October 19, 2016
Not saying he’ll win the Nobel Prize anytime soon, but Will Sheff’s lyrics are poetry in the truest sense of the word. Often focusing on large swaths of characters and places that interconnect the albums by his band, Okkervil River is like Homeric indie-rock mini-epics.
On Tuesday, Union Transfer saw him and the latest version of the band recontextualize past songs and submit pieces from the newest entry in the band’s catalog, “Away.” It was a sublime, revelatory experience.
With autumn leaf arrangements and lamps strewn about the stage, Sheff and his tight band unspooled intricate works of the human condition awash with lush guitar, bass, percussion and keyboards. The song “Okkervil River R.I.P.” is immediately catchy, even in its sadness. Sheff has always known how to deliver a good hook. “Mary on a Wave” is lush and sounds even more like Americana in concert than it does on the record.
And the old stuff is evolving, too. “Unless It’s Kicks” now has a punchy keyboard-born beat, while “For Real” exchanged some of its cathartic flourishes for more spaced-out percussion. The crowd ate up the new and old, as the show spun past midnight with the stunning final track to “Away” (“Days Spent Floating (In the Halfbetween)”) and “So Come Back, I am Waiting” from 2005’s “Black Sheep Boy.”
Two openers warmed the room. Landlady, as led by the great showman Adam Schatz, played to the early arrivals. Somewhere in between the odd satisfaction of tUnE-yArDs and the sounds of Hope for Agoldensummer is where Landlady lives. Their fine set was followed by Lip Talk. Frontwoman Sarah K. Pedinotti (who also plays with Okkervil River) and her band delivered dreamy pop rock that bridged nicely into the arrival of the headliner.