The first night of Lincoln Exposed always feels like a soft start (though Wednesday night’s shows were an extremely strong septet this year.)
By the end of the second night, the crowds are pinging from the Zoo Bar to Duffy’s to The Bourbon on instinct. It feels like Lincoln’s downtown music crowd is only a quick warm-up away from treating a fit-to-burst Zoo Bar like any other Thursday. If Lincoln Exposed is a state of mind — the standing, drinking, fraternizing, hollering for five hours (and make that eight, on Friday) — we were all in as of Thursday.
Find our coverage of all 15 acts below.
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Root Marm Chicken Farm Jug Band at Zoo Bar
The Background: Of all the Lincoln musicians interested in preserving music traditions, Root Marm Chicken Farm Jug Band might be the most stalwart. The jug band, led by Ian Egenberger, employs a sort of revolving-door policy, like a summertime front porch in the waning hours of a party: all are welcome with whatever instruments are on hand. Last night, that meant two guitars, a banjo, percussion, washboard, kazoo, tap shoes and, of course, a jug between five players. Last night was also drummer Josh Kornbluh’s last show with the band for the foreseeable future.
The High Point: Root Marm plays its share of classic roots songs. Stage presence and instrumentation lend a simple, folksy feel, and it’s easy to get caught up in the aesthetic effect and miss the real nut. Egenberger’s talent on the guitar shines brightly. His fingers roamed the fretboard freely through the whole set, taking every other instrument by the hand.
The Takeaway: Even if the act feels like it climbed out of Appalachian rocking chairs onto the Zoo Bar stage, 60 years ago it would have been considered much differently. It could have been the cutting edge of rock ‘n’ roll, perhaps banned by teenager’s parents for the way it makes them shake their hips. There might not be as faithful a recreation of important and influential genres in the state.
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The Melon Company at The Bourbon
The Background: The Melon Company is one of Lincoln’s youngest funk bands. The group released its debut album last fall. With a trumpet, saxophone and trombone on deck, The Melon Company plays with as large a horn section as any jazz, funk and soul bands in town.
The High Point: To watch The Melon Company right now is to watch a bandleader, Stuart McKay, come into his own. The young guitarist and frontman spent years behind the drumkit in bands like Webb and Conflict Between, so there’s necessarily a learning curve in stepping to the fore. But last night, McKay seemed to own his role better than when I saw the band at Vega last year. He directs the The Melon Company with a commanding presence and makes for a confident representative of the outfit.
The Takeaway: This is a horn section to celebrate. Without vocals, Brian Cary, Kyle Carwright and Kyle Carson (who’s trumpeted recently in Stonebelly) do most of the heavy-lifting and each steps in and out of a song’s spotlight with lighthearted grace. Additionally, Joe Pieper’s bass-playing is among the most prominent and funk-driven in town.
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Domestica at Duffy’s Tavern
The Background: Heidi Ore and Jon Taylor of Domestica have been rocking Lincoln since the early ‘90s, both in this band and with Mercy Rule. And in ten years of Lincoln Exposed, Domestica has been a regular fixture. It’s set to release its first new batch of material since 2012 on Tremulant Records, which debuted new track “What of Me” earlier in the week.
The High Point: As they drove home an octave-powered outro early in their set, bassist Heidi Ore turned to guitarist Jon Taylor, tilted back slightly, raised her left leg, and tapped him on the waist. Years ago, she might have full-on kicked him, but the smile on her face conveyed the same sentiment. Otherwise, interaction between them was minimal, which serves as a neat example of their close chemistry. To be as tight as they were at that wild volume is no small feat. On a wave of Pawl Tisdale’s manic drumming, they kept right on chugging.
The Takeaway: The amount of energy Domestica expends onstage seems to come from some deep reserve that never empties. Still, it’s a big eff-you to Father Time. He’s coming for us all, but Ore, Taylor and Tisdale are keeping him at arm’s length.
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Omni Arms at Zoo Bar
The Background: Omni Arms has been playing its synth-heavy (and often synth-only) sci-fi rock for at least five years in some incarnation or another. The band’s sixth release, Overcompensating with Pizza, came out in December. Omni Arms doesn’t make it to the stage often. As they said last night, “We play just about once every Lincoln Exposed.”
