Scientific research uncovers old U2 slightly better than new U2; Eef Barzelay (Clem Snide), Brother Ali, Skypiper Saturday; PUJOL Sunday…

Category: Blog — Tags: , , , — @ 1:11 pm September 12, 2014
Back when U2 were at their best...

When U2 were at their best…

by Tim McMahan,

A follow-up to a post from Tuesday, where I wrote about U2 giving away copies of their new album, Songs of Innocence, via iTunes. An online tussle broke out afterward as to whether the album is any good. I suggested that it sounds like Coldplay. Others disagreed (even though it, indeed, sounds just like Coldplay).

But furthermore, a discussion arose as to whether veteran artists can capture the excitement heard on recordings from the early days of their careers. Some adamantly said “no,” others (such as myself) said that some artists can create relevant, important music at any age.

John Mürren II, he of the umlaut, decided that it was a question for science. His comment:

“Beyond the fact that ‘good’ is subjective, it’s hardly surprising that music we are hearing as 30/40/50 year olds from a band that’s been around for 40 years doesn’t hit us the same as the stuff we heard in our teens and twenties. If you went to some teenager who has never heard U2 and had them choose between (U2’s new album) and ‘War,’ I’ll bet they’d chose the new album. (It’s) every bit as good a U2 album as ‘Hot Sauce Committee’ was a good Beasties album.”

Were that it possible to prove, I said. “My kids couldn’t care less about U2,” Mürren II said. “I’ll try it on them.”

And that’s exactly what he did. The next day, Mürren II posted his findings.

So in a totally non-scientific test, I used my kids (6 and 12) as test subjects to see if old U2 is really ‘better’ than new U2, or do we old people just think so due to our attachment to the old stuff. I figured they are good subjects, being too young to really know much about U2 and having no emotional attachment or memories tied in to any of their work. I played 3 groups of 2 songs, each group having one song from the new album and one from an old one. I didn’t tell them why I was having them chose or which songs was older/newer.”

Group One: “New Year’s Day” (from 1983’s War) and (new song) “The Miracle (of Joey Ramone).” Results: Jack: “Both are really good!” Dakota chose “The Miracle.” Notes: Dakota thought “New Year’s Day” sounded like The Police.

Group Two: (new song) “Raised By Wolves” and “I Will Follow” (from their 1980 debut Boy). Results: Both preferred “I Will Follow.” Notes: Dakota thought both songs sounded really similar; “These guys don’t have a lot of melodic ideas.” Mürren II gushed with pride: “Yes, I am *VERY* proud that my 12 year old busts out those kinds of sentences.”

Group Three: “Cedarwood Road” and “Bullet The Blue Sky” from 1987’s The Joshua Tree. Results: Jack: “Cedarwood Road.” Dakota: “Bullet The Blue Sky.” Notes: “Dakota didn’t really like either, but disliked ‘Bullet the Blue Sky’ less because it ‘wasn’t as annoying,’ a statement which was followed by him imitating Bono warbling in a high voice. So there you have it.”

My reaction:

1. Ages 6 and 12 are pretty young to be doing this study. I was in high school when I first heard War, which, in my mind, was ground breaking. That said, you could argue Mürren II’s children have the advantage of being subjected to sophisticated 21st Century music. Their experience has probably included sizable helpings of Shania Twain, Katy Perry and Bieber, while in 1983, most people were rocking to “Mr. Roboto,” Flashdance, Duran Duran and Prince. I was living on a steady diet of Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd, as were most teen-aged nerds and dirt heads who lived in the outer banks we call Ft. Calhoun.

Furthermore, I experienced the genius of U2’s Under a Blood Red Sky while driving around in my 1978 Ford Fiesta with my first real girlfriend, who eventually stole my Under a Blood Red Sky T-shirt and never gave it back. What I’m saying here is that I wasn’t just experiencing the music, I was experiencing LIFE. Who knows what music will be held close to Jack’s and Dakota’s hearts when they reach those crazy high school years.

