Tuesday, April 15, 2008

The New Pornographers, Okkervil River--The 9:30 Club, Washington, DC

The New Pornographers and Okkervil River have received considerable attention on this site so it's no suprise when word spread that they were touring together a collective "Hooray!" was heard outside our Chicago office at 1632 N. Jay Bennett Dr. I was also rather pleased when I saw my relocation to the District wouldn't prevent me from taking this show in. I swaggered north up Vermont Ave to the 9:30 Club and was almost taken aback by how eerily quiet and desolate everything seemed on the way. Then, I turned the corner, saw the fabled yet unassuming venue and was taken aback by the menacing line meandering from the door. Actually there were two lines: one for will call and the other for those already with tickets. Good thing I was hooked up with will call because that line was considerably shorter and the show was set to begin in five minutes. That line of thinking didn't last long as I made my way up to the front and realized once you were handed your ticket you had to go to the end of the other line. Wait in two long lines? You serious?

They were serious. I saw a few Henry Hills jump to the front of the admission line after getting their ticket but I didn't have the gall to do that. Not when I've only lived here a few weeks. (Give me a month or two and I'll be acting like a complete jerk.) By the time I made it to the threshold of the door I could already hear Will Sheff singing "The Presiden't Dead" from the inside. Come on, 9:30 Club. Two lines? Surely you jest. Hopefully things are more sane back in Chicago.

Upon winding down that song they segued immediately into "Black" which is just an incredible song from 2005's Black Sheep Boy. Sheff was more animated than I had ever seen him. At some point in the last couple of years he has really morphed into an incredible frontman. While I was noticing this, I also noticed that Jonathan Meiburg wasn't on hand for the evening. I'm assuming he's tending to Shearwater duties. His replacement (I'm not sure who it was) did a noble job, but it didn't quite feel the same without Meiburg. And, as most of you already know, Brian Cassidy is not around for this current tour and has been temporarily replaced by Charles Bissell of the Wrens. Bissell's most notable contribution, besides his comb-over, was an eerie guitar intro into "It Ends With a Fall" which was the only song they played from Down the River of Golden Dreams.

After Sheff, Bissell, and Scott Brackett guided the bit-too-noisy crowd through "A Stone" the rest of the band returned, settled in, and started to play most of the rockers from The Stage Names. A few years ago I certainly never would have envisioned an Okkervil River concert with so many classic-rock handclaps, but hey, I like it! After getting "A Girl in Port" out of the way, they played "Our Life Is Not a Movie...", "Unless It's Kicks" and "You Can't Hold the Hand of a Rock and Roll Man" in no particular order. Travis Nelsen on drums was in normal form. He's hilarious. I understand what Brian was saying about James from Saved By the Bell but I'm sticking with the Animal comparison.

The most electric part of their set was when they played "For Real" which started right in the intermediate guitar solo before going right back to the beginning of the song. It's pretty amazing how that song often sounds even spookier live than on the album. And it has a lyric right in the middle of the song that I've always really enjoyed.

After playing less than an hour, they laid into inevitable show closer "Westfall" (only track played from Don't Fall in Love With Everyone You See) and brought it to a thundering end. They thanked the crowd and left to a pretty loud reception from the 9:30 crowd. This may have been the least memorable Okkervil River show I have seen (to be fair, most other times I saw them they were headlining), but it was still fantastic and fun to watch everyone in the crowd soak them up.

The 9:30 Club is very punctual. At 9:30 the lights dimmed which signaled time for some Canadian power pop. The New Pornographers have to be the only band where it feels like some game of indie roulette as they emerge onto the stage. You never know who's going to be there! When I saw them at the Metro last October and realized everyone was in attendance, which included Dan Bejar and Neko Case, I felt like yelling out "Bingo!" So as they walked on stage I was being pretty attentive (I already knew Mr. Destroyer was absent) and saw the only red hair belonged to Carl Newman. Later he told us that Case was actually on the current tour but was incredibly sick and they had to sacrifice an evening. Looks like we were the lambs. On the bright side, it was announced that it was Newman's birthday. Hopefully someone kindly gets him an opaque t-shirt as a gift. Honestly, get a bra on that guy! If I have to spend an evening with Carl Newman's breasts one more damn time...

To be honest, I didn't really care that Case wouldn't be playing. I had seen them before without her and I know Kathryn Calder can more than hold down the fort when Case is absent. They opened with, ummm, who the hell remembers.....something fun and from Challengers. (I think it was "All Things That Go That Make Heaven and Earth".) After some more Challengers, "Jackie Dressed in Cobras" was touched on and the evening was in full swing. And I've never seen a group of people look more Canadian than the New Pornographers. They all looked like they hadn't seen sunlight since last July. I hope their tour is heading down south soon.

They did a pretty good job of spreading the joy and attention to all four of their albums with the highlight for me being the title track from Challengers with Calder doing the lead vocals. Around this time someone in the crowd yelled, "I love you synthesizer girl!" Hey, me too! More fun was had with "Twin Cinema", "The Laws Have Changed", and "Mystery Hours". After playing "The Bleeding Heart Show" (by the way, in the time it has taken you to read this article, I've earned a degree in rock journalism from University of Phoenix) the band exited the stage for the inevitable cheering and encore. I decided to leave because it was a week night and I am a working man. Plus, I wanted to beat the two lines on the way out. But as I was leaving they came back and started covering "Don't Bring Me Down" by ELO (and covered it very well, I might add) which made me stop in my tracks and enjoy what was on stage a little longer before exiting the 9:30 Club.

Quite a fantastic night. Not the best I've seen from both, but anytime you get to see two of your favorite bands on the same stage in the same evening (and it's not at some $250 summer festival) you know you've done well. I wanted to give more of an evaluation of the 9:30 Club but my late arrival and early departure didn't leave me much time to dissect the place. I am returning to the behemoth very soon so stayed tuned.



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audrey said...

Some thoughts on the show at the Riveria Theater, Chicago on April 20th:

(1) If you've released 5 full length albums, that should automatically DQ you from being an opening band. Okkervil River got benched too soon.

(2) Will Sheff is looking mighty haggard, with weed-like hair creeping across his face. But that did not stop the ladies from lovin him...a woman standing behind me in the audience stated she thought Sheff looked like he had Down's Syndrome. This same woman was later screaming "I LOVE YOU WILL!!!" at the top of her lungs. I scoffed at her comments standing front and center, basking under the fine mist of his spittle. Damn, the power of rockstars.

(3) Will Sheff replaced Destroyer-man Dan Bejar in an awesome rendition of Myriad Harbor

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