reviews by Michael Todd, Chance Solem-Pfeifer, Jacob Zlomke and Cameron Bruegger | photos by Cameron Bruegger, Michael Todd, Bridget McQuillan and Molly Misek
As of Saturday at 2 a.m., Lincoln Exposed constituted roughly of 3,000 minutes of music.
Of course, the smaller numbers are easier to latch onto. Four days. 70+ bands. Three principal venues. But at the end of Lincoln Exposed (much like Lincoln Calling in the fall), the sum of the experience always feels like more than those conceivable stats. Your ears know it. Your sense of community spirit knows it.
It’s fitting somehow, then, that we tag it with a number that can really only be summed up as “a lot.” Or too much to understand. Because when considered en masse the work that goes into pulling off this festival for the ninth time is always too much to understand.
In honor of the final night of Lincoln Exposed this past Saturday, a few brief “cheers.”
Cheers to Spencer Munson, Josh Hoyer and Jon Dell for sending booking emails until their fingers probably hurt. Cheers to the sound guys who did and didn’t get thanked. Cheers to all the folks who tipped their bartenders. Cheers to Mike Semrad for whooping right at the front of the stage of nearly every show he was at. Cheers to the all-festival wristbands for hanging in there day after day, shower after shower. Cheers to the bands who played somewhere else the nights before or after their Lincoln Exposed set and likewise to the bands who hadn’t shared their music live in a year.
See photos and read reviews of Saturday’s Lincoln Exposed shows below. Dig into the other three days’ worth of coverage here.
Jeazlepeats at The Zoo Bar
review and photo by Cameron Bruegger
The Zoo Bar has seen its share of crowded and sweaty nights but when Jeazlepeats packed the bar at 5 o’clock on Saturday for the final night of Lincoln Exposed, some of the staff was caught off guard.
Staff for the bar had to sift through the cramped stage area looking for wristbands and checking IDs. Luckily it was just before the Peats started their set, for if they had been a moment late, they would have been lost in the crowd elation.
Steven DeLair led the seven-member group as the openers for the last night of the festival with a fusion of psychedelic jams and jazzy accompaniments from Kyle Brunner on the saxophone and Brandon Elwell on trombone. Jeazlepeats has been a long, ongoing project of Lincoln locals and any devout follower can tell you that the current lineup contains no original members. However, this roster did fill the legendary Zoo Bar from wall-to-wall, so one might assume that they have found that elusive, staying dynamic.
The Toasted Ponies at The Zoo Bar
review and photo by Michael Todd
Welcome to Lincoln’s finest bluegrass.
Upright bassist Jim Pipher will be your tour guide for this wintry Saturday night at Duffy’s Tavern. On your far left is guitarist Steve Hanson, stringed instrument teacher of musicians such as Mark Bestul, whose Weldon Keys played Lincoln Exposed just two nights previous. On mandolin and vocals, there’s poet and essayist Pat Barger wearing a smile and joyously singing to the rafters. To Jim’s left, Pat’s husband, Randy, picks the mandolin and guitar, and this time he’s not the one behind the camera. Rounding out the five-piece of important longtime Lincoln musicians is Terry Keefe on violin, teacher of English at Lincoln Public Schools.
You see, the resumé of these pickers and grinners is important: It serves as a sort of map for their Toasted Ponies tunes, which help to trace the Nebraska landscape and history in songs like “Pine Creek Crossing,” written by Keefe. You just have to keep up with the tour as it speeds down the highway. In the opening 32 bars of “Pine Creek”— transpiring in less than 30 seconds — the theme leaning minor tallied more than 150 notes. Playing mandolin, Randy Barger blazed his way through triplet patterns up and down his five strings, grimacing slightly when one or two notes of 50 were somewhat muted in the flurry. The percussion of Pipher’s bass held an unflinching tempo, even as Keefe speckled 16th notes across his violin.
Katie Jane at The Bourbon
review by Chance Solem-Pfeifer | photo by Cahner Olson (courtesy of The Daily Nebraskan)
It’s not surprising when near the end of her set at The Bourbon, Katie Jane says she’s scoring a movie.
