The commitment of Okkervil River fans is more akin to supporting a sports team. When you tune in to the unruly Americana and Will Sheff’s garrulous urgency, you’re signing up for life. Another aspect of this is that, similar to following a sports club, a number of fans will stubbornly reminisce on the ‘glory days’. A significant portion of tonight’s audience rather tepidly greeted the setlist emphasis on material from the band’s latest release, The Silver Gymnasium. This is a slight shame because the 2013 album features some of the band’s finest compositions – well-deserving of audience involvement.
That said, crowd enthusiasm never lulled, but it definitely soared during earlier numbers such as Black and Our Life Is Not A Movie Or Maybe. And, even if the newer songs haven’t achieved canonical status in the eyes of the fans just yet, this didn’t interfere with the performance. In fact, the most impressive feature of tonight’s show was the quintet’s unpretentious, whole-body delivery. Will Sheff is undeniably the locus of the frenetic onstage energy; sublimating himself into the songs as if playing them is vital for survival.
As far as he’s concerned there’s no distinction between the age of the material, but a sentimental attachment to certain songs was evident. For example, prior to playing 2002 single Kansas City, Sheff explained that it’s the first song to inspire an admission of pride from his parents. Also, former member (and Shearwater frontman) Jonathan Meiburg demanded the band stop playing it, so Sheff clearly enjoys having it back in the set. Kansas City was easily one of the night’s most engrossing moments. The closest equivalent was his encore solo-performance of A Stone. Sheff is such an idiosyncratic character and hearing him without any background noise was truly invigorating.
Ultimately, everything that recruits Okkervil River’s devout season ticket holders was delivered. They were classic-but-tortured, conventional-but-crinkled and weird, yet rewardingly familiar.
BY AUGUSTUS WELBY
Loved: Lauren Gurgiolo’s gleeful guitar playing.
Hated: The new Cooper’s bottle shape.
Drank: From that damn Cooper’s bottle.