Review: Zoo Bar is great environment for Head of Femur


Vincent Welch, student reporter

On Thursday, Nov. 3, nothing in downtown Lincoln seemed quite as exciting as the neon pink lights illuminating the entrance of the historical Zoo Bar. While the bar has a reputation for hosting countless jazz and blues acts, it would transform that night into a fitting stage for the eclectic alternative rock group Head of Femur.
Built in 1921 and booking live gigs since 1973, The Zoo Bar has found pride in its ability to become the home for blues in the heart of Lincoln. This is evident not only by the walls of the cozy interior, covered from top to bottom with posters for live performances hosted there, but also by the enthusiasm of the bar’s regulars, who all seem to recognize the musical talents.
The Zoo Bar has proven itself to be a timeless staple of Nebraska, so what better place for the native Nebraskans of Head of Femur to do a little reunion show?
The band, with its consistent members Matt Focht, Ben Armstrong and Mike Elsener, have found success in playing busy alternative rock with horns, synthesizer and orchestral elements. Their unique sound allowed them to tour with alternative rock giants such as Wilco and Deerhoof in the early 2000s.
Head of Femur came to the Zoo Bar this night with a set of brand new songs, all to be featured on an upcoming album from the group.
Opening for the act was a group of three under the name Perfect Form. The band, consisting of vocalist/guitarist Jim Reilly, bassist Oli Blaha and drummer Courtney Nore, deliver an atmospheric rock sound that washes over the bar.
Reilly’s use of guitar pedals sounds inspired by alternative rock of the 1980s, when bands like The Cure and Joy Division were using similar delay and reverb effects to make their chords ring out. Blaha’s bass riffs coordinate well with Courtney’s drumming, the two keeping everything grounded so that the sparkly guitar doesn’t leave the audience dazed.
Perfect Form’s combination of pop structure and moody instrumentals and lyricism kept a crowd of bar goers swaying, getting lost in the echoey tones as the Zoo Bar’s technicians spun starry lights around the band. Perfect Form plays dreamy rock that pays great respect to artists of yesteryear.
That band’s approach to rock was a great opener for Head of Femur, as both have an ability to generate fresh songs out of the inspiration of eras passed.
Head of Femur’s lineup appeared a bit more traditional than some may think had they heard their prior material. Head of Femur provided drums, keys, bass, lead guitar and rhythm guitar, then some varying percussion parts provided by the vocalist Matt Focht.
With their instrumentation, the band found themselves evolving their sound. Early albums from the band would see them blending their happy-go-lucky rock rhythms with energetic horns and strings. In the live show, the band faces a more mature, but no less fun sound.
The songs featured on that night are from an upcoming album from the band, showcasing an hour worth of new material.
What was their bright, playfully messy sound featured on albums like 2003’s Ringodom or Proctor and 2005’s Hysterical Stars has transformed into these tight psychedelic rock grooves.
Their songs follow a structure that is sure to leave listeners with a few earworms, featuring well-crafted choruses and rhythms to distinguish their new material from the more loose structures of their past material.
Focht sings, “I’ve got to hand it to you, you make it sound so easy” on a new song which emphasizes precise hi-hat rhythms and these flowing, country-inspired guitar parts riffs, all over a strong foundation of warm bass thumps.
The following track featured a purposefully anxious sounding guitar that cried over blood-rushing ska-style drums. This track gives something new to fans who may not have ever heard the band make something that sounds so paranoid, in a similar vein to the early works of Talking Heads.
In their set is also a song that harkens back to their earlier concepts and probably one of the more fun songs in the show: a bright, surf-rock style tune about drinking tomato juice in the summer. The band shows here that they are still in touch with their lighthearted concepts that give them the bulk of their charm.
The show mellows out with one of the final songs, a jazz-rock tune that puts the keys forward in an odd time signature that exemplifies their ability to be experimental. The drums also shine here, playing sharp syncopations on the ride symbol that give the track a funky groove.
As the band wrapped up, after the cheers and applause, Zoo Bar staff and regulars offered their help to the band in moving equipment. One by one, the bar’s snug interior, filled with fanatics, began to decongest.
There is something to be said about the dedication that the Zoo Bar community has to providing an enjoyable environment for appreciating music and bonding over a love for live performance. The bar is filled with quirky, eclectic charm. Relics of past shows find their way on display on the interior of the bar, almost serving as a museum.
With the respect that the Zoo Bar has for its performers, it’s easy to see why the Nebraskans of Head of Femur would want to tip their hats to this venue.
Having been built a century ago and still maintaining a passion for the arts, it becomes apparent that the Zoo Bar will remain a timeless landmark of Lincoln.
Head of Femur, with the development of their musical ideas and their willingness to learn new techniques, may follow suit by making music that has enough variety for fans far and wide to enjoy.
For the inspiring works of fellow Nebraskans, turn to Perfect Form and look out for new material from Head of Femur.