Okkervil River | Islington Assembly Hall | 10 November 2016
Will Sheff gets right to the point: he’s more than a little bummed about Trump’s victory and what it means for his country. And for the past 48 hours, since the news broke, he’s been looking forward to working through his feelings with us.
“I’m glad to be here with you,” the singer admits before plunging into almost two hours of deep soul-searching that feels almost as cathartic for his audience. Against the backdrop of uncertainty, confusion, anger, despair, and frustration, the impact of his already evocative music and lyrics is only amplified.
The delicate beginning of set opener ‘Okkervil River R.I.P.’ sounds even more fragile as words like “Gather crowd around me” are almost whispered; the anguished crescendo has him spitting the lines “But I didn’t open up my mouth/ Just to piss and moan”. ‘Call Yourself Renee’, another new song written during the same confusing time of transition in his personal and professional life, is just as emotionally tumultuous, before 2007’s ‘Plus Ones’ turns on the light with its opening couplet “No one wants to hear about your 97th tear/ So dry your eyes or let it go uncried, my dear.” Also a chance for Sheff’s versatile new band – guitarist Will Graefe, drummer Cully Symington, bassist Benjamin Lazar Davis, and keyboard player Sarah Pedinotti – to stretch their legs, it’s the the first of several truly uplifting moments tonight.
Equally rousing – while pulling off that trick of pairing bleak sentiments with sunny music – are an airy ‘The Industry’, the Springsteeny ‘Down Down The Deep River’, and bouncy ‘Our Life Is Not a Movie or Maybe’, while visceral renditions of ‘Unless It’s Kicks’ (“What gives this mess some grace unless it’s fiction”) and ‘For Real’ (“Some nights I thirst for real blood”) feel like a communal exorcism.
So, by the time Sheff begins the encore by performing ‘The War Criminal Rises and Speaks’ next to the sound desk, it’s no surprise that at least one audience member is jumping up and down like an excited child while wiping away what must be tears of joy.
“Thank you for making me feel good,” Sheff acknowledges once he’s back up on the stage. The feeling’s clearly mutual.