At the Vancouver show, even though they had played late the night before and driven all day, Okkervil River was clearly having a great time. After a couple of songs Will said, with a great big smile (the surprised kind you have when something you thought would be bad was turning out to be really good), that he thought he was going to be "all awkward and strange," but that he was actually having a really good time.
Richard's on Richards opened much later than expected, and we waited in line for over an hour before they opened the doors. My hunch is that they finally got a call saying the band was coming (after 9pm!). Damien Jurado did a solo set after grabbing a chair from backstage and tuning his guitar. He looked tired. We got to witness the entire set up and sound check. Most of the band members were on stage for this, minus Will.
Once on stage, after a (cleverly planned) false start to the second song (Song about a Star), Will explained that they had had a really stressful day driving all the way from Portland with the van making a "burning sound", and getting held up at the border "for four hours." (After he said "burning sounds" when he had meant to say "smells" he joked that the stress had even given him synesthesia, which, for those of us who knew that synesthesia is when your senses get mixed up, was hilarious.) You could see that the the band was at that tired, living-on-the-edge kind of stage where the performance might go either way. Either they would be tired and struggling and just kind of getting through it, or they were going to give it everything they had in them.
Maybe it was the enthusiastic crowd, maybe it was a bounce back from a stressful day, maybe they are always this good, or whatever, but they were so loose, almost with a "What the fuck", let's give 'er attitude, that made for a fabulously memorable performance. Will was screaming out the lyrics, hitting every note, the band rocked, and there was sweat and smiles and playful moments, like when Will took advantage of the raised drum stage to sit for a moment. Some band highlights for me were Scott's coronet solos, Travis' enthusiastic drumming and Jonathan's powerful Kill her Again during "Westfall." This was my first Okkervil show, and maybe they rock this hard every night, but the choice of songs, with very few mellow ones, and seven from the new album, made me think that the show was partly a big fat middle finger to all those people who have referred to them as too emotional or whiny or any of that.
I don't know why Will called Our Life Is Not A Movie, Or Maybe their "new shit single", but maybe he's been hearing some grumblings about some fans' disappointment with the new album. I don't think he thinks it's shit but I think he was partly making an in-joke to the fans who know about the "controversy" of the new album, and its departure from the Black Sheep Boy sound/mood. And I love how he just speaks his mind and since he has a way with words maybe "shit single" just kind of came to him--it does have a good ring to it! Also, just before playing "Red" he said "this one is for all the sensitive people" referring, obliquely, it seems, to the same issue. Well, I'm one of those sensitive people--I love that song!--and I think he knows most fans are, and he is too. His sensitivity, intelligence and sense of humour are showing in his lyrics, his performances, and these very comments.
The new songs make for a hell of a rockin' live show (I talked to someone on the ferry the next day who sees a lot more shows than me. He used the word "shocking" to describe how good the performance was...). This Will Sheff guy is an artist who knows that his main job is to stay excited about what he is doing.
After seeing them live I am an even bigger fan, which I wasn't sure was possible. I'll never miss a nearby show again.
Long Live Okkervil River!