Saturday June 2nd, 2001 at Sokol Auditorium in Omaha, NE
Desaparecidos, The White Octave, Magic Kiss & Race for Titles
First 70 and then 75, 80, 85, 90, 95, 100 miles an hour. Mapquest tells me it is going to take 3.5 hours to get to Omaha; I know that means 3 hours. But I only have 2 hours and 20 minutes thus I need 100mph and when a large red SUV volunteers to rabbit me through Iowa and Nebraska well, the thought of a speeding ticket is somewhat forgotten.
I arrived at South Sokol at nearly 9pm on the dot I had made time that would have A.J. Foyt or even my father proud. I had also, however, arrived at the wrong Sokol because of a bum tip from a kid on Make Out Club. Wrong righted and five minutes later I parked and walked into the club behind a group of familiar kids. After two months of seeing only punk or hardcore shows, it was good to see friendly faces and fashions. I'm not sure what that says about me or the human condition, but it can't be too damning. I don't know why, but it can't.
Race for Titles were the first of the three new Omaha bands playing that night. Three guys, two guitars, one bass, one very bad drum machine all creating a fairly straightforward emotional indie rock. Race for Titles' songs are well crafted, however not always memorable or original. The band's ace however is their singer/guitarist's strained and engaging voice that provides an authenticity that the music wasn't able to. The tight knit Omaha scene heckled their sons affably throughout their set, but the band completed their first show leaving an audience wanting more, and that marks a success.
The most anticipated band of the night was clearly Magic Kiss. Generally it's a sign of impending doom when a band has a roomful of fans before they've ever sang a note. But Omaha supports its own and a band featuring former members of The Faint and park ave is sure to inspire a certain amount of approbation. The band was aware of all the preconceptions and had played with that dichotomy smartly before they ever played their first song.
Five kids, four standing across the front of the page, all wearing primary-coloured T-Shirts with their first names printed on them. Of course the grrls are all cute as hell and the boys are well, you know, just boys. To up the ante, Kianna has edged her purple Dan Electro long horn bass with purple rhinestones and a tasteful assortment of grrly stickers (yes Hello Kitty) that is saccharine as hell. All of this prompted friendly feedback in the form of scattered audience members wearing shirts stating "Magic Kiss My Ass." Fucking wonderful!
Guitarist and occasional vocalist Matt Bowen was able to ride the joke for a while although he lashed out a little with the first few notes of the bands set. With his Gibson Explorer (or clone?) and a maxxed out Rat distortion pedal, he began the set with crunching, painful distortion and metal licks, and I was fooled for about ten seconds. After thirty seconds the guitar dropped out and Jenn began plinking out a bouncy melody on her keyboard. To cement the mood Jamie (normally guitar and vocals) slipped on a pair of tap shoes, drug out a metal sign ("No Wake Zone"), set the microphone on the floor, and tap-danced her accompaniment. It doesn't get any cuter than that.
Although the band delivered on the pockey-sweet grrl pop as promised (most notably in the songs written and sung by Jamie), Matt had his say as well and there were gruff elements of brutish indie rock. Unfortunately seldom did the two play well together (were these written by a third player?) and the dichotomy carried further. Moreover it may have been a matter of my positioning in front of the stage or the lacking monitors, but often times it sounded as if the band members weren't playing together either.
What was delivered however was a band's first show introducing the audience to a handful of songs that I can't wait to hear again. No superstars were born, the ground didn't open up and swallow us all, but some kids danced and that's pretty close for indie rock.
The tone shifted immediately as The White Octave began their set. First, a different set of kids came forward [including one beautiful grrl toting a grey camera bag are you her?], second the lighting was shifted dramatically, and finally the band themselves were professional and polished (if not mechanical) about their stage show they were completely unlike the other bands that had or would perform at the Sokol Auditorium that night.
The band was on the road to promote their new album to be released on Initial Records, which is a stylistic shift (or simply one prompted by maturity) from their previous work on Deep Elm. Stereotypes of each label abound and in the case of The White Octave, it's mostly true. While their previous work seemed to rely on drones and shifts of power with repetition as an unfortunately crutch, the new material was alive, engaging and heady. The band seemed to be earnest (and who am I to say they were not, and why wouldn't they be, this was a great gig to land!) as they spoke to the crowd, thanking them for showing up and in return being thanked by the audience. In reality the audience received more than their $5 worth simply from watching the emotion and movement of vocalist/guitarist Stephen Pedersen and bassist Lincoln Hancock. Their herks, and jerks, and turns seemed to speak to boundless energy although I watched the sweat fly from them in the spotlight even in the second song. There were no slackers though and the hyperactive, yet exceptionally clever drumming of Robert Biggers would have impressed any drummer.
The band played for probably only a half hour before inviting the merch guy up on vocals for an unfortunate take on AC/DC's Highway to Hell. It wasn't the band insomuch as the merch guy he didn't even know all of the chorus! This isn't night one of the tour so is there an excuse? Hell the audience had fun so maybe I'm too critical no, never.
Headlining the night was Desaparecidos playing their second show. Although Magic Kiss may have been the band everyone came to see, everyone stuck around to support this band if only because it was the newest endeavour for Conor Oberst of Bright Eyes (also of park ave it could be noted).
Although Conor provided most of the vocals for the band, it was obvious fairly early that the band wasn't simply Conor trying his hand at a new sound with some different backing musicians. At least one other musician (the bassist/occasional guitarist/occasional vocalist I would bet) had tossed a song or two into the six or seven song set, and all the players seemed to have their hand in creating what was ultimately a chaotic and cathartic indie ride. There was sound and fury and I'm not sure if anything was signified by the loose arrangements and extreme "just rock" attitude. Although a second guitarist often noodled to create some interest, the band seemed to move on to the next stage of the plan before the last could be realized. There was no time for thought, no time for melody, only time to get in, make a loud rock noise, and get out before anyone in the audience had a chance to wonder what it all meant.
Although this is a band, Conor's vocals are of course the most striking element. His consuming wail is immediately identifiable, and although he seemed in good spirits before playing, afterwards he dropped his guitar and ran backstage not to appear again until after I had left. Unfortunately I can't give you the run down on the other musicians in the band as I only recognized the drummer from his previous band, Red Menace, and as he occasionally would drum for Bright Eyes.
As the noise stopped and the lights got brighter I looked around to say the customary goodbyes to my friends. I'm not sure if I want to say goodbye, or if I just want them to see me leave so they can stop me and invite me to this really cool party that they're having at their place later that night, but at the end of every show the ritual is played out. Tonight however I know I was hoping someone would find I was driving back and then offer me crash space. Not a big chance since I the only people I knew were really the kids from park ave and few other assorted engineers and such that are rock stars in their own right. I figured I'd be sleeping behind a Motel 8 in an hour's time, and I was right.
Quick story before I go though. I spotted Conor (though I'd like to say he spotted me first that probably wasn't the case) and we hugged and tried to catch each other up on our lives. His is always more hectic than mine although he plays like I'm the one who jets around the world and is adored by every 17-year-old grrl everywhere. I told him about breaking up with Vanessa and he was appropriately (if not overly, yet genuinely) remorseful, and I told him how I had been hiding out in every city but Kansas City as a result of it. He hugged me again and said that Omaha was a good place to hide out then quickly glanced around the club adding "but not for me. This is probably the worse place for me to hide out." And we shared a laugh. Even if he wasn't a most reluctant rock star, I think 17-year-old grrls would still be right to adore him.