings and Machete Archive. Show starts at 5 p.m. and suggested donation is $5. More info here. I only wish we had a KRNU here in Omaha…

And don’t forget that tomorrow is Record Store Day. Get out to The Antiquarium (check out all their cool-ass promotions), Homer’s and the Shop at Saddle Creek and buy some vinyl.

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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.



Live Review: McCarthy Trenching; MAHA showcase lineups announced; Big Harp signs to Saddle Creek (probably)…

Category: Blog,Reviews — Tags: , , , , — @ 11:48 am May 30, 2011

by TIm McMahan,

I swung by The Barley Street Tavern last night for Orenda Fink/McCarthy Trenching, and it was (as expected) a packed house, which means there were more than 50 people in the bar’s “music room,” where folk stood along the wall in the back and women sat on their boyfriends’ laps. Another 20 or so people were pushed into the main bar area, content with watching the performance on the security monitor-style camera above the bar.

Yeah, it was crowded, but had you wanted to see the show, you could have. I caught the last few songs by Whispertown’s Morgan Nagler, one of which was accompanied by Fink and another two accompanied by Omaha ex-pat Jake Bellows. Nagler had an innocent, some might say childlike, flair to her simple acoustic ballads. Bellows took over right after her set and played five or six solo acoustic tunes, sounding better than ever. He remains one of Omaha’s best lonely-heart crooners, like an Elvis lost on a desert island.

Dan McCarthy came on at around 11, taking advantage of the Barley’s house piano, which he said was made in 1917 and last tuned in 1918. Despite that, the rustic keyboard sounded perfect for his style of Randy Newman-meets-Chuck Brodsky-meets Tom Waits folk balladry, which included a few Scott Joplin rags. A couple members of hot new band Gus & Call joined him in the middle of the set (playing stand-up bass and that piano) when McCarthy picked up an acoustic guitar. He eventually made his way back to the piano and was still at it when I left at midnight, too tired to wait for Orenda (unless, of course, she played before Whispertown, which I do not know). The crowd had a hipster wedding reception feel to it, consisting of members of the Saddle Creek Records family and their friends and colleagues, all out to “welcome back” Orenda and Todd Fink to Omaha.

* * *

The folks at the MAHA Music Festival took a decidedly smart turn in how they picked the bands for their local stage this year — three of the five bands were chosen by folks involved with (including myself as an HN board member, though only one of the three bands chosen were on my list). As a requirement for accepting the local-stage gig, each band was tasked with curating one pre-festival showcase, where they would play along with two or three other bands of their choosing. Last Friday MAHA announced the line-up for these showcase events.

Strongest of the three is the showcase curated by So-So Sailors at Slowdown July 28. Playing along with SSS will be power-punk band Millions of Boys, the more traditional indie stylings of Fortnight, and one of the area’s best punk/garage/new wave rock bands, Digital Leather, who (one could argue) should have been in consideration for one of those three MAHA local stage spots.

The other Omaha showcase will be held June 22 at The Waiting Room, curated by Noah’s Ark Was a Spaceship. Joining them will be New Lungs, a new trio featuring Danny Maxwell of Little Brazil on guitar and vocals, drummer Corey Broman and bassist Craig Fort. Think Polvo meets Dinosaur Jr. meets Mission of Burma meets classic ’90s Linoma punk. Also on the bill are noise rockers Ketchup and Mustard Gas.

And finally, there’s the Lincoln showcase curated by The Machete Archive to be held at Duffy’s Tavern July 1. Joining Machete will be Her Flyaway Manner, Irkutsk and Powerful Science. Brendan McGinn’s HFN has been around for years playing brutal, Fugazi-inspired punk. I can’t say as I know a thing about the other two bands.

All three showcases are all-ages events and absolutely free, so you best mark them down on your calendar.

There’s still one more MAHA local stage spot up for grabs, which will be determined by a public-vote talent competition as part of the OEA Summer Showcase July 8-9 in Benson.

* * *

One final bit of news: Judging by their Facebook fan page, it looks like Big Harp, the husband-and-wife duo of Chris Senseney (Baby Walrus) and Stefanie Drootin-Senseney (The Good Life, Consafos) are the latest “signing” by Saddle Creek Records. They’re still not listed on the Creek site, but I’m sure that’ll come any day now. It’s good to see Creek continuing to sign new talent in this era of music industry decline…

* * *

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.