I was turned on to Okkervil River by one my friends in college who made me a mix that kicked off with the slow burning intensity of "For Real". At first I found the song an odd choice for a starter, but after a few listens I was hooked. It was such an intoxicating blend of dark murky emotionally fueled lyrics delivered in such a whisper to belt manner that it felt as if the singer was ripping these words from the darkest depth of his soul enveloped in a musical arrangement that perfectly accompanied the delivery. The song showed a band with a unique sound and tremendous talent that was worth looking further in to. So I bought Black Sheep Boy, which featured the aforementioned track. It is was a good album with some great songs, but there were also some throwaways that were too slow and melodramatic to keep my attention. I was a fan, but not a die-hard fan.
What pushed me over the edge was when I went to see them live in concert. It was at this little club in Baltimore called the Ottobar, the show wasn't close to sold out, but the people that showed up were dedicated fans. Once lead singer Will Sheff and his band walked out on stage I could understand the appeal. Will's stage presence was absolutely captivating in the same way that "For Real" hit me after a few listens. It was a gut-wrenching performance that had beads of sweat running down Will's face by the end of the first song and had him stripping down to his undershirt by the end of the show. Suddenly songs that didn't keep my attention on the album had me completely captivated. I was sold, after that show I loved Black Sheep Boy even more and loved the rest of their library as well.
Four years, and two catchy, much more upbeat albums later I find myself at Webster Hall witnessing a band that just keep getting better. Will Sheff has improved immensely in his song craftsmanship, that even though quite wordy at times, still has everyone in the audience singing along with him (or at least trying to). The sheer musicianship of the band has improved immensely as well, they are a tightly orchestrated band that have really come in to their own.
The atmosphere of the concert was absolutely amazing with a solid audience interaction and a killer set list mainly comprised of songs from recent releases The Stage Names and The Stand Ins with some old crowd favorites mixed in as well. The stand out songs of the night were "Starry Stairs" from the latest album Stand Ins which incorporated the saxophonists from opening act Black Joe Lewis and the Honey Bears to add a little bluesy edge to the song that really made for a great performance. Again, "For Real" was another audience favorite that had everyone belting out the anguished lyrics " I really miss, what really could exist!â€¦" and almost overpowering Will's delivery.
New single " Lost Coastlines" was an absolutely phenomenal song filled with upbeat la la las and grooves that had everyone singing along as they bounced around to the song. The last half an hour of the show was filled with one hit after another including "Our Life is Not a Movie or Maybe" which had the audience speed clapping in between the chorus faster than I have ever been a part of, followed by the full rock n' roll force of "Unless It's Kicks" and an encore featuring sexy heartbreaker "Girl in Port", and crowd favorites " The Okkervil River Song" and "Westfall".
It was an invigorating live show that completely reminded me why I got in to the band at the beginning. They fully pour their hearts in to their live performance and incorporate their audience in such a way that breeds a solid fan base. It is apparent that Will Sheff leads one of the best bands out in the indie rock world right now and they are here to stay. I look forward to a long career and many more live shows that I will undoubtedly be attending in the future.