Tuesday, October 14, 2008

For Real

Concert Review: Okkervil River with Crooked Fingers, October 12, The Phoenix, Toronto

Every time I see this band live, I love them more and more. Okkervil River played to a near capacity crowd on the Sunday of Canadian Thanksgiving weekend and blew the roof off of the place. If you were in a turkey-induced coma before the show, the tryptophan was neutralized with a large dose of high energy rock. Lead singer Will Sheff is one of the best and most charismatic front men in indie rock today. He dances and flails around the stage, engages other members of the band, wails on his acoustic guitar (I think he has broken a string every time I have seen OR), and really gets the audience excited about the music. The set drew largely from 2007's The Stage Names (my top album of that year) and its 2008 follow-up The Stand Ins. Sheff actually got the usually noisy and talkative Toronto audience to stop checking their Blackberries for a few minutes and pay attention during "A Stone" leading into "Blue Tulip." Its a good thing too, because Sheff gave an unbelievable vocal performance that was part a capella, and partly backed by his acoustic guitar and Lauren Gurgiolo on pedal steel. WOW!

One of the great things about OR is the incredible musicianship all of the band members give to the performance. I counted 14 different instruments in use at one point or another, including coronet, accordion, mandolin, and wood blocks. OR closed with one of their oldies, the murder song "Westfall," which really impressed me because it got most of the crowd to sing along. Considering that even the most in-tune indie rockers (outside of Austin anyway) didn't really know about this band until its 2005 release Black Sheep Boy, it was really impressive to see the fan base dig back to the older work.

I'm spoiled in that I have seen OR four times in the last 13 months, but damn, I can't wait to see them again.

Set List
1. Plus Ones - The Stage Names (2007)
2. Singer Songwriter - The Stand Ins (2008)
3. A Hand to Take Hold of the Scene - The Stage Names
4. Black - Black Sheep Boy (2005)
5. The Latest Toughs - Black Sheep Boy
6. Starry Stairs - The Stand Ins
7. Calling and Not Calling My Ex - The Stand Ins
8. John Allyn Smith Sails - The Stage Names
9. Pop Lie - The Stand Ins
10. A Stone - Black Sheep Boy
11. Blue Tulip - The Stand Ins
12. Lost Coastlines - The Stand Ins
13. Our Life is Not a Movie or Maybe - The Stage Names
14. For Real - Black Sheep Boy
15. Unless It's Kicks - The Stage Names

16. A Girl in Port - The Stage Names
17. Okkervil River Song - Don't Fall In Love With Everyone You See (2002)
18. Westfall - Don't Fall In Love With Everyone You See

If Stephen Malkmus is the alpha male of indie rock, then Eric Bachmann is the indie rock iota or kappa male (somewhere behind Bob Mould, but before Lou Barlow). Bachmann is a former singer/guitarist of the 90s indie rockers Archers of Loaf, who now heads the band Crooked Fingers. Crooked Fingers opened the show with a 13 song set that varied widely from solo acoustic guitar, to instrumentals, to rock. I am not overly familiar with Crooked Fingers' catalog, and I picked up their new CD Forfeit/Fortune that night (it was released on Oct. 7 in the US, but hasn't been released in Canada). Their rock songs were great, but the slow acoustic tunes were lacking and felt out of place. However, the crowd was delighted when they played the Archers of Loaf track "Web in Front." Other tracks that I caught included "Crowned in Chrome" and "New Drink for the Old Drunk" from Crooked Fingers (2001), "Man 'O War" from To the Races (2006 Eric Bachmann solo), and "Let's Not Pretend (To Be New Men)," "Luisa's Blues," and "Your Control" all from Forfeit/Fortune (2008).

Archers of Loaf - Web in Front.mp3
Buy: Icky Mettle (1993)

Crooked Fingers - New Drink for the Old Drunk.mp3
Buy: Crooked Fingers (2001)

Crooked Fingers - Lets Not Pretend (To Be New Men).mp3
Buy: Forfeit/Fortune (2008)

Eric Bachmann came off as a little bit surly during his performance. This may be his normal personality, but then I got to thinking about Bachmann, who in the mid-90s was in the one of the indie "it" bands with hits on US college radio. Now Bachmann, who must be pushing age 40, is opening for one of the "it" bands of the mid-00s. This is happening in my career too, where a younger person is getting acclaim doing what I used to do, and quite frankly, its depressing. But at the same time its pretty cool to see Bachmann still doing what he loves, even if it is a step down on the concert bill. We should all be so lucky to be have a 15+ year career doing something that we love and while achieving some fame, if not fortune. Here's to another 15 years Eric! Don't let the kids keep you down! Even if the kids are kicking your (and my) ass.

See photos of the show from my favorite Toronto music blog, Chromewaves.


cy said...

i blame the turkey for missing crooked fingers, who i quite like.
nice review. i found the show a bit more rootsy than previous two i['ve seen in TO , but i think that had to do with the changes in personnel. it was still top-drawer- tho i wish lauren G. had have been given a little more to do in the first half-hour. she's outstanding!
btw, i was the one standing next to you, nosily asking what you were writing down.

Rockstar Aimz said...

Thanks Cy!