Live Review: Gordon at The Side Door Lounge; free Shanks download; Morrissey has a bleeding ulcer……

Category: Blog,Reviews — Tags: , , , — @ 12:55 am January 29, 2013
Gordon at The Side Door Lounge, Jan. 26, 2013

Gordon at The Side Door Lounge, Jan. 26, 2013

by Tim McMahan,

I figured the easiest way to finally catch a set by Gordon was to drop in at their show at The Side Door Lounge Friday night. It’d also be a chance to see what the club, located on Leavenworth just a couple blocks from my old apartment (The St. Regis), was all about. The Side Door has become a sort of go-to spot for singer songwriters, at least it appears to be based on the number of shows they book, acts I’ve never heard nor seen before that rarely play at the usual indie music clubs. So there was that… and the fact that the show was free — I had nothing to lose.

I was surprised when I was able to park my shit-car in the club’s adjacent parking lot. I’m not sure where I would have parked otherwise. The neighborhood has a seedy reputation these days, just like it did back when I lived there twenty-some years ago. Once inside the long, narrow, concrete box of a building I almost turned around and left. The place was belly-to-butt. Every table was filled and people were crowded all the way to the bar.

I’ll say this up front: It’s a helluva nice place, well designed, clean, a giant leap from the dinge-holes I’m used to. In fact, it was downright romantic, warmly lit with dim track lighting pointed at tasteful black-and-white art photos along one wall and large ironic pastel drawings of cars along the other. I made a mental note to come back sometime just to drink.

But as a music venue, The Side Door has its share of challenges, mostly due to the layout. The room is filled with short tables that crowd right up to the “stage” in the back. An exit off stage right leads to the beer garden, but forget about going outside to burn one — you’ll never make it through the maze of tables, at least on this night. With no space in front of the stage there’s nowhere for people to stand and watch the band, and if they did, they’d block out everyone sitting down since there’s no stage riser. This likely isn’t a problem during one of club’s many open-mic nights, but for a punk show…

Gordon had posted on Facebook that they would play at “10 sharp,” but it was well past 10:30 before the opener — a duo called I Am the Navigator — finally packed up and left. Then it took another 20 minutes before members of Gordon began skulking out of the back room with their instrument cases and pieces of drum set.

With nowhere to sit, I found the least conspicuous place to stand against the far wall and aimlessly flipped through my iPhone to kill time. The crowd of young hipsters gave me more than my share of ‘who-the-fuck-are-you’ looks.

Finally at around 11:30, the Men of Gordon assembled in the cramped spot it the back of the room between a couple pair of speakers that make up the club’s PA. Before they started, the frontman — a tall drink of water with a big ol’ head of hair — asked the sound guy to turn off all the lights except for the bar lights, which he quickly did, leaving the room lit only by the tiny electric candles on the tables and the penlight attached to lead singer’s microphone, which didn’t last long.

Gordon’s music was as grinding and abrasive as what you’ll hear on their Soundcloud page — a slop-mire of drums and guitar and lead guy’s slurred vocals made raw by a cheap condenser microphone. The sound is pure slacker, a bastard child of Pavement and Galaxy 500 and whatever dark-light indie rock band you can remember from the ’90, which is probably why I like it so much.

The frontman’s mic light still burned brightly as he introduced the first cover of the night. “This next song’s by Nirvana,” he said. “Kurt Cobain committed suicide in 1994. Good riddance.” And with that the band launched into a scuzzy cover of “Territorial Pissing” recognizable by the guitar chords rather than his screeching.

Between songs a short, weathered-looking woman wearing layers of coats pushed through the crowd right up to the stage. “Hello pretty lady,” said the frontman as she shuffled right past him and into the back room, only to emerge halfway through the next song carrying a couple loaded plastic bags.

At about that time, the microphone broke — along with the penlight and the breaker that powered the left side of the stage. Frontguy stood shirtless in the dark asking the audience to touch his nipples as the band tore into a wasted version of their own “No Masters, No War.” By the end of the set he was laying flat on his back barking out a cover of The Smiths’ “This Charming Man” plagued by the backup mic’s drop outs.

