Jessica Mogis’ Top 5 Nebraska Shows

[Editor’s note: Kind thanks to Jessica for the time and memories. Stay up-to-date with her poetry and forthcoming work here.]

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I’m the daughter of two musicians, but only found a limited amount of success with the coronet.

A glorious sixth grade year as first chair in elementary band was mine, until it became quite obvious that I lacked rhythm. That being said, I am really very talented at listening to music, especially played live. I have been an audience member since the ’70s watching my father play in park band shells Sunday evenings in Dodge City, Kansas.

As an adult, more venue options became available. I spent many college nights in Café Shakes, Knickerbockers, Duffy’s, The Culture Center and in numerous basements throughout Lincoln, Nebraska. I created a large chosen family of players and supporters of music. Touring music was good, local music was just as good, if not better.

Walking into a mic check felt like answering a doorbell, a welcome home. When the show ended, you were all called upon to help load out a band’s gear. It was as causal and familial as passing a plate at Sunday dinner as it was to load an amp into the van. I saw some amazing performances and got summarily drunk on lyrics, creative energy and cheap beer. I was a fan of old music like Billie Holiday and Duke Ellington, my parent’s music like Neil Young and Carole King, my generation’s music like The Cure and The Replacements. But I was just as much a fan of local bands from the time: Side Show, Mercy Rule, Commander Venus, The Darktown House Band, Bright Eyes, XXY, Opium Taylor, Armatron, Polecat and too many to name or remember. I was incredibly lucky to be young and among great local music.

It is difficult to name my five favorite Nebraska shows without including an active local band because within these bands plays my extended family. It is for that reason that I’m going to list national acts only, with the exception of just two that include family that I live with.

My father used to say that I was destined to marry a musician, and although I’ve always enjoyed proving him wrong in a rebellious sense, he was right. That brings me to my first favorite show.

Lullaby for the Working Class | 1996 | Lincoln, Nebraska basement show

It was a release show for the band’s vinyl 7” Consolation, which everyone got a copy of with admission. I remember it being winter, but I could be wrong. My boyfriend at the time was playing in a basement with his friends to an audience of friends and the music was the sound of worry, hope, weariness and humanity. It was like having a sonic shoulder to lean on.

The acoustics of mandolin and subtle drum brushes against basement brick married to the comfort of Ted Stevens’ voice would give you chills whether it was actually winter or not. I’d like to say I knew before that night that I was in love, but I couldn’t promise. Seeing someone truly in the moment of craft is an amazing experience. There’s certainly a showmanship aspect to any show and musician, but there is also a vulnerability and solitude in the act of creation that is true of any art, whether on stage or not. Watching Mike play that night definitely solidified some things in my heart. Nearly 20 years and two children later, I’d say that was a damn good show.

The Make-Up | Summer 1997 | Cog Factory

The second show I’ll recount was in Omaha at the Cog Factory. If gas money allowed, I’d drive to Omaha for shows in my shitty little Nissan listening always it seems to NPR’s Piano Jazz with Marian McPartland. Perhaps, then, it was always a Saturday night.

It was crowded and dank as all shows there were. I was suffering a tri-fold star-struck crush on the music, the singer and the bass player. I was smitten and sweaty and pushed my short statured self to the front row for the best hearing and seeing of everything that I adored. The Make-Up had a frenetic energy with James Brown inspired beat and vocals, it itched and howled.  They were just so D.C. cool, I can’t even describe it. Their clothes, their dance, even their hair. My neck was sore for days afterward having done chin to chest head beats that we Midwesterners are infamous for.

There was a specific moment after playing a couple of songs when the singer Ian Svenonius offered his hand to me. I greedily accepted, and he pulled me onto stage to introduce the band. I was and am a shy-ish lady, very comfortable as strictly an audience member as I mentioned above. I’m pretty sure I mumbled, “Here’s The Make-Up” in an inaudible whisper and tripped off stage. That was my first stage appearance, and although regretfully not the last, the one I most cherish. My roommate and I went to the 11worth café after the show for fries and coffee as tradition dictated. The band was in a booth not ten feet away and we didn’t say a word, just goggled and giggled.

