Live Review: Okkervil River; Slowdown’s (brief) transformation into a sports bar; Metzingers tonight…

Category: Blog,Reviews — Tags: , , , — @ 12:43 pm June 15, 2011
Okkervil River at The Slowdown, June 14, 2011.

Okkervil River at The Slowdown, June 14, 2011.

by Tim McMahan,

I have to tell you, with all the news about the threat of ground-water flooding in downtown Omaha around the Qwest Center after heavy rains, I felt a bit of trepidation about going to last night’s show at Slowdown, what with a big-ass storm on the radar headed our way. Paranoid? Stupid? Yes and yes.

I got downtown at 10:30, just in time to see Titus Andronicus crowded up on the big stage  saying “Goodnight and thanks for coming” (which they did very well). Looking around the bar, it appeared as if Slowdown hadn’t done any cosmetic changes in preparation for the College World Series. That will come.

At the stroke of 11, out walked Okkervil River in front of a backdrop featuring two large wolf heads. Frontman Will Sheff, in a rather warm looking vest and suit jacket and disheveled hair, looked identical to the first time I saw him perform at The Junction in 2002 — a show that he acknowledged from stage, along with a past gig at California Taco. While they may look the same, the band’s sound has changed over the years, from a borderline alt-country-folk act in the Wilco vein to something more polished along the lines of Decemberists.

Maybe it seemed like the set got off to a rough start because I didn’t recognize the material, which probably came from their new album (which I haven’t heard). Unlike the more restrained, tuneful stuff they’re known for, the early portion of the set was dominated by epic anthems with rather unfocused melodies. Okkervil River is one of those bands where you’ll enjoy the music much more if you understand/know the words, which I couldn’t/didn’t.

It was shortly after performing “Red” from their 2002 album, and an awkward almost a capella number featuring just Sheff and his guitar, that things really began rolling, thanks to a thunderous version of “So Come Back, I Am Waiting,” from Black Sheep Boy. Things continued to pick up steam as Sheff and Co. pulled from the entire catalog. I’d forgotten how many good songs they’ve had over the years. While the songs sounded the same, the arrangements were different and better (driven by a terrific drummer) though at times Sheff seemed so off-kilter vocally, just swirling around the melodies, that it took awhile to recognize them. Some of his vocals sounded almost improvised, though still rooted to a central melody. But when it came to an audience favorite it didn’t matter because the crowd took over.

After about 75 minutes, Okkervil closed the set and then came back and finished strong with a two-song encore. It was a terrific show from a band that hasn’t forgotten Omaha as it has oh-so-slowly climbed the rock ‘n’ roll mountain. It was a fitting way for Slowdown to close out its last show before it turns into a virtual Nike Town over the next three weeks for CWS.

The club is closed for the next two nights to undergo its transformation. It reopens Friday with a Goo dance party after the CWS opening festivities, and through June 29 will feature mainly cover bands to support crowds of sports fans, none of whom have heard of Saddle Creek Records or listened to anything other than freedom rock.

Club owner Robb Nansel said Slowdown will boast a new projection screen on the main stage that is 133″ x 236″ so you’ll be able to enjoy all the baseball action from their air conditioned confines. There also will be more TVs throughout the club and outside in the beer garden (no idea if these are permanent or temporary additions, though I assume the latter), as well as food and vendor tents including food from Amsterdam Falafel, Worker’s Takeout, Blanc Burger, Chicago Dawg House and Tank Goodness cookies. Of course entry to Slowdown and its tent city will be free and open to the public. As I’ve said before, the only thing left for Slowdown to do is figure out where to stack all the money that’ll be flowing through their doors and tent flaps over the next few weeks. Perhaps they can build some sort of money-counting “safe room” like they have in casinos, maybe in The Slowdown’s secret basement. Actually, with all the ground water problems, that might not be the best place…

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It’s punk night at The Waiting Room this evening with Kingston, PA, Sideonedummy band Title Fight headlining a bill that includes Touche Amore, Dead End Path and The Menzingers, a band that was featured in a video shot during the Love Drunk 2011 Tour (a video which you can view here). The show is $12 and starts early, at 6:30 p.m.

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Read Tim McMahan’s blog daily at — an online music magazine that includes feature interviews, reviews and news. The focus is on the national indie music scene with a special emphasis on the best original bands in the Omaha area. Copyright © 2011 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

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