Thursday, December 29, 2011

Top 10 albums of 2011

Some of us document our lives by the music that surrounds us.

Songs come on the radio that conjure up memories of decades gone by. A band reminds you of the time you saw them in concert. A single song makes you recall a specific person, a date you went on, a night out or a family gathering.

That's how 2011 was for us.

March was seeing bands such as The Head and the Heart at SXSW that I knew people back at home would love. Then there was that summer day when it seemed everyone wanted to talk about Bon Iver.

2011 was a diverse year with great music from all genres.


(Island Mercury)

With this record, Noah And The Whale moved beyond folk to become something more pop and rock — like Coldplay — but with deft lyrics that paint stories — unlike Coldplay. The music of "Tonight's The Kind Of Night" captures the energy and hope espoused in its lyrics while "L.I.F.E.G.O.E.S.O.N." is a song that's at once sad and about heart and leaving behind regrets.


(Def Jam)

This collaboration could have been disastrous, but it produced, front-to-back, one of the best hip-hop albums in years — as well as a song with maybe the most ridiculous title ever (N***** In Paris). The combination of amazing production — samples of the Will Farrell comedy "Blades Of Glory" as well as Otis Redding are so ridiculous they're awesome — are coupled with incredible rhymes and tons of boasting. Kanye West and Jay-Z say they're the illest, um, gentlemen alive on this record. I'd think that was too much if I didn't think they were right.

Read more »

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Column: Gift ideas for that music fan on your list

It's Christmas season, so you're probably frantically trying to round up gifts for everyone you know.

If there's a music guy or gal on your shopping list, they may enjoy some of the things that come across my desk.

Here are my picks for great music-related gift items in case you need some ideas (or in case anyone in my family happens to be reading).

"Everybody Loves Our Town: An Oral History of Grunge" by Mark Yarm ($25)

Most people know Nirvana and Pearl Jam and probably Soundgarden, the three enduring acts from the Seattle grunge scene. But you don't know the whole story. Mark Yarm interviewed tons of people that were part of the grunge scene to tell the story from the early days with bands you've never heard of to the legacy of groups such as Pearl Jam and Alice In Chains. This is the best book on music I've read this year.

Read more »

What are we gonna do with all of these arenas?

An artist's rendering of the new Pinnacle Arena coming to Lincoln in 2013.
On Sunday, I wrote a front-page story on how the Omaha/Lincoln publicly-owned arenas (including Pinnacle, CenturyLink, the Civic, MAC, Pershing and Ralston arena) are going to compete for concerts.

Concerts are only a fraction of the events that go on in an arena, but they mean giant paydays (i.e. a $1.6 million gross for one Lady Gaga concert).

You can read the whole article, which includes lots of facts and figures. The long and short of it is the following: Lincoln and Omaha are going to compete for lots of shows, but no one really knows exactly how it will play out until Lincoln's Pinnacle Arena opens in 2013.

Pinnacle will be the cute new baby that everyone wants to play with while CenturyLink Center up in Omaha is the trusted (slightly) older sibling that everyone knows it can count on.

I think that one of them will win out in the end and the other will suffer for it. It will be tough to operate two similar-sized arenas within 60 miles of each other and have them both be profitable. Fans will have their favorites, but its concert tours and promoters that will make the decisions.

In my book, CenturyLink already has the edge. Fans know it, promoters know it and its got quite a nice operating profit. The "shiny new toy" (as one official put it) down the road in Lincoln won't be shiny forever.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Breathless was dead, but now she isn't

Popular local hip-hopper Breathless was thought to be dead today. Social media posts made it to sound like she had died over the weekend and an outpouring of support came from fans and friends on her Facebook page.

Based on that, several organizations (as well as myself) posted about it. The Omaha Entertainment and Arts Awards, in particular, posted a heartfelt message and a video of Breathless performing at the awards ceremony.

Well, she's not dead. Not hardly.

The whole thing was a publicity stunt for her new album/video called "Reincarnation." A promo video shows her lying in a hospital bed. Then the video for "It's Ya Girl" (her new song) has her in a casket and people mourning her. (Creepy?)

As of 3:30 p.m. on Tuesday people were still posting their "RIP" messages to her Facebook wall even though the news was out that she's not deceased.

Some people sound pretty mad about it and I don't blame them. I heard second-hand about people crying and others driving from out of town already for her funeral.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

SXSW: Two Omaha bands confirmed

Orenda Fink, left, and Nina Barnes of Harouki Zombi.
Around this time of year, South By Southwest starts sending out preliminary lists of bands. Usually, groups from Nebraska don't pop up this early.

Today, two made the cut. Tilly and the Wall and Harouki Zombi will both be performing at SXSW.

Harouki Zombi is credited as hailing from "Athens, NE," which must be a combination of Athens, Ga., and Nebraska.

Have you heard of the group? It's Orenda Fink (Azure Ray, O+Sl wife of The Faint/Depressed Buttons' Todd Fink) and Nina Barnes (Apollinaire Rave Art Collective, wife of Of Montreal's Kevin Barnes), a DJ/VJ duo and sort of art performance/musical collaboration.

Here's the story (via a press release): While watching Orenda's husband, Todd, DJ on Orenda and Todd's last night in town, Orenda turned to Nina and said "Let's be fucking DJs" Nina said "Yes! But let's do it dressed as geishas." Orenda agreed and Harouki Zombi was born."

They've done some big shows, which includes a cast of zombie geishas that interact with the crowd.

If you're interested in the troupe, the video for "Harouki Swamp Theme" premiered on Rolling Stone. You can download the song, too.

Anyway, that's two bands down for SXSW. Add one journalist (that's me!). Now, who else?

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Live Review: "Color Me Obsessed" screening, Q&A and performances

Anonymous American performs covers of songs by The Replacements.
Slowdown was the place to be on Wednesday night for a screening of "Color Me Obsessed: A film about The Replacements," which included a Q&A with director Gorman Bechard. That all was followed by performances of 'Mats songs by local bands.

It was a pretty good night, especially so for fans of The Replacements. If you don't mind, I'll jump right into the reviews.


Have you ever read an oral history? If your answer is "no," you should know that they're basically a series of quotes from people that were involved in the story. In my recent favorite book on grunge, "Everybody Loves Our Town," people involved in the Seattle grunge scene talk about what it was like and what happened.

That's what this film is. It's a series of people (almost 150 of them) talking about The Replacements, going to their shows, being married to them and what the band meant to them (both as fans and as friends).

"If you claim not to be moved by 'Sorry Ma,' you're either a liar or comatose," read one press quote.

That would probably be the opinion of Greg Nelson and Grant Hart of Hüsker Dü, Colin Meloy of The Decemberists and Brian Fallon of Gaslight Anthem, who are just some of the people who talk about The Replacements, which one person described as "a janitor, a crazy drunk and a little kid." Others interviewed include the band's sound guy, Bob Stinson's wife, DJs from 89.3 The Current and music critic Robert Christgau.

You get a sense that some of the people couldn't exist without The Replacements. Indeed, all of the stories are fantastic, but also paint a wonderful, but ultimately sad and tragic, arc for the band. The band was so loved, but couldn't keep it together long enough to find commercial success. It made me cringe when sales numbers popped up on the screen and the best-selling music during The Mats' time included REO Speedwagon, Asia and MC Hammer. Ugh.

Some of the best stories told include how Tommy Stinson used to wear ankle weights in an effort to help him jump higher onstage, how every time the band screwed up at one show they would play "Help Me Rhonda," shaving their eyebrows for an MTV interview,

One of the most interesting things about the film is that it doesn't include any music by the band and none of them are interviewed. Additionally, no pictures are ever shown of the band until just before the credits. For me, it didn't matter. I could picture the guys in my head and when they started talking about "Bastards of Young," I could hear the song in my head. For fans of the band, I don't think the movie needs the music.

Whether you like/love/loathe the Replacements or just want to hear people passionately talk about music (or crazy band antics), you'll like this film.


As soon as the film was over (at two hours long, it could stand to be trimmed down a bit), director Gorman Bechard took the stage. He was asked quite a few questions that were pretty rote and were answered in a Q&A that was published in GO a week before.

But he was asked some interesting ones:
Q. Have you heard from anyone in the band? A. Peter Jesperson is a fan. Chris likes it. Heard Tommy had seen it and likes it.

