Okkervil River & Titus Andronicus @ Royale 6.8.11
by Kyle Risley (Marketing), published June 15th 2011
photos by Anne Latini (Graphic Design)
With both indie-folk veteran Okkervil River and New Jersey’s best buzz band in ages, Titus Andronicus, on the bill for the evening, I wasn’t surprised to see the line to Royale stretching around the block as I approached. Offset by a transportation mishap with Okkervil River, the show was pushed back an hour, injecting the crowd with equal doses of heightened anticipated and rolled eyes with crossed arms. As the lengthy queue was eventually ushered inside the venue, opener Future Islands from Baltimore could be heard hastily sound checking before their set.
Rolling bass lines, playful synthesizer notes and minimalist drumming introduced Future Islands as Sam Herring’s (vocals) baritone delivery filled the room. Dramatically passionate, Herring was the focal point of the entire performance. Striking his face, pounding his chest, and reaching towards the stage lights, his charisma brought the songs to life much in the same way an actor gives life to the script. Herring seemed hurt and desperately determined to convey his pain to the audience, a hurdle his antics, sweat, and occasionally grating growl more than cleared. While certainly a bizarre showing of post-punk bombast, there seemed to be a certain spark within the group that was impalpable, but present. Sideways glances throughout the audience indicated a mixed reception, but at least it was not forgettable.
The crowd thickened as Titus Andronicus took the stage, forwent introductions and promptly dove headfirst into “A More Perfect Union.” The second time I’ve seen the band in the span of a few weeks, they ripped through their set with the precision of a tour-worn band. Patrick Sickles (vocals, guitar) spun tales of glory, defeat, and self-examination with an earnest delivery rarely seen. Sweat dripped from his beard as he whipped the eager fans into a moshing frenzy as Amy Klein (guitar, vocals) ceaselessly jumped around the stage. Drawing entirely from their latest album The Monitor, Titus Andronicus’s songs didn’t come across as completely as on record (after all, they can’t afford a dozen touring musicians), but what did come through was their keen intellect and unbridled fervor. And if you asked them, I’d bet that’s all they cared about.
Okkervil River drew evenly from their considerable catalog of songs throughout the length of their hour and half set. Balancing old tunes like “Westfall” and “A Stone” with cuts from their latest full length effort, I Am Very Far, the performance highlighted the range of sounds the band has covered in its thirteen years. Front man Will Sheff (guitar, vocals) guided the evening in what looked like an old MIT professor outfit, but the pairing made sense for his poignant, hyper-literate songs. Ending on a hit-heavy string from Stage Names, the six-piece capped their performance with “Unless It’s Kicks,” a nearly exhausted Sheff working the room into delirium before collapsing onto the stage, forever strumming his guitar. Not bad for thirteen years in.