It was a lovely train wreck the likes of which I haven’t seen since The Shanks farewell two-night stand at O’Leaver’s a year or so ago. In a lot of ways Gordon reminds me of The Shanks, albeit a cute furry animal version without the blood and gore. Just like them, Gordon contains unmeasurable raw talent that has a habit of spinning gloriously out of control on stage, or at least it did last Saturday night…

* * *

By the way, Gordon has been named to open for powerhouse Brooklyn post-hardcore band The Men when they play at Slowdown April 27. If you can’t wait that long, you catch them Feb. 7 at the Grant Curtz Benefit show at Slowdown with Video Ranger and Brigadiers.

* * *

Speaking of The Shanks, top Shank Todd VonStup wrote to say that The Shanks “Complete Discography” is available from their Bandcamp page as a free download, at least for the next week. After that, the download will cost you 7 bones. Run on over there and get it while it’s hot.

* * *

Finally, word leaked out Sunday that Morrissey has been diagnosed with a bleeding ulcer, which will sideline him for the next couple weeks including the Feb. 6 Lincoln/Rococo show, which has been postponed (and not cancelled) again. Hold on to your tickets folks and stand by for the rescheduled date, which (if it happens) won’t be at least until mid-March…

* * *

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.


Column 330: Live Review: The Shanks two-night farewell tour; Smith’s Cloud CD release show tonight…

Category: Blog,Column,Reviews — Tags: , — @ 12:31 pm June 29, 2011

The Shanks at O'Leaver's June 24, 2011

The Shanks at O'Leaver's June 24, 2011

Column 330: Wasted Youth: The Strange, Sad, Violent End of The Shanks

by Tim McMahan,

I’ve never seen the same band two nights in a row. Never needed to. What would be the point? But the plan always was to go to both nights of The Shanks’ farewell stand at O’Leaver’s this past weekend for the same reason people tune into the “farewell episode” of their favorite TV show: Just to see what happens.

And what happened is exactly what I expected.

I must be true in my reportage by saying that O’Leaver’s was less than packed both nights, despite the urine-drinking blood-soaked punk-rock exploits featured in the prior issue of The Reader. Maybe that was the truest testament as to why it’s time for the band to hang it up. No. What actually happened is the true testament.

Friday night’s openers, The Fucking Party and Mosquito Bandito, set the mood — heavy, sloppy, straight-out-of-the-garage guitars drenched in feedback, augmented with plenty of waling into over-amped microphones. It was noise as art as release. Mosquito Bandito, a solo guy who plays electric guitar and drums at the same time, was a rock ‘n’ roll freakshow that had guys standing around watching as if staring at a rare Pontiac GTO with the hood up.

The Shanks stumbled onto the filthy carpeted space that O’Leaver’s calls a stage a little past midnight. The smart ones who knew better stood behind the railing or along the bar, while a small crowd of 20 or so stood in front of the band within arm’s reach, close enough to throw beer cans at them as they tore into their set of fast, angry songs.

Ten minutes into the set, I headed to the can. When I came back, frontman Jeff Ankenbauer’s face had turned into a horror movie — a red trail trickled down between his eyes. He smeared it across his forehead and then lethargically stared at his hand, covered in his own blood. A bar regular explained: “You missed it, man, Jeff just busted a beer bottle with his face!” In fact, it had been a bottle of Rolling Rock that I’d just bought for Little Brazil bassist/New Lungs frontman Danny Maxwell. Ankenbauer had been calling over and over: “Someone give me a beer.” D-Max had poured the Rolling Rock into his mouth, then Ankenbauer took the bottle and smashed it on his own forehead. And the philistines roared.

As the night wore on, some guy that nobody knew shoved his way into the crowd, intent on starting a mosh pit that no one wanted. More shoving ensued, but it was harmless… for now.

The Shanks at O'Leaver's June 24, 2011

The set was joyful punishment not only for Ankenbauer, who redefined himself as an amped zombie frontman, but for everyone on stage. Bass player Johnny Vrendenburg and guitarist Austin Ulmer looked like they’d been up for three days straight. Guitarist Todd VonStup had a look on his face that was a cross between devilish mischief and seething anger. It was just like old times, except for the finality of it all. The on-stage violence/groping was good-natured camaraderie, nothing less.

Then came Saturday night. Opening band Whyte Bitch (a.k.a. ex-Fag Cop from Lawrence) provided the pre-show sharpened angst. The Shanks came on to a half-empty room, with most of the crowd outside smoking. Before long, the fearless again packed the space in front of the stage, including Ankenbauer’s giant brother.

Crazy mosh-pit guy was back, doing the same shove-you-shove-me let’s-mosh shtick from the night before, pushing it too far and shoving Ankenbauer ass-over-teakettle into the drum set. Drums and cymbals fell like dominoes. It went downhill from there. Mosh-pit guy would eventually be fitted with a guitar to his face, about three feet from where I was standing. O’Leaver’s crack security personnel took it from there. Ankenbauer bellowed over the microphone, “That’s what happens when you fuck with us.” If you missed it, you can see it all on Vimeo.

by Andrew Lamberson on Vimeo.

After that, people kept a safer distance from the band. One girl who had gotten caught up in it dragged her boyfriend out, looking rather pissed. Someone should have warned her if you go to a Shanks show, there will be blood.

Unfortunately, what gets lost in all this is what always got lost at Shanks shows. Beneath the circus geek antics, there was a band on stage that never sounded better. By sticking Ankenbauer out front with a microphone and placing stickman Jeff Lambelet on drums, the band found its perfect line-up. Slop had been replaced with precision, or the closest thing this band has ever gotten to it on stage. For this one weekend, feedback howlers like four-chord anthem “Backstabber” and grisly murder ballad “Down By the River” emerged as well-crafted songs. Yes, songs. As strange as that sounds, the Shanks played music, dense with noise and energy, riffs and chords, rhythm and power. They played punk rock that seethed with the twisted life of those who wrote and performed it, who stood on the front line drunk or amped doing whatever they could to make contact with the crowd, with a smile or a fist.

If there’s tragedy in the short, sharp story of The Shanks it’s that the pain and the anger and the violence, the blood and urine, the almost constant fighting, overshadowed what the band was and could have been. So many people missed the best part of The Shanks, the music part.

The aftermath: Moments after the violent ending of the June 25 show at O'Leaver's.

Ankenbauer gets a congratulatory hug from a member of opening band Whyte Bitch moments after the violent end of the June 25 show at O'Leaver's.

* * *

As of a couple days ago, I’d never heard of Lincoln band Smith’s Cloud. Then out of the blue, the band’s lead singer, Evan Todd, sent me a download of the band’s debut recording, which is being celebrated tonight at Duffy’s (in Lincoln). Usually when I get a “cold call” from a band, the music is, uh, sub par. Not this time. Primarily folk rock, the songs have a depth that’s on par with the likes of Wilco and David Bazan and Eric Bachmann and Nick Drake. Gorgeous stuff that we need to see at a venue here in Omaha.

Not knowing who/what Smith’s Cloud is, I shot an e-mail back to Todd and got this reply:

“The album was recorded by myself, and Travis Bossard. There are a couple others who played on a few songs (Andy Butler, Mick Szydlowski) but for the most part it was Travis and I.

Here’s how it was recorded:

Travis played – Electric guitars, bass, synth, piano, background vocals, aux percussion.

I played – Acoustic guitars, drums, lead vocals, aux percussion

I used to be in a few bands as a drummer (Columbia vs Challenger, Butler and the Gentlemen), but this is my first full band record as a front man. Anyway, the drums were recorded at Coda record house in Lincoln, and the rest of it was recorded in Travis’ basement. It was mixed and mastered by Jed Vondracek. Travis and I recorded scratch tracks and experimented with the arrangements over the last 10 months or so. Then in April I went in and recorded drums. Since then we’ve been recording in Travis’ basement getting everything the way we want it.

But now it is a 5-piece band. The release show is tonight at Duffy’s. Those who will be playing are:

Travis – Electric guitar

Me – lead vox, acuostic/electric

Mike Janssen – Keys/synth

Mick Szydlowski – bass

Joe Heider – drums”

I suggest if you’re in Lincoln you check it out. Show starts at 9 and includes Manny Coon, Dear Herman, and Devil Television.

