On the road

By By Trevor Hale

By Trevor Hale

Bands these days have no heart. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but it’s true.

Back in the day, the only way to make it was to tour relentlessly and hit any city referred to as “the armpit of America” at least twice. Nowadays, all you need is a MySpace page and the right friends.

Okkervil River has spent the better part of the last decade doing it the old fashioned way: touring the country and wondering how long it takes for paid dues to pay off. On the strength of its newest full-length album, The Stage Names, the band is as close as ever to finding out.

On first listen, Okkervil River sound like any other indie band working its way through the local bar scene. Slow tempos, alt-country tendencies and depressed vocals are all the rage — or lack thereof — for bands these days. But with a little more attention, it becomes obvious that Okkervil is anything but average.

Front man Will Sheff, a clever wordsmith, bitingly critiques his very own indie scene and spins honest tales of the life of a band spending months in the van working toward its dream.

“Unless It Kicks,” the second track on the band’s new record, explores what makes the whole experience of being in a band worthwhile. As one of the more up-tempo tunes, it sets the pace and conjures the emotions that lead The Stage Names through its soundtrack-esque flow. The album then plays like the score to a documentary about life on the road. Sheff warns listeners, “This is just a life story, so there’s no climax — no more new territory.”

There are no consistent plot threads or special effects either — The Stage Names plays like a bunch of scenes thrown together to make a story that goes nowhere, but says everything it needs to.

Hot on the heels of a national TV performance and a plethora of great reviews, Okkervil River has, to no one’s surprise, hit the road in support of The Stage Names. The tour will grace our own Kilby Court on Sept. 12. If the band continues at the pace it’s going at now, there’s no question it’ll be joining the ranks of indie-explosion acts soon enough.

And if Okkervil River’s life story is anything like the movie they claim it is, the demand for a sequel will be right behind.

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