Sunday, November 14, 2010

2007 Repost: My Weekend with Okkervil River

I'm currently in the middle of my five-city, two-week tour of the Eastern and Central US. I don't have a lot of time to write, so I thought I would post some old crap that I wrote before I started My Aimz is True. Going out to Oakville to see Corb Lund last week reminded me of the time back in 2007 when I was completely obsessed with Okkervil River. I saw them in Toronto on Friday, September 21, 2007, and then drove all the way to Hamilton the next night to see them again! Here are my reviews of those two shows which I originally posted on my MySpace page. Remember MySpace? Me neither.


Friday, September 21
Okkervil River
Lee's Palace

First, I would like to acknowledge Okkervil River for pulling me out of my The Hold Steady obsession that lasted roughly from December 2006 to mid-August 2007. When I heard Okkervil River do "The President's Dead" on KEXP while sitting at my desk at work I said, "Whoa, what is this?" Love at first listen. And how often is it that your obsession du jour is playing two shows in your area, and these shows happen to fall on a weekend? The last time I remotely came close to this was last October [2006] when the Drive-By Truckers played back-to-back shows in Toronto and Hamilton, but these shows occurred on weeknights and I completely missed the first gig in Hamilton.

Show numero uno was in Toronto on Friday, September 21, at Lee’s Palace – a venue with a capacity of about 600 people. Unfortunately for the sold-out crowd, Toronto had one of its fall heat/humidity spells that day and the Lee’s Palace air conditioning system did not respond in kind. It was too hot for me to even drink beer as I realized I was pounding Keith’s to cool off. About half-way through the show I even got dizzy and thought I might faint.

But back to the music. I had heard that Okkervil River put on a blistering live show, and they did not disappoint. They got off to a rocky start however, with tuning and sound problems. The sound problems were entirely Lee’s Palace’s fault. From where I was standing (main floor, about ¾ of the way back) lead singer Will Sheff’s microphone was too low and pianist /accordionist /guitarist Jonathan Meiburg’s vocal mic was too high. I wasn’t the only one who noticed this (so it wasn’t my over-heated brain playing tricks on me), as the people around me were commenting on how bad the sound was too.

All that being said, by the time they got to the third song, "No Key, No Plan" from 2005’s Black Sheep Boy Appendix, the place was rocking. I wonder if their slow start was due to a holdup at the border (why do Canadian customs agents do this to every band?). The band’s van died in Illinois so they had to get a rental to get to the rest of their gigs. Sheff even joked (?) that the customs agents were going to jail one band member until they told them where they were hiding the drugs. Which is really hysterical since everyone knows that the best hash and dope are produced in Canada.

Also, the band could not pack all of their equipment in the rental van, so they had to leave a few things behind. Including the accordion. I saw a post Friday on the Okkervil River message boards looking for an accordion, and found this post a little strange, but now I know why! Fortunately, they found a brand-new one with the protective plastic (accordion condom) still on it at a music shop down the street.

The band actually increased with intensity and animation as the show continued. Sheff shed layers of clothes as the heat increased and the band rocked out. I’ve heard a lot of different comments on Sheff’s stage persona (from unbridled enthusiast to pretentious ass-clown). On Friday night he was smiley, affable Will, who seemed to be having tons of fun. No pretense at all.

The only track that I didn’t really dig was "So Come Back, I Am Waiting (Black Sheep Boy II)," which is an incredibly mellow song that felt out of place in this rock show. The crowd was already overheated, drunk, and anxious, and jackasses were heckling during the quiet parts of the song – which actually got Sheff to laugh.

Okkervil River closed with a rousing version of "Westfall," and since I was up front I milled around and waited for the crowd to thin out. The word on the street was that there was an Okkervil River after-party at a nearby club. The house DJ at this club was called "Easy Tiger." Interestingly Ryan Adams was in town doing a show at Massey Hall that same night (so were Devendra Banhart and The Beastie Boys, but obviously, not together). I had mad visions of partying with Okkervil River and Adams, and Mike D showing up to DJ a mix, but alas, the dickhead bouncer wouldn’t let me in. Apparently I fall into the “not cool” category. What a shock.

