The Zoo, Brisbane
3rd May 2009
“No one wants to hear about your 97th tear” offers Will Sheff, he of red beard, bookish glasses and shaggy hair, during tonight’s opening rhyme heavy “Plus Ones”. Oh but we do. We want to hear ninety odd minutes of heartbreak and loss, songs about self harm, child abuse, life on the road, groupies and unrequited love. Fans expect the extraordinary every time Okkervil River lurch into their town. They demand one of America’s most passionate, witty and engaging rock bands to sing and play with unbridled passion, not sated until Sheff himself sweats blood. And tonight, probably just a typical show on the Okkervil River’s punishing tour schedule, they got it.
True, Okkervil River, eleven years and five albums into their career, should probably be selling out venues bigger than the Zoo but the band seem happy with quality over quantity and the cosy environs suit the crowd too. Second song, the scathing “Singer Songwriter” has us worried when we can’t make out Lauren Gurgiolois’ lead guitar, but any fears it will be a repeat of last year’s Way Out West show are set to rest by the loud and lean riffs that accompany “All the Latest Toughs”. Her stage presence is still subdued, but the crowd naturally focus on Sheff’s wailing and alternating between thrashing and gentle strumming his acoustic guitar, although Travis Nelsen’s flailing arms and mop top behind the drum stool are also something to behold.
With virtually no filler in their catalogue a seventeen song set can’t capture everybody’s favourites (Webcuts was hoping for “President’s Dead” and “On Tour with Zykos” in particular) but it would be churlish to complain. Indeed the gig is split surprisingly equitably between the last three albums with around five apiece from last year’s triumphant The Stand In’s, its predecessor The Stage Names and 2005 fan favourite Black Sheep Boy.
The bouncy Motown bass lines of “A Hand to Take Hold of the Scene” and “Lost Coastlines” get the crowd grooving but it’s “For Real”, still a dark, vicarious thrill, and the ball to the walls anthem “Life is Not a Movie (Or Maybe)” which garner the most love. It’s refreshing then that the ballads, the wrenching rock star/groupie melodrama of “A Girl in Port”, and glassy eye inducing “A Stone”, match similar heights.
The highlights of the night are rightly saved for the encore; “Blue Tulip” combines both delicate folk and heavier rock modes with an acoustic beginning slowly building to a layered, cathartic second half that envelopes the Zoo in a thick haze of distorted bliss. Dishevelled and soaked with sweat the six piece have one more song, yes it’s the examination on the faceless nature of evil (and also a cracking tune) that is “Westfall”. Then they’re gone. The crowd bays for more but Okkervil River have to shed their tears on more crowds, including the Groovin’ The Moo regional festivals and southern states. 8/10 plus one.