All words: Farrah Skeiky — All photos: Stephanie Breijo
This is a story of the personal connection forged between a fan and the music they fell in love with, and having the truly rare opportunity to catch a glimpse of it. I have never heard Okkervil River before tonight, but I knew coming into this that their fans are die-hard; that no one at this concert has any half-hearted feelings towards any part of the night.
And after tonight’s sincere display of elation and dedication, I will never listen to them again.* This is probably a terrible decision, but one made in the spirit of all things ephemeral. We’re prone to doing all we can to recreate nights like this instead of enjoying them for what they are, and remaining optimistic that we’ll stumble upon one again.
The opener Mynabirds are fun. Nothing overwhelmingly captivating (despite Stevie Nicks-inspired jumpsuits and fox hats, unfortunately), but they’re far from boring. Their set starts with a few songs that make them sound like a soul revival band, which irks me initially: it’s always a bit disappointing when a band is nothing more than an obvious result of their influences, especially when they’ve got the potential to be so much more.
But there’s a distinct moment when things start to get “weird,” and that’s when Mynabirds really fall into their own unique sound and style. The attitudes and the elaboration cease to be calls to divas past but instead become an essential part of an almost addictive set. I feel for Mynabirds a little, because on a night like tonight, the evolution they experience in front of a modestly attended show is surely unnoticed. And that’s not Mynabirds’ fault, it’s simply because of the relationship the audience has with Okkervil.
For a band that’s considered to be one of the most influential indie bands of the last decade, Okkervil avoided becoming formulaic at all costs to remain this way. Having formed in the late 90s, there’s a lot of room for creativity in such a large amount of time, and therefore a lot of room for inspiration to run out and fans to grow unenamoured. But looking around, this is far from the case.
And the biggest reason this band shines is Will Sheff, who is an absolute spaz for nearly the entire night. He’s flinging himself about the stage, almost as if a ruthless puppeteer has him by invisible strings. Along with a flippant attitude come confessional lyrics, pouring out perfectly every time with the same genuine tremble that fans fawn over. Only two songs in and I can’t help but draw comparisons to my feelings towards my own favorite bands, because it’s clear that Okkervil are devoted to their fanbase and strive to give them a unique experience with every show. And any fan who’s aware of this feels emotionally indebted to them for this very reason; it’s impossible not to love them back. Glimmering eyes and uninhibited smiles reveal that this is an unimaginable brand of happiness.
A bass-heavy track approaches and Sheff is truly reminiscent of Jarvis Cocker, crooning with the same spastic sensuality and glasses/facial hair combination. But after the suit is shed, Sheff is unmistakably himself. With such a large and well-loved catalog of work to choose from, every deliberate song choice created the illusion of an opera that morphs and evolves but always revisits a familiar theme. And in this grand story, the climax is surely “The Valley,” revealing a generally weirder and more experimental side of things. It’s nothing short of captivating. And Okkervil’s trombonist only enhances, never stealing the spotlight. The balance is flawless.
From this point on, I become caught up purely in lyrics. I start feeling emotional connections to songs I’ve never heard before because they are honest, poignant and powerful. It comes down to a heightened self-awareness that spills out uninhibited; observations and truths you could keep to yourself but can’t help blurting out to the exact person you’re keeping them from. It’s painfully relatable.
“On Tour With Zykos” offers up the lines “I was supposed to be writing the most beautiful poems/ and completely revealing divine mysteries up close/ I can’t say that I’m feeling much at all,” and the trembling delivery makes me understand the relationship forged between fans and these songs. A cover of the Beach Boys’ “Sloop John B” becomes darker than it ever should be, and “Westfall,” a song written from the perspective of a murderer, is nearly too lovely to be eerie. And all of this is executed with stunning balance, including the most perfect call and response I’ve ever heard in my entire life.
I spot an almost a collective sigh towards the end of the final song, and it’s a sigh I understand well. It’s the moment that you realize for the umpteenth time how special this band is to you, and that once this show is over, the feeling will leave with it. You won’t feel this way until you see this band again, so you cling to every note and ride the wave as long as possible.
*I have a feeling that this heartfelt promise will be similar to my relationship with gluten, in which I wait until I am drunk or for those around me to become drunk so that I may partake in it. I can’t really be expected to stay away, right?