Okkervil River Charms and Disarms with Southern Soul

Will Sheff looks like an English Professor as he steps on stage at the Wiltern wearing a sport coat with his strap twisted and his guitar dangling off of his back. Okkervil River emerges to cheers and whistles after the odd act of Titus Andronicus leaves and the unorthodox mosh pit of hippies and hipsters dissipate. The Austin-based band is left with the task to impress a crowd that isn’t easy to budge, and eventually Sheff turns the tide in a moment that captivates with beauty and leaves the audience inspired and engaged.

Okkervil River reminds me of a band that will start playing at a bar without an audience, and an hour and a few drinks later everyone is on the floor dancing and screaming the chorus in unison. Sheff has a unique vocal presence and he reaches with his range and has his moments. As the band wanders through the beginning of their set, it is evident that some of the bigger fans are in the balcony while people on the floor waver back and forth between interest and boredom. Okkervil River offers consistent songs with a range of style and they bring their smiles to work as they go about their business. It’s easy to tell how much they absolutely love playing music. Sheff has animated onstage antics and although he looks like anything but a front man, he showcases style and soul and the band plays a unique rendition of their own brand of southern indie rock n’ roll.

At one point between songs, an overbearing fan screams, “I love you Will!” and he replies, “I love you too nameless voice in the dark,” drawing a small explosion of laughter from the audience. His charm and passion are undeniable and it’s impossible not to appreciate him as a musician. The show changes immediately when he takes the stage solo and plays A Stone, a beautifully written and emotionally sung acoustic melody that touches on everything great about this band. Their simplicity and unique feel grows on an audience that comes alive and gives the band something back. And together, everyone makes it an intimate experience that is felt and appreciated.

Through the back half of their set they time their hits perfectly, playing For Real and closing with Lost Coastlines before leaving the stage. Sheff comes back on to apologize for their late entrance and tells the audience they’re only being allowed one encore. This is met with a chorus of boos, and they choose to play Unless it Kicks and close respectably although screams for Westfall are shouted by the majority of requesters. As they jam out and come together, the rhythm and the backup harmony of this satisfying and simple talent from Austin closes the show in style. A man well into his sixties catches the attention of everyone on the floor as he wiggles around uncontrollably in the balcony and the band eventually notices and takes to him. When the show is over they give him a thumbs-up for his Elaine Bennis moves that signify the feel-good nature of everyone in the building. I wasn’t won over at first, but this band will fight until they make everyone in the house a believer. Their range is undeniable and their style is in a category by itself, giving them a soulfulness that is impossible not to appreciate. And Will Sheff is an unlikely talent who captivates and makes you a fan. He’s the Seth Rogen of Southern Rock N’ Roll.

Post by Rory Maloney

Pictures Provided by Andrew Youssef of Stereogum http://stereogum.com/739842/okkervil-river-titus-andronicus-newvillager-the-wiltern-los-angeles-62311/concert/

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