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Okkervil River at First Avenue, 6/12/11

Okkervil River's Will Sheff
Okkervil River's Will Sheff

Okkervil River June 12, 2011 First Avenue Mainroom Minneapolis, MN

Okkervil River's show at First Avenue last night was nothing short of epic. The band is on tour to promote their to sixth studio album, I Am Very Far, arguably one of their most thematically cohesive and standout albums, and the night was like a lesson in storytelling from one of indie rock's right-on-the-pulse finest.

The evening's second openers, Titus Andronicus, got the crowd buzzing and (and moshing) early on. Even those who aren't necessarily punk fans can't deny the infectious energy that they spread. Though the bill seemed zany--I would never have envisioned Titus Andronicus, a band that is almost pointedly sloppy and that plays with reckless abandon, to be opening for Okkervil River, a band which I regard as more thoughtful rock 'n' roll folk--it ended up being the perfect progression.

After Titus Andronicus got everyone's blood pumping, Okkervil River burst onto the stage with "White Shadow Waltz," a song that built up a grand crescendo that set the mood for the rest of the evening. Frontman Will Sheff approaches his songs almost as an author would approach a book, with common thematic elements and a carefully planned evolution in lyrics and sound, and the way his band performed the show at First Ave last night was evidence of that.

Midway through the set, after the rollicking first eight songs that had the audience joining in for many of the choruses, Sheff slowed things down. Standing alone on stage, he performed "A Stone," and it was one of the most powerful moments of the evening; in that song, you could hear the character of the jaded almost-romantic that Sheff sometimes writes in, his lyrics a more poetical expression of that universal anguished love that we have all suffered from at some point: "You love a stone, because it's dark, and it's old, and if it could start being alive you'd stop living alone."

And then, a few songs later, the energy was back up--and higher than before, as the entire crowd was clapping in time for "Our Life Is Not A Movie Or Maybe." Sheff introduced the final song, "Lost Coastlines," from an exhausted, sweaty pile on the floor of the stage, reaching up to grab the microphone: "This is a song about travelling and travelling and travelling and... and you guys and us and... let's just start playing the song." It was perfect and upbeat and Sheff somehow still had the voice for it--and then some, because of course, there was an encore. (Though for a hot minute it seemed like there wouldn't be, as the screen started to come down on the stage.) Okkervil River ended the night with a feverish, riotous version of "Unless It's Kicks," as Sheff threw his energy around the stage and demanded clapping hands high in the air, all the way to the back--and the crowd gladly complied.

Okkervil River at First Avenue, 6/12/11
Okkervil River
Okkervil River
Titus Andronicus
Titus Andronicus

Critic's Bias: I'm a big fan of Sheff's musical stylings. Deeply lyrical is always more appealing than not to me. The Crowd: Young twenty and thirty-somethings, all of whom were thrilled to be there. Overheard In The Crowd: "I am covered with all different kinds of gross boy sweat," said one friend who had been thrashing about during Titus Andronicus' set. Random Notebook Dump: First openers Future Islands sounded like a bad early '80s overdubbed effects band. Lead singer Sam Herring performed his songs like he was a comic book villain, very theatrically--which seemed out of place considering his almost non-participatory bassist and keyboardist, and the way his between-song banter sounded a little more like was a late night talk show host. If you're going to be in character, fine, but at least make it believable. For more photos: See our full slideshow by Erik Hess.

Set list: White Shadow Waltz A Hand To Take Hold Of The Scene Pop Lie Girl In Port Wake And Be Fine Piratess The Valley Westfall A Stone So Come Back, I Am Waiting Your Past Life As A Blast For Real Our Life Is Not A Movie Or Maybe Lost Coastlines -- No Key, No Plan John Allyn Smith Sails Unless It's Kicks


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