Thursday, September 25, 2008

Okkervil River at the Fonda, September 23

My second in a run of six consecutive concerts continued Tuesday night (September 23) with the Okkervil River show with Sea Wolf and Zykos at the Fonda. There was such a mob outside the theatre it took a long time to get in. Security is tight at this venue, but doesn't involve a strip search like the House of Blues almost does. (By the time I got through their security once, I felt like I was being admitted to Guantanamo) Once inside the Fonda, it wasn't too crowded, but I'd completely missed Zykos.

I watched Sea Wolf from a good vantage point and they delivered another of their characteristically terrific sets. The band is rather quiet and there's very little between song activity, but that seems to be indicative of their reflective nature. They just leave room for applause before launching into the next song. Opening with "Black Dirt", you begin to bob your head, almost involuntarily, to the addictive beat, and you don't stop until their set is done.

This band has such an easy, laid back manner and their music is so satisfying you feel like you're floating on top of a calm ocean with the sun pouring down. From their CD Leaves in the River , they played "Winter Windows", "Song For the Dead", "Middle Distance Runner" and the truly beautiful "Black Leaf Falls" which features that lovely piano part by Lisa Fendelander. Alex Church's vocals are always crisp and clear and I love the way he sings, what is for me, the emotional highlight "I Made a Resolution" from their EP Get To the River Before It Runs Too Low. That song has a powerful narrative that I'm not sure isn't autobiographical, and it's very emotional.

Aaron Robinson provides guitar and much wonderful vocal support, Catherine Odell plays a stunning violin, Theodore Liscinski provides solid bass and Joey Fricken's drumming is the foundation the whole band balances on. Sea Wolf have every element where it needs to be. The audience was most appreciative and cheered loudly at the conclusion of their set.

Okkervil River took the stage just after 11 and played for close to two hours. I'd tried to see them last year when they sold out the Troubadour and now they're selling out the Fonda. The place was packed full of enthusiastic fans.

Will Sheff is a spellbinding performer with a great expressive voice. The six-piece band played songs primarily from The Stage Names and The Stand Ins CDs but included a healthy sampling of earlier work as well. I was happy the sound was so well balanced you could understand Will's lyrics clearly. And with this band, that is imperative because, as another critic has noted, Will Sheff writes lyrics like a novelist. After each song you feel you've finished a short story. Many songs tackle romantic issues but he also isn't afraid of weightier topics, like damaged or destroyed lives or the relationship between the artist and the world at large.

Songs I recognized from The Stage Names included "Unless It Kicks", "A Hand To Take Hold of the Scene", "Plus Ones" and "Our Life is Not a Movie or Maybe" where the audience provided the "whoo-whoos" in the middle of the song, making it sound just like the recording. The crowd went crazy over "John Allyn Smith Sails" especially when it turns into a twisted version of The Beach Boys "Sloop John B". They also did "A Girl in Port", which is such a stunning, heartbreaking song the audience was lost in rapt attention.

The newest CD, The Stand Ins, was represented by "Lost Coastlines", "Calling and Not Calling My Ex", "Singer Songwriter", "Pop Lie" and "Blue Tulip" for one of the encores. Not being familiar with their earlier work, their other songs were strangers to me, but enjoyable nonetheless.

Quite frankly, coming the day after the phenomenal Fleet Foxes concert, any band is going to have a lot to live up to, but Okkervil River acquitted themselves very well.

Will does almost all the singing, with occasional assist from other band members, as he hangs off the microphone, and interacts nicely with the players. His youth surprised me, which belies the maturity of these sweeping sonic vistas and profound lyrics. I was particularly impressed with the piano work of Justin Sherbourne and Scott Brackett's trumpet, which add a lot to both the recordings and the live versions. (Thanks for the correction, Suzanne. Justin replaced the former player. Damned myspace!)

Great lighting and the wonderful, cool, open space in the Fonda, even when it's crowded, made for a really great concert experience. Nice way to see Okkervil River for the first time. I would be happy to see them again.


1 comment:

suzanne78704 said...

The keyboardist wasn't Jonathan Meiburg, but was Justin Sherbourne (sp?). Jonathan left the band to concentrate on another great band, Shearwater!