Toddling over from The Breeders’ shambolic but utterly brilliant set, I check in on Okkervil River, who seem to be practically filling up the Uncut Arena. This is obviously a band who inspire a lot of love. Unsurprising, of course, looking at their clothes. All the band are dressed to the hilt in tailored suits, white shirts and braces like a transatlantic Pogues. What’s not to love?
OK, we’re joking; while the band do look pretty good, it’s clear there’s something else dragging these people along to see them and sing along.
At first listen, Okkervil River seem like the perfect distillation of Americana’s various disparate strands – there’s The Hold Steady’s bluster, Calexico’s mariachi shuffle, The Band’s storytelling skills and Ryan Adams’ riotous country-folk. In fact, Okkervil River most closely resemble the latter, especially as the gig is effectively The Will Sheff Show. Sheff, singer, songwriter and acoustic guitarist, is clearly the star here, almost lunging around the stage and growling his lines with real intensity.
As well as performing tracks from their “The Stage Names” album and its imminent follow-up “The Stand Ins”, Okkervil bring out a cover of “Sloop John B”, which did seem a little too rock karaoke for me. However, they redeemed themselves with a fantastic medley of songs, which switched from tender acoustic strumming to feedback-drenched drum fills. In a similar way to Bright Eyes, there’s little stylistic convention in their songs, which is undoubtedly a strength, rather than a hindrance. What they’ll come up with next it’s hard to say.
There’s a real aspect of the theatre about the band as well, not only in their dress or in the unified concepts of their albums, but in Sheff’s songwriting. Grandstanding may be too strong a term, but his tracks are larger than life – possibly slightly hacky – but there’s no doubt they’re effective.