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March 17, 2008 | by  | in Music |
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Okkervil River with support from Ladybird

San Francisco Bathhouse, Wednesday 5th March

We in Wellington are a lucky bunch. Broken Social Scene, Explosions in the Sky, Iron & Wine, Beirut, Wilco, Nouvelle Vague and Okkervil River all in the space of a month?! It’s hard to keep up with the veritable lolly scramble of great international acts passing through at the mo.

I was totally stunned by the sugar-sweet songs of French/Kiwi group Ladybird. This cohesive 5-piece (on this occasion, anyway) belts out smooth gems of glimmering pop in the same vein as Galaxie 500 or the Bats, exercising just the right amount of restraint and humour in their delivery. Their performances of ‘Forgot How to Roar’ and ‘Oh You Know…’ from recent full-length Love Will Conquer All were particularly great, topped off by tongue-in-cheek mock-French stage banter.

The San Fran was near-packed with fans clamouring for Okkervil River, and it’s unlikely anyone left unsatisfied. Kicking off with scathing number ‘The President’s Dead’, charismatic frontman Will Robison Sheff quickly drew the crowd into the evening’s performance with his enthusiasm and energy. What with the band’s penchant for dressing like Mormons (not that there’s anything wrong with that), it was quite a surprise to witness such a passionate and unrestrained set.

For me, the real appeal of Okkervil River is in the sheer verbosity of Sheff. The man is phenomenal; he has a Dylan-esque ability to quickfi re very evocative lyrics, and can hit notes like nothing else. His songs are more like short novels than anything. The band definitely pulled their weight, but without Sheff there wouldn’t be a lot in Okkervil River to mark them out as anything special. Not that the band isn’t enjoyable. Their alt-country mariachi-tinged rock has a great vibe to it, and is a marvellous platform for Sheff to shout from.

The highlight of the gig for me was undoubtedly the full re-working of ‘Sloop John B’ into ‘John Allyn Smith Sales’ towards the latter part of the set, a risky move that could have slipped from the comical into the tiresome very easily. It was a neat trick that displayed the band’s willingness to relax and have a bit of fun onstage, something that is so often missing.

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