From Moscow on the Hudson, Omaha's Conor Oberst tries to
keep up with underprivileged New Orleans teenagers busking
on a French Quarter street corner. Metaphorically, at least.
The other night at TD Ameritrade Park, Omaha officially -- in my mind, at least -- exposed itself as too big for its britches.
Simultaneously -- again, at least in the mind of this 24-year Omaha transplant -- it exposed itself as the cow-town version of a "hill William." You know, a hillbilly with pretensions. That often happens when your own great PR goes to your head like straight double bourbons on your 21st birthday.
To be fair, though, Omaha was goaded into it. It was confronted with something that wasn't A) Journey, B) Keith Urban or Kenny Chesney, C) Conor Oberst whining in the key of Z about how woebegone is his life to an audience of angst-filled emo navel gazers . . . for a six-figure paycheck.
I should have figured that when a band like Cowboy Mouth is slated to be the entertainment sandwiched in between the TD Ameritrade Home Run Derby and the start of the Omaha World-Herald 's Fourth of July fireworks show, nothing good could come of it.
To begin with, who thinks a band that lives somewhere near the corner of Joe Strummer and Professor Longhair (just a short block from Lynyrd Skynyrd Avenue) will appeal to a general audience in a town that touts itself -- somehow -- as "the new Seattle" of the indie-rock world . . . but can't support one decent radio station? Where Saddle Creek -- the little record company that nearly made Omaha almost-famous -- can only get one act onto the playlist at the closest thing we have to an "alternative" FM station?
C'mon. This was an event where people willingly forked over $7 for really bad beer and enjoyed it. Where Journey droned over the PA system like a Dave Heineman press conference, and people sang along. Like Dave Heineman.
Because they like it . . . and him.
Where people itched for that grand moment in the fireworks show where the pyrotechnicians blow shit up to yet another "patriotic moment" of Lee Greenwood schmaltzing his way through "God Bless the U.S.A." And the crowd . . . goes . . . wild!
Because we're hip that way in the Big O. Er . . . I mean "O!"
After Cowboy Mouth's mistaken decision to willingly walk into such an ambush -- one where Journey- and Lee Greenwood-lovers booed and yelled "Nooooo!" when drummer-frontman Fred LeBlanc asked "Do you want us to play one more song?" then tweeted and Facebooked about how the band and the show "sucked it hard" -- the New Orleans quartet's only consolation (other than what one hopes was a big paycheck) had to have been "God Bless the U.S.A.'s" omission from the fireworks extravaganza.
I'LL GIVE the naysayers this: The audio mix for the miniconcert was awful . . . because nobody turned off the stadium PA system, which caused an unbearable echo. Presumably, Cowboy Mouth wasn't in charge of the speakers ringing the ballpark in addition to its own sound system in front of the center-field stage.
Presumably, that was an all-Omaha clusterf***.
Still, the ugliest audience this side of Bob's Country Bunker may have forgiven all if only Fred LeBlanc would have counted down into a stirring version of the Rawhide theme. Or maybe "Stand by Your Man."
But a rude audience and a disaster of a booking isn't what's pissing me off.
There's no accounting for taste, or cultural differences (and on that account, Nebraska and Louisiana might as well be on different continents) . . . or even for what percentage of the booboisie ends up attending big events that feature bad beer and relatively cheap admission.
To overuse an overused phrase just a little bit more -- it is what it is.
What pisses me off, for the record, is arrogance tag-teaming with invincible ignorance. What pisses me off is when someone, thinking he's stating a fact as obvious to all as "The sun rises in the east," says something that's instead as gobsmackingly arrogant as it is unspeakably stupid. Like a local newspaper acquaintance after the fireworks show announcing to all who could hear that Cowboy Mouth wasn't his "cup of tea," which is fair enough, but then that "there must be 1,000 bands in Omaha better than that."
You probably best know me as someone with a raging love-hate relationship with Louisiana, my native state. And as a Nebraska transplant who generally is thrilled to be one.
It may surprise you, on the other hand, to know that I'm someone who, more often than not, just keeps his mouth shut instead of interfering with a body's God-given right to make himself look like an idiot, an ass . . . or both.
IT USUALLY surprises me when -- and where -- my inner pissed-off, ready-to-kick-Yankee-butt coonass from Baton Rouge erupts with full force. And as a native Baton Rougean, it surprises me even more when it's in full-throated defense of New Orleans.
"A thousand Omaha bands better than Cowboy Mouth"? Really? Leaving issues of musical taste aside . . . really?
What I told the guy, rather loudly, was this: "I'll guarantee you that 999 of those Omaha bands aren't anywhere as good as Cowboy Mouth. And I'll lay money on that."
I can say that because I've actually listened to Cowboy Mouth apart from an ill-conceived gig with shitty sound. For example, in the case of the band's 2006 "Voodoo Shoppe" release, I was left dancing and crying in the space of a single CD. And all you need to defeat a know-nothing is to know a little.
The guy walked away kind of stammering after I committed the ultimate Midwestern sin of being impolite in the face of complete bullshit. The effect is enhanced when someone thinks they're stating the obvious -- and then you call bullshit.
On the Plains, that moment when a blowhard is left defenseless by the belief that he couldn't possibly require one might be called "All hat and no horse." When I was a kid in Louisiana, we had a more colorful way of putting it: "His mouth overloaded his ass."
We Louisianians may have our problems -- and God knows our native state has more than its share of bad ones -- but one of them is not being boring. Boring might be more of a concern someplace that aspires to be the next musical Seattle instead of the next musical New Orleans.
DELUSIONAL, arrogant and silly are definite immediate-action concerns for people in "the next Seattle" who think any but a couple or three local bands could hang for five minutes with a ragtag assortment of teenagers from the Tremé (or the Ninth Ward, or Central City, or the Seventh Ward) learning how to be a proper brass band on a French Quarter street corner in "the first New Orleans."
It would be like Nebraska touting far and wide the quality of its football program and the warmth and classiness of Memorial Stadium fans, only to have the "sea of red" raining Jack Daniels bottles upon visiting opponents after the Cornhuskers lose yet another game by 75 points.
Let's you and me examine some facts, Omaha.
Cowboy Mouth has been together for two decades. It's made more or less a go of it nationally. More importantly, it has made a go of it in New Orleans which, for all of its myriad problems and poverty, probably has more inherent cultural depth and musical talent in an average neighborhood than 21st-century Omaha has had to work with altogether as it pulls itself up toward the emo-wracked cultural nirvana of . . . Seattle.
I dunno, maybe a venerable and successful New Orleans rock band might get more respect here in Coolsville if Fred LeBlanc and company wore more plaid flannel. Sang more about the sheer psychic hell of living life in one's pasty white skin. Drank more Pabst Blue Ribbon and less Abita Turbodog.
And likewise, maybe people might really start to think Omaha really was Coolsville if Omahans started acting a lot less like Hicksville.