* * *

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.


Will There Be Blood? — The Return of The Shanks tonight and tomorrow at O’Leaver’s…

Category: Blog — Tags: — @ 1:18 pm June 24, 2011

by Tim McMahan,

Deer Hunter

So which version of The Shanks will show up at O’Leaver’s tonight? Will it be the crazy, violent, angry punk band dead-set on destroying rock ‘n’ roll? Or will it be the kinder, gentler, “cleaned-up” version, still tough but sensible, some might say responsible, deeply motivated to flawlessly perform their entire catalog over a two-night stand so fans can hear what the music was “supposed to sound like”?

As described yesterday, going to a Shanks show at O’Leaver’s used to be like taking a trip to The Mississippi Queen bar in Bangkok circa 1967 or 1985 or now. Unbridled chaos. Drunks yelling in gibberish. Sweat and stink. A shoving match begins near the stage. Glass breaks. All eyes focus on the big guy throwing the little guy through the drum set, quickly realizing that the two rolling around on the ground are in the band. Fuck you’s are exchanged, then the band strips to the waist and tears into one of their many feedback-pain punk songs. The room becomes unbalanced, about to get out of control. A woman tries to call the cops, but a regular grabs her Blackberry and says, “Oh no, not this time.” Laughter/shrieking cuts through the noise. Something’s wrong, something that could involve you. Some guy in sunglasses pulls the door shut and locks it. One of the bartenders ties a dirty dish rag to his head bandanna-style and climbs on the bar, pulls off his shirt and cuts a cross in his chest with a large bowie knife, nipple-to-nipple, chin to belly button. He turns to you and says grimly, quietly, “We’re all gonna die.”

Or, the band could show up with their wives in tow and dutifully, uneventfully run through their 13-song set-list without incident. It would still be a Shanks show… sort of. The latter is more likely to happen, and probably the right thing to do. Is punk about spectacle or attitude or violence, or is it about the music? Tonight and tomorrow night, it’ll be about the music. Probably.

Opening tonight’s show is Mosquito Bandito and The Fucking Party. Tomorrow night’s opener is Whyte Bitch. Both shows are $5 and start at 9:30 p.m. Come to one or both.

What else is going on this weekend? Well, All Girls Are Machine Guns is playing tonight at The Barley Street with Bearkat. $5, 9 p.m.

The Answer Team is playing the Red Sky Battle of The Bands competition at Pat & Mike’s, 9136 Bedford Ave., with Rock Paper Dynamite, Voodoo Method and Mint Wad Willy, with the winner getting a local stage slot and a big payday at Red Sky (My vote would go to The Answer Team, which means they are now destined to lose). No idea when this one starts or what it costs, but it’s probably $5.

Saturday night Blue Bird gets in on the Red Sky talent show along with Witness Tree, Bad Country and Sidecar 69, at The 21st Saloon at 4727 So. 96th St., a club I’ve never heard of. $5, 7 p.m.

Over at The Sandlot, 2406 Leavenworth (a cool space when I was there a year ago), it’s Lightning Bug, The Empty Spaces (KC), Millions of Boys, and Cat Island. 9 p.m., $7.

* * *

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.


Shanks for the Memories: The Rise and Fall and Return of The Shanks…

Category: Column,Interviews — Tags: — @ 12:43 pm June 23, 2011

The Shanks

The Shanks, clockwise from 12 o'clock, Jeff, Todd, Austin and Johnny.

Darker Days: The Return of The Shanks

by Tim McMahan,

Here’s one way to sum up the rise and fall of The Shanks, Omaha’s original shock-rock punk band:

Throughout our interview a couple weeks ago on the screened-in porch of guitarist Todd VonStup’s midtown house, band members got up and relieved themselves into spent beer cans and liquor bottles that lined the window ledge.