2. If I were doing the experiment, I wouldn’t have included anything released after 1983. I consider Joshua Tree to be a completely different U2 than the band we heard on that famous Red Rocks recording (when, in my opinion, they were at their peak).

3. The entire question as to whether a veteran artist can today produce music as vital as when s/he first had his/her mark dismisses the basic premiss that “new” will almost always trump “familiar.” And that’s become a problem, especially in the “Free Music Era” when kids can get their hands on anything they want in seconds, and are more apt to be attracted to a shiny new object rather than the dull second or third release by the band that was hot two years ago. I have no doubt a lot of great music has been dismissed without ever being heard because the performers are “yesterday’s news.” You’re lucky if you get one hit record these days (especially if you’re an indie band). Follow-ups can be a bitch. “New Arcade Fire? No thanks, I already own Funeral.”

4. I’d like to have our test subjects listen to an entire early U2 album followed by Songs of Innocence in its entirety. But do kids even listen to entire albums anymore? Smart ones do.

5. A more accurate experiment: Go back in time and play Songs of Innocence and War for a teen-aged Tim McMahan and see which he likes better. I think I know the answer.

Hats off to JMII and his brood for the science!

* * *

Alright, onto the weekend…

Tonight, my nephew’s death metal band Blessed Are the Merciless plays at The Waiting Room with a bevy of growl-y death metal bands. Earplugs, earplugs, earplugs. 8 p.m., $8.

Also tonight Matt Whipkey plays at 311 tribute bar The Hive, 1207 Harney St. No cover listed, but their website says Friday and Saturday night cover is $5 to $10 for men, and “ladies are free.” Welcome to 1985. Starts at 8.

Saturday night, Eef Barzelay of Clem Snide is doing a house show in a living room somewhere in Midtown Omaha. Find out where by buying a ticket from the Undertow website. $20, 8 p.m.

Also Saturday night, Rhymesayers Entertainment artist Brother Ali plays at The Waiting Room with Bambu and DJ Last Word. Indie hip-hop at its best. $15, 8 p.m.

Skypiper plays at fabulous O’Leaver’s Saturday night with Nashville folkwave band Field Division and Lincoln’s Blét. $5, 9:30 p.m.

Finally, Sunday night Saddle Creek Records band PUJOL plays at the club The Washington Post said saved North Downtown Omaha, The Slowdown (Jr.). Opening is Oketo and our very own DJ Dave Goldberg. Tix are $8 today and $10 DOS. 9 p.m.

Did I miss your show? Put it in the comments section. Have a great weekend.

* * *

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.


U2 didn’t just give away their CD; Lincoln Calling (initial) line-up announced; Noah’s Ark in the park, Lars & Mal, Derby Birds tonight…

Category: Blog — Tags: , , , , , , — @ 1:02 pm September 10, 2014
The slugline over the Apple photo read "A big moment in music history. And you're part of it." Did they mean the end of recorded music history?

The slugline over the Apple photo read “A big moment in music history. And you’re part of it.” Did they mean the end of recorded music history?

by Tim McMahan,

Did you follow the Apple announcement yesterday?

Needless to say, I’ll be replacing my broken-screened iPhone 5 with an ultra-slim 6 sometime in the next two weeks. And how about the Apple Watch! Gotta have one of those, right? Starting at $349, maybe not. I’m waiting to hear the first Apple Watch joke, something along the lines of “It works like the iPhone; if you’re on AT&T it drops a few minutes out of every hour…” *rimshot!*

But maybe the most interesting announcement was when Tim Cook trotted out U2 and then proceeded to give away the band’s new album, Songs of Innocence, to anyone with an iTunes account. I figured something like this would happen eventually, albeit with indie labels like Saddle Creek and Sub Pop. And I said that when it happened…its success will breath new life into an already-established (though waning) act, who will see its biggest crowds ever on tour, generating merch and back-catalog sales for the label and causing the music industry to rethink (again) how it does business.

