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Live Review
Okkervil River

Okkervil River

Event Info

May 13 2009
Bodega, Wellington

Reviewed By
Courtney Sanders
29th March 2010


Okkervil River
Wednesday 13th May
Bodega, Wellington

I was one of those people. I was one of those people that would be BF’s with Phoebe from Friends and they would go to shows together and they would do what I did. They would completely absorb themselves in the music and they would close their eyes and sway sometimes. Shame. But I didn’t care, and nor should’ve you if you were there because Okkervil River on Wednesday night at Bodega Bar was, gush, and yep, I’m going to say it, an almost transient experience in which it would be rude NOT to close ones eyes and take yourself to that place, wherever it may be.

Because Will Sheff writes the kinds of lyrics over the kind of (11 year!) history that can be appropriated by everyone simultaneously, for equally personal and assertive reasons. Perhaps the fact that he manages to delivers them with such rasping verocity night after night also says something for the universality of the themes - even the writer can re-appropriate their meaning for consistently emotive performances?

Ok, Ok, the show. I actually can’t remember what track he opened with – I know it was from The Stage Names – and I think it may have been ‘You Can’t Take Hold of a Rock n Roll Man’ (but feel free to correct me because I have an awful feeling I’m wrong – but it was the pouring of vocal spit and nonstop intensity from this track into ‘Singer Songwriter’ that initially capitulated my attention. And this sort of dishevelled perfection was the cornerstone of the show; even when they were fucking up – which was surprisingly often, and almost seemed appropriate - they were doing it like pros and like showmen.

Example: on ‘Our Life is Not a Movie or Maybe’ when the song delves into a sort of minor noise core thing midway through, they completely fuck up the timing coming back out of it, but instead of apologising or starting again Will Sheff vocalises an alternate image for the song while everyone gets back in time; ‘Ok listen, I’m picturing this, there’s a man, he’s on a porch in a rocking chair. He’s on the porch in a rocking chair and he’s about 55 years old and dust is lifting from the chair into the air…1, 2, 3, 4’ and counts the band back to finish. Aww.

And the crowd? The crowd was as you wouldn’t imagine - huge – Bodega was the most packed I have ever seen it, like waiting 20 minutes 4 people deep back from the bar packed, and also how you would imagine it – that sort of reserved connoisseur of alt-country music who appropriately LOVE Okkervil River – I swear to god the person beside me was going to give the E-ed up, over-enthusiastic teens in front of me the beatdown.

Playing mainly The Stage Names and The Stand Ins (at least until the encore) Okkervil River delivered a contagiously well rounded set that was poised between acoustic balladry with spotlight on Will Sheff alone, and full, raucous, pulverising hits that only a six piece band can deliver. And while Sheff naturally commanded the most attention – ever member was notable. The drummer with his enthusiastic accompaniment of lyrics, the percussionist with his exceptional trumpet playing and lots and lots of tambourines, the accompanying guitarist and vocalist on ‘Loast Coastlines’ (his velvety smooth vocal contrasted Sheff’s spitting, shout) was brilliant, as was the Sheff-pianist duet.

Total gushfest. I know, and I’m completely unapologetic. I interviewed Sheff recently and I maintained a resolute objectivity that was appropriate for such an article, but hell, this is a live review, and live experiences are nothing if not emotional in some way shape or form – if not why do we bother leaving the comfort of our record/cd/mp3 player?

In saying all of this, let me introduce an alternate opinion; a friend mentioned that when they played Wellington last time the set was actually more dynamic because Sheff’s resolute anger and frustration over the current administration (Bush) was personified throughout the performance. And while I do agree that it potentially encouraged a more emotional experience, you just kind of get the feeling that finally, after such a lengthy career with line up changes and concept albums and EP’s and Letterman appearances, Okkervil River and Will Sheff have finally found their feet, and the credit and live turnout they undeniably deserve.

A work colleague who came along at the last minute after initially deciding there was NO WAY he could afford it concluded ‘Show of the Year’ status this morning. And if he’s not right, Okkervil River have set an exceptionally high benchmark for 2009.

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