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The Michigan Daily - Weekend Magazine - Thursday, March 25, 2004 - 16B
Courtesy of Ypsilanu t: ecoud
CHICAGO NATIVE FINDS SOLACE IN GROWING A2 SCENE
By Alex Wolsky
Daily Arts Editor
Elliot Bergman has been displaced. The leader of local
band Nomo was originally from Chicago before he came to
Ann Arbor to attend the University's prestigious School of
Music. "I came here for Jazz Studies, which is a joke,"
Bergman said in jest. "What I learned right away, however,
was that Ann Arbor is a very appreciative environment, and
really supportive of the arts."
Five years ago, when Bergman was a freshman, Ann Arbor
was at the apex of an avant-garde/improvisation movement
with bands Transmission Trio and explo- lo
sion: cerebral playing regularly to enthusi- Nomo l
astic audiences. "When I first got here," Tonight at
Bergman said. "It was so crazy. It seemed 9:30 p.m.
like there were a billion bands and they AttheBlindPig
were all great. It was such a great time."
Bergman remembers,"There were so many great places to
see a show then, every weekend was something enjoyable.
I'm excited to see the Halfway Inn returning this year, it's a
great environment for musicians because it's low-pressure
and has a real communal feel to it."
The Halfway Inn, affectionately called the Half-Ass by
local musicians and scenesters, is back in operation this
semester after a brief hiatus. Located in the basement of East
Quad Residence Hall, the venue has housed local and touring
acts since the '70s. A grill for students by day, on weekend
nights the Half-Ass morphs into the sort of close-knit music
community that bigger venues like the Blind Pig can't be. "I
have no special affinity for the Blind Pig," Bergman notes.
"It doesn't feel like a community to me. It never has, really.
Instead, it feels like every other rock club in America."
Bergman was quick to note that houses are his ideal place
to play because of the intimacy they entail. "Once, however,
when we played a house party, people stole a ton of things
from the person's house including wine, pictures and just
everything they could find. It was disastrous," he laughs.
Although he prefers the smaller atmosphere, Bergman is
not unfamiliar with larger venues. "We've played with the
Tom Tom Club and Wailers in bigger venues and it was fun,
but felt really fake. We made some money, but with 20 peo-
ple, it doesn't amount to much, but we're not really playing
for big payoffs, anyway."
Ann Arbor, as Bergman explains, has proved to be benefi-
cial for him artistically. "There's a special aesthetic to Ann
Arbor, especially for musicians. It's nice to have relation-
ships where someone can be like, 'Could you play tam-
bourine or glockenspiel for us tonight?' and there are so
many people who'll just come along with you. People are
more interested in musical relationships based on communi-
ty rather than who's hottest at the moment."
Many local artists, including Kelly Caldwell and Michigan
dilettante Fred Thomas, have released albums through Ypsi-
lanti Records, which Bergman cites as a byproduct of a
growing community. "We have a lot of different bands -
Kelly and her guitar, Saturday Looks Good to Me and Nomo
are all unique. (Ypsilanti Records) is more of an outlet and
the result of us, than a label, if that makes sense."
Bergman's own Nomo formed in 2003 during the latest
Saturday Looks Good to Me tour and has materialized into a
conglomeration of nearly 15 local musicians, all of whom
were friends before playing together. "The idea for Nomo
came to us on that tour (with Saves the Day) when we were
all listening to these Fela Kuti records," Bergman remem-
bers. "It was a joke, but Fred (Thomas) started taking it seri-
ously and I started working on the project more."
Later in the year, Nomo released a three-song self-titled
EP which, as Bergman explained, was representative of
Nomo's beginnings, both sprawling and disorderly. "When
we recorded (the EP), we just gathered everyone we knew
and brought them to this house to record," he remembers. "It
was a real loose session with probably 20 people in this liv-
ing room just playing. It was really fun but disorganized.
Everyone learned the music there, that day, and we recorded
them all shortly. When we were done, they were all about
five times as long as they appear on the record, we cut up the
When asked to describe their sound, Bergman was, admit-
tedly, indecisive. "People are always looking for one-word
associations, which totally sucks. People like an idea, how-
ever, and all I say is that we have a lot of influences. There's
some afro-beat, but a lot of it is jazz-influenced."
Having a large band doesn't always mean people attending
the show will see every member every time they go. "It takes
some convincing to get everyone together for practice. A lot
of time, it's just four of us, and considering two of them live
with me, that's not too impressive. I feel like I have to trick
them to get them to come." On average, Bergman notes,
there are usually 10 to 15 members at any given show; but
this doesn't mean the given performance will be lacking.
"We get by, usually. If only a few people can make it, we go
with it and see what happens."
"It's hard to run a band like Nomo," Bergman says. "With
20 people, it's hard to let people know their work is appreci-
ated. It seems like before shows, I'm always stressed out. It's
a horrifying experience, running a band like this. Organizing
something of this caliber is a wreck."
According to Bergman, the local scene is in a period of
rebirth. "It's hard to let a real scene grow in a city like Ann
Arbor, since there's such a large turnover. Every four years,
you need to start over, basically. I don't know what I want to
do, really. But, for now, I'm comfortable calling Ann Arbor
Bergman commented on the state of music in Ann Arbor.
"It's growing, again, definitely. I think there are a lot of good
bands out there, but at the same time it feels like nobody is
interested. The scene is getting going again - back on its