Tuesday, November 8th, 2005
No Key, No Plan
Three weeks into Okkervil River’s first North American tour and they’ve surely already got more than enough stories to tide them over for a good long time. First Will Sheff got strep throat at the start of the tour, then last week Prefix pointed out this review which implied there was some drama on the home front was leaking into the show and to top it off, drummer Travis Nelsen fractured his hand last week and while soldiering through it, it was surely affecting his ability to play. But still, they (barely) made it to Toronto and I was still hoping to witness something momentous.
Support on this tour was labelmates Minus Story, who hail from the rock metropolis of Boonville, Missouri. But if history has proven anything, it’s that sometimes isolation can be an excellent impetus for art. Like their fellow heartlanders-turned-indie rockers The Flaming Lips, Minus Story trade in off-kilter, psychedelic pop but eschew the Lips’ sense of whimsy for a more tense, emotional tone. The one song Jagjaguar has posted for sampling purposes, “Little Wet Head” was a definite standout, and they definitely had an interesting sound – I might have been persuaded to buy a CD if Okkervil hadn’t taken all my spending money for the evening… If you’re curious, Cokemachineglow has an interview with the band.
In keeping with the concentrated chaos that seemed to have been following the band around, Okkervil arrived at Lee’s a little while after I did having been held up at the border. Thankfully, they all got through and with all their gear (and merch) so except for a bit of a delayed start, no harm no foul. A quick soundcheck segued straight into their set and for the next hour and a half, it was some serious magic going on up there. I’d gotten myself pretty worked up about this show in the last little while, but I can honestly say that the reality of it was no letdown whatsoever. Led by Will Sheff’s wonderfully hoarse and ragged holler, the six-piece band ran through selections from across their entire repetoire and wonderfully so. High points included a beautiful “The War Criminal Stands And Speaks”, a rousing “Black” and a version of “For Real” that could go down as one of the best live performances I’ve seen of anything, anywhere.
Sheff seemed genuinely thrilled about the turnout for his band’s Toronto debut, and there was a surprisingly large turnout for a Monday night – good to see (I hope that the free ticket I left at the door for someone, anyone, actually got put to use). He was a riveting frontman, attacking his guitar one minute, gently caressing the next, all while singing his wonderfully emotive lyrics and bounding around the stage like his life depended on it. The rest of the band was also superb, pulling out keyboards, pedal steel, guitars or trumpets whenever called for, and for not having had a proper soundcheck, the mix really sounded terrific. And a special shout out to Nelsen – you’d never guess from his playing that he was nursing a broken wrist. Injuries or no, the man came to play. Hell, they all did, and they delivered one of the best shows I’ve seen this year.
I mentioned that I left the merch table with my wallet a good deal lighter – I got Black Sheep Boy and Black Sheep Boy Appendix on LP, the first Okkervil CD and a t-shirt. And a pin. Hey, it’s been a while since I’ve bought any band merch at all, Okkervil just happens to be the recipient of my largesse. And of course, les photos.
Hey, Thomas Haden Church on the set of Spider-Man 3 – nice shirt. As the item says, that pretty much nails down which villain Lowell is playing in the new flick. Now all we need is a pic of Topher Grace covered in black ectoplasm and we’re all set.
So I was asked what I thought about The West Wing‘s live debate episode on Sunday night. In a nutshell, I enjoyed it but wasn’t really riveted – maybe NBC did their job a little too well in creating a debate-like atmosphere, because my attention began to drift about 3/4 of the way through the way it does during real debates. While the producers have tried not to play favourites between the candidates thus far in the season, it seemed pretty obvious to me that the debate was playing Smits up as the more likeable, knowledgable candidate. Alda came off as grumpy, argumentative and flustered (sound familiar?) – not the same Vinick he’s been presenting in the show. I definitely liked Smits’ little speech about the word “liberal”, though that’s probably because I was being pandered to by the writers. I give everyone involved credit with pulling off a live show, it was interesting to watch and I admit, I kept hoping something amazingly unpredictable would happen like a lighting rig falling and crushing the audience or a wild boar breaking into the studio. No suck luck.
Media response – The Mercury News is on the fence about what to think (though it doesn’t sound like I need to bother downloading the west coast episode – no wild boars there, either), CBS is not impressed that NBC ran an “NBC News” logo overtop the whole thing and The Chicago Sun-Times just thought it stunk. And as an interesting sidebar – Aaron Sorkin is returning to network TV. And on NBC, no less.
np – Okkervil River / Don’t Fall In Love With Everyone You See