Martin Zellar returned to Omaha for the first time in probably close to 20 years to play a show at Reverb Lounge. Zellar, who is known for fronting legendary Minneapolis rock band The Gear Daddies, is touring on his new album Head West. That album, his first in many years, features his son Wilson Zellar doing all the guitars and also the engineering, mixing, and mastering. Wilson is also joining his father on this first proper tour in quite some time. Zellar still performs both solo and with The Gear Daddies, but he hasn’t been hitting the road like he is about to.
The Omaha show was an early stop after sold-out shows in Minneapolis for the release of the album and also a sold-out Chicago show. Reverb Lounge had a very healthy turnout on Friday night for an artist that hasn’t been through in many years. Fans came from Lincoln and also from Hartington, Nebraska, where Zellar used to perform often to a fan base of college kids who are probably putting their kids into college now.
Zellar took the stage with drummer Scott Wenum, his son Wilson, and two familiar faces to Gear Daddies fans: Nick Ciola on bass and Randy Broughten on pedal steel and guitar. Very cool. They opened up with the Gear Daddies classic “Statue of Jesus” and would swap songs off the new album for “chestnuts,” as Zellar would call them. He played the title track to Head West pretty early in the set, a song that had been stuck in my head for the three days prior to the show, and when he got to the “Omaha” in the lyrics of the song, the crowd cheered. After the song, he said “I had forgotten about the Omaha in the song”. He then told a story about when he opened for The Eagles on the Hell Freezes Over Tour in Denver at Mile High Stadium and the crowd went nuts for Joe Walsh’s “Rocky Mountain Way”. This then turned into the band humorously starting “Peaceful Easy Feeling” from The Eagles, which was to be just a moment, but they just kept going with it and played the whole song.
Zellar doesn’t work off a set list and just pulls songs out as he feels them, and the band follows along. Sometimes he will hilariously give cues to pedal steel and guitar player Broughten on whether or not he should be sitting or standing for the song as he has to switch instruments. Broughten on pedal steel was a huge highlight of the set and really brought the Gear Daddies sound to the Gear Daddies heavy set that I did not expect. The Gear Daddies have a version of “Little Red Corvette” that is well known for replacing the keyboards in the original song with pedal steel, and they played this tonight, and that was a big moment for me.
I am a huge fan of Zellar’s solo work, and we didn’t really get any of that tonight beyond his new album. It makes sense with who he is touring with. The songs off of Head West came off well live, especially “Goodbye Wild Bill” and “Boats Sinking Slowly”. “Goodbye Wild Bill” is a take on the classic country wild west story song that shows off his son Wilson’s guitar work. “Boats Sinking Slowly” is a beautiful ballad that features Presley Haile (check out her tunes on Spotify) on vocals on the recorded version.
Among the Gear Daddies songs we got were “Wear a Crown”, “Stupid Boy”, “She’s Happy”, “Sonic Boom” and the crowd favorite of the night “Color of Her Eyes”.
It was a fun and engaging night of music, and even though the band and the crowd are older, it still very much feels like a party. I think there are more Midwest shows going on the books, and I am going to travel to see this tour one more time as this is a pretty special configuration on stage, and I want to see what is happening on the other end of this tour.