Live Review: Neutral Milk Hotel at Sokol Auditorium (and maybe all shows should ban cell phone photos?)…

Category: Blog,Reviews — Tags: , , — @ 12:56 pm March 31, 2014

Neutral Milk Hotel as seen from the edge of the crowd at Sokol Auditorium March 29.

by Tim McMahan,

I have a theory why Neutral Milk Hotel is held with such reverence by so many. In 1999, Jeff Mangum did what Kurt Cobain did in ’94. Mangum turned off Neutral Milk Hotel, walking away from the band after it released its masterpiece, Aeroplane Over the Sea. Shortly after the album dropped in ’98, he did a few shows with the band, than simply…stopped. There was no grand announcement, Mangum just went away, leaving his audience wanting more. And he did it without dying.

What’s the old story about always wanting the girl you can never have? Absence makes the heart grow fonder; while denial makes love that much more intense. Mangum has been around all these years doing other things, but denied fans a performance. As a result, whether he intended to or not, he turned Neutral Milk Hotel into the kind of legend reserved for bands that ended after tragedy. He created a modern myth. Rare is the person who can walk away while standing on top of the mountain; and I don’t know anyone who did it like Mangum.

So, after more than a decade of silence, Mangum came back to life in 2010 with a surprise guest appearance at a benefit concert. That was followed by more surprise appearances. Then came a tour. And then another. Fans who long ago gave up hope of ever seeing a Neutral Milk Hotel show were finally getting their wish.

Omaha fans got their wish Saturday night at a long sold-out Sokol Auditorium show. I saw it with my own eyes: There on stage, singing “Two-Headed Boy” was Jeff Mangum. He looked like one of the Duck Dynasty guys. Actually, he looked more like Tom Hanks at the end of the marathon-running sequence of Forrest Gump — full, graying beard, hair sticking from beneath a Castro hat, baggy jeans, he looked like a recluse who had just rolled out of hiding.

Maybe that’s why they banned the cameras. Throughout Sokol flyers were taped to walls that read, “Out of respect for the artists, no photography allowed, including cell phones.” Sokol’s T-shirted security team watched like hawks for anyone pointing a phone at the stage. When they saw one, they swooped down, briskly pushing into the crowd toward the person taking the picture. In one case, the bouncer firmly shook the flyer under the nose of the scared hipster.

I doubt the photo ban had anything to do with Mangum looking like a street guy. Instead it was about feeding the Neutral Milk Hotel myth. No photos or videos on the web means growing mystery.

So why the mystery? Who knows. Why stop performing for more than a decade? Especially when your voice and your musicianship is in prime form. Mangum sounded amazing Saturday night as he brought Aeroplane back to life on stage, backed by his original band and Elephant 6 compatriots playings horns, accordion, even a willowy, haunted saw.

From my vantage point way off stage left, the crowd reacted as if seeing a ghost come back to life. Fans I spoke to never expected to see this band play again, let alone play in Omaha. And here they were, playing their best songs spot-on with every nuance from the original recording. It was a dream come true, but not for me. I’ve only been a passing Neutral Milk Hotel fan, having come to the party long after it ended. There’s no denying that Aeroplane is a modern indie-rock masterpiece, its influence can be heard on every Arcade Fire, Decemberists and Bon Iver album, though no band has ever quite matched the album’s twisted lyrical genius.

Maybe that’s another reason Mangum disappeared. He knew he’d never be able to recreate the magic of Aeroplane. Just thinking about it may have driven him mad. Why even try?

Saturday night’s setlist is online right here. Despite everything he’d seen and heard that night, the guy next to me was disappointed they didn’t play his favorite song, “Communist Daughter.” Maybe next time, I said, if there is one. Something tells me there will be.

