Okkervil River flood Mr. Small’s with folk

By By Justin Jacobs

On paper, you wouldn’t expect Texas indie rock crew Okkervil River to appeal to too many people… On paper, you wouldn’t expect Texas indie rock crew Okkervil River to appeal to too many people ‘mdash; the band takes its name from a Russian short story and plays hyper-literate narrative art-folk led by a lanky poet-balladeer. ‘ ‘ ‘ Well, don’t believe everything you read. ‘ ‘ ‘ The band tore up the stage at Mr. Smalls last Thursday night, stomping through nearly two hours of music spanning the band’s near-decade, five album run. Okkervil River front man Will Sheff led the band with a delicate balance of reckless abandon and Dylan-like poise as he quickly shifted from bounding all over stage like an acoustic guitar-wielding rag doll to standing like a solemn, lonesome singer-songwriter. ‘ ‘ ‘ And the audience ate it up ‘mdash; the near-capacity crowd chanted along to Sheff’s catchy, haunting story-songs and clapped along as each song plodded along, anchored by Okkervil’s heavy, almost ragtime percussion and bass and often-employed, well-placed horn section. ‘ ‘ ‘ Sheff’s intently dramatic tunes blissfully cross into melodrama when translated into an audience ‘mdash; the front man’s mess of hair and flailing limbs only add to the gruff, near-tortured beauty of tunes like the violently intense ‘Another Radio Song’ or the plaintive, sing-along chantey ‘Lost Coastlines’ from the band’s newly released record The Stand Ins. ‘ ‘ ‘ Okkervil River’s is a brand of indie rock that, like the Arcade Fire or Interpol, balances carefully the line between dramatically intense and just plain hokey ‘mdash; if pushed a little further, the music could be self-defeating and even self-important. Thankfully, Sheff and company stays on the safe side of that line, and with great success, largely in part to the idea that he really, really means it. ‘ ‘ ‘ Not since Ryan Adams’ Heartbreaker days has a contemporary folk act been so dramatic and serious ‘mdash; and pulled it off so wonderfully and believably. ‘ ‘ ‘ The band hit a fantastic stride just before it’s encore, with a knockout string including the Arcade Fire-like start-stop punch of ‘Our Life Is Not a Movie or Maybe,’ the explosive and achingly gorgeous ‘For Real’ and the room-shaking ‘Unless It’s Kicks,’ leaving the already energetic crowd on the brink of explosion. ‘ ‘ ‘ So when the band returned for another handful of tunes, the audience was like puddy in Sheff’s hands. And knowing that his hands can strum such stirring, impassioned rock’n’roll, that’s a good place to be.