|Photo by: Chris Dobstaff|
It’s been well over a year since Okkervil River released its sixth studio album, I Am Very Far and nearly a full year since the band took a break from touring. So, when the group announced back in July that they would hit the road again for a short string of dates in late August, it gave fans the chance the check out Okkervil’s live show one last time before the group hits the studio once again.
Thursday night’s show in Millvale, Pa. came toward the end of the short run of concerts, with Omaha group The Mynabirds taking the stage first.
The Mynabirds are led by Laura Burhenn, who is pretty much the very definition of a hipster’s ideal girlfriend. The skinny blonde singer danced her away around the front of the stage, singing protest songs such as the title track from the band’s latest album Generals, and riling up the crowd into a call and response. It was only 8:30 p.m., and the impressively packed Mr. Small’s Funhouse joined in wholeheartedly.
Soon enough, The Mynabirds gave the stage over to the main attraction, and Okkervil River immediately ripped through “Wake and Be Fine,” “Black,” “The Latest Toughs” and “Rider” without so much as pausing to say hello to the crowd. But banter wasn’t needed. As soon as Justin Sherburn began the keyboard riff for “Black” off of the band’s 2005 album Black Sheep Boy, the crowd went nuts. They went even crazier for “The Latest Toughs.” And when the band began to play “Rider,” it seemed like Okkervil could walk off and leave the fans happy after just four songs.
But they played much more than four songs. For about an hour and a half, the group showcased more than half of I Am Very Far, as well as much of 2007’s The Stage Names and 2008’s The Stand Ins.
When singer Will Sheff did finally speak, one thing seemed amiss: he was potentially a little intoxicated. Every now and then his words would slur, and even as the band played he sometimes stumbled around onstage, almost falling over during “You Can’t Hold the Hand of a Rock and Roll Man.”
His guitar playing became sloppy, getting so into the songs that at one point he accidentally unplugged his acoustic mid-song, forcing him to comically lean over to retrieve the stray plug.
But there was something endearing and fun about the sloppiness. As someone who has seen the band play what seemed like a completely sober show in Columbus last year, it’s hard to say which one was more enjoyable. Sure, a non-drunk Sheff was tighter and more on cue, but a seemingly inebriated Sheff was an entertaining wildcard.
Overall, the drunkenness didn’t distract too much from the songs.
During the middle of the set, the other band members left the stage, leaving only Sheff and his acoustic guitar. “This is a song that I get a lot of requests for, so I hope the people that request it are here tonight,” he said right before playing “On Tour With Zykos,” which arguably contains some of Sheff’s best lyrics.
Sheff added some of the words of The Supremes’ “You Can’t Hurry Love,” to the end of “Lost Coastlines,” a song with such energy that the band should consider closing out shows with it. During the encore, Sheff took to the keyboards for a slowed-down, haunting version of “For Real,” with the rest of the band coming onto the stage towards the end of the song to fill it out.
We probably won’t see Okkervil River until its next album comes out, but Thursday’s show in Millvale showed that the veteran rockers, drunk or not, have become one of the most enjoyable indie bands out there right now.
Led by a potentially inebriated Will Sheff, Okkervil River played to a packed house just outside of Pittsburgh at the end of a short string of summer tour dates.
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