Okkervil River + Titus Andronicus + Future Islands: 8 June 2011 - Boston

At first listen, the melancholy “post-wave” of Future Islands, the aggressive thrashing of Titus Andronicus and the pop-bombast of Okkervil River could not be more contrasting.

Future Islands

Okkervil River + Titus Andronicus + Future Islands

City: Boston
Venue: Royale
Date: 2011-06-08

An eclectic mix of bands performed at Boston’s Royale the other night. At first listen, the melancholy “post-wave” of Future Islands, the aggressive thrashing of Titus Andronicus and the pop-bombast of Okkervil River could not be more contrasting. However, while the bands differ sonically, they come together with a dense lyrical intellectualism that draws from literature, history, mythology and populism in order to cultivate personal experience.

I viewed the show slightly from above as the Royale offered balcony spaces in addition to the standard floor arrangements. Being short, it was nice not to fight to try to see amongst the masses on the floor (from above, they were arranged in a tight cluster that neatly marked the boundaries of the club’s dance floor); for acts like Future Islands and Okkervil River, it was nice observing from afar, but next time I see Titus Andronicus I’ll have to jump in the crowd. The god-view provided a nice opportunity to see the band play as a unit, with the musicians complementing one another when there was a technical snafu or need for a beverage break. Disappointingly, I also noticed many people texting and surfing the web on their phones (and at least one iPad) during the performance; small thrills came, at the expense of the show, though those Facebook updates.

The night started off late. I could blame Boston traffic (or the ice cream tasting festival down the street), but who knows why the bands did not arrive on time. These things do happen, and at least all three band leaders were kind enough to acknowledge and apologize as they quickly ran through sound checks and re-tuned equipment before and during their sets. As Titus Andronicus lead singer Patrick Stickles noted, this was the back-stage look that audiences don’t get to see. Sure, interesting enough for a one time look, but let’s not make a habit of it.

Future Islands eased the audience into the evening with their bass-and-synth driven post-pop. Lead singer Samuel Herring’s crooning comes across with the same robustness on the live stage, though he was mixed a little low and at times drowned out by his band mates playing. This would be an intermittent issue throughout the night. The songs themselves, largely culled from the latest album In Evening Air (with one older and one newer song to round things out), took on a stronger energy in the live atmosphere, at times prompting members of the audience to shake-it, something I would not have necessarily associated the band with while listening to the album. Herring urged the crowd on, moving about onstage as if puppeteered by a cruel master. Or a heartbroken tin-man, take your pick. Either way, the cruel master took his toll; after the first song, Herring announced that he had split the seat of his pants — and he wasn’t wearing any underwear. No duct tape was to be found for on-site repairs, so the audience — despite his best intentions not to — occasionally were exposed to little more than they had paid for. Herring made note of a couple songs that had started out about happy occurrences yet had somehow turned toward melancholia through the songwriting process. Despite whatever sadness may purvey the lyrics, or technical errors inhibited the artist, the crowd happily applauded at the end of the set.

Titus Andronicus’s raucous Jersey-inspired, Celtic-influenced The Monitor supplied their set list, ripping through “A More Perfect Union”, “Richard II”, “No Future Part Three”, and a version of “Titus Andronicus Forever (...And Ever)” that had the band breaking down, each member playing a stanza individually on their instrument of choice. Sadly, there was no “Theme From ‘Cheers’” for the Boston crowd. Looking around, the heavy garage sound may have been a little more than the mellow indie crowd expected, but one group on the dance floor did attempt something of a mosh and the crowd partially picked up chants of “you’ll always be a loser”, and “the enemy is everywhere” from the appropriate songs. After the final song, “Four Score and Seven”, a smattering of chants erupted for “one more song”. Sadly compressed for time, Stickles shook his head no, whereby the chant changed to “no more songs” before fading out.

Each band acknowledged a contingent of friends in the crowd, but it was Will Sheff, originally from New Hampshire, who received the largest acknowledgment, and his band, as the headliners, the greatest attention. The crowd pleasantly sat by as Sheff and his band had to re-tune some of their instruments mid-set, eagerly awaiting the next pop-folk kick. They did not disappoint, playing mostly upbeat material that focused on new album I Am Very Far and 2007’s The Stage Names. Only four songs, less than a third, were taken from other albums. Two early songs were played solo by Sheff on acoustic guitar, offering a small break in what was an otherwise energy-fueled set. The crowd sang right along with The Stage Names songs, the highlight of which was the quick tick-tick-tick claps (aided by strobe lights) mimicking the clock that starts off “Our Life Is Not a Movie”.

The live show noticeably improves upon the recorded material, the dynamism of the band’s change-ups during songs displaying the evolving nature of the music in addition to their talent and professionalism. The new songs really take advantage of this environment. The recorded versions of “The Valley”, “Piratess", “Rider”, and “Your Past Life is Blast” can sound flat; there is so much arrangement, orchestration and overdubs that every sound is fighting space, leveling the dynamic ranges null as one multi-tracked note takes over for the next. Live, the sound is spread out, each instrument having its moment to breathe, the occasional effects carrying more impact, imbuing each song with a new life.

Sheff started out the night dressed in a tweed jacket and vest, dark glasses and beard giving him the image of English professor, something the density and imagery of the lyrics would not betray, his stage movements articulating the flourish of poetry. Being a hipster friendly band, a bit of irony emerged when the prodigiously lyrical band ended the main set with the “la la la la la”s of “Mermaid”. By the encore, he was down to a t-shirt, filling in the last minutes before the midnight cutoff with lead single “Wake and Be Fine”, and “You Can’t Take the Hand of Rock and Roll Man”. On the latter, Sheff instructed the crowd to clap their hands above their heads, keeping in time through a large majority of the song, immersing the audience in the music. The show had started late, but he was going to give them their money’s worth and send them home happy. Such live music allows for the display of such dynamism, a connection between performer and listener that can lead to a new appreciation, a sensation of delight amidst mishaps and masterstrokes.

Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

Keep reading... Show less

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less

If space is time—and space is literally time in the comics form—the world of the novel is a temporal cage. Manuele Fior pushes at the formal qualities of that cage to tell his story.

Manuele Fior's 5,000 Km Per Second was originally published in 2009 and, after winning the Angouléme and Lucca comics festivals awards in 2010 and 2011, was translated and published in English for the first time in 2016. As suggested by its title, the graphic novel explores the effects of distance across continents and decades. Its love triangle begins when the teenaged Piero and his best friend Nicola ogle Lucia as she moves into an apartment across the street and concludes 20 estranged years later on that same street. The intervening years include multiple heartbreaks and the one second phone delay Lucia in Norway and Piero in Egypt experience as they speak while 5,000 kilometers apart.

Keep reading... Show less

Featuring a shining collaboration with Terry Riley, the Del Sol String Quartet have produced an excellent new music recording during their 25 years as an ensemble.

Dark Queen Mantra, both the composition and the album itself, represent a collaboration between the Del Sol String Quartet and legendary composer Terry Riley. Now in their 25th year, Del Sol have consistently championed modern music through their extensive recordings (11 to date), community and educational outreach efforts, and performances stretching from concert halls and the Library of Congress to San Francisco dance clubs. Riley, a defining figure of minimalist music, has continually infused his compositions with elements of jazz and traditional Indian elements such as raga melodies and rhythms. Featuring two contributions from Riley, as well as one from former Riley collaborator Stefano Scodanibbio, Dark Queen Mantra continues Del Sol's objective of exploring new avenues for the string quartet format.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.