[Editor’s Note: Hear Nebraska will be covering Lincoln Calling throughout the week. Stay attuned to our Instagram for night-of updates. Find coverage of Thursday’s performances below.]
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Like nothing (and everything) you’ve ever seen
Chris Ford and Patrick Tape Fleming have probably spent their entire lives watching other musicians, alongside their own careers, slowly deducing what their purest form of performance is.
When Christopher the Conquered (Ford’s solo project) and Gloom Balloon (Fleming and Ford together) played consecutively at last night’s Lincoln Calling, it was evident why their partnership makes sense. If it’s possible to think around the unfathomable showmanship, the acts are ingeniously post-modern. Self-aware at some stage of the creative process, though not particularly while it’s happening. And with a real backbone of, let’s call it, love.
Once Gloom Balloon starts, there is such physicality on display that words really feel like a chump’s game. The word “acrobatic” can’t bend like Fleming’s back, from head to knees entirely parallel to the Duffy’s floor. Probably ten times. And the splits, too.
Likewise, the phrase “crowd interaction” sounds like a corporate board room invention, while Fleming and Ford wrestled, hugged, mock-punched, carried, flirted with and sweat on the 40 people in the Duffy’s cove. And the word “pansexual” can’t really encompass the fact that every single person in the room was liable to get bumped and grinded on, but without any insidious politics about it, no fear that an errant hump meant anything more than, “We’re at a rock show. You’ve seen rock shows, right? They’re sexy.”
And this is the giant, colorful magic act of Gloom Balloon: the fact that you’d never think about any of this while it was happening in front of you. To you.
When you think about how much Fleming and Ford were actually juggling, it not only seems implausible — a band that doesn’t use the stage and literally jumps around in the crowd for 45 minutes — it seems impossible.
The real discursive reference point for Gloom Balloon has to be hip-hop, the idea that a show is not really exhibition. Rather, it’s always at someone, acted out on something. The recorded tracks and the string of videos, which featured Fleming and Ford showering, eating, stabbing their eyes with screwdrivers, projected a version of themselves on screen, while the unadulterated id rolled around on the floor.
Truly, how do you consider culture, digest culture, be aware of culture and turn that into something that is not either cynical mockery or pure collage? Something that uses reference but is still happy to exist? That’s what we saw.
Christopher the Conquered, Chris Ford’s solo piano-rock persona, tackled (and had a terrific smiling answer for) the same set of questions to kick off the night. There are moments, as he wails with tonsil-splitting range and volume, when he invokes the defeated indie musician’s version of Bono’s “Fly” persona. And it helps that you’re never unaware that every reference point for Christopher the Conquered’s sound is something famous (unlike, say, a four-on-the-floor rock band for which there are many journeymen narratives). He can do a cross pollination of Billy Joel and Motown, calling out where the sax solo would go in one of his own songs. And then there’s sheer demonstration. Ford begins singing “The Greatest Record Ever In The History of Pop Music” in a vulnerable voice, and it eventually climaxes with a 15-second vocal hold.
Ford is in Omaha today having his new album, which was recorded at Ardent Records in Memphis, mastered by Doug Van Sloun. And it sounds like a solid step in a bigger direction for Christopher the Conquered, even if both bands find a lot of their lyrical meat and sadness in singing about how not-famous they are or about how their bands failed to bloom on a national level.
In Gloom Balloon, the impish Ford and the maniacal Fleming have created a kind of performance art that transcends the feeling of being in a clawing and struggling indie band, while actually being in one. It’s just that those stakes are beautifully absent from their actual show.
Or, scrap all that, and try this: it was like nothing you’ve ever seen.
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‘While you’re here, we’ll be weird’
When my podcast partner and I reviewed Universe Contest’s We Are The Rattlesnake back in April, we talked about “The Question: Part 2” as a kind of blitzing black sheep. It was vintage, ripping Tim Carr on an album that really prized the inflating of Universe Contest’s sound.
Recently, it’s the kind of crunchy song that took an understandable back seat to Universe Contest, the spacey opera show. Last night, “The Question: Part 2” was the centerpiece of a set that harkened back to Universe Contest circa 2012.
