May 13 | Reviewed by Brannavan Gnanalingam

WATCHING a band you’ve seen before and drooled over is a bit of a challenge. Hype can be, after all, cruel. It’s like watching something with a towel wrapped around your face. Endless comparisons waft in-between songs, images from previous experiences vie for prime attention. But the disappointment that it didn’t match up to last year’s incredible performance, is in hindsight pretty minor. To use a bad analogy, it’ll be like saying since Canada is not as big as Russia, Canada’s a small country. Will Sheff and co. put on another excellent show, showcasing the overdriven melodrama and good old-fashioned rock n roll that their live shows are legendary for. The intensity with which he sings is enough to show he’s not faking it, the amount of spit that bellows from his mouth (given his recent arrival from the US) would have had health officials concerned if they still cared about swine flu.

The night was opened by Family Cactus, who boasted enough melodies and sweet harmonies to write a Pop 101 music course. They did leave you endlessly comparing their songs to other musicians – this bit sounds like Arcade Fire, this bit sounds like Bruce Springsteen etc., and there was a moment which sounded a bit too much like Op-Shop which should best be avoided – but it was a compellingly put together set and a signal that Family Cactus have some good potential.

Okkervil River’s entrance was a bit more low-key this time around, the band shuffling on stage after an elongated wait. Jumping straight into ‘Plus Ones’ from 2007’s The Stage Names, the initial signs were a little sloppy – vagrant drum fills, having to cast aside incessant crowd screaming for ‘For Real’, and the occasional speaker problems. The six-piece also seemed to struggle to fit on the Bodega stage. And there was a little matter of the crowd chattering like scavenging seagulls sifting for rinds over any quieter moment. While Sheff was never blessed with the most angelic voice, it’s compelling enough unless it has to sing over the crowd (there was one particular stentorian voice, whose owner I wished would have been attached to wheel with spikes and rolled down a hill).

No matter, the crowd eventually calmed down enough to savour the fact that Okkervil River, while not necessarily playing the most complicated music, do their craft so damn well. Sheff relaxed into the gig a little bit more as the set progressed, and the great songs just kept coming. The material mostly focused initially on The Stage Names, while a few choice tracks from Black Sheep Boy and last year’s mildly underrated Stand-Ins featured in the main set. A particular highlight was ‘Lost Coastlines’ (while obviously missing the mellifluous voice of Jonathan Meiburg) was a song made for an unhinged sing-a-long. By the time Okkervil River finished two encores (composed entirely of requests), and Sheff genuinely expressed his gratitude to the nearly full Bodega, yet another Wellington crowd left satisfied after witnessing one of contemporary music’s best live acts.