1. Plus Ones
2. Lady Liberty
3. No Key No Plans
4. The Latest Toughs
5. Girl In Port
6. Song of Our So-Called Friend.mp3
Buy: Black Sheep Boy (2006)
7. A Hand to Take Hold of the Scene
8. Unless It's Kicks
9. Black
10. So Come Back, I Am Waiting (Black Sheep Boy II)
11. Our Life Is Not a Movie or Maybe
12. For Real
13. John Allyn Smith Sails

14. The Presidents Dead
15. Okkervil River Song
16. You Can't Hold the Hand of a Rock and Roll Man
17. Westfall

Satruday, September 22, 1007
Okkervil River
Pepper Jack Café

I got to the Pepper Jack Cafe a bit late and missed the first part of Damien Jurado's set, but as soon as I walked in the door it was obvious that this night was going to be exactly the opposite as Jurado's performance on Friday night in Toronto. First, the venue was tiny. Tiny to the point that I said, “whoa” out loud when I entered. The capacity was about 150-200 people, and it was not sold out.

Lead singer Will Sheff started the solo opening of "The President's Dead" while the rest of the band slowly joined him on stage. They did not have any of the tuning or sound problems that plagued them in Toronto. And Sheff was more talkative, animated, and smiley as well. Perhaps this was due to the fact that the band had to travel only 45 miles between gigs, and actually got some rest that day.

On the third song, "A Hand to Take Hold of the Scene" from 2007's The Stage Names, Sheff commented that this song was written about a song of his being featured on a TV program. "I was watching the show and thinking that the show would be better without my song in it." I think this is a reference to "Black Sheep Boy" being used on an episode of Cold Case.

This was an all-ages show, which was an odd experience for me. I have lived in Canada for 5.5 years, and I still can't get over seeing 19 year-olds in a bar or club (although, I am still getting carded, so I rock). There was a couple next to me, that seemed to be only a few years older than me, who had brought along their young son to the show (he was maybe 10?). Lots of other youngsters abounded with some of their parents hanging out in back, including one dude who I swear was the long-lost brother of Willie Nelson. Welcome to Hamilton.

I don't know how tall Sheff is, but he is tall enough to reach up and grab the support beam over the Pepper Jack stage. Not only did he use this for balance, but also for playing tambourine. During "Red" from the 2002 release Don't Fall in Love With Everyone You See, the rest of the band mouthed along to all of the words. I saw Sparklehorse last year, and, as much as I love Mark Linkos's music, he and the rest of his band (except the drummer) were practically comatose during the show. It was awesome to see Okkervil River getting behind their singer for more than just musical support.

Both "Our Life Is Not a Movie or Maybe" and "For Real" featured tight, rockin, extended jam sessions at the end of the songs. After "Westfall," bassist Patrick Pestorius came to the mic and lead everyone is singing Happy Birthday to drummer Travis Nelsen.

For their "encore," the band just stepped to the side of the stage as this small venue didn't have any off-stage area to go to. Sheff immediately came back to the stage and joked about the "charade" of leaving the stage only to come back seconds later. The he started into the "Title Track" from The Stage Names, but cut out half way through saying, "I changed my mind about that song." Then brought Brian Cassidy back onto the stage to play pedal steel and said, "I can’t remember how to play any other song solo."

The fans were fantastic at this show, and I had a fabulous time. I caught a lot of hell from my idiot friends for driving all of the way out to Hamilton to see same band that I saw the previous night, but I would do it again in a second. Okkervil River is worth a double feature and a mini-road trip.

1. The Presidents Dead
2. It Ends With a Fall.mp3
Buy: Down the River of Golden Dreams (2003)
3. A Hand to Take Hold of the Scene
4. No Key No Plans
5. The Latest Toughs
6. Girl In Port
7. Plus Ones
8. You Can't Hold the Hand of a Rock and Roll Man
9. Unless It's Kicks
10. Black
11. Red
12. Our Life Is Not a Movie or Maybe
13. For Real
14. Westfall

15. Title Track
16. A Stone
17. O, Dana (Big Star Cover)
18. John Allyn Smith Sails
19. Last Love Song for Now

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