Q. What about Paul? A. "Paul Westerberg is the JD Salinger of rock 'n' roll." Bechard said that even if Paul had seen it that he'd never comment on it.

Q. How many interviews did you do? A. 145.

Q. (my question) How did you first get into The Replacements? A. Bechard saw them open for R.E.M. at Toad's Place in 1983. "They were the worst band I'd ever seen." He said he came back to them later, then "Let It Be" came out. "Then that was it," he said.

Q. You interviewed a lot of DJs from the Current. Paul's sister (Mary Lucia) is a DJ there, too. Did you interview her? A. She didn't want to be interviewed.


I'm surprised more bands didn't jump at the opportunity to play this show, but sadly some probably don't know The Replacements or couldn't learn a few new songs before the show.

Anyway, the final lineup was Aaron Paker of Scratch Howl, The Traveling Mercies, Anonymous American and Witness Tree.

Though he was a little off, Parker had some giant balls to get up in front of a room full of 'Mats fans and play "Here Comes A Regular" and "Can't Hardly Wait" on an acoustic guitar. Bravo.

Traveling Mercies played one country sort of song that I wasn't that into, but then finished with a pretty faithful version of "Little Mascara."

Anonymous American played third and was my favorite. They did "Color Me Impressed," "I'll Be You" and "Left Of The Dial." Led by Matt Whipkey, the band tends to throw themselves into performances and this one was no different. Even though a lot of people don't like "I'll Be You," I thought it was cool to hear the band's biggest hit. And then "Left Of The Dial" is a pretty sweet song.

The night closed out with Witness Tree, a rock band from Elkhorn. They did "Valentine," "Can't Hardly Wait" and "Merry Go Round." I didn't know much about this band before, but I'd probably go check them out again.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Record Store Day's Black Friday shopping

I took home some swag from Record Store Day's Black Friday sale.

As a general rule, I do not go shopping on "Black Friday." I like saving money on Christmas shopping as much as the next guy, but I can't handle all of the people and the frenzy.

But for the last two years, I make sure to brave the madness to go to record stores. Record Store Day is in April, but in 2010 they started doing a smaller version of the event on the day after Thanksgiving.

I like vinyl. I like music. So, off I go.

I did decide to skip the lines and frenzy that takes place in the morning. Homer's Music and Drastic Plastic employees told me that each store had a line before the stores opened at 9 a.m. and it was a little crazy.

I hit up both of those stores as well as Saddle Creek Shop to see what was available. I did write up a wish list in this week's column, and most of what I was looking for was still available.

I ended up going home with Craig Finn's solo single, "Honolulu Blues;" Silversun Pickups' "Seasick;" and Wilco's "Speak Into The Rose" 10-inch. (see the photo above)

I didn't really want to drop all the money for the Black Keys' single (about $10), Iron & Wine (about $15) or the Beatles singles (more than $50... sheesh). The Civil Wars record had sold out and then, according to Mike Fratt at Homer's, The Rolling Stones single had a pressing problem, so I put my name on a waiting list for that.

The most interesting aspect, to me, was over at Saddle Creek Shop. There, I was the very first person to buy any of the RSD exclusives. This was at 3 p.m. and they had been open all day.

SC Shop had most of the RSD stuff and I ended up buying the Wilco record there because everywhere else had sold out. It's a great little store. They have lots of stuff on vinyl and every single Saddle Creek Records release that's in print.

A friend bought some non-RSD vinyl including the Magnetic Fields's "69 Love Songs" box set. They have tons of other great vinyl there, too.

Did you go out for Record Store Day? What did you take home? Where did you go?

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Cursive's new album: "I Am Gemini"

Ted Stevens, Tim Kasher and Matt Maginn are Cursive.
Cursive was in the studio recently, and now they have a new record.

It's a concept album called "I Am Gemini" about twin brothers Cassius and Pollock that were separated at birth. The album will be out Feb. 21 on Saddle Creek Records.

"One good and one evil, their unexpected reunion in a house that is not a home ignites a classic struggle for the soul, played out with a cast of supporting characters that includes a chorus of angels and devils, and twin sisters conjoined at the head," read a press release.

I last talked to Tim Kasher when the band was in the middle of making the record.

"It's going really well," he said back in August, right before the band played Maha Music Festival. "We're done with all of the basic tracking with drums and bass and my guitar and keys and various odds and ends. I'm working on vocals nightly and Teddy's working on guitar."

The record was produced and mixed with producer Matt Bayles (Mastodon, Minus The Bear, Ladyfinger), who also worked with Kasher on his "Bigamy" EP.

"This is kind of my year of working with Matt Bayles," Kasher said.

Since it's a concept album, Kasher apparently wrote the tracks in order. A press release said it's the heaviest Cursive album in years.

The band's set to head out on tour just before the record is released, with a finale date in Omaha.

Track listing for "I Am Gemini:"
1. This House Alive
2. Warmer Warmer
3. The Sun and Moon
4. Drunken Birds
5. Lullaby for No Name
6. Double Dead
7. Gemini
8. Twin Dragon/Hello Skeleton
9. Wowowow
10. This House a Lie
11. The Cat and Mouse
12. A Birthday Bash
13. Eulogy for No Name

Cursive tour dates:

Friday, November 11, 2011

Home Recording: Mike Friedman gives his advice

In tomorrow's World-Herald, we're taking a look at home recording since just about anyone can do it now.

One guy I turned to was Mike Friedman, who plays in Simon Joyner's band and records a whole lot of stuff in his basement.

While I used several of Friedman's quotes in my story, his stuff is pretty technical and not all of it fit in my story about getting started. But it's still full of info, so I thought I'd include it here.

Again, be sure to check out the main story in the paper and on tomorrow.

Q: How is your recording operation typically set up? What equipment (or software) are you using to capture audio?

A: My basic set up for the recording is an old version of ProTools with an M-Audio Digi 001 Interface running on an IBM PC that I had built specifically for this purpose. You have a ton have a lot of RAM make things run smoothly. I also recently added a Tascam 48 8-track ½” tape machine. This can be used independently of the ProTools set up, or I can record to tape and then dump it into ProTools for editing, mixing and mastering. I run my mics into a Soundcraft board to boost the signal with the preamps before going into either the Digi 001 or the Tascam tape machine, depending on what I’m doing. I keep this all set up in my basement with all my instruments: guitars, bass, drums, piano, organ, etc, so it’s ready to go whenever.

Q: Are you demoing tracks first? And how are you doing that?

A: As far as “demoing” goes, I guess I don’t really think of it in those terms. When I’m recording, if it comes out good, it doesn’t really matter if it’s the first take or the 10th as long as it’s good. That sort of goes with the question about what home recording offers that the studio doesn’t. The main benefit is that you’re not paying for the studio time, so you can take as much time as you want messing around with your tracks until you get what you want. In a way, you might call that demoing. Especially with ProTools, since you’re not paying for tape and there is not degradation of the sound quality for recording parts over and over again, you can just keep trying stuff out. And there is also the benefit that if you do want to go into a studio, you can work stuff out before hand at home so when you are on the clock you aren’t still experimenting.

Q: What does recording at home offer versus doing it in a studio?

A: So I’ll expand. As I said, the most often perceived benefit or recording at home is that you’re not paying for studio time. But it’s not like it’s really free, because you can spend a lot getting your home studio up and running. Between mics, preamps, a board, tape machine and/or computer and software, it adds up. And once you start putting a studio together, you’re always looking for more pieces. But much like owning a home instead of renting, the money you spend is benefiting you, not the landlord. What I like most is that I am familiar with all my equipment and I have access to it 24/7. The more projects I work on down there, the more I learn about what works and what doesn’t, so it’s a constant learning process. As opposed to paying an engineer at a studio to turn the knobs for you. And I am a very hands-on person who has a tough watching someone else turn the knobs anyway.

Q: Do you do the mixing yourself or have someone else take care of that?

A: I do all that myself, with the input of the artists I’m recording, of course, but like I said before, I really enjoy the engineering aspect of it all and for me it’s a rather fluid process where as I am recording I’m also mixing. Both for the benefit of wheover is laying down tracks – because the better it sound to them, the better they are going to play, and also to satisfy myself. I’m always trying to figure out ways to make things sound as good as possible during the process. So by by the time I’m don’t tracking, it’s already sounding pretty close to how it should sound.

