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Eugene Weekly : Music : 9.18.08




River of Revelation

Until recently, Okkervil River sounded like two things to me: the mopey “Happy Hearts,” from 2002’s Don’t Fall in Love With Everyone You See, and the half folksy-ballad, half late-night singalong “John Allyn Smith Sails,” which, with its borrowed verses from the Beach Boys’ “Sloop John B,” catches my ear every time someone nearby puts on the band’s highly praised 2007 release, The Stage Names. But this month, Okkervil River released The Stand Ins, “part two of a staggered double album,” according to the press release. Stand Ins’ 11 tracks, then, are sort of leftovers from the Stage Names sessions, but they aren’t the B-side sort of material that implies; they’re wordy, dense songs that have me broadening my Okkervil horizons. Elaborate lyrics wind through melodies that, in the case of “Lost Coastlines,” can be downright Supremes-y; “Singer Songwriter” is a bit of foot-tapping Americana with a repeated line — “And your world is gonna change nothing” — that sits squarely at odds with the jovial energy of the song. It sounds bitter and not a little ironic, but somehow bandleader Will Sheff’s dry tones are just earnest enough that the overall effect, even when he’s singing “He’s the liar who lied in his pop song / And you’re lying when you sing along,” isn’t quite as cynical as it reads on the surface. Sheff is trundling down a road parallel to the one Tim Kasher trod on Cursive’s brilliant The Ugly Organ: the one on which bitter songwriters compose songs about the act of writing songs, the selling of hearts-on-sleeves and love stories wrapped up in gorgeous melodies and yearning strings. “They’re waiting to hate you, so give them an excuse,” he sings on the swelling, six-minute “Blue Tulip.” “With
every single cell of me, I’m going to make you mean the words you sigh.” Catchy, engrossing, vicious and lovely, The Stand Ins is full of vivid scenes that will either make you cringe or commisserate — or both. You’ll feel implicated in the world Sheff is shredding; you’ll still want to sing along. Okkervil River, Sea Wolf and Zykos play at 8 pm Saturday, Sept. 20, at the McDonald Theatre. $14 adv., $16 door. — Molly Templeton



Local Americana Goodness

I don’t know Melissa Ruth, but after checking out her website I get the feeling that anyone spending an afternoon with her would leave knowing her pretty well. Ruth seems like the type of person who would invite a stranger to sit down for coffee and perhaps a slice of homemade pie. She’d take out her guitar and strum a little, maybe all night, especially if her visitors played any musical instruments. Here are a few things I do know — though now living here in Eugene, Ruth grew up in rural British Columbia, which probably accounts for the striking lack of pretentiousness in her music, even though she sometimes sings in French. When she’s not playing music, she’s teaching music to kids. And though Ruth is classically trained, her music is decidedly homegrown, contemporary but reviving the old-timey Americana goodness at the same time. The songs on her brand new recording, Underwater and Other Places, evokes the back porch liveliness of an Appalachia homestead on a Friday night, along with a maturity that comes from growing up surrounded by trees and mountains rather than shopping malls. Ruth’s songs enjoy the stripped down beauty of traditional music, and flit easily between up-tempo tunes like “My Uncle,” which tells the tale of a whiskey-drinking man who was born in ’35, lived hard, then died, and the somber “The Blues Instead,” a sad tale about a cowboy’s wife and her family living on the old farmstead. Ruth’s sensitive guitar playing shines through in each song, and though her tunes are lyrically driven stories, they’re not history lessons like those of Laura Viers. Neither are they as languorous as those of Devon Sproule, and certainly not as fragile as the Be Good Tanyas, but fans of any of these women would find good company in Melissa Ruth. Melissa Ruth celebrates the release of her new CD at 8 pm Saturday, Sept. 20, at Creswell Coffee Co. (BiMart Complex,
116 Melton Road). $2. — Vanessa Salvia



The Beatles Meet Spoon at Bonnaroo

The 1960s. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. But I hear it was a pretty exciting time for the musically inclined. We got the Beatles, The Yardbirds, The Band, Jimi Hendrix and a bunch of solid imitators. Then those bands either died or went into hibernation, lost in the vinyl dustbins of our parents’ closets. Of course, I wasn’t alive in the ’60s, so listening to the living, breathing pop, rock and R&B revivalist music of Philly-based Dr. Dog makes for something of a conundrum. Am I mad that they choose to mine the classics of the past instead of breaking ground with music’s new technologies? Will the older crowd snub their nose at these youngsters (OK, so maybe thirtysomethings aren’t exactly young) for blasphemy? 

The answer is that we shouldn’t be angry or snobby. Sure, Dr. Dog makes music in the same vein as Rubber Soul and add chunky layers of psychedelic hooks over four-part harmonies, but the group’s songs, especially on their latest opus Fate, all sound fresh and, most importantly, alive. For old fogeys still listening to scratchy LPs of Music from Big Pink, For Your Love or Revolver, this music is for you. For fans of contemporary alt-rock bands like Spoon, Islands or The Shaky Hands, this is music for you. And you and you and you. Dr. Dog, Delta Spirit and Hacienda play at 9 pm Monday, Sept. 22, at the WOW Hall. $12 adv., $14 door. — Chuck Adams



Stumble On

Anyone who’s been stumbling around the Eugene jam band scene for any length of time has undoubtedly done some bobbing and twirling to Uncle Stumbles. This quartet of groovy guys has been plucking strings and pounding skins since 2003, unapologetically claiming the Dead as one of their primary influences and channeling the great spirits of classic rock whether jamming out on one of their quirky original songs or a crowd-pleasing cover. Their self-titled new release gives listeners an accurate taste of what an Uncle Stumbles show technically sounds like, but so much of the band’s appeal is “live vibe” that Stumbles newcomers should acquaint themselves in the barroom first and on the stereo second.

The album starts off with a hypnotically meandering guitar riff that feels like a jaunty walk on a summer day. Then Anthony Forcellini’s lyrics kick in and suddenly the jaunty walk becomes a confused journey through post-relationship turmoil, but without losing the hopeful spring in its step. Much of Uncle Stumbles’ music contains this quality — that “life’s a bitch, but what are you going to do?” light-heartedness that borrows heavily from the American working-song tradition. The follow-up track is a perfect example of an Uncle Stumbles song that probably kills when done live but has a little trouble translating to CD. “The Mullet” is a heartfelt tribute to the most talked-about haircut of all time. It’s got an infectious beat and some great guitar work, but without a room full of moving bodies it struggles to stand alone.

There are some fine instrumental moments and a lot of fun to be had with the new Uncle Stumbles album. Think of it as a tool to remind you what a great time you’ll have at their next live gig. Speaking of which, their CD release party features a light show from Phantazmagoria liquid lights, so you can trip out and do some stumbling of your own. Uncle Stumbles CD release party with The Touchy Feeliacs, 8:30 pm Friday, Sept. 19, Axe & Fiddle, Cottage Grove. 21+ show. $5. — Adrienne van der Valk