Maha Me: A Recap Of Omaha’s Premiere Indie Rock Festival

There is a good chance you’ve never heard of Maha.

That is a shame, because it’s a really great indie rock music festival that takes place every summer in nearby Omaha. It combines national and local acts for a daylong celebration of music.

In 2010, it featured acts like Spoon, The Faint and the Old 97s. This year, Guided by Voices, Cursive, Reverend Horton Heat and J Mascis were among those on the bill.

It was a once again a wonderful event this year. Held on Aug. 13, the weather was perfect at Stinson Park in Aksarben Village.

I was most excited to see Guided By Voices, a band I found by accident in 1995 when they released the now classic “Alien Lanes.” That was back in the day when you would buy a CD unheard because the band had a cool name or the album art looked interesting. I think I not only liked the band name, but also the album name. I was also amazed that the album had 28 tracks.

I soon learned that GBV specialized in short, lo-fi rock songs with incredibly catchy melodies and images. Although not on “Alien Lanes,” I always have to chuckle when I hear the song “14 Cheerleader Cold Front,” for example.

The reunited band tore through countless classics from their mid-90s heyday at Maha. Despite being well into middle age, they did not hold back on the rock antics. High kicks, guitar posturing — it was all there. And it rocked.

Even the kids enjoyed the show:

I just hope he wasn’t paying much attention to the big jug of tequila(?) that lead singer Robert Pollard was carrying around on stage (between beers and cigarettes, of course) and taking swigs from. That’s rock ‘n’ roll. 🙂

Read my previous post on GBV (with several videos) here.

While I also really enjoyed Cursive, a favorite of mine for the last decade, I have to say the highlight of the day was seeing J Mascis perform solo. He simply sat behind a music stand with a guitar and played for 45 minutes or so. There was very little between-song banter, and no back-up instrumentation. It was just him. But it was amazing.

I had seen him perform a couple years ago in Omaha with Dinosaur Jr., but I was familiar with the incredible guitar work he can do and was hoping it would be put on display during his solo set. I was not disappointed.

Neither were the other critics in the audience.

L. Kent Wolgamott of the Lincoln Journal-Star had the following to say:

J Mascis was brilliant. Sitting on a chair with a music stand in front of him, Mascis played a plugged-in acoustic guitar and sang. But this was no me-and-my-guitar folkie act. He had the guitar cranked to up to the edge of feedback, providing plenty of beefy distortion as he ran through 50 minutes of songs, split about half and half between Dinosaur Jr. tunes and his solo material. His guitar work brought to mind Neil Young, which is a high compliment, his singing just raw enough and his closing was perfect, finishing a song with “That’s all” and getting up.

Tim McMahan at Lazy-i.com expressed a similar sentiment:
In addition to Guided By Voices, which flawlessly tore through a set of their finest (“14 Cheerleader Coldfront,”  “I Am a Scientist” “Hot Freaks,” “The Official Ironmen Rally Song,” you know, the classics), the other main stage standout was — strangely, unexpectedly — J Mascis of Dinosaur Jr. Seated with an acoustic guitar on his lap, looking like a worried Mr. Natural in nerd glasses, long gray hair blowing in the afternoon breeze, Mascis leaned forward and played a blistering set that drew from his solo work and D. Jr. catalog, highlighting his intricate, ornate, gorgeous guitar work. His voice, a craggy, weary, heart-broken moan, sang of personal yearning while his guitar didn’t gently weep, but soared. Undeniably beautiful, but at the same time, desperate and utterly depressing. By mid-set, it was actually bringing me down.
I haven’t been able to find any footage from his Omaha performance, but this video gives you a pretty good idea of what my friends and I experienced last weekend.
Sitting under the sun listening to his guitar, I found myself almost hypnotized.  My mind was racing inward and finding a vast, unexplored expanse — and I hadn’t even taken any mind-altering substances!
This is from a live recording of Dinosaur Jr., but still features Mascis’ solo shredding. He played “What Else Is New?” Saturday, and it was one of my favorites. Mascis really lets things rip at about the 3:30 mark.

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