SXSW: Okkervil River @ The Mohawk

I hadn’t counted on making it into Secretly Canadian’s label showcase, so Okkervil River was a happy surprise. Their album Black Sheep Boy completely blind-sided me straight into fandom, and I was glad to finally experience the Texas group firsthand.

MP3: Okkervil River – The Presidents Dead

Will seemed to be in a great mood — and why shouldn’t he be? The joint was packed with people crammed together to catch the headliner of a great showcase. As such, the band were tight and powerful. And it was worth it alone to hear one of my favorite songs of the new millenium: “For Real.” I was mid conversation when I heard that familiar chord pattern start up and lead into Will’s whispered vocals. Everything from the near-silence of the verses to the crash of the choruses built the song into one of their set’s highlights.

As much as I enjoyed their show, I wasn’t able to pay enough attention to even guess at a setlist. They played two or three new songs — which sounded fantastic — and played a lot from Black Sheep Boy. Then the rest of the band left and Will came out to play “The President’s Dead” alone with his acoustic guitar.

The high point of that song has always been the line “like three shots to my head: the president’s dead,” which signaled the point where the rest of the band jump in and finish out the song in true Okkervil River style. Live, it was done with ten times the intensity of the record. While there’s not that element of surprise when you see the band walk back on stage, it’s a whole new creature when they put their all into it.

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