(first published at Radio Free Silver Lake 10/23/13)
Every time I see Okkervil River I feel I've gotten to know Will Sheff a little better. The intensity and depth of his lyrics reveal so much about himself it makes his live concerts seem an act of bold daring by an artist unafraid of the fallout such revelations could incur. Only a few performers I've ever seen get away with this successfully. The show on Sunday night, October 19, was just such an occasion. The new album, The Silver Gymnasium, is the most blatantly autobiographical of all his releases, dealing specifically with his childhood in New Hampshire, and it made this performance cathartic for both the performer and the audience.
Sitting in a nearly empty Wiltern Theatre (I wanted to get into the pit so I got there before the door opened at 7) I was surprised there was nobody there yet. But then my thoughts on who should be popular and who actually is popular are almost never in sync. As a fan of Okkervil River for a while now, I'm always amazed all over again at just how compelling a band they are, and yet almost nobody I know follows them. It seems incredible.
They appeared to genuinely enjoy playing their set and that enthusiasm transferred to the audience. The music was meticulously arranged for his talented band and covered a wide spectrum of styles, all highlighted by Matthew's strong and steady vocals. With his obvious talent for music arrangement, he has collaborated with some musicians I admire very much, like Sharon Van Etten and The Mountain Goats. Their 35 minute set was a definite crowd pleaser.
With a blast of orchestral music, the stage remained dark except for the blue glow of their illuminated backdrop until, a couple of minutes later, the seven members of Okkervil River strode onstage and launched into the first two songs off the new album, "It Was My Season" and "On a Balcony", these were exactly the songs I wanted to hear. Instead of continuing onto the album's third cut, "Down Down The Deep River"(which may be one of their greatest songs), they zapped back to the 2004 release, Black Sheep Boy for "Black" and "For Real" and invested those two numbers with a new passion and energy.
photos: Brad Roberts