Okkervil River: 8 May 2009 - Sydney, Australia

One thing that Okkervil River did exceptionally well was fall apart.

Okkervil River

Okkervil River

City: Sydney, Australia
Venue: The Annandale Hotel
Date: 2009-05-08

The Annandale is the last of the truly great pub venues in Sydney: The floors are sticky, the air is stickier, and the band goes on when the TV goes off. If you take a wrong turn when headed to the bathroom you will end up on stage with the hapless support act. This is either a brilliant or horrible state of affairs, depending on how you choose to view it, or perhaps depending on the circumstances you find yourself in. When we went there to see the Melvins last summer I thought I was going to pass out from heat exhaustion, but this gig took place on a cold, wet, and miserable autumn night, with the Annandale providing a perfectly cosy refuge from the elements.

The show was sold out well in advance, and it seems the Church of Okkervil is a broad one, with the young and the old, the trendy and the fashionably untrendy all equally represented. Such a highly literate band was bound to attract an audience that like the sound of their own voices, but I was shocked by the extent to which some concertgoers could keep up their inane blather throughout even the most exhilarating musical moments, and it made me wonder why they bothered attending the show. Why pay to go out to a gig, only to spend the entire evening shouting into the ear of your companion? I realize it’s completely pointless complaining about it, but I can always hope that they see this when they are forced online to read reviews of the show, because god knows they can’t have heard very much of it on the night.

Thankfully the worst offenders, at least of those in my vicinity, walked out as the band started up “Our Life Is Not a Movie or Maybe”, which was lucky because I was on the verge of trying to glass them with my plastic beer mug. From the time they left, the show was clear sailing, and I was able to focus exclusively on the brilliance emanating from the stage. And there was no doubt about it, the band put on one hell of a show. Halfway through “Our Life…” drummer Travis Nelsen had been fired and rehired for excessive soloing, and by the time the song came to its crashing conclusion, guitarist Lauren Gurgiolo was out of the band too.

This was all in jest, of course, because frontman Will Scheff is nothing if not self-deprecating. Throughout the night he was constantly casting aspersions on the band’s professionalism, all the while serving up one of the tightest and most emotionally wired performances I have seen in some time, all of which is a large part of the charm of this band for me. Given the nature of their material and the traditionally po-faced genre within which they operate, they could so easily have taken themselves incredibly seriously and bored the shit out of all and sundry. That they didn’t is all the more credit to the very professionalism that Scheff constantly brought into question.

Notably absent from their set was their classic “The President’s Dead”, but on reflection maybe this was apt. It’s as though the song has been put to rest with the passing of the Bush administration, and perhaps lines like “He was a good man, you can’t argue with that / Not today you can’t, not now you can’t” lose their acerbic bite when set against the background of Obama’s presidency. As a worthy stand-in the band pulled out a cover of the Beach Boys “Sloop John B”, and I was momentarily worried that our friend Daniel, a particularly fervent fan of Brian Wilson, would pass out from an overload of joy.

One thing that Okkervil River did exceptionally well was fall apart. Chords came crashing and droning to the ground like a plane wreck, only to have the next verse coalesce from the remains and send the whole thing soaring again. This motif of rebirth was to reoccur throughout the night, which you could call a trick if you wanted to be nasty, but nevertheless it’s a bloody good trick and one that keeps the crowd aching for more.

It’s no stretch to say that Okkervil River was almost the perfect band for a venue like the Annandale. They were literate without being pretentious, messy but grandiose and deathly serious without losing sight of humour. Even if one of their greatest songs has been made redundant by the changing tides of politics they are a band that have something meaningful to say and are able to perform with a sense of urgency enough to effectively convey it, no matter which way the political winds are blowing.

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.