Q: Say I'm a beginner and want to record some pretty basic stuff for a few songs. What would you recommend?

A: Well, if you are a beginner with a Mac you don’t need to do much because it comes with Garage Band which a good program to get started on. If you want to record more than one track at a time you need to get a new interface, but if you just want to record some guitar and then ad vocals later you can just plug in a mic and go. Or very not much money you can get an MBox which allows you to record 2 tracks at the same time. All you need is a couple mics, say a SM57 for your guitar and a SM58 for vocals and you’d have a good start.

Also many company’s make “all-in-one” digital multi-track recorders that are sort of the new versions of the old cassette tape 4 tracks. I have never used one personally, but if they are as easy to use as an old Tascam 4-track, then they should be fine for a beginner. But I’d rather use a cassette 4-track. You’d be surprised at how much you can do with that.

Q: I'm assuming you've recorded for Simon. What else have you recorded?

A: I have recorded tons of Simon stuff at home, but nothing that will see the light of day. This sort of relates to your “demo” question. One of the nice things about having the studio set up all the time is that I am able to record rehearsals and burn discs of the songs we are working on for the rest of the band so they can learn them and work on their parts. For example, we are currently working on some recordings for Simon’s new record. We built a studio in a warehouse are tracking it on 16-track 1” tape. But we demoed them first at my place so we could get the arrangements worked out before we went to do it on tape, again saving money and time. I think the first thing I did at my place was for an old band I was in called Hubble with Reagan Roeder, although as happens too often, the band broke up before we ever released it. I have also made a record for local singer/songwriter Dylan Davis, which is also yet to be released, and I finished up Lonnie Methe’s “Calendar Work” which was started on 8 track tape, then bounced into Protools for additional tracking and mixing. That will be released on Simon’s Grapefruit Records imprint.

I really just record myself and my friends. I don’t run it as a business. I don’t charge anyone. With places like ARC and The Warehouse in town, I don’t really have any delusions about competing in that market.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

MAHA returns in 2012

Maha Music Festival is coming back in 2012 as we all knew (or at least hoped) that it would.

It's the little indie festival that could and, so far, it's proven to be the best rock festival going in Omaha. Here's hoping it continues to grow to bigger names and expand to multiple days.

Anyway, the fest will be returning to Stinson Park at Aksarben Village. Maha organizer Tre Brashear tells me that the festival was a lot more difficult to put on at Stinson Park (setting up fences and such was probably a lot more work), but fans loved the spot so much that they decided to move the fest there.

From people that went to the festival (I was, unfortunately, absent), I heard almost nothing but good things about the new venue. In fact, only one person said they didn't like Stinson Park but that guy felt it should be somewhere downtown. But an actual suitable location? He couldn't think of one.

In other news, the festival will take place on Aug. 11, 2012, which is about the same weekend as last year. It should keep them from getting pushed by Red Sky again, but that late date also seemed to cause Maha to struggle with lining up talent they wanted (a lot of artists head to Europe after their summer tours end in late July/early August).

Then again, Maha's running a week after Lollapalooza (Aug. 3-5, 2012), so maybe they'll be able to route around their giant, older brother and grab some of the same names.

What's next then? The lineup, of course. Who would you want to see play Maha? (Please think realistically.) I have a few thoughts, but I'll only share if you do.

To the comments!

Monday, October 17, 2011

OEA Awards: Comments from Marq Manner

There's been some issues with the comments system on the blog (and just problems with Blogger in general) today. Marq Manner, music man about town and an OEA Award organizer, had some comments for my blog post about the nominees and the OEA Awards in general.

Instead of hiding it on the comments section of that post, I wanted to break it out and make it bigger.

He makes lots of good points here and explains some of the ways decisions are made for the awards.

Hello Kevin,

Thank you for the announcement. I would like to comment on some points. Comments, suggestions, and perception of the awards show from both the press, public and musicians have played a huge role in shaping this event and the categories over the years.

-Until this year we have not gotten a response back from you or any OWH music reporter. I just assumed that employees of the OWH may not be able to be involved. if I missed a response back from you last year, I apologize. We still ask every year. I am glad that you will be involved this year as your opinion is valued. The nominees are decided by a small group who go over the public ballots that are compiled by an accounting firm. The full academy votes on the winners.

-There is no "alternative" category (we dropped that I think two years ago to go with just "indie" music. Adult Alternative is a radio format that six years ago was something that a lot of bands in Omaha fit into. It evolved into a songwriter category-and I will be suggesting it just be a singer-songwriter category next year. I personally am not a fan of that tag either and understand the confusion involved with it. It was skipped this year when talking about other changes that we were making.

-These are not my words-but this is what was decided by the board (of which there are more music members than ever before). "We felt that this was a way to open up the categories and competition a little more. Progressive and Funk feature tendencies that are similar in structure so we felt this would be a great combination. Again we made some changes this year that we felt would increase the interest of the awards. Moving Funk from the Soul/R&B/Gospel category into a group that we felt was a better representation of the scene seemed like a positive move. I hope this clarifies. More feedback is always appreciated."

-Every year things evolve in the Omaha music scene and we try to evolve with it. We also listen to comments from the press, public, and musicians and take those comments seriously. Some other changes that we have made this year based on suggestions/complaints are that we "dropped" easy listening from the Jazz category. This is in response to members of the jazz community and because a "vocal standards/easy listening" contingent is not making an impact in Omaha at this time. We have dropped best "Christian" and moved gospel into the soul category. We added EDM (Electronic Dance Music) to the DJ category to try an represent more of the dance music scene in Omaha. We also shortened the Country/Americana category from four words to two. :)

-Some nominees are public nominees. Some bands and artists get their fan bases active and thus you may see some bands and artists on the list that many might not be familiar with. In the past some names have come out of the public nominees that might have fallen under the radar had it not been for the top public nominee. I would love to say that I know everything happening in every age group or scene in town-but I do not. People like Daniel Christian, Ember Schrag, and others have come out of these nominations. Both of those artists tour more and are/were more active in their "scenes" than many of the nominated bands by the academy in those given years.

-The OEEA's are about the region. A band like the Minnahoonies play many shows in Omaha proper and have played OEAA showcases. We do not feel it is fair to exclude bands from the area. Shenandoah, Iowa is not going to have a music awards show nor is any other town around them. The closest one is Omaha and this is where they play.

-Many city and state awards shows around the country recognize artists after they have "made it". We choose to do so as well. The Minnesota Music Awards always did (I think this is defunct), The Minnesota Black Music Awards do this, The Boston Music Awards do this (heck they named the ancient Peter Wolf of the J. Geils band as album of the year last year), City of Music (Seattle) awards major artists (Brandi Carlisle, Fleet Foxes, etc. though it is a different format than ours), as does the Austin Music Awards.

I appreciate the announcement andyou having a section where are able to comment. Thank you.

MarQ Manner
Music Nominating Co-Chair Omaha Entertainment And Arts Awards

OEAA's announces music nominees

It's time to name the best in Omaha music. At least, that's the intention of the Omaha Entertainment And Arts Awards.

On Saturday, the nominations were released. And, after some voting, the winners will be picked in February.

While I think this is one of the better nomination lists I've ever seen from the OEA Awards, it's still flawed.

Why is "best adult" combined with "alternative" and "songwriter? And why is there a category that just says "indie?" Those bands would fit under rock, alternative and singer/songwriter. Why is "funk" paired with "prog" and "experimental?" And who are the Minnahoonies and why are they voted one of the best rock bands? I've never heard of them. (Upon further research, they're from Shenandoah, which should also disqualify them.)

Most pressing of all, why are Bright Eyes and Tim Kasher even in this fight? Yes, they are two of the biggest names in Omaha music, but they're not in the same league as these other guys (nor are Emphatic, which released a major-label album).

Putting those guys in the same category as Matt Cox Band and Galvanized Tron is like nominating the Yankees and the Omaha Stormchasers for "best baseball team." They're not on the same level. I think I know who's going to win.

Also, when Bright Eyes wins best artist, will Conor Oberst finally show up to pick it up his award?