Who would have thought that U2 would become the poster child for this model? But the fact is, U2 didn’t give away its new album. The Wall Street Journal had the skinny behind yesterday’s give-away. From the article:

We’re not going in for the free music around here,” Bono joked on stage.  Apple didn’t pay a traditional wholesale price for each of the 500 million albums. Instead the company paid Universal and U2 an undisclosed lump sum for the exclusive window to distribute the album. Universal plans to piggyback on the big push for Songs of Innocence to promote the band’s 12 older albums, a critical factor for a veteran rock band.”

The article went on to say the album’s first single would be used “as a central element of a global, 30-day television advertising campaign for its new iPhones and Apple Watch. The campaign is believed to be worth around $100 million, according to a person familiar with the talks.”

Of course most people who download the CD from iTunes for free won’t know the financial backstory, and will assume U2 just gave it away, further enforcing the idea that recorded music has become (or is) essentially worthless. Especially when it just “shows up in your iTunes library” like magic.

I think we’re only a year or so away from an era when all the monster pop acts — Shania, Katy Perry, Gaga, Jay Z, (i.e., the VMA acts) — will give away downloads of their new albums as a matter of course, just to get the music out there before they go on tour, just like U2 has done. I’m not sure where that leaves the little guys (and labels) who still count on revenue from album sales.

And at what point does the RIAA quit going after people who illegally download music, figuring what’s the point when some bands are giving it away and it’s all available online via Spotify anyway….?


As for the quality of the new U2 record, someone online equated U2 to Coldplay yesterday when all this was going down, and goddamn if that comparison isn’t apt. The new U2 album indeed sounds like a Coldplay record. You have to wonder if Bono and Co. ever listen to their older stuff and ask themselves when the spark went out? Can you believe there was a time when U2 was considered subversive? I still remember the first time I heard tracks off War on Z-92, spun by none other that Slats Gannon, who knew he was playing something new and different. What pups we wall were back then…

* * *

Catching up on some news that went down while I was out… Jeremy Buckley announced that there will, indeed, be an 11th Annual Lincoln Calling Festival this year. With Buckley’s role in Vega, I thought perhaps last year’s fest might have been his swan song.

Buckley’s current status with Vega I cannot say here, other than it has indeed changed since last year. None of the parties involved are willing to go on the record as to who is running Vega these days, though it’s common knowledge that Eli and Carrie Mardock are still involved in the day-to-day operations.

The dates for Lincoln Calling are Oct. 7-12. Venues include The Bourbon, Duffy’s, Zoo Bar, Yia Yia’s Mix, Fat Toad Pub, The Cask, Tower Square and Vega. And the bands announced so far:

A Ferocious Jungle Cat
Ages and Ages
All Young Girls are Machine Guns
The Baberaham
Bonehart Flannigan
The Bottle Tops
Bud Heavy and the High Lifes
Christopher the Conquered
Evan Bartels Band
The Fabtones
Flannel Channel
Found Footage Festival
Gerardo Meza
Gloom Balloon
Hank & Cupcakes
Homegrown Film Festival
Joshua Powell and the Great Train Robbery
The Kickback
Lars and Mal
Manic Pixie Dream Girls
Matt Cox Band
The Melon Company
The River Monks
The Ro Hempel Band
Root Marm Chicken Farm Jug Band
Sidewalk Chalk
Sol Seed
Thirst Things First
Universe Contest
White Mystery
Zoolarious Comedy Showcase

I’m glad to see that DEERPEOPLE is on the bill. I was introduced to this band via Lincoln Calling years ago, and caught their set this year at SXSW. Definitely worth seeking out when you’re wandering O Street that week.

Buckley tells me more details are forthcoming, more bands are being confirmed. Stay tuned, and follow along at the LC2014 Facebook page.

* * *

After two cancellations, Hear Nebraska is finally going to host their finale showcase for this year’s Live at Turner Park Series tonight, and it’s a doozy: Noah’s Ark Was a Spaceship and Snake Island are the featured acts. Get some food and booze and head on down. The music starts at 6 p.m. and it’s free.

Another free show going on tonight is at Slowdown Jr. where locals Lars and Mal and The Derby Birds will be performing. This one starts at 9.

* * *

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.