April 21, 2008

4/19/2008 - St. Louis: The New Pornographers/Okkervil River Show Review

As I set off for The Pageant Saturday, all I could think of was what songs and in which order Okkervil River might play their songs. It wasn’t until I pulled up to The Pageant that I remembered that The New Pornographers were playing, in fact they were the headlining act. My friend and I waited a very short time in line and once inside we made ourselves comfortable. We both looked around and slightly worried that the crowd wouldn’t thicken up much more and if it did it wouldn’t be until TNP came onstage. We couldn’t have been more wrong, and I must say that I’ve never been happier to be knee deep in people both young and old at this show. Okkervil River had the crowd they deserved and definitely paid the listeners back twenty fold.

Both acts were as solid as groups of their size and caliber could possibly be. Though, even playing an extremely tight set, The New Pornographers seemed almost a bit too perfect. The quirky and upbeat group came to impress, which they most definitely did. They played a good portion of material from the newest album Challenger (though they did not play my personal favorite, “Mutiny, I Promise”). All the kids who talked their parents into taking them to this show to hear their Rock Band favorite, “Electric Version”, were not disappointed and treated to an overall great experience. Erupting out of nowhere for the encore, ELO’s “Don’t Bring Me Down” came from the stage and brought the crowd to a deafening roar. To close out the night, The New Pornographers treated everyone to the live rendition of the University of Phoenix commercial, playing “The Bleeding Hearts Club”.

However, due to The New Pornographers lack of offensive, imperfect or grimy material it seemed too rigid, predictable even. A solid performance is undoubtedly welcomed by an audience, especially one seemingly full of ostentatious rock and roll fans. In spite of the unadulterated, fun bubbly performance put on by The New Pornographers, Okkervil River absolutely stunned the crowed.

Okkervil River did exactly what an opening band should do and beyond. The six-member outfit took hold of the audience with a casual entrance and continued to captivate the audience with a balanced set, pure and solid in performance with its own unique rough edges, and old and new songs. Will and company interacted with the audience with minor commentary, but what genuinely spoke to the listeners Saturday night was the presentation, the proverbial “whole package” of lyrics, melodies and harmonies - guitars, vocals, drums and keyboards. Perhaps most enthralling of the night was “A Stone” from Black Sheep Boy. Not a single other instant throughout the show Saturday night resonated quite like “A Stone” – the audience was absolutely still, all eyes on Will. You could nearly see each and every single member of the audience leaning in, clinging to every word that dripped out of Will’s mouth, yearning for more stories to be sung and more instruments to play an active role in the storytelling.

Needless to say while The New Pornographers merely entertained, Okkervil River shone brightly throughout their one hour set. The pure and conventional set imparted by The New Pornographers was sadly put to shame by their astounding and absolutely spectacular opening band. I know many an audience member walked out of that show as a new found Okkervil River fan, as well they should have.

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