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One other aside about last Saturday night’s show: The photography ban (including with cell phones) changed the tone of the audience and maybe the performance. Instead of seeing a sea of lights held overhead throughout the set, Mangum and Co. were treated to a crowd that danced and writhed with ecstasy, a crowd of people who were paying attention to what was going on in front of them. There no longer was a need (or an ability) to shoot a photo, no need to post it to your Facebook or Instagram or Twitter account. The only thing left to do was to pay attention and enjoy the show. It was a like watching an audience circa 1999, back when we all did just fine without texting and Facebook and cell phones and the endless electronic distractions that get in the way with living our lives…

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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 © 2014 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.


Josh Hoyer and the Shadowboxers CD release show tonight; Neutral Milk Hotel Saturday (no cameras allowed!)…

Category: Blog,Reviews — Tags: , — @ 2:13 pm March 28, 2014
Josh Hoyer and the Shadowboxers celebrate their CD release at The Hive tonight.

Josh Hoyer and the Shadowboxers celebrate their CD release at The Hive tonight.

by Tim McMahan,

I don’t write much about blues music. I leave that to the expert — B.J. Huchtemann. B.J.’s been writing about local music as long as I have, maybe longer. She, too, was part of the Omaha bullpen of Lawrence music magazine The Note way back in the early ’90s, and has had a column in The Reader that pre-dates my own. Her forte, her focus always has been the blues and I challenge anyone to find another local music journalist who has written more about the topic than B.J. So with that, I acquiesce all intelligent introspection on the new Josh Hoyer and the Shadowboxers album to her. You can find her writings every week in The Reader and online at The Reader website (Her latest is right here).

That said, I do know something about the kind of horn-powered blues that Hoyer is known for. I know my way around a saxophone. I played tenor and alto in high school jazz bands, and I’ve listened to my share of his style of R&B over the years. I’m no expert, but I know what I like and don’t like, and I most certainly like Hoyer’s new project. I liked his old project, The Son of 76 and The Watchmen, too. But to me, this new outfit is more realized, more thought-out and swings more righteously.

On his website, Hoyer says he borrows from Stax, Motown, New Orleans and San Francisco. There’s something in his vocals that remind me of Dr. John as much as Robert Cray. But from an indie perspective, I’d slide Hoyer into the same category as funk/soul maven Sharon Jones + the Dap-Kings, though Jones’/Dap-Kings’ sound is more ’60 traditional/revivalist than Hoyer’s more modern take on the genre. I say this because Jones is an accepted commodity among indie-music followers (and for good reason); Hoyer deserves the same acceptance since his music is just as dirty, just as authentic in its own way.

It’s one of those records you can put on while you do your thing. It pushes you along, it gives you whatever you need to get by, if only for the afternoon, or the night, with as much attitude as you’ll need. Always gutsy, usually free-wheeling, and above all, never corny (and when it comes to modern blues, that’s key). Don’t over-think it, just enjoy it. You want more detail? Ask B.J. or even better, check out the album yourself.

So I say all this because Hoyer and the Shadowboxers are celebrating the release of their debut album tonight at The Hive, a new rock club and art gallery at 1207 Harney St. The club is known as a sort of 311 tribute bar (hence the name). I’ve yet to step foot inside, but have heard good things about their space and sound. $5, 10 p.m.

Also tonight, London acoustic balladeer Bear’s Den plays at The Waiting Room with Landon Hedges (Little Brazil). $12, 9 p.m.

Meanwhile, See Through Dresses headlines a show down at Slowdown Jr. with Dan Mariska And The Boys Choir, and The Boy & His Wolves. $7, 9 p.m.

Over at The Sydney there’s a going away party for Tom and Lindsay Barrett which will feature a performance by Tom’s new project, Xendless, which consists of Barrett (DJ- keys loops), Chad Gregerson (drummer of Dead wave) keys loops and Erin Eckerman (vocals). Huge Fucking Waves also is on the bill. Starts at 9.

Meanwhile, at fabulous O’Leaver’s it’s Des Moines band The River Monks with Kaloko and Brad Hoshaw. $5, 9:30 p.m.

And finally tonight at Sweatshop gallery it’s the JT Bonafide T-Shirt Art show with performances by The Filter Kings and The Lupines. It’s free and starts at 8.

