Feb 28, 2008

Okkervil River @ Manning Bar

Seriously. It just has to stop. For the good of my health. This year of live music keeps getting better and better. Not only am I sleep deprived, but emotionally I am drained. If I seem to be in a constant state of hyperbole, then forgive me. But this stretch of live magic ain't over yet and it seriously keeps getting better. I have seen the sheer magic of Sufjan Stevens, the bulldozer that is Win Butler. The smoldering majesty of Matt Berninger and the intensity that lives inside Britt Daniel. Even the whirlwind that is Torquil Campbell. But...but. Will Sheff. I bow to you, I dips my lid. You are the man. I will need a thesaurus as big as Texas to even attempt to describe how much passion you display on stage. I will try, but believe me I was humbled Wednesday night at the Manning Bar. Your presence is a present. A gift to all that were there. A bright, burning gift of the power of song and the explosive qualities that only the best music can offer. This was my third time of seeing Okkervil River, but I could see them a million times and I would never tire. Never tire of the sheer overload of ecstasy felt at one of their shows. Rapture, sweet rapture. And to think it wasn't even sold out.

The six members of Okkervil River walked on stage. All of them were to play an integral part in this night of majesty. Professional and versatile to the extreme, they provide a wonderful framework for Will Sheff to do his thing. Compared to Mr Sheff, they are relatively understated. Well except for Travis Nelsen who plays his drums with a pure unbridled joy. Scott Brackett is a vital component too, with his trumpet skills a pure joy. Whilst Brian Cassidy is superb, sliding from guitar to pedal steel to mandolin with consummate skill and ease. But Will is definitely the centrepiece, more about him in a moment. As seems common at recent shows the band opened with "The President's Dead" and "Black", both fun songs which certainly put everyone in a good mood. Then perhaps the only moment when I was distracted. "A Hand To Take Hold Of The Scene" is probably my least favourite song off "The Stage Names", so I am bemused why this song seems to be a live staple. But it was unadulterated glory after this. Beginning with the pairing of "A Girl in Port" and "Plus Ones", both sublime renditions, only heightened by the moments when Will whispers into the microphone and my adoring ear. If this almost stopped my heart, then "A Stone" killed it with tenderness. With only bare backing by Cassidy and Brackett, Will Sheff slowly but surely creaked into the mic. The venue was in dead silence, only beating hearts could be heard and moist eyes could be seen. The highlight, of this night, or any other. But wait, there was more, much more. "So Come, I Am Waiting" tore shreds as Will started slowly before the whole band rejoined him for an epic finish. Then the last four songs were just triumph coupled with elation. Power linked with passion. "John Allyn Smith Sails" had me singing "I want to come home" and "For Real" was preceded by a furious build up that lifted the roof. This band can be subtle as a feather or swing like a wrecking ball when needed. To close with "Unless It's Kicks" was a simple exercise in fun, smiles were written that will be never be erased. A short pause was followed by two encores. The first featured two older songs, well received as we don't get the chance to hear this material enough these days. Then Will strummed "Title Track" solo, enough to make a grown man cry, followed by the mighty "Westfall". A song destined to never grow old, we were asked to sing "Evil don't look like anything" and we responded with full throated roar. Then it was over, sadly. A night to never forget. Will Sheff is a marvel. Such passion, such emotion, such expression. Such...life. He wrote the songs, he lives and breathes them. He is them. Hearts beating, smiles shining, bones aching, minds thinking, feet moving, legs wilting, souls stirring, fingers gripping, arms embracing. Tongue torn out and balls removed...What gives this mess some grace unless it's fiction. Fiction? No. Just truth.

Set List
The President's Dead
A Hand To Take Hold Of The Scene
The Latest Toughs
A Girl In Port
Plus Ones
You Can't Hold The Hand Of A Rock And Roll Man
A Stone
So Come Back, I Am Waiting
John Allyn Smith Sails
Our Live Is Not A Movie Or Maybe
For Real
Unless It's Kicks

It Ends With A Fall
Okkervil River Song

Title Track

More photos of this night at Flickr.


  • At February 28, 2008 , Anonymous Anonymous said...

    Thanks for the write up as always Wayne. You and I both know I should've been there last night.

    I guess Kansas City has officially been retired then?

  • At February 28, 2008 , Blogger Wayne Massingham said...

    Yeah Geoff, it felt strange you not being at an Okkervil River show. They were truly amazing.

    Unfortunately it would seem Kansas City will be played no more. But Okkervil River Song was a pleasant surprise. And all the new songs sounded great!

  • At February 28, 2008 , Anonymous Anonymous said...

    Sounds like the Sydney show packed a punch also! You seemed to enjoy the same highlights as I did Wayne. How do they produce such a performance night after night? They're pretty special.

  • At February 29, 2008 , Anonymous Anonymous said...

    Can't resist chiming in with appreciation for the OR show, & Will's performance in particular. As mentioned, the pared-back, a capella ending of "plus ones" was a great moment ("let's make the world's stupidest stance and truly mean it" is my fave song line at present). I appreciate the way they suspend the crowd in breathless awe, but then finish with a laugh or a joke. Taking the music seriously but never themselves. The fact they still felt the desire to finish off with Westfall after such an amazing set to that point indicates they still love what they're doing, & Will always sounds like he means it when he thanks the crowd - even if, amazingly, it's not a sell out! Great stuff.

  • At March 01, 2008 , Blogger Michael said...

    Nice write up. Pretty much echoes my feelings exactly.

    All the songs from The Stage Names seem work incredibly well live now. Saw OR a couple of months ago and the new songs were a bit rough, but they certainly seem to have remedied that. I mean, John Allyn Smith...wow.

    I guess I would've liked to have seen one or two more songs from Down The River..., though I have no idea what songs I would drop from the setlist to accomodate them.

  • At March 14, 2008 , Blogger Y said...

    Just discovered your site. Love your review of Okkervil River. I was there, and your experience echoed mine exactly, only you put it into words so much better than I ever could. Ditto Iron and Wine and Beirut, but I was way way more disappointed with Beirut than you were. Although like you say, expectations were extremely high, post-OR.

    Am bookmarking you and looking forward to reading more :)

  • At March 15, 2008 , Blogger Wayne Massingham said...

    Thanks Y, it was definitely a special, special night. And I hope you keep checking in.

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