Will Sheff’s voice sounds something like Imogen Heap’s (you know, the woman who sings “Hide and Seek“) stripped of every bit of sheen. Sheff jumps octaves as often and with as much animation, though the results are rougher, darker, uglier––more appropriate to sing about, say, killing people, or to take the character of a man about to commit suicide or the ashamed father of a porn star. Throw in a trumpet, guitar or two, organ, piano, and drums, and you’ve got the makings of Austin’s Okkervil River, a band so filled with joyous hate that it’s impossible for their music not to constantly verge on catharsis. And you’ve got the reason why the band easily sold out Lee’s Palace on Friday night.
Okkervil River (that’s “awk-er-ville” as in awkward, not “oak-er-ville” as in oak tree) almost didn’t make it at all. Stopped at the American border because of a problem with their van––they ran over something bad, but they wouldn’t tell the audience what––they had to throw all their stuff on a rental van and hurry over. After an off-sounding start, the band swam through their back catalogue, b-sides, and tracks off The Stage Names (their newest album) with enviable energy, Scheff constantly shedding layers as the venue got hotter and hotter and as the show got better and better. There were standout performances of incredible tracks throughout, like that of “Black,” an ecstatic revenge fantasy; “Our Life Is Not a Movie or Maybe,” a lurching song about fandom off an album obsessed with the theme; “John Allyn Smith Sails,” an imagined autobiography that slowly turns into a cover of the Beach Boy’s “Sloop John B.” (seriously); and “Okkervil River Song,” a song that the band had to rent an accordion from up the street to be able to play. Oh, hell, pick a song. Okkervil River did what they do best: killed.
More photos after the fold.
All photos by David Topping. More are in the concert’s Flickr set.