26-Sep-2007 05:05 AM
Contributed by: pete
With five full-length CDs in their catalogue, Okkervil River had decent amount material to select from, and their selections were good and plentiful, playing their way through a double-sided set list, starting the set with my favourite song, Plus Ones, off their new album The Stage Names. If you listen to Okkervil River, you're probably a fan of Will Sheff's songwriting; he's a great storyteller and likes to include cultural references here and there. As a live act, the songwriting comes across even stronger. I already liked Okkervil River just from listening to their last two CDs, but now I like them ten times more. The song A Girl In Port has been running in the background of my mind constantly since last Friday.
There's not a whole lot to say about their performance. Basically, it was six guys on stage. I guess the reason the show so amazing was just the calibre of musicianship and the instruments they played. Will Sheff spent the night on an acoustic guitar, with other members adding some musical complexity using the usual instruments plus a trumpet, table steel guitar, and a rental accordion that still had part of the wrapper on it. Also very noticeable is Travis Nelsen on the drum kit, pounding out the varying beats that bring so many of the songs together. There were no crazy antics or overtly energetic moments... I suppose the most surprising thing was that they started out the night wearing suits. But beyond that, the strength of their show lies almost entirely within the tight presentation and perfectly crafted set list.
In fact, it was one of the best set lists I've ever experienced. Starting out strong, building up in a sequence such that one song always felt like it somehow led to the next. It included including a number of songs from their last two albums, but also drew upon their earlier work. The set was a bit like a good movie, providing background in the opening scenes, then a compelling story in the middle, all building up to a climax, and ending with a well written dénouement. It seemed so well thought out. Although more than a few songs had the crowd singing along, they closed the night with the clincher sing-along John Allyn Smith Sails. Even though I like the song, it is my least favourite track from The Stage Names. Some of the lyrics and melody come from a traditional folk song that was also used by the Beach Boys. The song covers the heavy subject of suicide, but still manages to come across quite happy, and which, despite my personal bias, worked well as the final number.
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