Okkervil River and The New Pornographers

The highlight of my first year of school took place last weekend, and, not surprisingly, it had nothing to do with school. On Friday I escaped. On Friday night I slept soundly. And then, on Saturday evening, I attended the most musical night imaginable. A concert, no, two concerts, of enthralling, epic sounds.

The evening started with a walk up the treacherous, mountainous steps of the Carnegie Musical Hall of Homestead. Then, as I finished my ascent and approached what seem to be the doors of Oz, I saw him: a nonchalant, spectacled Will Sheff, busy reciting a message into his cell phone. To start off the night like that only inspired my eagerness to a higher degree. The stars of my iPod were in the building.

High above the ground, I sat in my balcony seat with my treasured souvenir: a tee-shirt that says "Pornographers" in seven successive lines of bold text. A testament to the wicked fun that was to come in the second set.

In waiting I found pleasure in peeking. My seat gave me a perfect vantage point for spying on the action in the wing. It gave me ample time to try to introduce my dad, mom and brother to the band members whom they had never seen and barely heard. Travis Nelsen, Okkervil River's drummer, entered the hall several times with various drinking vessels in his hands. Did they not have coffee for the poor guys backstage? Will also made a few appearances but, well aware of his more recognizable face, did so very quickly. The New Pornographers were more shy due to their headlining status. I saw Carl Newman's orange head and jaw line shining in the dark stairwell, but everyone stayed offstage until they had to prep their instruments.

Eventually the lights dimmed and the first show started. Okkervil River, in their dark slacks, skinny ties, and varying, if not confusing, choices of shoes, were prompt. They wasted no time; all six guys walked on stage, and Will started solo with "The President's Dead" until the rest of the band joined him for the last crucial bit, defining the high energy level that would be maintained for the rest of the set. Will's voice sounded great, both powerful and expressively charged, and its clarity was highlighted by the rapid alliteration used in "Our Life is Not a Movie or Maybe." Travis cheerfully sung along but, unlike all the other members of the band, he did not have a microphone. This might be due to the constant head-banging he does while he drums and the risk of injury such a protruding object would entail. The guys did look like they were having fun, and, as a result, their presence was enthralling; "Unless It's Kicks" and "For Real" were especially invigorating.

Sadly, they had to say good-night, deconstruct their instruments, fetch Will's forgotten tie and abandon the stage. The numerous New Pornographers' instruments and power cords remained. In fifty minutes' time, band members randomly appeared on stage to set up their stations. At 9 o'clock, right on time, the seven present Pornographers walked in succession to their posts, all wearing casual jeans, Carl in a striped pullover, Neko Case in a flared black cloak-like coat and the rest in tee-shirts. Carl and Neko said hello, and Carl begged the audience to stand. I gladly did so, but then, due to the low banister in the balcony, was forced to sit back down and resort to incessantly tapping my hands and feet to the joyous beats. I reveled in the vocal melodies and harmonies--Carl, Neko, and Kathryn's voices, intertwining and layering themselves in creative choruses, exploded out of the nearby amplifier. "The Bleeding Heart Show" and "A Testament to Youth in Verse" explored this glorious technique to its greatest potential, but "Stacked Crooked" and "My Rights and Versus Yours" were also inspiring. However, "Adventures in Solitude" also had an intricate vocal layout that cannot be fully appreciated on their CD. But, more importantly, it includes an accordion, as played by Kathryn Calder--my indie music icon whose role as keyboard player and accordionist I wish I could take. The New Pornographers' set was perfectly pitched for a carefree and celebratory Saturday night.

The brilliance of this pairing is in the opposites and equalities that can be found when comparing these two bands. Okkervil River has illuminating, personal lyrics and a powerful male lead. The New Pornographers have smart, surprising lyrics and strong male and female components. Okkervil River dresses up while the New Pornographers dress down. Okkervil River is driving-at-dusk music while the New Pornographers are driving-at-dawn music. However, both bands have many commonalities. They both fill a stage with bodies and instruments. They both sing loudly and rock hard. They both use multiple tambourines. And, above all, they're both super intriguing and talented.

The concert was ridiculously fabulous; I was hoping for an on-stage collaboration, especially when The New Pornographers played ELO's "Don't Bring Me Down," but it was fabulous nonetheless. The conjoined tour is almost over, and, sadly, Neko hurt herself in the process, so some ticket-holders will not get to appreciate her potent, smooth singing voice and thick, tousled hair (Get better, Neko!). However, if they come back--together or separately--I will definitely be seeing them again and scream-singing all the lyrics. I have the tee-shirts (I had to get an Okkervil River one over the Internet, so I could support both awesome bands equally) just in case.