by John Wenz
Sideshow is one of the most multifacted bands to come out of Lincoln. There's the enduring legacy of the band itself — a scattershot of the '80s underground, a cerebral, noisy, raucous hardcore band that toured the nation for nearly a decade before calling it quits in the late '90s. But they were also the foundation upon which Caulfield Records was built. Caulfield was a mighty record label based out of bassist and vocalist Bernie McGinn's basement which released seminal works by bands local and regional — whether it was Mercy Rule, Opium Taylor or Sideshow in the former or Christie Front Drive, Mineral or Germbox in the latter.
If Caulfield was Nebraska's Dischord Records, Sideshow was our Fugazi. The trio — McGinn, drummer Pawl Tisdale and guitarist Rich Higgins — were a ferocious live act. They arose from the ashes of Peer Puppet, a band founded when the members were in high school. And, until McGinn's recent move out to the West Coast, all stuck around Lincoln after the band broke up. McGinn played in Luck of Aleia, while Tisdale tried his hand at any number of acts (Mannheim Creamslinger, Clean Plate Club, Tangelo), while Higgins has been seen most recently in The Surprise Left, and played for a spell in The Holy Ghost.
Sometimes it's hard to capture bands like these with words. They're as much a sound as they're a work ethic, a product of the time when bands were the last truly underground. This meant booking your own tours, releasing your own singles, promote your own shows — with only a loose network of support, no online tools and no MP3 samples to speak of. Releasing your own records was just what you did.
Listen to "Consume" by Sideshow
And while Caulfield may have closed its doors, it's not the end of new Sideshow material. Tisdale has been unearthing live footage on his Youtube page.
He answered a few questions for Echoes that I'm just now getting up here:
How did the Peer Puppet to Sideshow transition happen?
We put out a 7-inch that had printed on it Peer Puppet. We took an El Marko to cross it out then used a stamp to put Sideshow on the vinyl. Sideshow came into existence. This is true. Plus Bernie was now singing.
How did the DIY aesthetics (self-releasing albums, etc.) of Sideshow come to be? Was it born of punk ethics, regional necessity or something else entirely?
Punk first. Bernie McGinn would answer this best because he was the master of DIY with Caulfield Records. From my perspective, it was the best because you are in full control of the process and the outcome. You dictate your success and failure without a lot of paperwork.
What are some memories you have of touring with the band?
Golly. There is a book with every band and I believe our band book has many great entries. The three that stand out for me are:
While playing a set at 7th avenue in Minneapolis, a boisterous and impaired giant of a woman came staggering onto the stage and demanded we play a song for her to sing to. Myself unaware of who she was played a jazzy beat while Bernie asked for a kiss on the lips, which he received. A pair of thugs came and escorted her out. It turned out to be Courtney Love. Hole was playing across the street at the Target Center. She's a treasure.
Another great moment was pulling in to Milwaukee to play at a place called Quarters, a small local corner bar. Upon arrival we found it to be a boon to surrealism as the opening band was called Vomit. They had Hustler centerfolds on their amps and had sex with their girlfriends in the establishment's bathrooms. Their stickers had the middle finger and a tag line that said "Women Suck." As we played I felt someone come up behind me and an arm reached around in front of my mouth with a pipe full of the Milwaukee herb. The silver lining was that we were actually heralded as heros and stared at as stars. We were on the jukebox and the owner played our CD until we took the stage. That is actually the reverse of a silver lining. We will never speak of this again.
One great moment was playing in Seattle at the height of the grunge period with Seaweed at the OK Hotel to a packed crowd. Several hundred people going nuts to us Nebraska boys. We sold a lot of product and Tad was there. Oh and we played with Fugazi at Peony Park. One last funny thing was we played in Canada (dozens of stories await) on the way back when we approached the border, our faltering old van, sputtering and hanging on with its last breath, came to the check point to enter the good old USA when we looked to our right to see in the next lane, THE MILLIONS! You will have to research them but the long and the short of it is that the accomplished, signed musicians from Nebraska were waved through and we were stopped and searched. (Writer's note: here's a past Echoes columns on The Millions.) Rich was labeled a possible threat as he might be a Japanese student, and I must have smelled real bad. End.
You've had quite a few musical projects since Sideshow broke up, like Mannheim Creamslinger and Clean Plate Club. Is there anything you're currently working on?
My tribute to Celine Dion done entirely internally and brown.
Actually I have a site that I am working on compiling all of my tidbits with sound at cleanplateclub.bandcamp.com. It is of course is all free. I want to do more live shows and goof around musically as much as possible, but we will see how that pans out.
What recordings were you most proud of?
With Sideshow it is Lip Read Confusion. I love this recording. Thoughtful and powerful. I am also in the band Tangelo and we put out a CD that production wise and content is amazing. If Pablo's Triangle would ever grow up we have a brilliant recording ready to roll, time will tell. As far as what I have done myself it would have to be Accept Adaprt Evolve, by Clean Plate Club, and the Christmas CD which is real. Again (these are) at cleanplateclub.bandcamp.com. Also Doctor Solo.
Are there plans to upload more archival footage to YouTube? Any unreleased music waiting in the wings for a release?
A simple Yes.
John Wenz is the listings editor for Hear Nebraska, as well as the columnist for Echoes. He still doesn't understand why Sideshow were left out of Our Band Could Be Your Life. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. You know, if you want to.