Of course, it comes from the process by which nominees are picked. Nominations are submitted by the public. Then "the academy" votes on the nominees to choose the winners.

(Note: I'm supposedly an academy member, but I've never voted. I've also never received a ballot to vote, so that explains that. Hopefully, this year I'll be able to participate.)

Still, the nominees are mostly right. There's a lot of good music on that list. And it's a great starting point for someone not familiar with the scene to maybe familiarize themselves.

Anyway, the 2012 awards show will go down on Feb. 12 at Harrah's sometime in February. The awards are moving back to Omaha (they've been in CB in recent years), but the venue hasn't yet been decided.

You probably want to see the nominees. Check them out after the jump.

Read them and let me know what you think in the comments.

Friday, October 14, 2011

This week in GO: Widespread Panic and more

This week in The World-Herald's GO entertainment magazine, you'll find a whole bunch of entertainment readin'.

My column was on nothing exciting, just fake rock 'n' roll tweeters that make me laugh.

• I also wrote a video game review on "X-Men: Destiny." Despite my love for the X-Men, this game wasn't too great.

Widespread Panic is making a stop in Omaha on their last tour before a long break. I talked to percussionist Sunny Ortiz.

• While it's not really musical, Josie Loza wrote about the zombie walk going down in Benson on Saturday. You may spot me all undead-like, shuffling around at the Waiting Room afterparty.

• And, as always, you can check out our live music calendar and Ticket Booth, our list of upcoming shows with tickets on sale (or sold out).

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

First song from First Aid Kit's new album (recorded in Omaha)

Back in May, I wrote about Swedish folk duo First Aid Kit recording in Omaha with Mike Mogis of Bright Eyes. Mogis, Nate Walcott and a variety of other Omaha musicians recorded with the band for the album.

Today, the first fruits of that collaboration can be heard. The album's title track, "The Lion's Roar," is available today for streaming. (Listen below.)

Sisters Klara and Johanna Söderberg told NPR that the song was written during a drive through a Scottish moor and the song changed the shape of the record.

"During the tour, we listened a lot to Townes Van Zandt in the car. We were inspired by this mystic scenery, as well as Townes Van Zandt's beautiful melodies. By far our darkest song to date," they said. "The mystic feeling of this song came to characterize a big part of the new record."

The song will be released as a single digitally on Nov. 8. A 7-inch can be found at the band's shows currently and will be at record stores on Dec. 12. Then on Jan. 24, "The Lion's Roar" album will be available through U.K. label Wichita Recordings.

The band recently toured with Bright Eyes and is currently out in Europe and the U.S. with Lykke Li.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Live Review: The Head And The Heart at The Waiting Room

The Head And The Heart

Sunday was at least my fourth time seeing The Head And The Heart have made its toe-tapping campfire dance songs get better and better each time.

The Waiting Room Lounge was sold out on Sunday night, and while I've been there for many a sold-out night, I've never seen it packed up against the stage like that. And I've never heard a crowd go that wild for a band, especially a new band who was on its first ever headlining tour.

They sing songs about reading good books, playing music and enjoying the good life. "Heaven Go Easy On Me" personifies these themes the most (and carries the band's name in its lyrics) with the line "Don't follow your head/Follow your heart."

From the first song, the crowd knew the words and belted them out. It reached a crescendo with the end of "Rivers And Roads" where the band's harmonies and the crowd's shouts were so thick that I got chills down my back.

"Lost In My Mind" was the biggest number. From the first words, the crowd was into it and opening band Thao + The Get Down Stay Down jumped onstage to make for 14 performers.

Another highlight was the encore, which started with Josiah Johnson and Jonathan Russell performing "No One To Let You Down" and ended with the whole band performing "Down In The Valley." (Watch video.)

Only one part of the show was unfortunate. It was short. But that's no surprise considering the band has one album and a few new songs, which is what Mumford & Sons ran up against at this summer's Stir Concert Cove show.

Wait until this band has another album under its belt (you shouldn't have to wait long... they already played a bunch of new tunes on Sunday). You'll see them rise even higher, taking a course similar to Mumford or The Civil Wars.

They're incredibly talented, somehow able to take folk songs and make some into something you'd dance to and others that you'd be comfortable singing at church with a lot of other pretty voices. I mean, if my 2-year-old nephew knows the band well enough to say "rivers and roads" repeatedly whenever the band comes on, they must be doing something right.

They were on of my favorites at SXSW earlier this year and I can't wait to see where they go. Should be a fun ride, especially if crowds keep loving them like this.

Setlist and video come after the jump.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Rock Candy Interview: Girl Talk

Girl Talk (real name: Gregg Gillis). Photo by Paul Sobota.
A few years ago, Gregg Gillis was an engineer working an office job.

On the side, he was making music with his laptop by cutting apart popular songs and making new songs out of their pieces.

Now, you'd know him a lot better by the moniker Girl Talk. He's a mashup artist, taking loops and samples from different songs and smashing them together to make one big, amazing track.

At his shows - including the one tonight at Stir Concert Cove - Gillis does this live from a pair of laptops. (Listen to "Triple Double" by Girl Talk.)

Last week, I called Gillis to talk about Girl Talk. We got through a lot of tidbits including how many samples he actually uses, the rise and rise of electronic music and what the first Girl Talk show was like.

Kevin Coffey: This is your third trip to the Omaha area in three years and yours shows have gotten bigger and bigger in size. What do you attribute that to?

Gregg Gillis: I feel like kind of the cycle to hit up most major cities about once a year. It's the only true indication of how the project is doing or how many people it's reaching. I don't have a song on the radio or record sales or anything like that. The only actual numbers in my life is attendance.

Pretty much every city, it's been growing. Along with that, we've been pushing for the show to grow. I've been paying more attention to what we're doing on stage because that's kind of become a major part of doing this now.

KC: With how big the show is now, it makes me wonder what the first Girl Talk show was like.

GG: The general idea and attitude was very similar, but it was very small scale. I was very serious about the project musically and conceptually. I was playing with other electronic artists. It would be a DIY show space with a bunch of other people.

Back then, to a certain degree, I wanted it to be a production and reference big stadium shows. But back then, I was trying to entertain people and have a fun show, but poking fun at myself to a certain degree. This grand laptop spectacle show, you know?

The attitude and a mentality was always there. I was just operating at a very small level and with a much smaller crowd. It was also more of a raw thing early on. I was interacting with the crowd and jumping on top of them physically - anything to have a real human element to the electonric music.

The show is really now a blown up version of that.

KC: It seems that electronic music is growing and growing. I saw you at this tiny rock club a couple years ago and then at Lollapalooza in the Perry's tent, which has also blown up in size. Why do you think that is?

GG: It's really exciting. Going back to what I was saying with the early days, I always liked that idea and people had definitely done it back in the day, all the way to Kraftwerk. Around 2000, there was a negative stigma attached to live electronic music that it would be boring or not entertaining.

I wanted to have a show that's entertaining and push electronic music. An entertaining show and not just something that's a dance party. A multi-level show. That's always been a big goal of mine.

At a lot of the venues I was playing at, it was primarily rock bands and hip hop groups. Touring at this level with various shows, it still is relatively new enough ranging to deadmau5 to what I'm doing.

I feel like it is an open book. Wide open for people dong whatever they want to do. It's hard to come up with solutions to make their shows visually entertaining, but a lot of these electronic musicians are drawing as much as large rock bands.

It's definitely happened over the years. Before this generation, there was the Chemical Brothers or Prodigy doing it. There's been different waves of it but it's hitting harder now than ever. The creative energy behind the shows is amazing, too.

All styles of music are competitive. You know, 'Do it bigger than the other person.' I love checking out these other artists to see what they're doing. Definitely excited to see where they've gone.

KC: Do you get to see a lot of shows, rock or electronic or otherwise?

GG: Not so much shows but festivals definitely. A lot of times at festivals, I get to see all kinds of stuff.

I feel like a lot of the electronic artists that I know, I'll catch on YouTube. I've seen a lot of stuff through video. When I'm home, I see local bands in Pittsburgh and friends' bands. Going to a festival, I can see all kinds of stuff.

KC: What do you listen to when you're not searching for a sample?

GG: Stuff that I listen to but I won't sample. (Pauses) When I'm looking for a sample, I like it to fit within top 40 or familiar songs. Do something with them because that's what people will recognize.

