I had heard plenty of wild rumors about what was going to happen at the Universe Contest show. They were circulating all week. There was supposed to be pyrotechnics, strippers, free drugs, experimental theatre, and I’m pretty sure they were supposed to literally burn Duffy’s to the ground. None of that happened.
Something far more awesome did.
The quintet of guitarists/vocalists Tim Carr and Joe Humpal, drummer Brenton Neville, bassist Jon Dell and keyboardist John Freidel donned their halloween costumes early, called all their friends and put on what I’m calling the best rock ‘n’ roll show Lincoln has hosted in five years. Yeah, I said it. Where to begin?
First of all, holy Moses that show was good. Second, where the hell did Universe Contest come from? Every member of that band has been in bands before: good ones like Gooses, Mucho Güt, Big Gigantic, Green Trees, Powerful Science, etc. One of them’s a goddamned folk singer for Satan’s sake, and he showed up in nothing but a cheetah thong and chaps. All of these bands and artists were good, but not this good. They weren’t this clean while still sounding dirty. They weren’t this put together while looking like a mess. They weren’t this intelligent and savvy while still acting like fools. Yet Universe Contest makes it seem so easy.
As for the music, if you haven’t heard it yet, hear it.
Their show was that music, plus some incredible new songs, played with well more volume and passion than the small, dank stage at Duffy’s really merited. And that’s not a jab at Duffy’s. Universe Contest just made the small room look microscopic in comparison. They were every sound in a crowded bar. Every sight. Every smell as well — that room reeked. But the room had more than just a tinman, a caveman, Santa and a couple of interstate hookers in it. It had Lincoln in it.
I can’t recall it ever being that hard to get to the front of the stage at Duffy’s. That’s usually the most vacant spot in the house, but people were literally clawing and punching to get closer to this band. This local band. This Lincoln band. And I can’t recall ever seeing that for any band Lincoln has spawned in the last five years. And a capacity crowd came to participate in it. As many Lincolnites as could see it, saw it. And as many who saw it, loved it — blood, bruises and all.
Universe Contest is the sum total of everything the Lincoln music scene has to offer. They draw a crowd like no other band in town, and unlike some of the other big Lincoln acts, people actually participate. We sing along, we dance, we flirt and fight and fuck and smile to this music, because it’s not only catchy and anthemic and loud, but it speaks to us. And it is ours. It is Lincoln’s, and hopefully soon, it can belong to the world." Casey Welsch, hearnebraska.org