Live Review: Simon Joyner at Grapefruit Records; Will Johnson house show Thursday…

Category: Blog,Reviews — Tags: , , — @ 8:45 am April 26, 2022
Simon Joyner at Grapefruit Records, April 25, 2022.

by Tim McMahan,

I was reading the liner notes to Simon Joyner’s new yet-to-be-released album, Songs from a Stolen Guitar, and the writer, James Jackson Toth, said that Joyner recently turned 50, which was a head-spinner. I remember seeing a curly-haired Simon play at the Howard Street Tavern way back in the early ‘90s. It literally seems like yesterday. He was a young gunslinger back then with a rep for being a rising star of national proportions, at least amongst those of us who shopped at The Antiquarium.

There were two things that stood out on his first cassette, Umbilical Chords, which came out in ’92. First, he was one heck of a songwriter in the Bob Dylan vein, a real coffee-shop crooner who could bang out a song on an acoustic guitar with a punk-rock intensity. The second was that he could not give two shits if his voice was off pitch or out of tune, as long as he could convey whatever was on his mind. That Peter Brady-at-puberty singing style followed him through a lot of albums and a lot of live shows and I never knew if he was doing it on purpose or if that’s just the way he sang. And I still don’t know.

But what I do know is that seven years ago, around when he recorded Grass, Branch & Bone, his 13th studio album, that off-pitch warble faded away, and Simon began singing mostly on pitch, on key, rarely stepping in the vocal pot-holes I remembered from his early days. And maybe I’m just imagining things, but his songwriting structures became more concise. Songs that may have had five verses in the past now only had three, and were better for them (to me, anyway), almost as if he was writing pop songs instead of folk songs — tunes like “You Got Under My Skin” and “Yellow Jacket Blues” and the just-released “Tekamah” off the new album are short and sweet, with clever hooks.

And maybe I’m dreaming this, but Simon’s arrangements on his recordings also seemed more straightforward or certainly less complicated than the densely packed, layered sounds heard on 2006’s Skeleton Blues, for instance.

That’s a long-winded way of saying it’s been fun listening to Simon’s style evolve over the past 30 years. Through it all, the songwriting and the lyrics never lacked in depth, incisiveness, heart and soul. That was underscored Monday night at Grapefruit Records as Simon, accompanied only with his guitar, played a selection of songs that spanned from ’94 up to tunes from that new album.

Here’s the set list (that I was there for; I don’t know if he played an encore):

“Three Well-Amed Arrows” from Heaven’s Gate (1995)

“Carolyn’s Got a Secret” from Songs from a Stolen Guitar (2022)

“You Never Know” from Pocket Moon (2019)

“Nocturne” from Hotel Lives (2001)

“Old Days” from Grass, Branch & Bone (2015)

“Javelin” from The Cowardly Traveller Pays His Toll (1994)

“Don’t Tell Bobby I’m Through Singing These Blues” from Low Fidelities & Infidelities (2019), but also likely a new version that’ll be on the new album

“Evening Song to Sally” from Lost with the Lights On (2004)

“Parachute” from Songs for the New Year (1997)

“Yellow Jacket Blues” from Pocket Moon

“The Actor” from the new album

“My Life is Sweet” from Hotel Lives

The solo acoustic versions of these songs were so good I forgot what the recorded versions sounded like. Based on the audience reaction, a lot of folks in addition to me count “Javelin” as among their favorites. I was lucky to hear him sing it live. I think the last time I watched it performed was at the Cowardly Traveller album release show at Howard Street Tavern.

There were a lot of fellow Omaha musicians scattered among the 50 or so patrons who either sat in chairs or stood among the album racks. I said yesterday this was his first show in four years when in fact it was his first Omaha show in four years — a warm-up for a tour that begins in Europe next week. The new record comes out May 20. I’m hoping he’ll have a formal album release show at some point to give everyone there last night a chance to compare and contrast how those new songs sound played with a full band.

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Speaking of solo acoustic shows, Will Johnson of Centro-matic fame is playing a solo acoustic house show Thursday night in Omaha as part of an Undertow tour (Undertow is a website/company that helps artists book house show tours). Tim Kiefer is the host. For more information (including location) go here, where you can also purchase tickets.

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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 © 2022 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.


Live Review: Kero Kero Bonito; Will Johnson tonight…

Category: Reviews — Tags: , — @ 12:40 pm April 8, 2019

Kero Kero Bonito at The Waiting Room, April 5, 2019

by Tim McMahan,

I went into Friday night’s Kero Kero Bonito show at The Waiting Room knowing nothing about the band other than they are on Polyvinyl Records, home to some of the cooler indie bands in the last 20 years (Rainer Maria, Pedro the Lion, Alvvays). Someone outside the club told me they were a K-Pop group. Nothing could have been further from the truth.

In fact KKB was a five-piece British indie pop act with a Japanese front woman who sang, rapped, played keyboards and balanced stuffed animals on her head throughout the set. The music had a break-beat pop flash, driven by an amazing rhythm section with fantastic drumming provided by tour drummer Jennifer Walton (most of the night).  Vocalist Sarah Bonito had a playful, child-like rap/sing style that worked well for songs about stuff like swimming and playing on trampolines. 