The mixtape scene out of hip-hop is really big with me. The mixtape world, there's so much content and it's exciting for me and raw. Rappers will put out one mixtape per month. There's this constant stream of songs. A lot of that stuff is far from what I would sample, but I really like keeping up with that.

Otherwise, it's random stuff. Yuck, their CD. I've been listening to a lot of soul and Motown recently. Yo La Tengo, too. I plow through a bunch of CDs.

KC: Is it hard for you to not be looking for a sample? Can you turn it off?

GG: Definitely. I feel like I can kind of get in and out of it. When I put on the new Wocka Flocka Flame tape, I'm interested in it, but knowing it's outside the world of things I'm going to sample. So yeah, usually I can turn it off a little bit.

I'm in my set currently and I really wish I had more early 80s synth pop. When I'm hunting for a sample, I'll turn on the radio or something. That's just a different style of listening. It's not really listening, but hunting. I enjoy that process. Different sort of experience than listening to me.

Even when I am just listening to the radio, it doesn't ruin that experience. Things pop out of every song. It's not something that takes away from it, though.

KC: I think a lot of people don't realize it, but you use a ton of samples, not just one music track and one vocal track. How many do you typically use in a set?

GG: Typically - this is an estimation - maybe in an hour of playing it's maybe 400 or 500 loops. You might recognize the main pieces, but not everything. I like the shows to be as isolated as possible. It sounds like two or three things playing at once, but in reality it might be 12.

The more I do, the more I've gotten interested in making it more complex. It's very thick and layered. There will be little vocal samples and tiny pieces of one song.

I am super impressed that there are people who recognized that Silverchair snare drum. That's kind of part of it.

KC: One reader wanted to know how many laptops you had gone through?

GG: I've been good in the last couple years because I've been using these Panasonic Toughbooks. Prior to that, in between 2003 to 2008 it was probably two a year. The shows were raw and I didn't have the money to blow back then on nice laptops.

As the show's gotten bigger and more orchestrated, it's a little better. But it used to be a total free for all and night-to-night people were spilling beer or falling on them.

KC: From your tweets, it seems like you go out a lot after shows. Does that happen a lot? Plan on doing it in Omaha?

GG: It depends on the night. I love doing weekend show schedule where I'm doing a Friday-Saturday show. If I'm not on tour, I'm at my house every day keeping it low key. But I tour with a lot of my close friends and people who live in different states from me.

If I'm not feeling completely ready to throw up after a show, which does happen, I love checking out a city. It's my night to have fun. When the show ends it's a good time to catch up with people.

I'm trying to think of what we did in Omaha. What was that club? Slowhand?

KC: Slowdown.

GG: Yeah, Slowdown. We just chilled there at the end of the night. Nothing really stands out.

KC: Are people from your hometown or your old job ever surprised at your success?

GG: Less weird about the coworkers because I was only at that job for 2 or 3 years. People from college and people from high school, it's definitely weird.

In the music scene though, there was always people in bands or trying to get in bands and trying to break it big, trying to fuck shit up.

Back then, my project was all about 'fuck the world' sort of mentality. 'I'm here to wreck shit and get out.'

They would all be like this is very weird about what's happened to him.

All of the music back then and even the first six years of being Girl Talk, there was never any career ambition whatsoever. A lot of my friends were doing electronic stuff, too. We weren't living off it. It was such a subculture. It was so small at the time.

Honestly, this is very surreal that this is gong on and I'm able to sell out those venues.

KC: Is it strange to be doing this professionally?

GG: The opportunity was given to me then, and I pushed it as much as I could. Where it is at now is definitely insane. I've been doing it professionally for four years.

When this project started, I was so far removed from making a living off of it.

If you're in a band, you might just be doing it for fun but you know in the back of your head that you want to make it big. In my world there was truly no precedent for this level of success as far as the people I was looking up to.

So, I didn't think it would actually happen to any degree.

KC: I notice that you always refer to it as "the project." Why is that? Do you envision yourself doing something else?

GG: (Laughs) It's just weird for me to call it 'me.' Girl Talk represents a specific side of me, plus there's so many other people involved.

If you're Lady Gaga or something, I think that's not you. It just represents a part of you.

So, I have a hard time referring it to Girl Talk as myself. It's more of an 'it' than a 'me.'

Of course, I'm the main person behind it, but a lot of other minds are involved in it.

It feels like a project. I think though if this wouldn't have become something of a career then I would still be doing it, but probably at a different level.

But there's no doubt in my mind: Girl Talk would still exist.

Girl Talk, "Triple Double"

This week in GO: McCarthy Trenching, Head And The Heart, Girl Talk, LeAnn Rimes

It's a busy week for music coming up, which is why I wrote a whole bunch of stuff for GO. Here's what you can read from me this week:

• Tonight, Girl Talk will turn Stir Cove into a big old dance off. I talked to Gregg Gillis last week.

LeAnn Rimes starts a three-day stand with the Omaha Symphony on Friday.

• On Sunday, The Head And The Heart will play a sold-out show at The Waiting Room. I spoke to bassist Chris Zasche about the band's start and rise.

• Local singer/songwriter Dan McCarthy releases a new album with McCarthy Trenching, "Fresh Blood," next week with three shows. He welcomed me into his home with coffee and ragtime.

• After you see McCarthy perform at Saddle Creek Shop on Tuesday, you can go next door and see The Smashing Pumpkins play at Slowdown (if you were lucky enough to get tickets, that is). I'm told by 1% Productions that all tickets were in an online shopping cart within 30 seconds. All transactions were final within 20 minutes.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Bright Eyes covers White Stripes' "We're Going To Be Friends"

Conor Oberst - Photo by Alyssa Schukar/The World-Herald

For part of a charity project, Conor Oberst and his pals in Bright Eyes covered the White Stripes' "We're Going To Be Friends." (Listen over at Pitchfork.)

The female singing parts are provided by First Aid Kit, which was recording with Mike Mogis at ARC during a break in Bright Eyes' tour this year.

It's interesting to me because back when "We're Going To Be Friends" was released in 2002, Jack White and Oberst were being called the great songwriters of a new generation and were often compared to each other. The sentiment was more or less that Oberst was the folk half of Bob Dylan and White was the rock half. Neither ended up really fitting that description, but that's what critics were saying at the time.

Anyway, the song is part of a compilation called "Cool for School: For the Benefit of the Lunchbox Fund." The Lunchbox Fund is a non-profit org that provides daily meals to poor students in South African high schools.

Not sure when it will be released, but the tracklist follows below:
01. Bright Eyes (feat. First Aid Kit) – “I Can Tell We’re Gonna Be Friends” (White Stripes)
02. Jenny O. – “The Happiest Days of our Lives/Another Brick in the Wall” (Pink Floyd)
03. Gabe Saporta (Cobra Starship) & Louis Epsterin (Jump Into The Gospel) – “Futures So Bright” (Timbuk 3)
04. Albert Hammond Jr. (The Strokes) – “Thirteen” (Big Star)
05. Alexander (Edward Sharpe) – “Teacher/Student”
06. Joseph Arthur – “Rockin’ In The Free World” (Neil Young)
07. Luke Rathborne – “I Hate My School” (Redd Kross)
08. Fences – “School” (Nirvana)
09. Angela McCluskey – “We Rule The School” (Belle & Sebastian)
10. Rain Phoenix & Jonathan Wilson – “Coat of Many Colors” (Dolly Parton)
11. Craig Werden + Pink Ape (Shudder to Think) – “Headmaster’s Ritual” (The Smiths)

Friday, September 30, 2011

Rock Candy Interview: Phil Cook of Megafaun

They're pals (and former bandmates) of Bon Iver's Justin Vernon, Rolling Stone named them one of its "bands to watch" and their latest album is taking praise from everyone, including Pitchfork and Spin.

Many think Megafaun is going to break out (though Phil Cook explained to me how that it's impossible to predict) and I think they just might with the self-titled album, "Megafaun," released on Hometapes.

I was pleasantly delighted by the album, which sits somewhere between a regular folk record and an super-indie-sounding folk/pop album like Bon Iver's recent self-titled effort.

On its current tour, the band stops at The Waiting Room Lounge on Saturday ($10). While they were on the road, Cook subjected himself to my questions.

KC: What’s different about “Megafaun” compared to your past releases? A lot of people have said this album is a “reinvention.”

PC: We feel that way as well. We see it as a shedding of old skin in that we basically found a momentum in our process of writing and recording that we never had before. It yielded a work that was much truer, inspired and focused than our last records. We really flew in the studio and gave one another a lot of space to lead and grow with as well as quickly unified group decision making. It was incredibly rewarding.

KC: Do you think you’ve grown with this record?

PC: The way our band has always operated is by measured growth. If we're not growing with each record, show or rehearsal then we'd fall apart. It's that jazz mentality we grew up with: always striving toward mastery but never reaching it. Endlessly indebted and devoted to the process.

KC: The album feels a little more straightforward and very organic, including the songwriting. Is that something you were going for this time out?

PC: The intuitions and tenancies never change. What changes with us is the clarity with which we convey and unfold those intuitions. We've collectively written 40-some songs, ever. It's not that many but it shows you a scope of our arc. Completing any single idea leads you to the next one and along the way, you already know what you will do differently and better next time as soon as you put the cap on the last one.

KC: You recorded the album in Justin Vernon’s studio. What was that like?

PC: It's was Bon-tastic and falsetto-y! No, all joking aside, it was three weeks of laughing and grinning with my brothers, eating supper with our parents every night and trying to use our time wisely.

KC: Eau Claire’s getting some attention since you guys and Justin Vernon are from there. Is that cool for you?

PC: Eau Claire has always has the potential there. All it took was a general awareness to be heightened amongst the community itself. People realizing they not only wanted the same things from their community, but that many were already working on the pieces separately. Now they're working together. I credit Volume One, the local free weekly that started back in 2002. Great folks.

KC: The band’s gotten a bigger and bigger over the past several years and the praise seems to keep coming for “Megafaun?” Do you think the band’s on the verge of something big? Or is that something you don’t even think about?

PC: Well that's a silly question, admit it. (Editor's note: Yeah, OK.) When has the congruency of critical and mass praise ever been a predictable channel? It's one huge gamble and the odds have never been anything but ludicrously daunting. The only way to make any sort of sure bet is to try to follow your principals and keep yourselves in check. We play for anywhere between 12 and 600 folks a night. What does THAT fantasy football spread leave you with?

If you're in it to get big, you're well on your way to becoming a full fledged asshole. If you're in it to get by, well then welcome to America.

Listen to "Get Right" from "Megafaun:"

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Smashing Pumpkins to play Slowdown

Billy Corgan performs with the Smashing Pumpkins in 2007, at the Orange Peel in Asheville, N.C.
Alt rock fans should get our their calendars and cash. Another band is coming to town and the show looks to be quite a special performance.

Smashing Pumpkins will perform Oct. 11 at Slowdown. Yes, Slowdown, the 470-capacity rock club in north downtown, not a theater or arena.

The last time the band played in Omaha was in 1997. To more than 7,800 people.

Read more »

Photo by The Associated Press

Monday, September 26, 2011

Eric Church records "Drink In My Hand" video at Stir Cove

If you were at Eric Church's concerts at Stir Concert Cove over the summer, you may have been aware that something special was happening.

As it turns out, the concert was being filmed for a music video of "Drink In My Hand."

“I’d went there for the sole purpose of getting live footage and maybe doing a video, but just filming the show. The crowds were so great there that we just kind of decided on the fly that we would shoot the video. It wasn’t really planned out," Church told "It’s really just showing our live show and showing some of the stuff that went on during those shows in Council Bluff, and really just trying to show what ‘Drink in My Hand’ looks like live. We got some shots of the crowd, and at one point I jumped off into the crowd a little bit … it was pretty damn crazy! It was something that was fun to get on camera.”

He obviously loves the crowds here as he keeps coming back. And he sells enough tickets to his shows that he always sells the place out.

The video's pretty awesome because it features a ton of local people.

Were you at the show? Did you spot yourself?

Thanks to Marq Manner for the tip.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Gear Up: iFrogz headphones and earbuds

You can imagine how happy I was last week to find a box at my desk full of headphones. iFrogz asked me if I'd like to take a look/listen at some of their products and I was happy to oblige.

So, I bring you the inaugural edition of Gear Up wherein I review music and audio gear of all kinds. This time, I'm taking a look at three models of headphones by iFrogz.

To test these puppies out, I picked two pieces of music. The Beatles' "Abbey Road' and this year's self-titled album by Bon Iver. Both have lush soundscapes, sweet melodies, vocals and deep bass and drums. Especially Bon Iver's "Perth," a song heavy with sound.

Mogul headphones
These babies are just about the top of the line from iFrogz. They retail for $69.99, but sound like they should cost more. Wearing them the first time, I could tell these were incredibly superior to the earbuds I've been using for the last year or so.

These headphones delivered both nuanced and rich pieces of music with incredible clarity as well as a good amount of low-end from the bass and drums. You really don't know how much of the music you're missing until you plug in with a good pair of headphones.

I could easily pick out different instruments and felt like I was getting the full experience of a song.

The headphones are mostly comfortable, but a bit heavy even though the body is constructed from plastic. They're not flimsy, but don't feel super-sold either, but I do enjoy the addition of the headphones' DJ-style mounting (the speakers rotate outward making it easy to hold just one speaker to your ear).

Rating: ★★★½ (out of four)

Vertex headphones
The Vertex headphones were comfortable, lightweight and had a sturdy metal construction as well as a full sound. They didn't quite have as much bass as the Moguls, but were still miles better than your standard earbuds.

These bad boys retail for $49.99 and that's about right. The addition of the inline microphone (great if you're listening to music on your phone) is also pretty slick.

One thing that I noticed that's neither a plus nor a minus: These seemed to be set at a higher volume than other headphones I've used.

Rating: ★★½ (out of four)

Timbre Pro earbuds
Easily the best earbuds I've ever used. The Timbre Pros have a speaker chamber made out of wood, which gives them a much more rich and warm sound compared to regular earbuds. At $49.99, these cost quite a bit more than standard earbuds, but they do sound better.

Of course, they're earbuds, so they don't have as much bass and everything sounds more blended together than listening on a good set of stereo speakers or standard headphones. But they're a great option if you're looking to upgrade.

The Timbre Pros have an inline microphone that I used several times with my iPhone 4 and seemed to pick up my voice a little better than the earbuds included with the phone.

Rating: ★★★ (out of four)

Gear Up is a regular column to review audio and musical gear and accesories including stereo equipment, earplugs, instruments and anything else music-related you can think of.

Have a product that you'd like us to review? Send it to Kevin Coffey, 1314 Douglas St. Suite 700, Omaha, NE 68102.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

This Week in GO

Every Thursday, the World-Herald puts out its GO magazine inside the pages of the paper. You can also find free copies on a rack near you.

In each GO is a bunch of music stuff written by yours truly. For your perusal, I give you the following.

Rock Candy: Next week has plenty of chances to check out bands - Lots of great local music is happening including Conduits and It's True!

• CD Review: Nirvana, "Nevermind" 20th anniversary reissue

Live Music Calendar - Live concert listing from 09/22/2011 to 09/28/2011.

Ticket Booth - Ticket information for upcoming concerts, including those just announced.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Guns N Roses coming to town

Yep, you read the headline right. GNR in Omaha.

Sadly, it won't be the Guns N' Roses you see above, but the Axl-fronted, Slashless version that's together right now.

There's no date or venue listed with the Omaha date, but "Omaha, NE" is clearly on the list in between Nov. 5 in Texas and Nov. 12 in Kansas City.

I would assume the date would be something like Nov. 9 or 10 at CenturyLink Center Omaha.

Most cities on the list don't have a confirmed date or venue. The press release says more information (dates, venues and more cities) is coming soon.

