OMAHA --It’s a good day at any festival when you see one great set. It’s a great day when you see two.
That, for me, made Saturday at the Maha Music Festival great -- the first superb show coming from Ravyn Lenae, the second, a couple hours later from The Kills.
The 19-year-old Lenae, a rising neo-soul star, was even better Saturday than she was opening for SZA at the Bourbon Theatre last year. A great singer with an amazing range -- she can really work the high stuff -- she’s got a solid band and some very good songs, including “Sticky,” her biggest “hit” and the set closer, “Free Home.”
The latter she described like this -- “Being from Chicago, I was raised on house music, or as we called it barbecue music. I decided to pack up some barbecue music and bring it to Nebraska.” It was my favorite song of the festival.
A couple minutes before The Kills took Maha’s smaller stage, a crew guy secured the microphone that would be used by Alison Mosshart to its cord with a lot of electrical tape. For good reason, that mic got a serious workout from the start to finish of The Kills’ energetic, hour of intense blues-psychedelic garage rock.
It started when Mosshart began throwing her head and hair around on the first song and continued through guitarist Jamie Hinze using the stand, with the mic attached, as a slide while playing the blues solo on “Monkey 23,” the closing number of the cathartic set.
The Kills, who have been around since 2000, apparently filled the mid-day slot Maha usually devotes to a “heritage” artist -- like Husker Du’s Bob Mould a few year ago. But Mosshart, Hinze, who were joined by a bassist and drummer were the most exciting and intense performers I saw at Maha all weekend -- showing the kids how to do it, so to speak.
For fans of The Kills, of which I am one, Saturday was a rare opportunity to catch the duo live and they were simply great -- theatrical and threatening, joyous and uplifting with no more than 15 seconds between songs.
It was my favorite set of the festival, followed by Benjamin Booker on Friday and Lenae. Interestingly, all three were on the smaller stage.
The first time Tune-Yards played Omaha it was to about 75 people, max, in the front room at the Slowdown. Saturday, that number easily topped a couple thousand that packed in front of the Maha main stage.
The duo’s m.o. hasn’ t changed much in the six or seven years since the Slowdown show -- singer Merrill Garbus, plays ukulele and utilizes all kinds of loops and pedals and a board she plays with mallets and bassist Nate Brenner adds a heavy thump. The biggest change -- there was a drummer who created the propulsion for the eclectic, genre-twisting music.
Not surprisingly, Tune-Yards drew mixed reactions, from “this is the most interesting thing so far,” (which I translate to, I think I like it, but I’m not sure I understand it” to “this isn’t my thing” to -- and this one was so great I had to steal it -- “It sounds like an Atari ate ‘The Lion King’ soundtrack.
Mesonjixx, Lincoln’s 2018 Maha representative, acquitted itself quite well in the not-so-prime-time 3 p.m. slot. That meant their set was sparsely attended compared with the thousands that turned up later in the day and they played when the afternoon was at its hottest.
That, however, didn’t seem to slow them down as they delivered, during the 2/3rds of the set I saw, their brand of jazzy brand of neo-soul with class and confidence and some fine vocal stylings by Mary Elizabeth Lawson.
A lesson I’ve learned after decades of going to festivals -- this is year 10 for Maha already -- is that once you’ve seen a transcendently great set and it’s relativity late, go home or back to the hotel -- you’re not likely to see anything even close to as good.
So I rolled out after The Kills -- Father John Misty, to be kind, isn’t my thing and I’ve seen Weezer enough to know that Weezer is Weezer is Weezer.