It’s easy to understand if you (like me) were around during Omaha’s indie music heyday throughout the aughts and into the beginning of the last decade. It was a time when the city was known nationally (even internationally) for its indie music scene, its homegrown talent and as a destination for the best touring acts in the country.
All the great indie bands came through Omaha because of Saddle Creek Records and the hustle of our local concert promoters. Heck, the worst part about that era was being forced to choose among so many amazing rock shows going on at the same time every night — no matter what choice you made, you were still missing something special.
So, maybe we’ve been spoiled. We made it through a global pandemic with (most of) our music scene still intact. The best venues stayed open, and new and bigger venues are on the way. And while the COVID-19 virus is still very much with us (and likely always will be), the memory of being shut inside for months only to emerge wearing masks and gloves (and still being terrified about catching COVID) is beginning to fade like a bad dream.
This past year was the closest we’ve been to “normal” since before 2019. Still, things have changed.
More often than not, when a top-drawing indie band’s tour is announced, Omaha isn’t on the list. “NOmaha” is becoming a familiar sight on social media, a term used to point out when a band skipped our city. Omaha, conveniently located between major tour stops of Denver, Minneapolis, Chicago and Kansas City, used to be a target market. And yes, we still get good shows, but more often these days you’re going to have to do some traveling to see your favorite indie bands.
Is the return of our “flyover country” status because bands no longer value our scene and are less sure folks will show up for their shows? Is it because local promoters no longer are willing to lay out upfront cash to book niche indie acts that sell out small rooms in larger cities? Or is it because stages once crowded with indie bands are now dedicated to more mainstream or non-music entertainment? You cannot blame promoters or venues for wanting to make an easier, safer buck. They’ve got mouths to feed and staff to pay.
Local talent is also feeling the pinch. Before COVID, it was common for local bands to open for touring acts, but more often touring acts are bringing their support bands along for the ride. The typical rock show now starts at 8 p.m. with only two bands (and sometimes just a headliner). Rock shows that once started at 9:30 and rolled on well past midnight are now over in time to drive home and catch the end of the evening news. And while my old, work-beaten bones are thankful to be home by 10:30, local bands are finding it harder to get good gigs. Just ask them.
Let’s face it, post-pandemic, things are tougher than ever in music land. Maybe we’ve been spoiled. Or, more accurately, maybe I’ve been spoiled. Times have a way of changing.
And it isn’t as if we haven’t had some great rock shows this year. Among my favorites were concerts by Black Midi, Spirit of the Beehive and Belle & Sebastian at The Slowdown, Destroyer and Rosali at The Waiting Room, Bright Eyes and Godspeed You! Black Emperor at the sparkling new Admiral Theater (the venue formerly known as Sokol Auditorium), Night Moves and David Nance Band at Reverb Lounge, Matt Whipkey at The Holland Center, Brad Hoshaw and the 7 Deadlies at the Benson Theater, Simon Joyner at Grapefruit Records and Violenteer at fabulous O’Leaver’s. And, Petfest and The Maha Festival were better than ever this year.
Still, it’s hard to ignore the fact that none of the non-Omaha bands in the following list performed in Omaha this past year. So, without further ado, and in no particular order, here are my favorite albums of 2022:
Alex G, “God Save the Animals” (Domino) – Personal moments captured somewhere between trauma and struggle reaching toward spiritual, our man Alexander Giannascoli breaks free for moments of beauty and clarity.
Plains, “I Walked With You A Ways” (Anti) – No one writes banjo-pluckin’, backbeat-fueled, county-road twangers like Waxahatchee’s Katie Crutchfield and Jess Williamson. Pure as a southern sunset.
Alvvays, “Blue Rev” (Polyvinyl) – Still poppy but covered in a dense, shimmering layer of jangling, shoe-gaze goodness. Try it with the lyric sheet for optimum heartbreak.
Yeah Yeah Yeahs, “Cool It Down” (Secretly Canadian) – Karen O, Nick (Scissorhands) Zinner and Brian Chase waited nine years for this follow-up to 2013’s Mosquito. Comeback artist of the year? Definitely.
Arcade Fire, “WE” (Columbia) – A return to form for a band that defined the mid-2000s indie scene with its glowing anthems. With Win Butler ensconced in controversy, this could be the end. Not a bad way to go out.
Big Thief, “Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe In You” (4AD) – This epic, sprawling double LP, a laboratory for Adrianne Lenker’s songwriting, is too much for one sitting. Better in portions, with each song its own journey.
Yard Act, “The Overload” (Island) – Of the spoken-word British acts that are all the rage, this one stands out, thanks to its clever words, cracking rhythms and righteous riffage. Quite a debut.
Wet Leg, “self-titled” (Domino) – They blew up 2021 with “Chaise Longue,” then blew up even further with the rest of this LP. Their laissez faire approach toward indie punk has been embraced by a multi-generational zeitgeist.
Horsegirl, “Versions of Modern Performance” (Matador) – A throwback to a fuzzy, grinding, guitar-fueled ‘90s by acts like Helium, Throwing Muses and Breeders, they always find a cool melody in the hazy feedback.
Little Brazil, “Just Leave” (Max Trax) – A band that’s been kicking it for decades, this is a career highlight thanks to risk taking on song structures, cool guitar interplay and Landon Hedges’ always unique vocals. A standout in a city full of standouts.
Simon Joyner, “Songs from a Stolen Guitar” (Grapefruit) — Like Conor Oberst, whose music he influenced, Joyner has become synonymous with the Omaha singer/songwriter mythos, at least by those who know. This quiet collection of acoustic ballads gives us another chapter in the musical novel of his life.
So, will this trend of fewer touring indie shows in Omaha continue in 2023? You’ll have to wait for my annual “predictions” column next month to find out…
Over The Edge is a monthly column by Reader senior contributing writer Tim McMahan focused on culture, society, music, the media and the arts. Email Tim at firstname.lastname@example.org.