The dates:
Oct 28 Orlando, FL @ Amway Center Arena
Oct 29 Miami, FL @ American Airlines Arena
Oct 31 Greenville, SC @ Bi-Lo Center Arena
Nov 2 Atlanta, GA @ Phillips Arena
Houston, TX
Nov 5 Dallas, TX @ Gexa Energy Pavillion
Omaha, NE
Tulsa, OK
Nov 12 Kansas City, MO @ Sprint Center Arena
Nov 13 Minneapolis, MN @ Target Center Arena
Chicago, IL @ All State Arena
East Rutherford, NJ
Hartford, CT
Wilkes-Barre, PA
Worcester, MA
Camden, NJ
Detroit, MI
Cincinnati, OH
Nashville, TN
Indianapolis, IN
Denver, CO

Update: GNR is coming to Omaha on Nov. 8 at CenturyLink Center. More details here.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Live Review: MC Chris at the Waiting Room

I'm a music guy, but I'm also a big nerd, so when the two worlds collide in nerdcore hip-hop, I'm pretty excited. (For the record, I'm not one of those people that try to apply the "nerd" badge in an effort to be cool. My giant comic book and action figure collections speak to my geek cred, if there is such as thing.)

Probably the biggest nerdcore artist is MC Chris. His songs play in Honda commercials and whenever Blink-182 or Kevin Smith take the stage. And it's not just that he raps about Star Wars and Batman, it's that he's good at it.

So, I finally took the plunge and got to see him at the Waiting Room on Sunday, where he's performed a bunch before, but I've always missed it.

Not this time. I unfortunately missed the openers (I've heard good things about both MC Lars and Adam Warrock), but made it just before MC Chris took the stage.

For starters, it was a good show, though pretty short (an apt way to describe both MC Chris and his songs as well).

He kicked things off with "I Like Candy" and then tried three separate times to do "Nerd Cave" from his latest album, but he couldn't quite keep up with the backing track. So, to get it right, he started the entire set over, and from there was flawless.

He queued up songs from an iTunes window on a laptop and launched into excellent rhymes in songs such as "Hoodie Ninja," "Motorbike," "Nrrrd Grrrl," "Pizza But" and his "Star Wars" anthem, "Fett's Vette."

My personal favorite was "OMC," in which he rapped over a combo of the "Back To The Future" theme, "Power Of Love" and "Axel F."

A couple times during the show, I thought MC Chris came off as kind of a jerk to his fans. He made one kid who was using his phone during the first song go to the back of the crowd. Later, he asked another fan not to sing along so loudly. To be fair, it's his show and you have to have a little respect for him vocalizing frustration with obnoxious fans, but it certainly takes balls to tell a fan exactly how they can or cannot enjoy themselves at your concert especially when those people paid $13 to see you perform.

Still, the audience respected and adored him. He had total control as the crowd calpped, waved and sang along with whatever he asked. He also silenced the backing track during one song and the crowd shouted back every word.

A big part of is love by fans is evidenced by how he stays after every show - including Sunday's - and stands by the merch booth to talk to every last fan. Very few artists (Ben Kweller and Matt & Kim are only ones that come to mind) do that, but it's an excellent way to build an audience and I love when artists do that.

Between his songs, he also cracked a lot of jokes about video games, obscure movies and all the stuff that nerds love. He's genuinely hilarious and I was laughing hard, which made me wonder why there's not a group of stand-ups that riff on pop culture and nerd stuff. They'd sure have my support, but I've never heard of any. (Of course, feel free to tell me I'm wrong and direct me to someone to check out.)

In the end, it was a perfectly excellent hybrid of geekiness (especially with the costume contest mid-show) and music that I'd love to see replicated more often.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Column: Big Harp returns for CD release

Chris Senseney and Stefanie Drootin-Senseney of Big Harp.
Big Harp is about to embark on a family road trip.

The band featuring husband-and-wife duo Chris Senseney and Stefanie Drootin-Senseney is touring this fall, and the couple are taking their two young children along.

Former Baby Walrus drummer John Voris will join them, both because of his musical skills and his "awesome fit" with their kids.

"We have a minivan. We're gonna get a trailer," Stefanie said.


Friday, August 26, 2011

Rock Candy Interview: Craig Finn of The Hold Steady

The Hold Steady
Over the last few years, The Hold Steady has become one of my favorite bands. No surprise, as I tend to get giddy like a child when they come to town.

For me, it's that the Hold Steady are a direct line to what the hell is going on. Frontman Craig Finn’s lyrics paint a picture of good times and laughs as well as desperation and drunkenness. Meanwhile, Tad Kubler's guitar riffs are so huge, they're bumping against the ceiling.

I can't get enough of the band and I'm looking forward to Finn's upcoming solo album and the next Hold Steady record, which Finn told me is coming soon.

In anticipation of the band’s rocking set coming tonight at Slowdown’s annual block party, we called Finn during a break with the band’s rehearsals in Milwaukee.

Check out the show tonight for free by heading to main sponsor Toyota's website and submitting an RSVP.

We talked about the band's current tour, his recently-recorded solo album, whether girls really do go for status and how he's proud that he doesn't look anything like The Strokes.

Kevin Coffey: What’s The Hold Steady’s lineup like right now?

Craig Finn: It’s a five-piece. No keys. We did a few shows with it earlier this year and it really energized us. We really liked it. Once we added the second guitar player, there felt like there wasn’t a ton of room for everything.

The guitars were playing so well together that we decided to kind of take it in that direction.

We had to reinvent a couple songs a little bit to cover the keyboard parts, but we’ve really liked it.

KC: There’s a few of those songs were the keys are the main melody.

CF: I think you’d be surprised. There’s even some keyboard breakdown parts that we had to rethink but it caused us to be really creative. It’s been fun. It’s pretty cool. We’re really happy with it.

KC: You just got done recording your solo album, right?

CF: I did a record down in Austin, Texas, in July and hopefully that will come out probably just after the new year. It’s still being mixed. That was super fun.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Column: Spotify is great, but not perfect

All of the talk you hear about clouds and streams may not be about Mother Nature.

It could also be about music.

Google and Amazon already have cloud music storage services and Apple is following up soon. For those that don't know, they allow you to upload your music to "the cloud" (one of their servers) and then access your music anywhere

Spotify is doing something similar, but you can access any of their 15 million songs, not just the ones that you already own.

Read more >>>

Monday, August 22, 2011

Homer's Music to close one of its two stores

Homer's, which marks its 40th anniversary in September, plans to close its Orchard Plaza store at 2457 S. 132nd St., leaving the independent music store company with only one location.

At its peak, Homer's had as many as 15 stores in three cities, including Omaha, Lincoln and Des Moines.

Read more >>>

CD Reviews: Tim Kasher, Maria Taylor

Tim Kasher, “Bigamy: More Songs From The Monogamy Sessions”
Saddle Creek

Tim Kasher and Cursive are for many the musical representation of teenage angst. Now that Kasher's aged a bit (and so have we), he's singing about middle age, which is fitting.

This is a short EP, only seven songs to "Monogamy's" 11. It pays off for Kasher with each song being a short vignette that's about one aspect of middle age life or another. "A Bluer Sea" has repeated references to being "adrift" and "without anchor." "The Jessica" recalls an old relationship and its downfall after seeing some photos. Lead-off track "No Harmony" is my favorite and it ponders cruising the bars for ladies, with Kasher resisting growing into and adult so much that he calls himself "Mr. Peter Pan." He goes on to wonder if he should date a woman his own age, perhaps "a spinster or a divorcee," and then recalls being a divorcee himself.

Fans should know this isn't a Cursive album and rarely sounds anything like one. It's more akin to Kasher's solo debut "The Game Of Monogamy, ("Bigamy" and "Monogamy" were written at the same time) and the stripped-down sound without the crashing guitars adds even more emotion to Kasher's already impassioned songwriting.

Maria Taylor, “Overlook”
Saddle Creek

Other Maria Taylor solo albums have seen her armed with an acoustic guitar and maybe some string arrangements. "Overlook" is dripping with music, whether it's psychadelic guitar and xylophone ("Matador"), jazzy vocals and guitar strumming ("Bad Idea"), up-tempo bluesy guitar ("In A Bad Way") and vocal harmony (freakin' everywhere on this album).

It's an expansive album, but instead of feeling like she can't find a genre to settle down in, she feels at home in all of them.

"Happenstance" laments her "suitcase full on the bedroom floor" always there, which references her recent relocation from LA back to her Birmingham, Ala., home. (The album also features her sister, brother and father on various tracks.)

Get downloads from both after the jump.

A Note On My Ratings System

Albums are reviewed on a scale of one to four stars, four being excellent and zero being just plain awful. More explanation follows below.

