Okkervil River and Elvis Perkins at Schubas

Few singers put on such passionate performances as Okkervil River’s Will Sheff. You wonder how he can go through so much onstage catharsis night after night. He and his remarkable band delivered a typically intense show in the second night of a two-night stand at Schubas, including some new songs alongside fan favorites. I like the way the other members of Okkervil River, even the ones without microphones in front of them, sing along or mouth the words of Sheff’s songs. Even the guys who are ostensibly just there to play drums or bass obviously love the songs just as much as the fans do. At the end of the night, Sheff introduced “Kansas City” by saying, “This is the second-to-the-last time we’ll ever play this song.” He said he meaned it, but I’m hoping it was a joke.

Opening act Elvis Perkins seemed pretty good. Given his glasses and sweater and the name Elvis, I couldn’t help thinking of Marshall Crenshew as I listened. He was much less rockabilly than I’d imagined from his name. His song about the moon was excellent.


A long night of good music at Schubas

FEB. 24, 2006
BRANDON DURHAM of Palaxy Tracks

I started off my night of two concerts at Schubas (with three acts) with a short mostly solo set by the guy usually known as Palaxy Tracks. I have to admit not being that familiar with his music; I’ve heard some of it, and it intrigues me a little bit — without exciting me all that much. I enjoyed his set, which apparently focused on new material, but I’d have to hear these songs again to decide just how much I like them. He was joined by three other musicians during the course of the quiet set.

WILL SHEFF of Okkervil River


Okkervil River is a very good band, with Will Sheff being the dominant force… It’s not quite one of those solo projects masquerading as a band, but this is definitely Sheff’s show. So it was interesting to see him perform a solo concert, playing some of those same songs that I’ve heard Okkervil River play with extravagant energy. Some of the songs were quite different in the solo guitar or piano format, and some new songs sounded great. He also threw in a cover of Sandy Denny’s “Solo.” I have to say it was quite a powerful performance. I like the group arrangments that Okkervil River plays in concert and on record, but I might like Sheff’s solo versions even better. He really bared his emotions tonight.



The late concert began with Michael Morris. I had no idea who this guy was, but was pleasantly surprised… This was this Minneapolis singer-songwriter’s first performance in Chicago. He reminded me of the Okkervil River/Bright Eyes school of intensely sung folk music. His songs had strong melodies, and I definitely want to hear more from him.



I know Phil from my old days at The Daily Illini. It was nice to see him and his group getting a fairly high-profile opening slot for the Deadstring Brothers concert at Schubas tonight — and to see the group back with a new drummer, Tom Jasek, after the tragic death of drummer Tim Rutkowski a year ago. Plus, they rocked.



The Deadstring Brothers definitely have an early-’70s Stones thing going, plus a couple of songs that obviously mimic The Band and Bob Dylan. But the lack of originality doesn’t bother me much with these guys, because it’s such fun to hear them play. Lead singer Kurt Marschke acknowledged they band is stuck in a 1970s time warp, but he doesn’t care, either. They’re a fine addition to the Bloodshot Records roster, and I liked hearing the songs I’ve come to know well from the new record Starving Winter Report.Hearing the older songs persuaded me that I need to pick up their first album, too.

Wicker Park Festival 2005

JULY 30, 2005

This was the best lineup for a street festival this summer in Chicago, probably because the nearby Subterranean nightclub booked the music. Sunday featured the esteemed Reigning Sound, but deciding to attend one day only, Saturday was the obvious choice.

I missed Catfish Haven and Baby Teeth, but showed up in time for the Scotland Yard Gospel Choir. The band practically invited comparisons to Belle & Sebastian with its name, and its orchestrally twee pop music featuring alternating male and female vocals. But, hey, the songs are strong, so who cares if it’s not totally original? The band fits in well with the other big, quasi-orchestral ensembles of the moment, like Head of Femur (who played next on the same stage) or even the Arcade Fire.

Head of Femur was also very good, bringing its big-sounding set to a raucous conclusion.

Turing Machine, from Brooklyn, will certainly not be everyone’s cup of tea, but for instrumental heavy-guitar rock music, it was pretty impressive.


Okkervil River was just as excellent as it was in May at Schubas, bringing fierce passion to its music. It’s interesting to see how much the nonsinging band members sing along with the lyrics off-mike. Even if they’re not contributing to the vocals, the songs obviously mean a lot more to them than a paying instrumental gig. I wonder what the people standing up on the nearby Blue Line el platform thought about the music they were hearing and seeing from a distance.


Olivia Tremor Control hasn’t toured for quite some time, so the group’s arrival in Chicago for two shows was pretty noteworthy. I was hoping the band’s live show would trump some of the problems with its studio recordings — which have a lot of good melodies and playing, but way too much lo-fi psychedelic wankery. It was fairly exciting and humorous to see Olivia Tremor Control going through its sound check, with a bewildering variety of instruments and noise makers: tuba, saw, banjo, reel-to-reel tape machine … even a typewriter???

Unfortunately, the set started off with a surprise mini-concert by the Tall Dwarves. Their songs might be fine, but this was the wrong time to hear them, and one of them went badly awry with off-key guitar playing and/or singing (by one of the OTC horn players).

When Olivia Tremor Control finally took the stage, it became clear the band’s pretty much the same in concert as it is on record: brilliant at moments, annoying at others, a shambling mess with bits of beauty.

Okkervil River and Earlimart at Schubas

MAY 12, 2005: Okkervil River should have been the headliner this night at Schubas, but for some reason, they were the opening act for Earlimart. Okkervil River was certainly the better band.

I am digging the new Okkervil CD, Black Sheep Boy, and I’ve been meaning to see the band in concert for a while now, so it was a treat to see Will Sheff and his group playing their songs with so much passion.

Passion, on the other hand, is something that seems to be a little lacking from Earlimart’s music. The only Earlimart album I’m familiar with is last year’s Treble and Tremble, and it strikes me as merely pretty good — pleasant enough, but not a record I go back to all that often. The connection and similarity to Elliott Smith intrigues me, however. I was hoping that seeing Earlimart in concert might do the trick for me, but it was a letdown after the great opening set by Okkervil River.