Saturday, September 22nd, 2007
Man, I thought I was done with losing buckets of sweat ’cause of Texas after last weekend but Friday night, there I was in a sweltering and sold-out Lee’s Palace waiting for the first local show from one of Austin – and America’s – finest bands in Okkervil River, making their first local appearance in almost two years.
Their tourmate on this leg was Seattle singer-songwriter Damien Jurado who, despite his imposing size and demeanor, played a set of slow, sad and pretty songs that were unfortunately lost on the restless and increasingly rowdy crowd. It was just the wrong setting for his stuff and I can only hope that his other dates on this tour have been in more sympathetic environs.
Okkervil, however, were more than up to the task of satisfying the audience’s desire for some rock. Though they got off to a bit of a comical false start – Will Sheff was unsure if he was in tune or if his capo was on the correct fret (two words, Will – contact lenses) and had to consult with keyboardist Jonathan Meiburg before starting off with a stately “Plus Ones” from The Stage Names.
It occurs to me now that I haven’t actually offered any formal thoughts on Stage Names, and considering that it’s the long-awaited follow-up to one of my favourite albums of the last five years – 2005′s Black Sheep Boy, of course – now’s as good a time as any. The short version is that no, Stage Names isn’t as grand and majestic as Black Sheep Boy but it makes no attempt to be. It looks to life instead of literature for inspiration, drawing on both popular culture and the experiences of being in a touring band but thankfully Sheff is too good a lyricist to fall into the potential cliche pitfalls that could lie down that road. Instead, The Stage Names is Okkervil’s most rocking and rollicking effort to date, simultaneously sounding looser and tighter than they ever have.
Which would be a pretty good way of describing them live, as well. In the past, the live Okkervil River experience could be chaotic and ramshackle in the most delightful sense but this time out, they were a deliberate, well-oiled machine. They still reached for the chaos at points, but it was obvious that even then they were still in total control. The front end of the show was actually a bit sedate by Okkervil standards, but near the halfway mark – incidentally right around the time Sheff shed his suit coat – they found the next gear and properly set about putting on an absolutely killer show. I never need reminding that Okkervil is one of my favourite bands going right now but it’s always good to see that opinion reinforced.
There’s still time to make it down to Hamilton to see them play the Pepper Jack Cafe tonight, and after that they continue touring pretty much through doomsday. The Boston Globe has an interview with Sheff about The Stage Names.
Photos: Okkervil River, Damien Jurado @ Lee’s Palace, Toronto – September 21, 2007
MP3: Okkervil River – “Our Life Is Not A Movie Or Maybe”
MP3: Damien Jurado – “What Were The Chances”
Video: Okkervil River – “Our Life Is Not A Movie Or Maybe” (YouTube)
MySpace: Okkervil River
Over at the Mountain Goats forum, John Darnielle has offered up an outtake from their new album to distribute and enjoy as we see fit. Say thanks by seeing them at Lee’s Palace this coming Tuesday night. Via Largehearted Boy.