Shearwater at Austin's The Parish (Noah W. Bailey)

Road Show: Shearwater's CD Release Party in Austin

Shearwater CD Release Party The Parish in Austin Thursday, May 29, 2008

Better Than: The last several Okkervil River shows I’ve seen.

Former Okkervil River side project Shearwater showed just how far it has come Thursday night at Austin’s Parish, unveiling its fifth LP (Rook) before an awestruck hometown crowd. Recorded at The Echo Lab outside Denton, Rook is a record of a rare beauty, and it took the addition of a harpist and full horn and string sections to do it justice live.

The additional musicians merely served to underscore the stellar musicianship of lead singer Johnathan Meiburg and his cohorts, however, with every piano figure, echo-laden guitar line and lonesome trumpet played with appropriate restraint; at times, it was hard to believe so many musicians could play so quietly at the same time. (Though its somewhat telling the band had to add not one but two new multi-instrumentalists to replace former member and beloved Dentonite Howard Draper.)

Strangely coiffed percussionist Thor Harris added especially interesting flourishes throughout the set, stepping out from behind the drumkit to play clarinet, hammered dulcimer (on the exquisite highlight “Leviathan, Bound”) and vibraphone (with a bow, no less). Meiburg also proved he’s become every bit the frontman Will Sheff is for his former band (Meiburg officially left Okkervil to concentrate on Shearwater this spring), displaying the type of fiery intensity and expressive facial ticks found more often in opera than indie rock.

A second set of older songs drew almost completely from 2006’s Palo Santo, with Meiburg strapping on a banjo for the propulsive “Red Sea, Black Sea” and pounding piano like a man possessed on “Seventy Four, Seventy Five”. And in what may be a first (well, for me, anyway), the band employed both a stand-up and electric bass on an absolutely scorching “White Waves”. And though the Austin crowd was typically quiet and attentive (it is a music town, after all), you can always count on the fact you will probably feel the riffage of a crappy white blues band bleeding through the floor at any second-story venue on Sixth Street. And that was certainly the case on this night, with several songs turning into alarming Shearwater Ray Vaughan mash-ups. Thankfully, not even the strains of “Pride and Joy” could keep this show from being my favorite of the year so far. --Noah W. Bailey

Personal Bias: I spent my 21st birthday watching Okkervil River open for Li’l Cap’n Travis at the Hole in the Wall.

Random Note: If you haven’t had the upscale BBQ at Lambert’s, you need to leave work and drive to Austin immediately. The pulled pork is that good.

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