The Return of Little Brazil, V. 2.0

Landon Hedges had been hounding me for weeks. His rock band, Little Brazil, is playing a sort of “relaunch” show this Saturday, July 19, at The Waiting Room, and Landon wanted some ink to get butts in seats.

“What am I supposed to write about, Landon? I haven’t even heard this new version of your band yet?”

Little Brazil has been around in one form or another for at least 12 years, probably longer. At its core is the white-t shirt wearing Hedges, who looks like a long-distance runner from another era, — skinny bordering on gaunt, sometimes bearded, always wearing glasses, Hedges can easily be mistaken for a high-school kid when in reality his true age is somewhere in the mid-30s. 

His youthful demeanor extends all the way to his singing voice. One of the most unique yodels in the Omaha music scene, it has that same genuine, honest quality of, say, your little brother singing karaoke for the first time at a family wedding reception — pitch perfect, straight-up, unaffected, unadorned, unapologetically heartbreaking, you secretly root for him to hit the high notes. Listening to Hedges is like reading a ‘70s-era Sunday comic strip out loud, more Dondi than Gil Thorpe. 

The other perennial given of Little Brazil is bass playing Danny Maxwell, who has been at Hedges’ side since the late ‘90s, when he played lead guitar in a long-forgotten emo band called Secret Behind Sunday. Maxwell — or DMax as he’s known by some — could pass for Lou Reed’s long-lost grandson.

They’ve known each other for 26 years. A 6-year-old Hedges used to sneak over to 9-year-old Maxwell’s house and listen to Danny’s big brother’s band, Fifth of May, during band practice, knowing even back then that someday they’d be in a band together. 

Now 26 years later, here they were, sitting in the Tiki Room at O’Leaver’s on a Sunday afternoon drinking tall boys and talking about the latest version of a band that’s put out three full lengths and an EP’s worth of the finest indie-bordering-on-emo music Omaha has ever produced, a band that’s clocked thousands of asphalt miles living like savages in a stink-van traveling the neck of the United States through a dirty necklace of noisy dive bars. 

For 10 years the band also included brutalist drummer Oliver Morgan and lead guitarist Greg Edds — the only member of the band who didn’t look like he just got out of detention. Both members left Little Brazil last winter.

“The old band kind of ran its course,” Hedges said. “Oliver and Greg both respectfully walked away. They wanted to focus on their families.” Well, that and the fact that Morgan is now in Saddle Creek band Twinsmith, but that’s another story. 

When it came time to find their replacements, Hedges and Maxwell went the veteran route. Picking up lead guitar chores is one of the best string men in the state — Mike Friedman. Known by many as the pedal-steel guy who plays with local folk-rock star Simon Joyner, Friedman also plays leads with garage-punk band The Lupines. He and Hedges go way back, having played together in under-the-radar acts The Ointments and Reagan and the Rayguns. 

“I like these guys,” said the soft-spoken Friedman when asked why he joined Little Brazil. “They’re my friends, and I like to hang out with them. And I like their songs.”

“Mike’s a true lead guitar player, ego and all,” Hedges said. “Me and Greg used to trade off leads, now I don’t have to anymore.”

Taking over for Morgan on drums: Matt Bowen. Bowen casts a long, deep shadow on the Omaha music scene. His resume includes stints in The Faint, Commander Venus, Lullaby for the Working Class, Race for Titles, Magic Kiss (the precursor to Tilly and the Wall) and most recently The Third Men, and as the fill-in drummer at a special reunion performance by golden-era Omaha punk band Mousetrap.

How this new version of Little Brazil will sound is anyone’s guess, though no doubt it’ll sound different. Friedman brings a wholly unique — some might say incendiary — style of guitar playing to the band, while Bowen’s lighter-touch stickwork is more artistic, heavier on the toms, lighter on the cymbals. 

They’ve already written a handful of new songs together, all of which will debut at Saturday’s show. Hedges said the plan is to get into the studio by the end of the year. “I want to work with (producer) AJ Mogis and don’t want to work with anyone else because he’s the f***ing best,” Hedges said. “We already have five songs ready to go, and I won’t be busy with other sh** until next year.”

"Other sh**," in this case, means Hedges’ other band, Desaparecidos, the nationally known indie-punk act fronted by Omaha golden child Conor Oberst. Oberst currently is on a mammoth tour in support of his recently released solo album, Upside Down Mountain (Nonesuch Records). 

It’s an acknowledged fact that when Oberst calls for Desaparecidos to get back together, Little Brazil will go on hiatus. “It’s a total domino effect from Conor’s schedule,” Maxwell said. 

“Desa is a nice break for everyone,” Hedges added. “It’s a working machine. It’s not offensive to anyone in this band. We know a year ahead of time when it’s going to happen. And then when Desa is over, it’s cool to come back and be in Little Brazil again.”

And no doubt there’s a bit more money involved with Desa, right? 

“Desaparecidos gets four drink tickets per show,” Hedges said. “Little Brazil only gets two.”

Try to snag one of Landon’s drink tickets this Saturday when Little Brazil plays with See Through Dresses and Ladyfinger at The Waiting Room. The $8 show starts at 9 p.m.

Over The Edge is a weekly column by Reader senior contributing writer Tim McMahan focused on culture, society, music, the media and the arts. Email Tim at tim.mcmahan@gmail.com.

posted at 08:19 am
on Tuesday, July 15th, 2014

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