There are bands who cement themselves in your mind when you hear them the first time — where the experience of their concert tells you what you’ve been missing.
Coming from North Platte, our “scene” was a fractuous smattering of MxPx fans gone Christian and Weezer geeks ploying their best through a Fountains of Wayne cover. It wasn’t much, but we had it, and it was better than some cover band.
So when in the fall of 2002 I set off to Lincoln, I didn’t know what to expect. I got a call from someone I vaguely knew about a show that night at the UNL Culture Center. It featured bands I hadn’t heard of, because, of course, I hadn’t heard of them. It wasn’t “my” city yet, even though I was on my way to the variety of concerts Lincoln and Omaha offered, this was my first.
And things are hazy as to the whole bill. I mused about the Minutemen outside with somebody I didn’t know, who later I’d see almost exclusively at concerts, reintroducing our names each time because they laid forgotten. Her Flyaway Manner definitely played. Maybe Tie These Hands played, or maybe it was a similarly named band, because when I recently heard them, it wasn’t the same band I remembered. The band was slow, dirgy and clad in fantastically long beards — at least for someone whose facial follicles were years away from sprouting much more than a feeble errant whisker.
I remember the band that captivated me that night with a performance that had an energy unlike any I’d seen. But having seen mostly geezer rock at NebraskaLand Days and wandering off to the carnival rides mid-Steve Miller Band, this wasn’t hard.
That band was Bright Calm Blue, perfectly capturing my then-obsession with the band Refused and the sounds of a sort of melodic hardcore. It was more nuanced — and dangerous sounding — than the macho thud of Black Flag. It was some sort of revelation and revolution to me at the time. And here, I was seeing such a fantastically perilous band (at least to my young ears) on my campus. And they were from the city I was learning to call home.
From 1998 to around 2003, the group released a string of singles, EPs and compilation contributions. They brought screamo to Lincoln — a genre that fared much better in Omaha, where bands like Plosion and Sutter Cane were regularly taking the stage at the much-loved Cog Factory.
In Omaha, much of that persists, with the same players. But in Lincoln, that same energy has never quite taken root, aside from a few exceptions. Though a fervent punk scene dominated the ’80s, the late ’90s and early 2000s gave more of an audience to pop-punk, a genre I once found repugnant but now regard with something between indifference and cheap amusement.
But on stage, here was a band that was playing to what I wanted to hear at the time, and doing a fantastic job at that. While Her Flyaway Manner certainly held my attention, Bright Calm Blue managed to scorch me. And it sealed in me a love of what Lincoln and Omaha held in possibilities for music, a love that’s led me to these digital pages.
So maybe it’s not the usual brief history here. Instead, this is more of a thank you letter to a show that altered my outlook — even if I can’t remember the full lineup. John Wenz is the Echoes columnist for Hear Nebraska. He also takes bets on the ponies, and urges you to get off his lawn. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.