The High Point: At least six synthesizers on stage. Omni Arms gives you no choice in the matter, they are going to bury you in thick electronic blankets. The effect is something like those moments between sleep and wakefulness. You’re cognizant of whatever is going on around you, but unresponsive and aimlessly adrift in a dreamy haze.
The Takeaway: Joe Younglove, who effectively plays hypeman, didn’t stop goofing around on stage when Timehammer called it quits. And here, he’s in good company. If I could name a least self-serious band on the Lincoln Exposed schedule, it might be Omni Arms. That quality could feel like a waste of time in hands that cared less. Instead, the music, which gives itself over to whatever indulgent video game-themed whim, begs the same of the audience.
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Kerry Eddy and the Current Situation at Duffy’s Tavern
The Background: Honestly, they were one of the mysteries heading into Thursday night. I haven’t seen them at a Lincoln Calling or Lincoln Exposed before, but the combination of Kerry Eddy, Tom Harvill (who plays keys with the Wondermonds) and upright bassist Delan Lonowski was an intriguing combination.
The High Point: It’s always interesting to hear three instruments (when they aren’t guitar-bass-drums) move together as a unit, shrinking and growing at just the right moments. The Zoo Bar saw a powerful vocal iteration of that Wednesday night with Xion, but at Duffy’s with the Current Situation, it was a more laid-back, folksy approach. The velvety tone from Eddy’s hollow-body electric guitar meshed beautifully with Harvill’s accordion. At times, Eddy and Lonowski would step it back to give Harvill the spotlight, and then each would reemerge to bring the song home.
The Takeaway: I often drift into re-imagining what bands that don’t have drummers would look and sound like with the perfect person on the kit. Here, the racket would just get in the way. Eddy’s voice is warm and inviting, her wit sharp and biting. It’s best that she’s bolstered by the gentle hum of Lonowski’s upright and the romance of Harvill’s accordion, the latter of which was a welcome wrinkle on an otherwise rock-heavy bill.
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Floating Opera at The Bourbon
The Background: For nearly 30 years, Floating Opera has been a stopping point for major Lincoln musicians. All of Domestica has at one point or another played in the band. Benji Kushner has spent some time in Floating Opera. Lori Allison from The Millions had a stint. It’s a collectivist approach to chamber-pop music. Last night, Floating Opera hosted eight players.
The High Point: Floating Opera is at its best when it lets out some slack in the tightly produced show. Songs like “Pony Up A Go-Go,” the title track from the band’s most recent record, have moments where the guitars and piano jam together, feeding off each other’s spontaneous energy for a few exciting moments. It’s rare to pull it off as well as Floating Opera can, especially in an eight-piece.
The Takeaway: Of all the bands on last night’s bill, Floating Opera might be the most difficult to contextualize. There are few local acts with orchestral ambitions so well-executed. The effect is something like watching a tightly-rehearsed ensemble ditch the sheet music for power pop.
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This Machine Kills Vibes at Duffy’s Tavern
The Background: The punk trio of Spencer Krull (vocals, guitar), Robert Specht (bass) and Marshal Fisher (drums) released its second album, Hospitalizer, back in December. Its predecessor was a massive 23-song record Krull produced by himself, based on a Chuck Palahniuk collection.
The High Point: For the first half of its set, This Machine Kills Vibes sped along in one, bouncy garage rock gear. The near-startling genre swap at the midpoint landed like an elevator arriving at its destined floor, and suddenly frontman Spencer Krull had ripped his complex chord progressions and lead lines from the mess of distortion. You could see it from the beginning, how his left hand skittered across the fret board. Bassist Robert Specht’s fingers never stopped either, and when the whole machine downshifted it revealed something beautifully melodic.
The Takeaway: At first, I resisted the urge to compare This Machine to the J Mascis/Lou Barlow/Dinosaur Jr tree, but that influence is wide-reaching and the similarities here are blunt. Krull sings lyrics like “It feels like I’m always doing impressions of myself,” with a slacker-type moodiness, which was starkly apparent after they shifted paradigms. The band soared through extended instrumental outros. Yet when they slowed things down, it was almost Renfields-like. Such versatility is a welcome part of any billing, and with an alternating loud-quiet one at Duffy’s, This Machine brought a little bit of both.
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Powers at Zoo Bar
The Background: For two years, Powers has been among Lincoln’s loudest and most-skilled hard rock bands. During October’s Lincoln Calling, the band played a round of new songs that show a lighter touch and a clearer structure.
