This great double bill – two artists associated with the Jagjaguwar/Secretly Canadian family of record labels – came to town for a can’t-miss show on Tuesday (Sept. 20) at Logan Square Auditorium, the venue that everyone seems to love to hate. My experiences at Logan Square have not been bad, really. The acoustics can be pretty awful at some shows if you’re standing farther back in the room, but if you’re close to the stage, they’re fine. And from a photographer’s perspective – hey, at least they turned the lights on Tuesday night, and they weren’t all red, the bane of every concert photographer’s existence.
Anyway… singer-songwriter Damien Jurado opened the evening, looking like he’s lost a lot of weight and worked out quite a bit since the last time I saw him. He comes across on record as a sullen, mournful figure. His songs have a plainspoken beauty about them, and more often than not, they’re sad. In concert, he isn’t exactly the most outgoing performer you’ve ever seen, but he puts his songs across with conviction. I hear that he was in a talkative and joking mood the previous night in Milwaukee, but he didn’t say much if anything at all in Chicago. A new duo of backing musicians did a fine job of bringing some shades of color to Jurado’s songs. As much as I liked Jurado’s mellow acoustic records, I agree with the many fans who say they’d like to hear him do another rocking record like I Break Chairs. I get the feeling he might just have it in him.
The main attraction was Okkervil River, the Austin outfit led by Will Sheff, one of the most literate and passionate songsmiths around these days. His voice takes some getting used to, but I’ve come to like it, and there’s no doubt that his lyrics are terrific. In concert, Sheff and his bandmates are always an intense bunch. As usual, they started the night in fancy jackets, and by the end, Sheff was stripped down to a sweat-drenched shirt, his hair wet from a night of exertion. The set included many of the songs from the new Okkervil record, The Stage Names, including my favorite, closing track “John Allyn Smith Sails,” which morphs into “Sloop John B” at the end. It’s one of the most creative examples I’ve ever heard of a song that incorporates part of an earlier song, bringing it to life in a wholly new context.