By Karynn Brown
Photos by Hailey Krueger
Nov. 2, 2017
In a slightly surprising turn of events, the Zoo Bar was the best place to have spent Halloween 2017. Crowds of characters, skeletons, ghosts, and rock stars gathered at the Zoo Tuesday to celebrate the release of Universe Contest’s fourth full-length album, Get Cot Livin’.
The show started at 9 p.m. with The Ambulanters, followed by touring band Candy Ambulance, Lincoln’s Manslaughterer and finally the headliners. A night full of energy and excitement, these performances clearly meant a lot of both the bands and the audiences.
Just coming off of short tours, both Universe Contest and the Ambulanters returned home with new sounds and experiences. The Ambulanters started off the night with a performance decidedly different than the sounds of their May 2016 album Leave this House taking a turn into heavier sounds with a depth and complexity reminiscent of fringe indie-grunge rock.
The airy indie sounds normally associated with The Ambulanters clearly rooted their performance, which featured spacy, atmospheric intro and outros with emphasis on distortion and effects from pedals. Guitarist Jim Rhian’s magnetic stage presence complimented the changes. The lyricism in this performance was flatly poetic, with monotone recitation of lyrics at the beginning of some songs. Rhian fit this persona spot on, staring unblinkingly at the crowd from under his brow, which combined with the cold-delivered lyrics demanded attention. The Ambulanters are a Venn diagram of performers, each person playing a distinct style and portion of the piece that clearly stands alone. But onstage together, and hearing the performance as a whole, brings each strand into a complex and unique sound, that sweet spot of four intersecting circles. The Ambulanters performance was clean, introspective and powerful.
First-time visitors to Nebraska, New York’s Candy Ambulance played next. A very city-slick style, this three-person group brought a solid performance. Lead guitarist and vocalist Caitlin Baker started the show by addressing her Aphrodite costume, a T-shirt that said “fuckin’.” Baker led the performance in energy and spunk, hitting wide ranges and punctuative lyrics. Her solo lyrics were brought to the forefront of the sound with dead-stopped rest from the other instruments. The band’s latest single, “Weekday” features Baker’s drawing vocals that keep a steady rhythm throughout their pieces. Easily balanced by the bassist Jesse Bolduc and drummer Jon Cantiello, the overall sound once again bends the rules of indie garage rock. Candy Ambulance is touring through Omaha and Kansas City later this week.
Hard-rock locals Manslaughterer played the third set of the evening to close out the bill of openers. Manslaughterer started their sound check by asking for “as much reverb and delay as possible.” which delivered well in the performance. Your friendly neighborhood death metal jam band, Manslaughterer plays with steady, skillful rhythms that allow for variation to be found in the deep throaty, scream-like vocals. Manslaughterer played a short 12-minute set that featured “Earth to Major Barr.” Their last album, Turn Me Loose was released in 2007.
More so than anything else, it was clear that this album and release show was well deserved by the talented artists of Universe Contest. Get Cot Livin’ is the story of a fastly-wearing seafoam green backyard cot (which hung proudly above the stage), and a local band once pegged to be the next big thing. The album release show came exactly one year after recording the music and shortly after the final show on their latest tour. Playing largely from the new album, with a fair amount of old favorites mixed in, the show was clearly a celebration for everybody.
Get Cot Livin’ is a work of local collaboration. The album was mixed by Zoo Bar sound manager Mark Wohlberg and features album art by Jeremy Wardlaw. The album’s cover features friends of the band getting hit in the face with a basketball, the back cover is the famed green cot. The album also came together with the help of Better Friend singer Meg Munyon, whose vocals are featured on a track, and local synth artist John Friedel. The album is available on black or colored vinyl and can be streamed on Bandcamp via their “Name your Price” rate.
At this show, there was no shortage of fog, white halogen lights, silly string or head banging. The new album clearly shows the growth, and the musicality of the band. Moving from the eclectic, erratic sounds that likened them to Modest Mouse and made up their first three albums, Get Cot Livin’ features more long form instrumentals. The emphasis on instrumentals allows each piece to create a storied build and release of tension.
The songs feature fewer lyrics and more of the indie rock runaround with subtle influences of jazz and blues. The fifth song of the night, “Cooler Full of Babes (Trunks Full of Hunks)” showed a strong mix between this album and previous releases with lyrics at the forefront which turned into distorted breakdown in the electric violin. The crowd sang along to an old favorite, “Someone Else” from their first album, Winners of the Best Band Name in the Universe Contest..
The group is entrancing to watch in both the micro and macro. Tim Carr’s high energy sweat-dripping playing style is hard to ignore, especially illuminated in such harsh white light. What’s almost even more exciting about seeing Universe Contest is the locked eyes, flicks of heads, bodies, and eyebrows among the performers which clearly shows how in tune the performers are with each other and each piece.
Overall, Universe Contest is a key player in any music scene because of the well-timed group dynamic and precise, skilled musicianship that simply creates a good sound. They have enough talent and pure social disregard to create unique music that their fans continuously follow.
Karynn Brown and Hailey Krueger are interns with KZUM.