The High Point: As always, guitarists Kelly Houchen and Dave Arredondo masterfully duel guitars, each antagonizing the other to play harder, better. When Powers goes full bore (which is often), riffs spike up quickly out of the sludge to blend back into the grinding prog background.
The Takeaway: In August, I wrote about Lincoln’s prevalent prog punk sound — a style that blends prog rock instrumentation and punk rock aesthetics. Regrettably, I somehow failed to include Powers. The band leans heavier toward the prog end of the spectrum, but Powers is in good company in this town among the likes of Her Flyaway Manner, Bogusman, etc.
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Emily Bass at The Bourbon
The Background: Emily Bass has been a Lincoln live music regular for several years, making a name for herself in the blues scene with her “Piano Hour” at The Zoo Bar every Monday.
The High Point: Bass and crew could probably get away without any instrumentation for the full-choir effect of five supremely talented women vocalists. The sparse percussion and bass (provided by Mark Wolberg) certainly add texture to the performance, but the entree is in the vocal jazz ensemble and the chemistry between Bass and her singers.
The Takeaway: It might be hard to imagine a bandleader that could rival Josh Hoyer in sheer force of character. But Bass’s soul and charisma match Hoyer’s fire-and-brimstone-preacher stage presence when she unconsciously lifted her hands to the heavens or let out an impassioned wail. In fact, counting Bass, The Melon Company and I Forgot to Love My Father, The Bourbon saw a number of up-and-coming or accomplished bandleaders last night.
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I Forgot To Love My Father at The Bourbon
The Background: I Forgot To Love My Father shared a split cassette with Lotus Leaves back in December on Fantastic Cassettes. Songwriter JP Davis has recently led a band anywhere from one-to-five members deep. For Lincoln Exposed, the full-band was a mini-orchestra: two cellists, a violin, two electric guitars, bass and drums, with Davis on acoustic at the center.
The High Point: The build-up began as soon as Davis first took the stage alone with his acoustic guitar. Tension mounted as he strummed gently and sang somberly; face aglow from the white Christmas lights strewn above the stage. The addition of reverb-soaked electric guitar rippled about the room, and when the full band finally joined, Davis ignited the Rye Room with an anguished wail.
The Takeaway: As a production, the full band is reminiscent of a fleshed-out Bon Iver concert. Live renditions of their respective songs have been teased out with layers of strings and multiple guitars with effects, which gives them an added punch. They both seem a bit unlikely as “bandleaders,” because that term typically invokes a more vocal and demonstrative act. In the context of a live show, they take on the role by necessity. Even as I Forgot To Love My Father drones and Bon Iver soars, both have a knack for building a song up from the ground floor into something grand. Admittedly, it’s hard to imagine Vernon crowd surfing, as Davis did during the band’s closing number, “I Don’t Have Friends But My Friends Have Me.”
[Editor’s Note: JP Davis is currently a Hear Nebraska multimedia intern. Hear Nebraska covered I Forgot Love My Father before Davis’ official affiliation with us, and we feel this review was executed as fairly and objectively as possible.]
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Life Is Cool at Duffy’s Tavern
The Background: Indie pop band Life Is Cool comprises many notable Omaha and Lincoln musicians, including Jim Reilly, Alex Houchin and Eric Bemberger. Recently, Life Is Cool put on an inspired set at Oketo’s Vega EP release show. Yesterday, they also appeared on KZUM’s X-Rated: Women In Music.
The High Point: On this night, Life Is Cool played as a seven-piece. They sizzled and popped like a stir fry, with blasts of trumpet and the click-clock of auxiliary percussion as extra ingredients. Those accents intensified the joyous atmosphere they created, which recalled a less-ethereal Polyphonic Spree.
The Takeaway: Six or more musicians on stage – a common occurrence at all venues on this night of the festival – always feels like a party. The audience danced throughout, and you could often catch the vocalists beaming. Simply, it was boisterous fun.
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Red Cities at Zoo Bar
The Background: Red Cities has been towing the line between garage and classic punk for two years now. The quartet released its debut, self-titled full-length late last summer.
