The New Pornographers and Okkervil River
Thursday, April 10
The ravages of time, the face of rock’n’roll has changed substantially since its conception. Vinyl records and substantial album sales have increasingly become vestiges of a more innocent era, and doomed to that same fate seems another rock hallmark: the double bill. But Thursday night will bring a glimmer of hope for this fading model of performance when the marquee of Pontiac’s Crofoot Ballroom will display the loaded pairing of The New Pornographers and Okkervil River. For those questioning the vitality of modern rock, the back-to-back shows by these two bands should be enough to quell any doubt.
A bad version of The New Pornographers’ story might attempt to sum them up with the unwieldy description Canadian indie-power-pop super-group, but such a label is horrendously cumbersome and only debatably applicable. A better version might go something like this: In 1997, following two widely acclaimed albums leading Zumpano, Vancouver native Carl Newman set off to strike a new path. Teaming up with Destroyer’s Dan Bejar and burgeoning solo artist Neko Case, The New Pornographers were born.
After a few years spent honing their sound, The New Pornographers finally offered a studio effort in the fall of 2000 with Mass Romantic. An indie smash, it attracted broad praise and landed the band a Juno award for Best Alternative Album. Its impact has endured, and in December, Blender named it the 24th best indie rock album of all time.
The Electric Version (2003) and Twin Cinema (2005) fell neatly in line with the lofty expectations set by the debut, and a slew of releases from Destroyer, Case and Newman (as A.C. Newman) have all collected substantial praise of their own. Last year’s Challengers has done nothing but sustain The New Pornographer’s impressive stature.
Okkervil River, meanwhile, is the folk-leaning indie rock outfit of New Hampshire native Will Shef. Though Okkervil River traces its roots to Austin, Texas in 1998, making them nearly as old as The New Pornographers, it nonetheless attracts the positive buzz of a new band. And given the ever-increasing quality of their output, which dates back to a series of self-released EPs in the late ’90s, it isn’t difficult to understand why.
Their fourth full-length, 2007’s The Stage Names, was greeted almost universally as the band’s best yet and popped up on countless year-end best lists. Previously, 2005’s Black Sheep Boy pulled nearly the same trick, as did prior efforts, meaning that Okkervil River have ridden and continue to ride an unmistakably upward artistic trajectory.
To see The New Pornographers live is to see some of indie’s best musicians performing together in one of the scene’s established premier acts. To see Okkervil River is to see one of contemporary music’s most exciting and promising bands. To see both on the same evening will be a unique treat that isn’t likely to happen again soon. Unless you’re staying in to watch Michigan hockey in the Frozen Four, Thursday night at the Crofoot is one of the year’s can’t-miss shows.