It’s called FRET, a forthcoming product of Fret Productions. In the preceding half dozen songs, her classical guitar has sounded ripe for a cinema soundtrack. Maybe something backing a Celtic thriller which sees the protagonist running on a sheer cliff face above bubbling fjords. Capoed high on the seventh fret, Katie Jane has set the tone of the scene. But its her drummer Kris Davis who is perched on a box that give the songs a rushing, almost equine, clop. And violist Ash Sharp (who she says is also one of the film’s stars) lets his instrument moan over the dual rhythms.
Katie Jane guides the guitar via a series of minor variations and small adjustments of depth depending on plucking position. At times, she made the picking seem pointedly dangerous, well below the sound hole and in contrast to the full strums. At other moments, she let her fingernails clatter all about the body of the instrument, even further percussion in a set with layers often too fine to count.
Manuel & Nissa at The Zoo Bar
review and photo by Michael Todd
Manuel & Nissa weren’t given a great hand to start: an early slot on a Saturday festival night, playing opposite to the limitlessly interesting band The Crayons at Duffy’s. But perhaps The Zoo Bar is the venue the duo most appreciated, evidenced by their attendance through the rest of the night’s bands at the blues bar.
But who’s to say it wasn’t a fitting time slot for a standard bluegrass act: Without the experience of The Toasted Ponies or the charisma of The Bottle Tops, Manuel & Nissa’s piano-vocals-and-fiddle ensemble is the type to take on a monolithic cover song like Sam Cooke’s “Bring It On Home,” and for somewhat misguided decisions like that, their position in the lineup makes sense.
About halfway through their set, Manuel de la Torre moved from keys to guitar and led his wife, Nissa, through the traditional tune “High on a Mountain.” Emblematic of the rest of their songs, Nissa glided over and under notes — catching the happy medium here and there — and offered a histrionic stage performance. For the crowd, though, her overacting didn’t mute the pop of the mic when she dropped it back in the stand.
And perhaps most egregious was Manuel’s own discrediting of his playing: As he described it, he was merely a “Mexican singing hillbilly shit.” Next time, here’s hoping Manuel & Nissa appreciate the cultural melding their music can accomplish and move beyond the stereotypes.
The Crayons at Duffy’s Tavern
review by Chance Solem-Pfeifer | photo by Michael Todd
Is it just me, or are there a surprising number of Lincoln bands interested in universe building?
Sputnik Kaputnik, Thirst Things First and St. Christopher all find their artistic livelihood as beings under different names. Maybe it’s to avoid irritating questions about their personal places in the songs. Maybe it’s just to keep their active imaginations interested.
Well, add the relative newcomers The Crayons to the list. According to band legend, they hail from a place called “Dark Farm,” where the only colors are dark green and dark blue. One imagines this must have been problematic for Yellow Crayon (trumpet) and Maroon Crayon (guitar), but let’s not miss the Crayola box for the individual colors, guys.
David Tysdal’s blasting trumpet work might superficially indicate ska, but the sum of the parts in The Crayons is something more like prog-metal with Matt Wynn’s massive bass amp painted up like like five-color crayon box. In his third band of the festival, drummer Josh Kornbluh (with a smear of green on his face; he’s Green Crayon) was finally unleashed, allowed to pound on his toms for extended thunderclaps while Matt Wynn (bass, vocals, blue face paint) employed a low, but not guttural screaming voice.
Like all these concept bands, it’s a tall order to try and understand them in one live swoop. With Tysdale stooped over and swinging his limbs and Wynn gleefully commanding humans to “return to the hive,” they clearly enjoy the sheer color of what they’re doing.
On Saturday, I enjoyed seeing a band unlike anything else in the festival. Next time I’ll figure out why in The Crayons’ universe I’m a “deviant” who needs to pray to his god. Next time.
My Brother at The Bourbon
review by Michael Todd | photo by Cameron Bruegger
Dark horse of the festival, My Brother’s greatest achievement was its chameleon-like moves from one assemblage of tempos, drum patterns and chord structures to the next, somewhat close relative: like that cousin you see only once a year.
Holding it together was Emilio Meza’s vocals, which could be fierce and sorrowful, especially during the wordless sections that could have been improvised. Unreeling a few well-placed lightning rods of guitar solos, Meza played a great frontman to bandmates Manny Martinez on bass and Otilio Meza on drums.
