Sunday, April 20, 2008

Record Store Day, Okkervil River, and The New Pornographers

Yesterday was my indie rock day. All over the country, people were celebrating the national treasure that is the independent record store. Additionally, Okkervil River and The New Pornographers were playing The Pageant in St. Louis. It was to be a beautiful day. (Cue the U2 track...No, on second thought, don't.)

Blogging and COMO scenester friend Billy and his buddy D picked me up to make the two-hour trek to the rock event of the weekend and some record shopping. On the way there, we compared war stories of indie rock lore and concerts past. I hadn't had a day like this in a long, long time. Don't get me wrong. I love my partner and our conversations are very stimulating, but I love a good rap session on all things rock.
As we entered "The Loop", we came upon Vintage Vinyl, the record-shopping destination to which we so looked forward. They had a band playing out front, DJs inside (we missed sets by New Pornos and Stars), and free PBR. We did not need those distractions, however. It was Record Store Day and we intended on buying some records.

Billy had a plan to buy Gram Parsons and George H
arrison LPs, while D was up for whatever and settled on a 7" by olde-time, COMO legends Ditch Witch. I, on the other hand, entered the store with no plan. Since we still had to eat and the show was to start early (thanks to an "all-ages" label), I felt overwhelmed by the task at hand. Luckily, I saw the Feist/Constantines 7" I was eyeing on Insound the day before and grabbed the Caribou record on Billy's recommendation. I didn't get anything interesting, but I did my part in supporting one indie record store.

After grabbing a bite to eat (and meeting up with D's crazy woman friend), we headed to The Pageant. Billy and I deposited our purchases in D's immaculate car trunk. (This is noteworthy since the rest of the car was dirty and smelled like fo
ot. The trunk on the other hand, was so clean that one could eat out of it. I'm not kidding.) We eventually made our way inside as I bumped into another buddy, Chad and his significant other, B. I was actually at a show in Misery with several people I knew. This has been a rare occurrence since moving here. I'm glad to have some community once again.

Chad and B had been at Vintage Vinyl as well. While there, B noticed a guy who looked strangely like The Wrens' Charles Bissell. She approached him and asked what he was doing there.

"It's Record Store Day," Bissell responded. B quickly explained what she meant was what was a guy from New Jersey doing in St. Louis. As was revealed later at the show, Bissell was stepping in for Okkervil River's guitarist who was expecting the birth of his child any day.
Okkervil River opened with "The President's Dead" to an audience of hipsters, pre-teens, and their parents. (Technically, I don't really fit into any of those categories. Oh well.) The set rocked at times but tended to drag at others. I had never noticed how much Okkervil sounded so much like Wilco until last night. As they used noise and feedback to segue between songs, I kept expecting them to loop the noise and sit on their amps for a rest just like the aforementioned Chicago alt-country heroes. Instead they played on.

Okkervil's emotion oddly enough does not come through as well live as it does on record. Will Sheff tried hard enough to seduce the microphone but to no avail. As is usual for most opening acts, no matter how accomplished, the emotion and urgency is lost on an unsuspecting audience. Luckily, the band was tight and their harmonies were dead-on for the most part. They also played pretty much just songs I knew from The President's Dead single, The Stage Names, and Don't Fall in Love with Everyone You See. Their set thankfully finished on a high-note with "Westfall", properly warming the crowd up for a Neko-less New Pornos.
I had to go into The New Pornographers' set with certain expectations. Particular members would not be present, that pop sheen that pervades their records might not be possible in a live setting, and it might get boring with all those hooks and upbeat messages.

First of all, I had to get over the fact that Neko Case was not going to be there. No matter how much I wanted to see the hot, red-headed Canuck with those pipes that won't quit, I had to accept that her ankle was broken and the Canadian health care system would have to take care of her. In fact, aside from a couple of parts in a couple of songs, she was not missed...well, not entirely. Keyboardist and accordion player Kathryn Calder filled in admirably.

The only way that I thought the band could avoid suffering from the glaring hole left in Neko's absence and translating their indie pop to a live audience was to stick primarily with high energy songs and to keep the witty banter to a minimum. In other words, they needed to keep the momentum started by Okkervil River by not slowing things down. And they did just that. The band quickly moved from one upbeat song to the next, really making the Newman-dominated set rock more than expected.

Besides the pace and urgency of the set, The New Pornos needed something to hold the audience's interest and make the night memorable. Then, A.C. Newman asked, "Where's Will?"

Out sauntered Sheff with guitar in hand. The band played a fantastic version of "Myriad Harbor" with the Okkervil front man singing all the lead parts. I liked the song before, but Sheff's performance was riveting and he finally was able to seduce the audience with his earnestness and charm.

As the band played a brief encore, a sports analogy suddenly struck me. The New Pornographers had become the Houston Rockets. The Rockets looked doomed to miss the playoffs when their star center Yao Ming went down with a season-ending injury, similar to Neko Case going down. It looked as if their season would be a disaster, until the Rockets won 22 in a row. Last night's set was the New Pornographers' 22-game win streak. The kept the pace up, rocked out, and covered for their fallen comrade.

My indie rock day ended in fine fashion. We drove the two hours back to COMO with plenty of material to discuss. The day took me back to my college years of driving to Cleveland for an Archers of Loaf show or Bowling Green to see Modest Mouse. It was nice to have another of those days before I have to grow up and enter the next chapter of my life.


Annie Zaleski said...

wow, i had the exact opposite reaction to the show. i was quite disappointed!

btw, native clevelander. boy i miss the grog shop...

comoprozac said...

If you notice in my post, I did have to adjust my expectations. I often find going in to a show expecting the worst makes it much more enjoyable.

Ah yes, the Grog Shop. I think the last bands I saw there were possibly Joan of Arc or The Walkmen. (Of course, it all runs together these days.)

Tyler said...

Fun fact: Neko isn't Canadian! She was born in Virginia and lived all over the US. She went to a university in Canada.

gemmanuel said...

You do sound a bit underwhelmed. But ooh brother days like that (long drives to a show, record shopping et al) are a thing of beauty.

comoprozac said...

You called it, GM. The highlight was the day itself. We shared some good stories and had some good laughs. The show was fine.

Actually, Zaleski's review was pretty spot-on and not all that different from my take. Plus, she has pictures.