Oketo’s “Like A Child” is a distant cry from four chords and a chorus.
The Lincoln band’s aesthetic love for packing shifty movements together is in peak form. It begins with parlaying one bopping guitar part into another that sweeps underneath it. Then the horns. Then singer Steven DeLair rolling through his version of verses, but they’re more like stanzas.
Deep into the song Friday night at Vega, hundreds of voices rose up at once with DeLair’s: “Just love me like you used to!” That’s when Oketo unequivocally won their own night. It’s a scream tucked three minutes into the tune, proving Oketo not only carries scores of Lincoln fans, but fans who engage with both impressively and incongruously arranged songs.
Try to plan your own musical gala, your EP release blowout, and plenty can go wrong. Bands can drop off billings. Guitars can feed back at bad times. Bartenders can call in sick. Someone in the band gets too drunk to play. People you invited months ago just stay home. It happens all the time. It was a genuine pleasure to see everything ostensibly go right on Friday.
Oketo packed Vega nearly to capacity, the most people I’ve seen there for a local show besides Universe Contest on New Year’s Eve 2013. All the more promising for a band that just released its first recordings, the vast majority of the people there were under 25.
The Lincoln six-piece headlined to a crowd that knew their songs, knew their beats, knew their idiosyncrasies. The first real mosh of the night didn’t happen until three-quarters through the set: a sustained energy apparently born of the band’s hybrid pop-rock/jazz-roots sensibility.
From guitarist Collin McCarthy’s Miami Vice-esque digs, to DeLair playing “Untitled” on a chair in the middle of the crowd, to the bashfully appreciative way trombonist Brandon Elwell kept thanking the crowd for the experience, it had the feeling of an event. Mind you, anyone can schedule an event. But the feeling of an event is something you can’t confirm until you’re watching a band simultaneously transfix a crowd and bring it along with them.
A few notes on Twinsmith, who opened: Their good humor and professionalism was on full display Friday. The new Saddle Creek signees, playing second on a four-band bill, made no mention of the signing, absolutely letting Oketo have their night. Classy guys. And, musically, Twinsmith’s new songs are quickly taking on an even more fruitful existence, no doubt in part because Twinsmith has finished tracking its forthcoming album, Alligator Years. Synth parts are weaving through stronger, and guitarist Matt Regner’s vocals seem to have a firmer home in the songs, audible and adding to singer Jordan Smith’s cooing. There are more fluid parts crossing paths than ever before, and it gives the many new tracks — which we can recognize by melody, if not yet name — lives of their own. It was interesting watching the Omaha quartet play right after The Boxers, a very polished and solid Chicago band of -near-teenagers with a similar taste for eighth-note guitar rhythms and playful vocal bounces. It takes time for a band to learn how to make each of their songs memorable as individual experiences. In that regard, Twinsmith’s time could very well be now.
And a nod to Life Is Cool, the massive collection of notable Omaha and Lincoln players, like Nick Svoboa, Alex Houchin, Eric Bemberger, Jim Reilly and Kendra Campbell. They play somewhat sparingly, and yet whenever they pop up, there’s always the feeling of, “Even for a month, how did I forget about these guys?” They were the veteran Nebraska band on a billing which drew mostly younger listeners. But true to the emotional openness and palpable sexuality at work in their music, kids who’d maybe never heard of them seemed to disproportionately dance with themselves and embrace each other during that set. They were a maximizing ingredient on this billing.
Photos by JP Davis here: