As concerts and local shows start to happen again, I can’t help but think about the chaotic week that led up to lockdown. Venues started canceling shows left and right. I book shows as a side gig and had a few Lincoln shows lined up for that week in March; I canceled all of them out of caution. One of the few shows that proceeded was the closing show at Midtown Art Supply, which took place on March 14 and was set to feature about 20 bands before a handful dropped off as concerns grew about the oncoming pandemic.
It left a lot of local musicians and showgoers without a sense of direction. The scene was quite literally their lives. And that was gone. For well over a year.
Shows were not an option, but musicians didn’t stop writing music. There were plenty of high-profile Omaha releases in the past year that deserved the enthusiasm from being heard live. Let me highlight a few of them here.
Punk band No Thanks never had the chance at a proper album release show for its October LP Submerger, which — if you haven’t yet — you should put on right now and turn up until the neighbors can hear. Band leader Brendan Leahy sounds absolutely manic over a knives-drawn bed of tasteful-but-wailing guitar leads and a rhythm section that recalls ‘80s goth rock at its best, a la Christian Death. One can only imagine how it would have sounded live at a Halloween release show at Midtown Art.
In November, David Nance dropped Staunch Honey, which is like ’60s and ’70s acid rock repurposed in a lo-fi haze; Nance played nearly all the instruments (banjo, harmonica, auxiliary percussion, you name it) himself, and recorded and mixed the project on tape in his basement. It’s entirely a product of Nance’s imagination, hence the billing as a solo album instead of releasing under the David Nance Group name. Nance brings the familiarity of classic rock bands — Steely Dan or The Byrds come to mind — but delivers some truly experimental bits on the LP’s b-side. I can’t think of another album that has the same vibe.
Finally, Magū might have been the Omaha band that best used the pandemic to its advantage. The art rock band set out to write multiple LP’s in 2020, and they released one of the resulting projects, Dwell, in April of this year.
The band that started as David McInnis’ solo project has morphed into a four-headed monster, with bassist Sam Lipsett, guitarist John Staples, keyboardist Erin Mitchell and McInnis all taking on lead vocals on at least a couple songs. Spread over 10 tracks, the equal opportunity songwriting approach doesn’t exactly lend itself to consistency, but there’s no mistaking these songs for those of another band, especially when Cam Thelander’s saxophone enters the fold.
Other notable Omaha COVID-era releases include Cat Piss’ Zeppelin Four, Pt. 2, Urn’s An Attempt to Quiet the Noise, Dex Arbor’s Sapiosexual Soul Rhymes, Living Conditions’ Vows, Velvet Velvet’s Ends at Odds, DEATHGOD’s Joy & Pain and NANORAY’s Zapper.
Some local bands have hit the ground running since venues started reopening, like the psych-punk band Garst, who, in early July, hit the road for a few out-of-town dates (one of which was under an overpass in Wichita). They played their first Omaha show in more than a year on July 16 with The Real Zebos and Bad Self-Portraits at The Waiting Room. The Zebos headlined, but the crowd was just as much there to mosh and hear Garst sing about Greedo from “Star Wars.”
Other signs of an imminent return to normalcy exist. Black Heart Booking hosted its annual Punk Rock BBQ on July 17 and had an impressive turnout. The Petshop Gallery in Benson has its annual Petfest scheduled for Aug. 14 and has nearly 20 local and touring acts on the bill, including Thick Paint, Universe Contest, Anna McClellan and All Young Girls Are Machine Guns. That’ll help the cause.
On the whole, the post-pandemic rollout has been slow to gain momentum (the Delta variant may be partially to blame). But one thing I know, the excitement will return to the scene, because Omaha’s artists are resilient. The faces in the audience might be unfamiliar. The artists on stage might be younger than you remember. Bands will pop on the scene like they always have, and some will mature and become Omaha exports. I saw hardcore band Jocko for the first time at DIY space Milk Run in 2016. The last time I saw them, they packed Midtown Art from wall to wall. A healthy music scene has a constant ebb and flow. I can’t wait to see what people have been working on in their basements.
See you at a show.