Categorized | Live Reviews

Okkervil River @ Trinity Centre, Bristol, Nov 21

Posted on 22 November 2011 by Joe

It’s been three years since I last saw Okkervil River perform. Since that impressive set at Explosions in the Sky’s ATP Festival in Minehead in 2008 the band have gone on to produce two critically acclaimed albums, The Stand Ins and this year’s I Am Very Far as well as a collaboration with 60s icon Roky Erickson.

Back in the west country, this time as headliners,  they have opted for the impressive Trinity Centre in Bristol, a converted old church wedged into the part of the city centre where giant roundabouts rule supreme.

Okkervil River's Will Sheff

What was most striking about their ATP performance was the intensity of the performance, in particular singer and chief songwriter Will Sheff’s showmanship. They’ve lost none of that as the years have passed. If anything they are even more intense with the fiery rock of I Am Very Far dominating a set that also included a large chunk of The Stand Ins and 2007’s The Stage Names, for many their best album.

Sheff these days looks like a kind of American Jarvis Cocker in maths teacher suit jacket and glasses barely staying on his face, deep in concentration during the slower songs, manic during the fiery ones.

Among the highlights was the quick change from Piratess, one of the slower ones from I Am Very Far, into the upbeat Pop Lie, one of the stand out tracks from Stand Ins and one of the best critiques of the music industry going.

Banter was minimal at the beginning with the band barely coming up for air until the end of Pop Lie about five songs in, but they warmed up as the set went on. Their search for food among the roundabouts of Bristol was one focus, as was a troublesome jack plug that briefly interrupted the start of The Valley. But by the end you couldn’t shut them up, although the topic became rather myopic  – their evangelical mission for everyone to raise their hands and clap along Wembley style.

A Classic Education

Including the encore they put in a grueling hour and three quarters set, with only a brief solo acoustic interlude by Sheff offering a break for the rest of the band. It looked exhausting and this feat was not lost on the three quarters full venue, who were particular excited during an encore that included Girl in a Port, Unless It Kicks and Sheff’s many requests for us to raise our arms aloft and clap.

The support for their current UK tour was A Classic Education from Bologna, Italy , and fronted by Canadian Jonathan Clancy. They turned out to be a real hidden gem, straddling a world of indie rock somewhere between The Shins and Echo and the Bunnymen, as they showcased tracks from their album Call It Blazing such as Spin Me Around.


by Joe Lepper



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