Moments after relieving himself, drummer/vocalist Jeff Ankenbauer walked back to his chair with a gin bottle filled with pale-yellow liquid, pushed it to his lips and tilted it over his head, drinking drinking drinking every last drop, as the rest of the band — bassist Johnny Vrendenburg, guitarist Austin Ulmer and drummer Jeff Lambelet — shook their heads and smiled.

Ulmer would try to recreate the stunt later during the interview, with Vrendenburg pointing out, “That’s not even his piss. That’s mine.”

I was tempted to leave those little episodes out of this story because I knew if I kept them in, they would be the only thing people would talk about later. And then realized that such outrageous behavior epitomized everything that went wrong (and some might say, went right) with The Shanks.

Throughout the band’s short, sharp career that ran from sometime around 2006 until VonStup killed it in the fall of 2008, their performances became more known for their shocking stage antics and reckless violence than their abrasive, slurred take on fuck-you punk. Broken glass was a recurring theme, as was male-on-male make-out sessions, thrown instruments and the occasional dust-up either on stage or in the audience. When you went to a Shanks show — usually at midtown drunk shack O’Leaver’s — you kept your head on a swivel; you watched for flying debris, or flying urine.

It got to the point where the antics became so over-the-top that the shows could have been confused with performance art, an accusation greeted with a chorus of “fuck you’s” from the band.

“We were the only real punk band out of Omaha,” Ankenbauer said. “We were the destruction of music. Even if we didn’t play our instruments well people would come just to see what the fuck we’d do. It was a throwback to the ’70s. We loved The Germs; we envied The Reatards. We didn’t have a pop sensibility, and we didn’t care.”

It actually began back in 2001. Shortly after VonStup first moved to Omaha from Washington he was introduced to Ankenbauer through a mutual friend. “We hung out in Todd’s basement and listened to all this GLS stuff, SubPop, Nirvana, Mudhoney,” Ankenbauer said. “We had a bond and bounced music off each other, but we never left the basement.”

Ankenbauer eventually joined garage band The Zyklon Bees (who became Brimstone Howl), while VonStup joined Janitors of Tomorrow. Both were short-term tours of duty, and the two ended up together with the idea of creating “obscure minimalist rock ‘n’ roll, abrasive-as-fuck music,” Ankenbauer said. “I bought a drum set from Dave Goldberg (then of Box Elders) for $100 that I didn’t know how to play.”

Ankenbauer and VonStup immediately began writing music. “The names of our songs were the bands we were ripping off,” VonStup said.  “We’d say ‘Let’s play that one that sounds like The Oblivions or The Mummies or The Reatards.'”

Shanks, the early years...

Shanks, the early years...

They say their first show was a Hy-Vee party in Lincoln in 2004 or 2005, where they destroyed a borrowed drum set. But their first “real show” was probably at The Chatterbox (which became Box Awesome), in Lincoln. Early band members included bassist “Pfloyd” and Steve Sampley.

It was at a 2006 Brimstone Howl show at The Power Pad, a notorious party house, that Vrendenburg first met the duo. “I was standing right next to Todd when Jeff pissed in his own mouth and sprayed it all over everyone,” Vrendenburg said. “I said ‘I want to hang out with that guy.'” Shortly afterward he replaced Pfloyd on bass.

The Shanks, Big Feelin' (Boom Chick, August 2007)

The Shanks, Big Feelin' (Boom Chick, August 2007)

By that time, the band already had begun recording. Their debut 7-inch, “Cut Me,” was released on Lincoln’s Boom Chick Records in November 2006, and was followed by another 7-inch, “Big Feelin’,” in August 2007. Touring began around the same time, including a brief swing with Ric Rhythm and The Revengers, a band that featured Austin Ulmer and Jeff Lambelet.

“I was Jeff Vrendenburg’s replacement on bass in Brimstone,” Ulmer said. “He threw beer cans at me during one of our shows.”

Ulmer would join The Shanks after being picked up at a bus stop the day after finishing a Brimstone Howl tour. “I went straight from Brimstone to tour with them,” Ulmer said. “It was the best six days of my life.”

While all this was going on, an innocent nation began to take notice of The Shanks. Both singles were reviewed in punk-rock print ‘zine Maximum Rocknroll, eventually making the publication’s top-10 list. “We were so shitty, we were good,” Vrendenburg said.