Tomorrow night (Saturday) it’s the long-awaited Neutral Milk Hotel show at Sokol Auditorium. This one has been sold out forever. Opening is ’90s indie legends Elf Power. A note for the lucky ones who got tickets: According to the One Percent website, no photography or video recording of any kind is allowed, and that includes cell phones! Start time is 8 p.m.

Also Saturday night, Matt Whipkey and his band play at The Hive. $5, 9 p.m.

Did I forget anything? Put it in the comments section. Have a grand 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 © 2014 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.


Neutral Milk Hotel nearly sold out; Burkum Boys (Skypiper) tonight…

Category: Blog — Tags: , — @ 1:51 pm December 17, 2013

by Tim McMahan,

A quick head’s up: One Percent Productions announced today that fewer than 10 percent of tickets are available for the March 29 Neutral Milk Hotel show at Sokol Auditorium (w/Elf Power). I suspect this one will sell out in the coming hours or day(s). Tickets are $33 ($38.12 after fees) available online here. You’ve been warned.

One Percent also announced today Okkervil River is playing at Slowdown April 7.

Other than that…

The Burkum Boys (the main guys in Skypiper) headline tonight at O’Leaver’s. Opening is the C&W stylings of Minneapolis duo The Cactus Blossoms and Ojai. $5, 9:30 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.


Looking ahead (show-wise), 311 goes indie; HN Kickstarter meets goal (but the campaign goes on…)

Category: Blog — Tags: , , — @ 2:05 pm December 16, 2013

by Tim McMahan,

A glance at the week ahead show-wise…

Tonight at Pageturners it’s Lars + Mal and Silk Robespierre. No idea who this is, but it’s free and starts at 9:30. Why not?

Tomorrow night The Burkum Boys (Skypiper) play at O’Leaver’s with The Cactus Blossoms and Ojai.

Wednesday Slowdown Jr. has Midwest Dilemma, Brad Hoshaw and Landon Hedges (Desaparecidos, Little Brazil). Seems like forever since I’ve seen MD on stage.

Thursday is the final night of Cursive at The Waiting Room, with Ladyfinger and Ted Stevens Unknown Project. Expect the unexpected from what has become a very memorable “residency.”

Friday it’s The Seen and Texas band Crystal Wolf at O’Leaver’s; while Barley Street is hosting its annual X-mas spectacular.

Saturday is Brigadiers and Bear Antlers at O’Leavers; while Envy Corp. returns to The Waiting Room with Oquoa and Millions of Boys.

Finally Sunday Mezcal Brothers are at The Waiting Room with Matt Cox.

Not bad for the week before Christmas.

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In other news…

Neutral Milk Hotel (March 29) and St. Vincent (April 1) both have been booked to play at Sokol Auditorium. Seems like only yesterday that I saw St. Vincent at Slowdown Jr., and now she’s playing that famous South Omaha barn. Tickets on sale now via One Percent Productions.

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In 311 news… (yeah, you read that right)

The band that once called Omaha home confirmed via Billboard Magazine that its next album will be an independent release.  In the article, frontman Nick Hexum calls the move to indie status “one of the best moves 311 could have possibly made,” at least now that they have a distro deal with INGrooves.

But Hexum’s prime quote was this: “The label system is corrupt; they’re so incompetent with their ability to bring any value to the table. It’s just a rip-off.” I don’t think he was saying that back in the Sony/Zomba days… Things must be getting tough at the majors for 311 to turn its back on them.

Another interesting touch was Billboard referring to the band as “the Nebraska rockers.” As we all know, 311 hasn’t lived in Nebraska in over a decade. Where did that come from, and why?

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Finally, Hear Nebraska met its Kickstarter goal of $4,000 today. But the campaign continues, as money raised above the $4k goal will go toward replacing a Macbook Pro used to run the website that was stolen from an HN staffer’s car parked in Benson last Thursday night during the Cursive show…

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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.