The New Pornographers/Okkervil River at the 9:30 Club, 04.014.08
As much as I love their music, it wasn’t The New Pornographers who brought me to this show. It was the enigmatic pull of Okkervil River and their lead singer, Will Sheff, that drew me to the 9:30 Club last Monday. But twenty minutes before they was scheduled to go on stage, the club was barely a third full. I wasn’t expecting this, especially for a show sold-out long in advance, and a man standing in front of me recalled being offered over $100 for a $13 ticket when Okkervil River played at the Rock n’ Roll Hotel in September. It seemed clear that the majority of the audience was there for The New Pornographers, as the club filled up during the beginning of Okkervil River’s set.
Watching Will Sheff strutt about the stage, I couldn’t help but think of James Brown (admittedly a strange comparison for a white kid from New Hampshire). I recently saw a video of the first time that James Brown collapsed on stage and someone came out from the wings to drape a cape on him and escort him offstage. Before Brown had made it off, he threw off the cape and gave an encore to the now-hysterical audience. There were several songs during which Sheff collapsed to the ground as he played the last few chords on his guitar. A few seconds later, he would rise and rip and roar through the next song. Was it purely for show? Likely, but that doesn’t make it any less effective, just as Brown sent audiences into a tizzy with that cape routine until his very last show.
After Okkervil River’s set, The New Pornographers took the stage. I knew before that Destroyer (aka Dan Bejar) would be absent, gearing up for his own tour in support of his new album, but when The New Pornos took the stage, there was worse news; Neko Case had fallen ill and would not be performing.
So on this night, it was really The A.C. Newman Pornographers that were performing. They were far from bad, but they just seemed to be lacking something. While the absences were strongly felt, the band still managed to make the most of A.C. Newman’s birthday and played a very strong set list with songs from Challengers, their latest album, and older hits like “The Slow Descent into Alcoholism” and “Testament To Youth In Verse.”
By the end of their set, and the two subsequent encores, it was easy to see why they were the headliners. The power-pop ballads, which they do so well, even had me dancing (a sight to be seen, I promise). But as note-perfect as their hooks were, I would still prefer the messy, enthusiastic, and infectious rendition of “Westfall” that closed the Okkervil River set any day of the week.
Photos by Sam Sweeney, Editorial Board Chair