The High Point: You get the sense that without guitarist Matt Bokovoy’s midwest punk lineage (he’s been playing Midwestern punk since the ‘80s), Red Cities would be belting out anthemic rock made for the stadiums of classic rock’s heyday. Which might work fine — the band handles its high-octane instrumentation with knowledge and grace. But singer Byron Anway’s vocal presence would never belt out a sing-along tune, his sensibility leans too far into punk rock, which makes Red Cities all the more unique an experience.
The Takeaway: As much as The Zoo Bar is known for blues, funk, soul, etc., Red Cities fit so well in the dingy, storied club, they could almost be as regular a fixture as many of the blues bands that regularly pack the bar. Playing in an established genre with a vibrant and fitful energy, the way Anway thrashes about, feels like an important bridge between generations.
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The Dancing Dead at The Bourbon
The Background: The Lincoln rock quartet is Kalen Welch (guitar, vocals), Joe Wehrs (guitar, vocals), Sarah Sulzle (bass, vocals) and Ryan Matthiessen (drums). The Dancing Dead has been very active so far in 2015, playing three different times last month and adding to its self-produced debut EP.
The High Point: The Dancing Dead possesses a deafening two-guitar attack which came to a head during the midway point of its set. Bassist Sulzle chugged and drummer Matthiessen pounded viciously as Welch and Wehrs unleashed a wailing torrent of guitars. Their more subdued moments, however, were post-punk marvels: layers of dark, dissonant guitars that one might find on a Circa Survive or late AFI record.
The Takeaway: The Dancing Dead makes its living on long instrumental breaks. It crafts the back-and-forth of subtlety and sound wall with precision, which can be hard to perfect. Their talent shone brightest in the dark light of the nuanced breakdowns.
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Universe Contest at Zoo Bar
The Background: One year ago, Universe Contest was Lincoln’s most promising and most popular band. What was then a synth-heavy space-rock band never shied away from the biggest way of doing things: big tour, big bus, vinyl album, big light rig, talented light operator and sound guy. At Lincoln Calling, the band’s most recent show, we saw a different Universe Contest, one without two longtime members, no synths, no electric drumkit and certainly no light rig. There was a sense that by collectively dismantling, they had made room to grow anew. Last night, The Zoo Bar was treated to what they’ve built since.
The High Point: Maybe it was seeing a nearly brand new lineup that includes Jordan Elfers (Powers, Thirst Things First) on drums, Jordan Ellis (The Betties, Classes) on viola, Chris Johnson (Omni Arms) on synth and Saber Blazek (Halfwit) on bass. Only Tim Carr and Joe Humpal remain from the original lineup, but in the meantime Universe Contest became a supergroup. Or maybe it was the fact that Universe Contest, despite all the changes, is still unequivocally Lincoln’s favorite band. The Zoo Bar filled to its absolute brim within minutes of the band’s midnight start time.
The Takeaway: As the band’s Lincoln Calling set predicted, Universe Contest’s new lineup and material is more focused on its rock ‘n’ roll skeleton than showmanship. The presence of Blazek’s ripping bass lends a more visceral feel to even familiar Universe Contest songs like “Jumbi” and “Someone Else.” Carr and Humpal’s spunky and erratic songwriting is still the backbone of the Universe Contest machine, though. Humpal has a soaring voice that could match the high-aiming synthesizers of old-Universe Contest, so Carr’s punchy, shrieking voice often took more of a backseat. But the two are now equally in the fore, splitting duties even on individual songs.
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Blue Sky Angel Parade at Duffy’s Tavern
The Background: Blue Sky Angel Parade formed during the summer of 2012, and has been one of Lincoln’s leading proponents of basement and house shows since. The self-described mod rockers are currently on the Fantastic Cassettes label, which Blue Sky’s Colby Woodson co-founded.
The High Point: From the moment frontman Paul Foster took the stage, singing from behind aviator shades, “the look” appeared to be a necessary ingredient in the Blue Sky Angel Parade mix. Between that, Colby Woodson’s open shirt and ascot, and the way Foster and guitarist Vincent Silver faced stage-right toward the drums, they had all the appearance of a ‘70s psych band.
The Takeaway: Blue Sky Angel Parade picked up where Izzy Dominguez left off the night before – on the same stage, even – bouncing along to acidic guitars and dreamy vocal harmonies. For its part, Blue Sky added a touch of volume and nailed the look. At least at Lincoln Exposed, this updated brand of flower-power psychedelia has had a distinct presence.