Out of the space hangar, back to the garage — with drummer Jordan Elfers (Thirst Things First, Powers) replacing Brenton Neville (and the band’s electronic drum kit) and Jordan Ellis reimagining John Freidel’s synth rivers on a neon green electric fiddle. The new players had everything to do with the new/old sound. Elfers looked like he was trying to beat the drums into submission and Ellis’ bow swipes were more like needling adornments, as opposed to synth work that changed the complexion for the songs. Guitars reigned on first-album favorites “Relephants” and “Curf Sity.” The last time “Someone Else” started with just Joe Humpal playing bare guitar chords was a distant memory until last night.
With full respect to what Universe Contest — the giant, hedonistic, sometimes unintelligible experience — has meant to Lincoln the last two years, it was nice to see them be a band, playing a 45-minute set on a Thursday, dressed in black, slashing at their instruments, thanking a crowd for a coming to see them.
It was also Jon Dell’s last show with Universe Contest, as he’s moving to New York and touring indefinitely as Bonehart Flannigan. The spot-on mix and the garage sound was a proper farewell, as Dell’s bass playing pounded through. He received a warm hug from John Friedel in the crowd after the set, as well. Carr said they’d return in 2015, and if we’re in the middle of a slight Universe Contest reimagining, all the better.
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White Mystery could be (should be) from Lincoln
White Mystery, the Chicago-based, brother-sister garage rock duo, have played here a handful of times in the last few years, most recently at Duffy’s for last year’s Lincoln Calling on a billing with Halfwit. In hindsight, the match seems obvious. And now it seems even more obvious that they would keep returning and that the number of White Mystery repeat-customers would continue to grow.
Saber Blazek of Halfwit said they enjoyed sharing the bill so much last year that White Mystery asked to split it again (to no avail, Halfwit plays tomorrow night), which just makes sense. They would find a fast and comfortable home among a prevailing musical artform in Lincoln right now, not out of place among names like Dirty Talker, Bogusman and Powers.
You can see it in White Mystery’s chanted, axiomal lyrics that exist only to fill the spaces between intricate, punchy guitar riffs. There’s a bit of Blazek’s tortured-seeming bass playing in the ferocious way Alex White swings her head, instrument and body while trying to rip her fretboard apart. Drummer Francis White can hardly keep in his seat for the force driving his sticks — it’s hard not think of Jordan Elfers sweating behind the kit for Powers.
So it’s a testament to a collective Lincoln taste when White Mystery draws growing crowds on every visit (also, it doesn’t hurt to effectively open for Universe Contest). And if the Whites are ever looking to move, I’m sure there’s room for them on the next Flatofest bill.
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Watching Des Moines’ Annalibera at Duffy’s a year ago, it was clear they could become a known touring band. Frontwoman Anna Gebhardt’s voice was pure, and the synth and vocal work at the front of the project felt en vogue and earnest. But last night at Zoo Bar, they felt unified.
Guitarist Ryan Stier (also the frontman for Des Moines’ The River Monks, who had just played) riffed away with some Blake Sennett resonances, and the hard bounce of a few Mynabirds songs. Tough to say how a singer improves when she shows less regard for her voice, but Gebhardt sung in a completely freed way, unafraid of the space and the wrinkles between her head and chest voices. They’re a band with a core, not just a center.
blét should always play in urban spaces surrounded by high rises. At Tower Square yesterday, their flowing dream pop refracted on cobblestone, granite and steel, sealing the band and the audience in a naturally occurring chamber of sound. On “In The Sky Lies,” the fragile vibrato of singer/guitarist Joe Kozal’s voice wavered across the square, audible from campus on one side and O Street on the other. We hope there’s more to come from the Tower Square space.
You could say a marker of a good band is versatility across soundstages. So it was a treat to catch Bogusman at Vega last night, a sludge punk band born and bred of basements. In the expansive Vega space, they came through clear but weighty, every instrument in the mix bending at the proper angle, were you to take a lap around the outside of the room.
More photos from Lincoln Calling’s Thursday shows
Sigrah at Mix
Emmet Bower Band at The Bourbon
Annalibera at Zoo Bar
Hank & Cupcakes at Duffy’s Tavern
(photos by JP Davis)
The Gems at Yia Yia’s
Realeyez at Mix
The River Monks at Zoo Bar
County Road at The Bourbon
blét at Tower Square
Gloom Balloon at Duffy’s Tavern
photos JP Davis
photos by Will Stott