A somewhat loose comparison might be made for My Brother’s connection to Weezer, though My Brother seems to share none of the pretension or angst. Maybe they share just a bit of musical genetics.
Blues Messengers at The Zoo Bar
review and photo by Michael Todd
With drummer Ryan Larsen serving as master of ceremonies, the Blues Messengers played a professional set of songs including at least one dedication to players whose pictures hung on the Zoo Bar walls.
Featuring Annie DeGraff on lead vocals, who inherited the role from her sister Emily Bass, the Blues Messengers played through traditional blues, more uptempo rock ‘n’ roll circa the 1950s and covers like Solomon Burke’s “Cry To Me.” Giving credit where it was due, Larsen — also the owner of Roots Music Shop — would often close band or song introductions with a strong, “How about one more time for the Zoo Bar?” and it was the Zoo Bar that has long served as a warm home for the Blues Messengers.
Garoted at Duffy’s Tavern
photo by Jake Crandall (courtesy of The Daily Nebraskan)
Ghost Town Radio at The Bourbon
photo by Cameron Bruegger
Gloworm at The Zoo Bar
photos by Bridget McQuillan
Tie These Hands
photo by Molly Misek
Magma Melodier at The Bourbon
photo by Cameron Bruegger
TJ Sadler at The Zoo Bar
photo by Bridget McQuillan
Ron Wax at Duffy’s Tavern
review by Michael Todd | photos by Molly Misek
It could have been the moment when Ron Wax drove the head of his guitar into the stage. Or it could have been the moment when drummers David Rabe and Olivia Garza — playing as if there were galley slaves rowing to the rhythm — shot confetti and streamer rockets at the Duffy’s Tavern lights. Or it could have been the moment when Margot Erlandson, who swallowed attention like a black hole, switched on the megaphone’s alarm.
Whatever it was, the oddest moments of Ron Wax’s set were easily what made it one of the most enrapturing performances out of some six dozen Lincoln bands. Noise-driven but undergirded by a Delta blues structure somewhere behind a ragged, sharp-edged encasing, you wouldn’t hear string-scratching like an elephant blowing its nose or see a “ring for service” bell used as an instrument anywhere else last week.
Two awards, then, seem best suited for Ron Wax: Marching-Band Whistle Player of the Year award goes to Ron Wax, and Highest-Held Guitar While Still Playing It goes to Jared Alberico. Congratulations, and thank you for the set.
Mark Thornton Band at The Bourbon
review by Jacob Zlomke | photo by Cameron Bruegger
“We fuck our heart up and rebuild,” Mark Thornton told his crowd between songs at The Bourbon on Saturday night. “You can’t lose hope.”
It’s a moment of earnestness for the straightforward four-piece rock band among a set of carefully manufactured songs.
Rhythm guitar plays continuously with moderate distortion, there’s some lead guitar melody that relies heavily on blues. The bass guitar grooves with precision, but never to forge its own path, only to follow the guitars. Add some sailing vocal harmonies, and a lot of predictable moments where the work is left to Thornton and his guitar.
The result is familiar, reliably pop-structured radio rock, established like a mirror of the road between Nirvana and Vertical Horizon.
Another earnest moment lasted for most of the set’s second half. Bassist David Fletcher’s earnest gratitude. He smiles, perhaps at the crowd cheering enthusiastically between songs, the casual dancing during songs, perhaps at the opportunity to play his instrument on stage.
At a base level, if rock music gets people moving and interested, it’s met a purpose. Mark Thornton and company accomplished that much, and it’s enough to help those of us with fucked up hearts to rebuild.
Lucas Kellison and the Undisco Kids at The Zoo Bar
review by Michael Todd | photo by Bridget McQuillan
Although it might have slipped past a handful of ears when during a Lucas Kellison rap, he dropped a little number that he’s proud of: a 3.9 GPA. Among tasks of helping to run SadSon Music Group, writing and producing his own songs and practicing with a pair of bands (Undisco Wood being the other), it’s only right that Kellison can take a split-second to honor the English teaching degree he earned.
The education only supplements his mind for music, with an ear that — during soundcheck — seemed to be determining the interval at which feedback was sitting above an instrument. With newest member Shauna B holding her own among a band of mutually independent guitars, keys, bass and drums, Kellison gave the floor to her for a cover of “Is This Love That I’m Feeling.”
Kellison is a sure thing, that kind of raw talent honed to near-perfection that’s always a joy to watch.
Once A Pawn at Duffy’s Tavern
review by Chance Solem-Pfeifer | photo by Molly Misek
Once a Pawn’s recent years have been full of breaks in performing, so it makes sense that there was a perceptible savoring happening in the Lincoln Exposed audience.
In fact, it’s rare to see so many people visibly listen so attentively to pop punk music. Heads banged, of course, but only so far as they could stay attuned.
It’s possible they may have been listening for the differences between the Once a Pawn they might’ve grown to love in the mid-2000s and the visibly more refined version that took the stage Saturday night. On vocals and drums, C Balta is like a pitcher who adds a mid-career slider to supplement a 98-mph fastball. Through great breathing, smoothed-out vocal lines often transcended the instrument breaks of three-chord punk song structure, carrying through the phrases in a way they didn’t always do when the vocal cords were tested by edginess.
What came across dramatically on Saturday is how much the singer/drummer steers the Once a Pawn ship, as both its anchor and its sails. Sonically, C is in charge of both the band’s lowest and highest point, perfectly staging every vocal line amid the drum hits, nothing left up to another set of hands and nothing left to chance. And the parts of Eric Scrivens (guitar) and Mike Flowers (bass) seem almost physically bound together, since Flowers joined the band in 2011.
If anyone missed the distortive edge the band used to boast, it didn’t show. Once a Pawn was beckoned back to the front of the stage for a performance of “Can’t Figure You Out” from their second release Do You Feel Like This?. It was the only the second encore I saw in a 70+ band festival, as the Duffy’s alcove was packed shoulder to shoulder.
I’ll cite Tery Daly (Floating Opera, Magma Melodier) who during their set at Duffy’s Tavern put his reasoning for their polish to me very kindly and — as the veteran of several Lincoln bands — very expertly.
“You know, that just happens to bands that play together for a long time.” I might call it getting better. Someone else might call it softening up. We’d both be right.
By any measure of local longevity, 11 years is a long time. Purely from an audience standpoint, we lose certain pieces of bands to time. Maybe we miss mistakes. Maybe we miss some the recklessness. But maybe we gain a sound more refined than we thought we’d ever get. We’d do well to remember that time away from the stage is not empty time.
Dude Gone Rude at The Bourbon
review by Jacob Zlomke | photo by Cameron Bruegger
There is no real setup for what Dudes Gone Rude do on stage, no gentle ease into the band’s high-temperature music. Rather, the quartet cannonballs immediately into their sound and drags the crowd in with them.
When Dudes Gone Rude takes off, guitarists Nathan Kool and Luke Greene fit as many notes into as small of a space as they can, distortedly raking through speakers. Technical machine-gun drumming keeps pace. High-pitched vocals mesh with screams, practically buried beneath the ferocity of the instruments.
It’s not all rude noise and punk, though. The power of the music belies the significance of the song’s lyrics which, while not necessarily complex or poetic, certainly have a resonating emotional purpose. It’s like watching a reincarnation of late ‘80s, first-wave emo, reminiscent of Rites of Spring or Jawbreaker.
The notion is galvanized by Greene’s foray into the audience to bounce around with his instrument.
The performance is a convincing argument for Dudes Gone Rude’s musical choices. Greene, Kool, drummer Hunter Carter and bassist Robbie Reisdorff are having fun, and it’s infectious.
A Ferocious Jungle Cat at The Zoo Bar
review by Michael Todd | photo by Jake Greve (courtesy of The Daily Nebraskan)
If only Charlie Musselwhite could talk. He sits still with a harmonica in his hand, cloaked in dark blue and black paint upon the Zoo Bar wall. He stares down the length of the blues bar, eyebrows up and forehead wrinkled as if he’s asking, “What do you think of this band?”
Over four days, Charlie saw crowds ebb and flow to watch 24 bands, from St. Christopher’s for-the-people rock to A Ferocious Jungle Cat’s funk and soul, which comprised the final set of the ninth annual festival.
