September 25, 2007
Almost immediately after coming back from Austin City Limits, I found myself completely absorbed in another music festival (this one being much less costly and much more local than the previous). The opening night of the festival included a number of great Secretly Canadian bands: Early Day Miners, Catfish Haven, Damien Jurado, but the main attraction was Okkervil River. The Stage Names is currently one of my favorite albums of the year, and this being my first time seeing the band live, in person, I knew I was in for a treat. Before I get to that here’s a recap of the other bands I saw.
I got to see a little bit of the Early Day Miners when I arrived and I wished I could catch more of their set. The band had a very washy, textured guitar sound that filled every corner of the room. The loudness of the music would make it difficult to classify as mellow, but the music was very atmospheric in nature, slowly revealing itself and building towards a climax. Good stuff!
Interestingly enough, I met the bass player for Catfish Haven at an after-party during Austin City Limits, and being completely new to the band I was eager to find out what they sounded like. It turns out they’re all about the southern rock/gospel/soul music. I can’t say those are favorite types of music to listen to, but the groovy bass-driven sound had a sudden appeal to me in the dimly-lit live setting.
Damien Jurado was the first artist playing that I had listened to before. The slow acoustic material that he played didn’t quite fit though, with the constantly growing crowd who were there to hear rock songs. He played a short set without saying anything except “thanks” before leaving. His songs are very well-crafted and dense on record, but it just didn’t work in this setting.
MP3 Denton, Tx.
It well past midnight by the time Okkervil River took the stage, but the audience didn’t seem to mind as we were all excited to see what Will Sheff had to offer us. He came out to much fanfare, and immediately announced that nearly all of the band had thrown up in the last hour after being infected with a rapidily spreading stomach virus. Being under the weather didn’t seem to deter the band’s energy one bit though, in fact they thrived on it, leaving everything out on the stage.
The whole night is a blur in my mind due mostly in part to my tiredness so I won’t try to recall the setlist, but I remember the band played through most of The Stage Names as well as some of the more upbeat cuts from Black Sheep Boy and a few older favorites like “Red” and “Westfall”. Each band member was completely on, immersing themselves in the music with Will Sheff as a ringleader of sorts for the troup. In contrast with some of the dark lyrical themes of the songs, the band was all smiles and played off each other the entire night. It was especially awesome to see Johnathon Meinsburg who I interviewed when he was last in town, lend his many skills to the band (his keyboard playing and background vocals are essential to the band’s sound). The first set ended on an very high note with “For Real”, but nothing could top the four-song encore.
After the break, Will Sheff came out solo for a minimal-yet-striking performance of “Title Track” that surpassed the studio version in every way. He then went on to play “President’s Dead” much to my delight and during the “three shots to the head” climax was joined by the rest of the band. One great moment led to the next as the band went into “John Allyn Smith Sails”, igniting an all crowd sing-a-long to Sloop John B. While this would have served as a perfect climax, the band upped themselves again with BSB Appendix closer “Last Love Song for Now”. Seeing Okkervil River is seeing a band in it’s prime. I highly suggest making it to one of their shows if you haven’t before.