Back in 2005, when I was but a wee lad, Okkervil River released its third full-length for Jagjaguwar, titled Black Sheep Boy. Although the album came out in April, I'm fairly sure I didn't hear it until the fall, when lead single "For Real" made it into my earwaves and wound up the Vague Space #3 song of the year behind only heavyweights Arcade Fire and Sufjan Stevens. Of course, I didn't know much about Okkervil River then, this was the first time I'd heard of Will Sheff and friends and my mentions of him from a decade ago talk about how "dark" and disturbed the music on Black Sheep Boy is, particularly the striking artwork. And the album only made it to #15 on my album of the year list (I wrote about the album here, with the release of additional tracks in January 2006). But now, ten years later, Okkervil River has marched steadily up my list of favorite bands of all-time, and if you were to ask me today, they would make it into my top 5 favorite artists ever, behind only Superchunk, Pavement, Sunset Rubdown, and Modest Mouse, so now they are one of the heavyweights, on the strength of a catalog of nonstop great records and tracks and several amazing live performances. But Black Sheep Boy is their best album, bar none, and along with the Appendix (the additional tracks recorded at the same time), include fully four (4) songs in the Vague Space Top 100 songs of all-time. So yeah, I guess I underrated it in 2005, but now consider it an all-time great, and it was with much anticipation that I went to the Bowery Ballroom last night to see Will Sheff and friends perform the 18 tracks of Black Sheep Boy and the Appendix, live, in order, for the 10-year anniversary. And it was as perfect as I could have hoped.
Black Sheep Boy was inspired by the song "Black Sheep Boy" by '60s folk singer Tim Hardin. The album deals with Hardin's struggle with heroin addiction and Sheff's failed relationships and heartbreaks. Sheff was joined on the album -- and on stage last night -- by Jonathan Meiburg (future auteur of Shearwater) along with a collection of musicians playing strings and trumpet in addition to the rock standard keyboards, guitar, and drums. Last night, Sheff and Meiburg were joined by six other musicians after Sheff warmed up the crowd with a few pre-Black Sheep Boy solo selections, including the wonderful "Red." The crowd at the packed Bowery Ballroom was way into the performance and Sheff mixed the heartfelt tracks with some comedy from the stage, the whole night just perfectly played, with over two hours of music.
I haven't been to the Bowery Ballroom much lately. For whatever reason, the indie rock artists I love haven't really played there as much, possibly because the indie rock artists I love have retired or faded or moved on to the downside of their careers (cough Modest Mouse cough). And I've been beyond busy lately, with the novel finalization and just an extreme amount of work travel -- I actually flew from Atlanta last night into LaGuardia and got to the show with just a half hour to spare. So there was something truly pleasant and nostalgic about hearing Black Sheep Boy in its entirety, remembering a time not too long ago of this blog and this music and the way it would excite the shit out of me. I haven't had time for that lately, and because it's been work and not fun that has robbed me of this time, I'm not exactly happy about it. And I don't know what to do about it, the time issue, how to get more time to enjoy the greatest bands of all time live, or maybe even catch a few spare moments to catch up on new music I'm sure I'm missing, or I hope I'm missing, because otherwise, these last couple years have been a lull, but anyway, last night was pretty damn perfect.
This blog belongs to Bill Elenbark.
Lover of songs. Writer of wrongs.