Early in the set, it kind of felt like Saturday morning kid’s stuff, but as the set progressed, compositions became more sophisticated and stylish in a yacht-rock sort of way. Guitarist James Rowland proved he could shred when needed, but the band’s mix downplayed his guitar. In fact, the mix felt purposely flat and two-dimensional, with nothing standing out other than front-woman Bonito’s sing-song rap. 

This was another example of a band with a mysterious huge following (tables and chairs were taken out for this show to make room for the massive crowd) that knew the words to what was clearly the band’s “hits,” which have never been heard on any local airwaves. It must be a YouTube thing. The whole crowd joined in on single “Flamingo” (a video with more than 38 million YouTube plays), and I haven’t seen a room bounce like as it did for encore “Trampoline” since the last Faint concert. 

The oddest moment of the evening came after the show ended. The band’s outro music was a synth version of John Denver’s “Country Roads” that had the entire room singing along as they headed for the doors. 

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Tonight at an unspecified location (though I promise it’s some place you’ll like) Will Johnson of Centro-Matic, South San Gabriel and Monsters of Folk fame plays an intimate living room concert. A limited number of $20 tickets are still available for this 8 p.m. performance. For more information, go here.

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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 © 2019 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.


New Faint track, tour dates w/Gang of Four (Omaha Oct. 31); new boat concert; Will Johnson (Centro-Matic, Monsters of Folk) living room concert tonight…

Category: Blog — Tags: , , , — @ 12:40 pm May 17, 2016

Will Johnson plays a living room concert tonight in Omaha.

Will Johnson plays a living room concert tonight in Omaha.

by Tim McMahan,

The Faint released a new synth-dance-rock track this morning called “Young and Realistic” via YouTube (listen below). In a Stereogum article, Faint frontman Todd Fink said, “This might be a love song. Maybe it’s a respect song. Those are intertwined concepts I suppose. Without respect, love is a weaker bond.

One assumes a new album can’t be far behind. Even more noteworthy was the announcement that The Faint will be touring with Gang of Four throughout October, closing out the tour at Sokol Auditorium Oct. 31. Start working on that costume now.

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In other Fink-related news, looks like the fine folks at Perpetual Nerves are riding the wave of success from Sunday’s concert on the River City Star, announcing yesterday that they’re doing it again July 16. The featured artist is High Up, with Benson Soul Society, so be prepared to dance.

Since July 16 is a Saturday, they pushed the boarding time back to 10:30, with the cruise lasting until 1:30 a.m. Whoa! Tickets go on sale this Friday at 10 a.m. The last one sold out in a matter of hours, so be prepared with your credit card. More info here.

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Somewhere in mid-town Omaha tonight, singer/songwriter Will Johnson will be playing a concert in someone’s living room.

While the address is not on the website where you can buy your $20 tickets, it’s located on the event’s Facebook invitation. It’s somewhere north of Dundee.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Will way back in 2004, where I learned that as much (or more than) music, he loves baseball.  From that article:

Driving around alone also allows him to indulge in one of his more eccentric past-times — visiting baseball parks. While in Omaha, he hopes to check out Rosenblatt Stadium and, if necessary, sneak inside. “I have a list of stadiums I’ve visited,” Johnson said. “I love them. I love the architecture — just the choices that were made in designing and building a stadium. And I love baseball. It’s a flawless, beautiful game. The challenge is sneaking in and getting out. I’ve had quite a few close calls, including Wrigley Field.”

He’ll be in for a big surprise if he tries to visit Rosenblatt today. Actually, Johnson has been through town a few times since that ’04 concert at The Ranch Bowl, where Teresa and I were among the few in the audience. Will swung by our table and had a drink with us afterward. I’m sure he’ll do the same with you if you go to tonight’s concert.

The $20 tickets must be purchased online here. No tickets will be sold at the door. Show starts at 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 © 2016 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.


Centro-matic calls it quits…

Category: Blog — Tags: , — @ 2:01 pm December 3, 2014



by Tim McMahan,

With nothing to report here in Omaha…

Tomorrow Centro-matic begins a tour in Nashville that ends Dec. 20 in Denton, TX. The tour will be their last. The band is hanging it up after nearly 20 years and a ton of great albums, not the least of which is 2000’s All the Falsest Hearts Can Try, a personal favorite and where I first discovered this band.

Centro-matic frontman Will Johnson announced the break-up here way back in September:

“I can write with no hint of drama that our December tour will be the last Centro-matic tour for the indefinite and foreseeable future. For a handful of reasons, the time finally feels right to celebrate the existence of this thing, then let it rest. I do think that the four of us will embark on some musical endeavor together again, but can’t say that it will be within the realm or tone of what Centro-matic has done.”

Johnson and Co. talk more about the break-up in this IndyWeek feature. Some of you may recognized Johnson as the guy that played drums with Monsters of Folk on one of the tours that came through Omaha. Others might remember Johnson’s solo set at The Ranch Bowl in 2004 (though not many of you, as I remember feeling rather lonely in the club that night). I don’t remember Centro-matic ever coming through Omaha. Maybe they did and I missed it.

Here’s some classic Centro-matic to take your mind off your Wednesday:

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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.