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.

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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.

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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.