Vic Chesnutt | March 2008 | The Waiting Room

I’ve been a huge fan of Vic Chesnutt since the ’90s and even got to almost see him play once at a show with Lullaby for the Working Class in Nashville, but he went missing and never showed. He did arrive in Omaha, and I knew nearly all his songs by heart. It’s so gratifying to see a performer that you’ve truly invested in, having listened to all the albums. You have your own very personal history with the music and interpretation of the lyrics coming from your own life experiences. Vic felt like an old friend, although I had never met him and he was probably more cantankerous than any friend that I would have patience for. He rolled onto stage in his wheel chair and attempted some humor with some shy laughter from the audience. Vic is funny, but mainly very harrowing. We all took it a lot more serious than he probably appreciated. I had never, ever heard The Waiting Room so quiet during a show. Every movement of his body in the chair and every string pluck of the guitar was extremely intimate and heavy. His song delivery was tragic, whimsical, candid and Southern sad. His voice is pain and hope all mixed up, cracking and sweet. He committed suicide the next year at the age of 45 after several unsuccessful attempts. I am enormously grateful for the night I witnessed this talented man singing in Omaha. May he rest in peace and be pain free in front of an audience that laughs out loud at all of his jokes.

Yo La Tengo | September 21, 2013 | The Waiting Room

I can’t even begin to tell you about how much I need this band to always be. I saw Yo La Tengo play beautifully years ago at The Hollywood Bowl. It was a gorgeous night under the stars with a jumbo screen showing close ups of the band members, but you can’t trump seeing a favorite band in a small venue in your hometown. How often can you say that you honestly love the new-to-you songs as much as you love the songs you know all the words to? Georgia Hubley could be your aunt or your third grade teacher. She opens her mouth in song and she’s an angel, truly. Ira Kaplan is so in love with this woman, it’s palpable. Their fist set was quiet and the crowd was loud, like trying to hear a front porch story from a house that borders an interstate. I tried not to noticeably sing along to the songs I knew. The second set of the show was guitar and drum driven, the key players switching instruments like hats and the audience moved in a bit, crowding me to the stage where I focused on Georgia’s shoelaces and thought how ordinary they were for someone so extraordinary. Clearly, I still am prone to band crushes.

Omaha Girls Rock Showcase | August 4, 2012 | The Slowdown

My daughter Stella’s inaugural year participating in this summer band camp run by amazing women for the younger women of Omaha. Each girl gets instrument instruction, forms a band, writes a song and performs it at the week’s end. It takes a lot of courage and work; I’d dare any adult to do the same. The camp is not all about music either; there are workshops on self-esteem, zine-making, yoga, women portrayed in the media and a gracious nod and education into women who have already rocked in the history of music. My girl loves her dad, and he loves guitar. Thus, she played guitar in her first band entitled Fire Eyes. She wore a red glitter tank top, orange and yellow sparkling face paint and a pair of sunglasses with flames protruding from the rims. She also wore her first electric guitar from a baby blue strap. She called it “Black Beauty,” and she walked onto that stage visibly afraid, excited and inspired. With her bottom lip tucked into her teeth, she pulled on her strap and lowered the mic, aided by the kind Aaron Markley. It was noise, youth, yelling and a few strings strummed by a silver pick. It was fucking beautiful. She was eight years old with a crooked tooth grin and an electric powered song. The girls in the band tripped and laughed through their one song set like it was nothing, but it was everything. The very first show I ever wept at. I cried during every single song. The applause for each band was from a sold-out crowd filled with not just family or even just chosen family, but full on band-crushing, star-struck fans.

Stella has since participated in two more Omaha Girls Rock camps and showcases, always playing guitar. Yet, she has just recently picked up the coronet, and let me just say, she’s rocking it pretty damn hard.