In addition to Boom Chick, punk/noise labels FDH, Empty and Dead Beat all expressed interest in putting out a Shanks full length.

“It wasn’t going to happen,” VonStup said. “We had it musically, but not with the mental state of our personal lives. Here was something we all wanted to do, but we were so fucked-up we couldn’t do it.”

The Shanks circa the Dark Days...

The Shanks circa the Dark Days...

It was a time that the band calls The Dark Days, fueled by drugs, booze and short fuses. “We’d show up to practice with a 30-rack of beer and a goon bag of Franzia,” Vrendenburg said. “Alcohol is a fuel and an inspiration, but it’s a downfall.”

“There were too many vices, a lot of hatred and jealousy and shit and anger and being pissed off,” Ankenbauer said. “That’s why shows at that point were so volatile. We said ‘Fuck the audience.’ We hated our lives and our relationships. We were strung out.”

“We never started fights, but people started shit with us,” VonStup said. “People were becoming afraid of us.”

The typical Shanks show involved the band stumbling to the stage inebriated, seething with rage at each other and the world, before plugging in and exploding into a bright-white punk fireball. No, it wasn’t performance art. The anger and hate boiling from the stage was too honest, some might say, too pure. And it fueled everything — every chord and drumbeat and rock-hard fist — all on stage for everyone to see. The show usually climaxed with Ankenbauer, a drunken man mountain, climbing from behind the drum kit like an angry bear ready to maw anything in its path.

“I would drink myself to the point where I would not care if I woke up,” VonStup said. “Here we were, waiting to go to hell, but we pulled each other out. It was like a scene from The Deer Hunter.”

“It was a Shanks’ mentality,” Vrendenburg said. “It’s obnoxious, it’s pissed off, but not toward any one person.”

“It’s the way it was,” Ankenbauer said. “We were volatile. If we had had guns, it would have been war.”

A short war. The beginning of the end came when Ankenbauer and Vrendenburg formed Dance Me Pregnant. “The Shanks was my main outlet,” VonStup said. “I did one band at a time. So when they started Dance Me Pregnant (and then The Dinks), it was like cheating. That was the end of it.”

After the band folded in the fall of 2008, The Shanks did one last small tour in May 2009, including a final meltdown show on May 30 in Chicago with Digital Leather. Then it was over. In the aftermath, national label Tic Tac Totally released the “Backstabber” single in February 2010, while local label Rainy Road Records released I’d Fuck Me, a cassette collection of Shanks B sides collected from sessions dating back to 2006.

As The Shanks became a distant memory, band members began to “clean up.” Vrendenburg, Ulmer and Lambelet would go on to join Shawn Foree’s band Digital Leather. Ulmer also formed Peace of Shit with Ankenbauer, while VonStup joined ex-Ladyfinger bassist Ethan Jones in Baby Tears. Despite that, people still wanted to see The Shanks.

“It started as a joke,” Ankenbauer said of the upcoming reunion. “People wanted us to play in other cities, but everyone has a life here now. We said, ‘Why don’t we do a reunion over two nights and wreak havoc at O’Leaver’s and play every song with Jeff (Lambelet) on drums, and I’ll just sing lead?'”

“Everyone will hear the songs as they’re supposed to be heard,” VonStup said. “You will hear every fucking song we remember. The show will pay homage to what the band was.”

“People who come expecting performance art can get the fuck out,” Vrendenburg said. “We’re going to deliver like a fist to the mouth.”

VonStup and the rest of the band insist the reunion is a one-shot thing. None of them want The Shanks to return permanently, if only to retain their sanity. “I love these guys to death,” VonStup said, “but I love my wife and kid and feel like I’m growing up, in that sense. The band was a good release, but I love what I have, and I don’t want to fuck it up.”

The Shanks play with Mosquito Bandito and The Fucking Party June 24, and The Shanks play with Whyte Bitch June 25 at O’Leaver’s, 1322 So. Saddle Creek Rd. Show time is 9:30 p.m., tickets are $5. For more information, go to

* * *

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.