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Concert Review: Okkervil River, Crooked Fingers

20-Oct-2008 12:45 AM Contributed by: pete Concert Reviews
Okkervil River

Phoenix in Toronto, Ontario
Photos and Review by: Pete Nema
Okkervil River
Crooked Fingers
October 12, 2008
Full Photo Set (16 photos)

Given that I included Okkervil River in my top 10 concerts of 2007, it should be no surprise that I was eager to see them again when the opportunity arose. They passed through Toronto in April this year, opening for The New Pornographers, but I was unable to get out to that show, so I waited in hopes that they would return later in the year to headline their own show. The release of a new album, The Stand Ins, on September 9th spawned a tour with a stop in Toronto on October 12. Perfect.

Okkervil River

As far as I can tell, Okkervil River has reached their current level of success without any major radio station airplay, and most likely entirely through word-of-mouth and college radio. For a band that was able to play to a nearly sold-out Phoenix on a the Sunday of Canadian Thanksgiving weekend, that's pretty impressive. They've been able to achieve this through exceptional songwriting and an even more impressive live performance. Seeing them perform for the first time in September 2007 was extremely memorable and changed the way I heard their latest album at the time The Stage Names (2007). So I wondered if they were going to be able to surprise me again, especially since I had such high expectations this time around.

Okkervil River  Okkervil River  Okkervil River

Like last time, their carefully crafted set list was a major contributor to the brilliance of the show. They started out by grabbing the entire room with Plus Ones, one of their best songs from The Stage Names and from there the sequence felt as though each song was the logical progression of the last. The analogy I used in 2007 held true this year as well: 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 an almost unexpected climax, and ending with a well written epilogue. The difference between the two sets was that this year they managed to carefully include a good number of songs from their latest album The Stand Ins (2008) in the set, all seemingly perfectly placed.

Okkervil River  Okkervil River 

And once again, I was sucked in and surprised by the power of the show. Will Sheff (vocals, guitar) is an unbelievable performer, probably one of the best current performers in North America today. From extremely gentle moments of a cappella to sweat-flinging rocking out on his well-worn acoustic guitar, the dynamic range of his capabilities are obvious and nothing short of impressive to witness. He started out the night in a neat suit and tie, but his neatness of appearance degraded as the performance intensified. It was a little bit of a Jekyll and Hyde thing, except the transformation happened slowly and deliberately before your eyes, and Sheff was left with nothing to regret from the actions his alter ego. Even though there has been some turn-over in two other band members, with Lauren Gurgiolo (guitar, mandolin) replacing Brian Cassidy (at least for now, while Cassidy deals with being a new father) and Justin Sherburn (keyboards) replacing Jonathan Meiburg, the overall musicianship is just as awe-inspiring as it was when I saw them in 2007. The final three songs of the set included inconceivably huge, adrenaline inducing renditions of Our Life Is Not A Movie Or Maybe (from their 2007 album The Stage Names) and For Real (from their 2005 album Black Sheep Boy), before the closer Unless It Kicks (also from The Stage Names). And now they have impacted the way I hear their studio recordings again, always as a reminder to their performance, incresing my enjoyment of their latest album The Stand Ins (2008) greatly.

Okkervil River  Okkervil River  Okkervil River

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Media: Our Life Is Not A Movie Or Maybe (mp3, video), For Real (mp3, video)

Crooked Fingers

Crooked Fingers opened the night, a band led by Eric Bachmann (vocals, guitar) previously of Archers Of Loaf, who played a few numbers solo. It's been 10 years since Archers Of Loaf were dissolved, but they're clearly not forgotten, a fact proven by the cheering that occurred when they played the Archers Of Loaf song Web In Front. Crooked Fingers was given a good full set, playing for about an hour. Violinist Elin Palmer appears to have had some ballet training in her past, based on her shoes and stance, which strangely didn't seem out of place with their country-tinged indie rock.

Crooked Fingers  Crooked Fingers  Crooked Fingers

Info: Crooked Fingers | Connect: MySpace, Facebook

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