Now, let me preface the first act, NewVillager, with a little background info. This duo (with a third member for their live performance) is a musical group and art collective out of New York. They had been in L.A. the entire past week, doing gallery shows and other musical performances. They’re not your typical rock band. Both their art and their performances are interactive and thought-provoking. On stage they competed with the beautiful art-deco theater’s lofty ceilings and elaborate moldings with a humble stage set of their own: a sort of tent constructed of what looked like knotted t-shirts and striped knits. Singer Ben Bromley bobbed around, sometimes behind a bird mask, while fantastic lighting added a distinct atmosphere to their sort of slow-trance (but still quite accessible and enjoyable) sound. The drums were a solid heartbeat, and the unassuming artists held pleasant harmonies. Twinkly keyboards punctuated their full, room-filling sound. For only a two/three-piece band, you could close your eyes and imagine a symphony on stage; they sounded grand and layered, with a hint of psychedelia not unlike White Denim. However, with NewVillager, their sounds blended and blurred more, prompting a listener reaction more chilled out than amazed; to their jams I just wanted to kick off my shoes and dance, rather than, in White Denim’s case, sit and dissect and savor every layer. Overall, they were definitely unique and a fresh breath to the sometimes monotonous indie scene.
Unfortunately, the monotony was restored with following act Titus Andronicus. While they started and ended with a solid, high energy feel, they were somewhat bland with vocals that, for lack of a more eloquent phrase, made my ears bleed. They had an unexpected punk feel—fast drum beats, quick songs (though they melded most together), and rough, incomprehensible vocals—but in a crappy indie-Blink 182-Cheshire-Cat-garage way (except Cheshire Cat is still a lot better...). At moments, they took on hints of grunge, trying unsuccessfully to channel the darkness of Kurt Cobain, or to lyrically revive the dismal youth of Smashing Pumpkin's Billy Corgan. However, with lyrics like “you’re still a loser” and “all I want for Christmas is no feelings”, this effort was unsuccessful. They were loud and relatively unvaried—even when they broke into well-acted jam seshes, they played the same two notes for minuets straight. Not even the hilariously endearing and adorably dorky female guitarist, what with her smiley jumping and her poofy head of hair, could make the sound enjoyable. Occasionally some solid tunes and beats and melodies eeked out, but frontman Patrick Stickle’s voice was quick to kill them. A euphemism for Titus Andronicus? Rough, raw, gritty. The truth? Not a band I would recommend.
Okkervil River was next to take the stage, touring to promote their new album, I Am Very Far. I’ve given this album a few solid listens, but haven’t found myself as in love with it as I was (and still very much am) with 2007’s The Stage Names. So, when they came out before a giant red backdrop on which two giant dogs were printed and eyeing the audience, I was unsure of what to expect. They were quick to impress, and hearing frontman Will Shelf’s strange (and not always perfect) but wonderful voice live was a surreal thing. It is such a distinguishable voice, and it almost seems as if the band’s only purpose is to provide a framework for it. I find myself in moments of immersion in their often bass-heavy, riff-rocking, violin-weeping jams, but I’m quickly brought back to attention by Shelf’s skyscraper of a voice. Furthermore, all of Okkervil River’s songs are standouts, cleverly written, catchy, but heartfelt and earnest. They played some crowd favorites, including “John Allyn Smith Sails” off The Stage Names, and “A Stone” from Black Sheep Boy, for which the band left the stage, leaving Shelf alone in the spotlight to play the song in a beautiful and intimate setting. The show in its entirety was a treat, right down to the encore—one of the more epic ones I’ve seen lately. There was only time for one song, and that song was a ridiculously awesome and crazy version of “Unless It’s Kicks”, complete with Shelf rolling around on stage and screaming. Seeing Okkervil River live is a great experience, certainly worth every penny.