story by Michael Todd | photos by Chevy Anderson
David Dondero has been "keeping it a little light" on stage. He's played more "love songs and things" at shows leading up to tonight's at the Slowdown in Omaha.
It was a long election season, and like many Americans, Dondero grew tired of it all. Now that it's over, now that a newly reelected president is speaking for the first time today after election night, and now that the next four years carry on, will he sing, "They're building a new Berlin Wall, California to Texas so tall"? Maybe.
"I might do something political," he says, as he makes his way to a Des Moines radio station on Thursday evening. "I'm very happy with what happened, though. I feel well-fed. Right now, it's like I'm digesting a big Thanksgiving meal."
Of course Dondero is unabashedly transparent about who he voted for. His sharp opinions on immigration policy haven't always been received well, but he keeps sharing them and myriad others through direct, unfiltered folk/punk songs. He tells me that down in Texas, they waited for him in the parking lot after the show to kick his ass. In Alaska, he says they yelled their disgust. But Dondero is not going to shut up.
He sings of his ashes being sprinkled on the highway, spread by the traffic, and if that's not possible, he asks that you just drag him down that road. He sings, "I love you more than you think," in a defiantly insulting way that only works "if you have a conscience in your head." And if the potential for "love songs and things" sounds soft, consider this song title: "Maybe Separation Makes Us Stronger."
This comes from a songwriter who enjoys his Nebraska connection because of the loud and fast songs in his former band, Sunbrain, that caught the attention of the late Dave Sink, the Antiquarium's founder. Dondero would later meet Ted Stevens, who led him to similarly vocal-corded Conor Oberst and eventually, to his signing with Team Love, a label he's worked since 2005's South of the South.
As Dondero returns to Omaha tonight with Simon Joyner, The Betties and Mike Schlesinger of Gus & Call, he's not probably going to talk about his songwriting craft with Joyner, with whom he played his most recent Nebraska concert in June. "We just kind of hang out," he says, though it's assumed he might pick up a thing or two from hearing another skilled storyteller sing.
"Anything you listen to, you take something away from it. Anything I hear: Conversations, songs, politics."
Michael Todd is Hear Nebraska's managing editor. He wants Lincoln and Omaha to recruit witches and wizards to develop an instant public transportation channel between the two cities so that he can save on gas. Too much to ask? Reach Michael at firstname.lastname@example.org.