Their stuffed lion head hanging from the A/C ducts also gazed upon an audience that filled in the spaces between tables, wagged their fingers to a chorus’s “no, no” and, unprompted, responded to singer Will Harman’s calls. All in all, a great band to end the week: pitch-perfect raps from Deeep C on drums, strong horn punctuation by Ian Fleming’s trombone and multifarious musicians like Harman and Mike Masin, who showcased an ability to move deftly between keys and guitar.
And although A Ferocious Jungle Cat deserves praise for continuing through its scheduled time to end — as last band of the night, it’s right to keep going if it’s working — the soul train could have run longer on solos at times. Because when the funk is on tap, you should never leave it unempty. Remember: “When we get to where we’re going, there won’t be nothing left.”
Dirty Talker at Duffy’s Tavern
review by Jacob Zlomke | photo by Molly Misek
You don’t have to expect grace from a band who have made their name on intense, loud live performances and vocal work that’s better called rhythmic shouting than singing.
But that’s exactly what Dirty Talker delivered during their Saturday night set at Duffy’s. It began right away, with vocalist/bassist Justin Kohmetscher asking the audience who their favorite band had been so far. Overwhelmingly, the response was Dirty Talker, who had only yet played one song.
“All I hear is Dirty Talker,” he said. “Don’t forget about our friends Halfwit across the street.” Halfwit’s set at the Bourbon was scheduled to begin shortly after.
But more than kind words for fellow scene-mates, Dirty Talker’s grace manifests in their music. Their songs pulse acutely, without ever really taking their foot off the gas. Yet the three instruments, plus three vocalists, manage to dance with each other like avant-garde ballet, with refined care and purpose disguised as discordant basement punk. Each note on the guitar, each uttered syllable and banged drum gets its say, its moment to prove its worth.
Dirty Talker is nothing if not deliberate, elegant. It’s clear in their sonic space. Unison is reserved for emphasis. The melody is passed to Adam Anderson’s guitar only when prudent.
The members of Dirty Talker probably have a lot of fun playing their music, otherwise, you hope, they wouldn’t be. But at Duffy’s on Saturday, it’s hard to picture the trio ever acting frivolously with their art, and that’s to the Lincoln community’s benefit.
Halfwit at The Bourbon
review by Chance Solem-Pfeifer | photo by Cameron Bruegger
For real, though, maybe the bass guitar is playing Saber Blazek.
It swings around at all angles, bending his body to its whim and making his eyes roll back into the far reaches of their sockets, some sure sign of absolute musical possession.
But Blazek’s just one of the sense-defying qualities of hard rock quartet Halfwit, who closed out Lincoln Exposed at The Bourbon on Saturday night. Let’s start with the movement that happened off the stage. When Dan Jenkins, Kev Waltemath, Lance Fiedler and Blazek struck their instruments in unison for the first time, people standing by the bar at The Bourbon quite literally and involuntarily moved about two inches.
With two lead guitars, a bass and one of the most forceful drummers in Lincoln (Fiedler), Halfwit was something like a wall cloud come to roost. Now, if you consider Jenkins coming to Halfwit just last year by way of Ideal Cleaners’ end and Blazek from Machete Archive, Halfwit may be a bit closer to a rock ‘n’ roll center for the pair, but there’s certainly enough going on to keep them intrigued. There are many small particles at work. Jenkins and Waltemath actually cater a fairly sweet vocal harmony working beneath the menacing weight of all the instrumentation.
Fiedler, for his part, appeared on Saturday to be an ideal combination of high and low game on his drumkit: theatrical and almost suspended on the cymbals (like a fast-breaking dunker about to embarrass some poor defensive player) and brutally tight on the toms and bass drum.
Never one for much sap, Jenkins goofed near the beginning of the set that this was the best night of life. Waltemath chuckled and offered for the crowd: “That’s a married father of two, ladies and gentlemen.”
A few songs later, Jenkins corrected himself. No, the best night of his life was some other time he played with Halfwit. And he thought they were slightly better then.
Whatever, Dan. Happy ninth Lincoln Exposed, everybody.
Michael Todd is Hear Nebraska’s managing editor, Chance Solem-Pfeifer is HN’s staff writer, Cameron Bruegger and Molly Misek are HN’s multimedia interns, and Jacob Zlomke and Bridget McQuillan are HN contributors. Reach them all through Michael at email@example.com.