★★★★ - Phenomenal. Infinitely relistenable and one of the best of the year if not several years.
★★★☆ - Very good. Mostly great from start to finish. Will find a place in our car's CD changer for some time.
★★☆☆ - Decent. A solid output with a few standout tracks, which are the only ones we may listen to again.
★☆☆☆ - Forgettable. A stumbling block of an album.
☆☆☆☆ - Terrible. Why did they even make this album? So bad we might light our copy on fire.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Foster The People's "Pumped Up Kicks" is NOT about Omaha

Photo Credit: Williams + Hirakawa
A pop song’s true meaning can change the way you think about it.

That’s certainly the case with Foster The People’s latest single, “Pumped Up Kicks.”

The tune is all over radio and is currently No. 2 on iTunes’ top-selling singles.

It's an awesome groove and it’s no wonder that the song’s a hit with its simple, but groovy bassline and dreamy, melodic vocals.

But it’s a violent song.

The poppy tune includes lyrics about guns, bullets and a kid named Robert, which some have claimed is meant to depict Robert Hawkins, the gunman who killed eight and injured six people before taking his own life at Omaha’s Von Maur store in 2007.

I first heard about it when several people contacted me over the weekend to ask me what I knew. Namely, "Is it true that it's about the Westroads shootings? That's totally going to ruin the song for me.

So, are the rumors true?

“This is completely false. The character name in the song is just a coincidence,” the band’s publicist wrote in response to The World-Herald’s questions.

The first verse contains lines such as “Robert’s got a quick hand,” “found a six shooter gun in his dad’s closet” and “he’s coming for you.”

And then there’s the chorus: “All the other kids with the pumped up kicks, better run, better run, outrun my gun/All the other kids with the pumped up kicks, better run, better run, faster than my bullet.”

It's also not about Robert Butler Jr., the Millard South student who killed his vice principal, shot his principal and killed himself. The song came out in early 2010. Butler shot up his school in 2011.

The song is violent enough, anyway, to cause MTV to ask the band to submit a version of the song without references to guns or bullets. The band complied, even though singer Mark Foster told “Time Out Chicago” that the song’s not actually about killing people.

“Kids are just getting younger and younger and losing their minds and going on killing sprees. It really was bothering me, and I was trying to figure out why that was happening more and more. I wanted to tell that story and get inside the head of a kid going crazy,” he said. “The song’s about isolation, being an outcast, and seeing the world through the character’s eyes. It’s not about him actually physically going and doing anything, it’s about his mental state.”

It seems the Internet — Wikipedia in particular — and its tendency to proliferate rumors have struck once again.

On, a poster posited that the Robert in the song might be Hawkins. An Omahan’s reply to his post said that the song is definitely about the shootings, though his only claim to holding the truth was that the poster went to high school with Hawkins.

Additional blog posts on, and even prominent alternative newsweekly Seattle Weekly all have referenced Hawkins.

Perhaps the biggest offender (and possibly the source of all of the other rumors) is the song’s entry on Wikipedia, which states “The lyrics refer to the shooter Robert A. Hawkins in the murder-suicide at the Westroads Mall in Omaha, Nebraska on Wednesday, December 5, 2007.”

Wikipedia can be edited by anyone and often contains mistakes. Facts are often cited with links to other articles.

The citation next to the note about Hawkins? There isn’t one.

Watch the video for "Pumped Up Kicks" below.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Maha Festival: Get yourself to Stinson Park

Should be a beautiful day for a music festival.

Maha kicks off it's third year over at Stinson Park at Aksarben Village today at noon with an amazing lineup of indie legends, great Omaha bands and a helluva lot of fun (go visit the photobooth).

Unfortunately, I'll be elsewhere today (a wedding out of town) but others will do a great job of covering it in my stead.

Check out my preview coverage over at, which includes interviews with Reverend Horton Heat, Cursive's Tim Kasher and Guided By Voices' Tobin Sprout.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Lollapalooza 2011: The Five Best Sets Of The Fest (and more)

Once again, I spent three precious days soaking in the sun (and getting soaked by the rain) while I caught band after band perform at Lollapalooza.

In all, I saw at least 22 bands play (by my count) and passed by stages or stopped in quickly to hear even more. Over those three days, I saw everything from hip-hop to surf pop and giant stars to obscure little indie bands.

As always, it was an incredible weekend. To wrap things up, here's a look at my five favorite sets from the weekend, a few I wasn't too fond of  and some of my other favorite moments from the festival.


Back from performing after several years (and rehab), Eminem is completely on his game. He can still bust rhymes with as much ferocity as ever. Actually, more than ever.

The Mountain Goats
John Darnielle's an incredible songwriter and seeing him in person solidified that to me. Old songs such as "This Year" and brand new ones such as "You Were Cool" were amazing.

Best Coast
This would have been just a normal set if it hadn't been for the downpour that came right when the band started playing its sunny California surf pop. I'll remember this festival moment forever.

The Joy Formidable
I'm still amazed how much musical ferocity is packed into every ounce of Joy Formidable frontwoman/guitarist Ritzy Bryan. I'd watch her smash a guitar into a gong any day.

I really didn't think I'd be that into deadmau5, but I danced so much my legs were sore the next day


Cee Lo
One of the artists that I was most excited to see was Cee Lo. But he didn't deliver. Cee Lo didn't have much energy, the crowd wasn't giving him much in return, his set was all over the place and he claimed technical issues brought everything down.

Death From Above 1979
Nothing wrong with loud, noisy jams, but these ones didn't seem to go anywhere. Every song sounded the same: crashing bullshit madness. Why people were excited for these guys to get back together is beyond me.


Noah And The Whale
I was actually waiting to see another band when these dudes caught my ear and led me to them. They're poppy, bouncier than a trampoline and so catchy that I haven't been able to keep "L.I.F.E.G.O.E.S.O.N." out of my head for days.


Puppets on sticks
I don't know why these were so popular, but dozens of people were carrying around puppets (or stuffed animals and other characters) on sticks that they'd hold in the air. The two most prevalent I kept spotting were an elephant and a dinosaur. I guess the idea is to hold it up and shake it around?
I can't imagine it would be anything more than annoying to carry, but they were usually pretty funny. The elephant guy kept making the stuffed animal dance to the music.
Others mocked the phenomenon. One guy carried a tree branch with a Bud Light can and his sunglasses attached to it.


Garlic and Provolone Stuffed Italian Sausage
While Lou Malnati's deep-dish pizza is always a good choice (whether you're at Lolla or just in Chicago), this sausage hit the spot after days of eating chicken fingers and pizza. It was flavorful and mighty spicy, but it was perfect. I originally walked up to the Tuscany On Taylor Street so I could get an Italian beef sandwich, but this caught my eye. I'm glad I went with it. (Photo by me.)


Earrings from Coco Loco
I kept seeing these kickass earrings being sported by guys and girls throughout the festival. They're handmade from wood, bone, shells and other natural materials. I asked the girl sporting them above where she got them from and she directed me to Coco Loco, a jewelry maker that had a stand in the festival. No wonder they kept popping up.
I'm not huge into jewelry, but these were wicked cool. They're sort of expensive (visit Coco Loco's webstore) but they have tons of designs.(Photo by me.)

deadmau5 Heads
Other than his music, deadmau5 might be best known for the giant, globular, Mickey Mouse-like head masks he wears while DJing. On Sunday, I saw homemade masks in all shapes and sizes (and quality levels) on fans. While some were paper mache, others (including the one above) were way cooler than the ones deadmau5 himself wore onstage. These people are dedicated.


I'll never forget Best Coast's set or when it started pouring at the exact moment that deadmau5 came onstage. That was incredible and one of the crazy, unpredictable things that makes these giant festivals so great.

Dave Grohl's stories
On Sunday night at the close of the festival, Dave Grohl told two quick stories. The first was about his very first rock concert at the Cubby Bear near Wrigley Field. He saw Chicago punk band Naked Raygun and said it changed his life forever.
The second, which you can read here, was about him and Kurt Cobain going to the very first Lollapalooza and how amazed they were.
Both touching stories from a guy who's been a part of rock 'n roll culture for as long as Lollapalooza itself.

All photos © Lollapalooa unless otherwise noted.