photos by Daniel Thompson III
by Steven Ashford
Two weeks ago, I was out journeying my Benson neighborhood on a whimsical, spring-filled trot. Within five blocks of my doorstep, I crossed paths with my pal and Desaparecidos drummer, Matt Baum, as he stood with fellow bandmates Denver Dalley and Landon Hedges.
Somewhere beneath the bridge overhang on 56th and Maple, Baum gave me a firm handshake as his eyes slightly rose above the underlying rim of his aviator sunglasses and said, "How are you, Steve?" With his connotation, I felt as if I bore witness to a sadistic crime.
The rest of my walk was filled with a puzzling assumption that I had just crossed the line of a dark secret — one that depended upon remaining covert until the time was right.
The time came last night at 10:01 p.m., when the mass-text/email/phone call/what-have-yous were sent to fellow friends amongst our artistic community.
Hey guys- WOW! It looks like we're going to win the pub quiz at Slowdown tonight... Think we might play a few songs to celebrate... Besos.
— Desaparecidos (@desaband) April 24, 2012
Slowdown was the venue, and Desaparecidos were playing at 11 p.m.
Courteously removing myself from my semi-circle of friends at Barrett's, I hopped in my car and sped a little down Leavenworth Street to the venue.
On the glass door of the Slowdown, a printer copy piece of paper inscribed with black felt tip, read "Rock Show Tonight! Doors @ 10. Show later." Sure, it was cute and coy. But we all know the interpretation of a sardonic message when we see one.
The I.D. check, manned by the dude holding steady at the high-top table, confirmed that I would be granted entrance into a monumental showcase. The dismal idea that this was just a pipe dream was now well beyond my neurotic psychosis.
The panoramic view beyond the double doors caught me off guard, though. Patrons, young and old, were mild-tempered. Not to say that a conclusive bombardment was in order, but Desaparecidos being close to manhandling the miniature stage of the Slowdown was a bit of a chakra in the Conor Oberst circles with which I am familiar. Still, toes were clenched to the unwelcoming cold and opaque floors.
After 45 minutes of lousy-ass conversations, I stood my ground as Conor, Denver, Matt, Landon and Ian McElroy hopped onto the stage. It was a time capsule opening that brought me back to when I was 14 and smoking a pack of citrus-flavored Camel cigarettes while wearing Diesel jeans.
With a minor strum of the guitar and a couple pick-up checks, Oberst told the crowd at precisely 11:18 p.m., "Thanks a lot for coming to our band practice."
Time stood still for a few moments as the band waited in an almost Indian-sweat-lodge-trance until Baum shouted, "This is a rock 'n' roll song!" and then broke into a brand-new jam, "Left is Right," which Oberst told me is a song about "complete shit." In it, the track details ATM transactions and killing one to save another member of the 99 percent. It's a new-age, politico manifesto for the realm and generation in which we serve.
Following suit was the homeward-bound nuance "Greater Omaha" that pleased and poised patrons of the Oberst congregation to, if not dance in a lonesome, reclusive manner, blast a permanent implant of wide-eyed smiles as if the porridge of digging west and spilling guts into corporate America really makes that much of a difference between Omaha's DMZ of 72nd Street.
The rest of the night was almost a guaranteed insurance-based policy that was stapled to your forehead saying, "If you didn't get a kick out if this show, then get the fuck out."
Sure, it was a monumental show. The ever-cringing urges to scratch so far into the air and rip out a piece of oxygen came with the thresh-holding cuts of "Mañana."
Oberst even acknowledged that his buddy built up a mall that he was playing under (hence, the Slowdown and everything that subsides in that somewhat urban upright sprawl that makes up NoDo), before cutting throat into his hit, "Mall of America."
The highlight of the night — and my best memory of the short show — was the final keynote track, "Hole In One." That will be a solely savory moment for those who were there to witness it. Here's hoping someone copped a copy of the track on video.
— Megan Parrott (@meganparrott) April 24, 2012
In the end, my assumptions of my neighborhood walk were correct. I knew something was up. It just took a matter of spreading the word.
Steven Ashford is a Hear Nebraska intern. He's due a jug of Jolly Rancher rum for this review. Reach Steven at email@example.com.