Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Show Review: Okkervil River & The New Pornographers

I do often get excited about concerts, but it takes a really special concert announcement to excite me to the point I make sure that tickets can be in my possession the minute they go on sale. This did take place when it came to being able to see a band I have been listening to since my freshmen year of college (see post "to Whom I Owe Credit"), early 2006.

After quite a few listens of the track "Kansas City" from the mix that was largely the taste maker of what I listen to today, I came across some full length records by the band, Okkervil River, through another friend.

Since then, I've listened to a live show that was broadcasted via NPR and lived vicariously through youtube videos and photographs from their live shows, hoping for a Nashville show to arise before too long.

My hope for a show was answered when my good friend, Zach, imed me one day, saying "hey, that River band you like is playing Nashville soon,' causing a torrential fit of excitement on my end, requesting he order tickets the second they go on sale [even though everyone knows Nashville rarely ever sells out a show]. He also mentioned that the band Okkervil was opening for was the New Pornographers. I had heard the name dropped quite a bit across the internet and all, but had never really listened to their tunes.

Onto the actual show... we arrived about an hour before the doors to find not too terribly many folks already lined up and I found a spot at the front of the stage when we walked through the doors. The Okkervil boys opened up with "The President's Dead", as I was hoping, moving into a set of songs off the newer record, "The Stage Names", half off the earlier records. This being my first time seeing the band and being familiar with most of their catalog, I was quite happy with the mix of songs chosen.

The energetic and well executed set was around an hour long, much longer than I had predicted and was about the perfect amount for the songs that they fit in. There wasn't too much talk between songs but they had a stage presence that made the audience feel like they were a part of the set, not just people standing in a room, listening to what this group of guys had to say.

Some of the songs the band played included "The Latest Toughs", "A Stone" (with only Will (vocals/guitar), Charles (guitar) and Scott (playing trumpet) on stage for a stripped down version that was similar to the record, "Unless It's Kicks" and a killer version of "John Allyn Smith Sails". They ended the set with "Our Life is not a Movie (or Maybe)" and "Westfall". I was very pleased to see the mandolin busted out for "Westfall", as it is on the record ("Don't Fall in Love With Everyone You See"), plus it is pretty much my favorite track the band has released.

When the New Pornographers hit the stage, I was excited to hear their songs, particularly those off of "Challengers", which I bought about a month or so before the show to get a feel of their sound (which I totally dug).

After opening with "All the Things that Go to Make Heaven and Earth", one thing was quite evident, the first few rows of the crowd, including myself, could not really hear any of the vocals. After a few more songs, the crowd let Carl know this, to which he commented that we were in the front and the sound is always the worst there. Personally, I was not a fan of this comment from the singer, particularly since most of the folks at the show were there to see his band and they couldn't hear any vocals. Plus, he had his amp up a tad too loud for my taste, realizing I was at a concert and all, so that left a kinda bad taste in my mouth.

Being Neko Case and Dan Bejar-less, some of the songs weren't quite what they could have been, though I definatly give props to Kathryn for being able to take over on songs such as "Challengers" for ankle injured Neko and doing it justice. Having never seen the band before, I honestly didn't miss Case being there, or Bejar for that matter. Infact, in Dan's absence, Will Sheff of Okkervil was brought onto the stage to sing "Myriad Harbor". I was pretty content with this, seeing as it happens to be my favorite track by NP and I would feel as if something was missing if the song was not in the set. Plus, I am pretty biased toward Okkervil, so a little bit of Will Sheff thrown into the NP mix didn't hurt anything.

Overall, the vibe I got at the end of the nite was Okkervil River is a great band, particularly live (though the records still have it, too) and the New Pornographers are a record band, not necessarily a live act. The connection that Will and the Okkervil guys were able to have with the crowd just did not come across with the New Pornos. They felt much more as they were playing for the crowd, as a opposed to playing on a level that the crowd could relate to- they knew they were a pretty big band, in the scheme of things and people were there to see the New Pornographers play songs, regardless of who else happened to play that nite.

Of course, keep in mind, I have quite a history of listening to Okkervil River and that has biased my opinion.

In the future, I go see Okkervil anytime they got within a feasible radius of my location, the New Pornographers, eh, it would depend on who else they were touring with.


Any thoughts on the show or any of the shows put on by these folks? Feel free to share your highly opinionated [or not] thoughts!


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