Live: Okkervil River’s Will Sheff in Williamsburg


photo by Adam Mandel

Will Sheff and Charles Bissell
Music Hall of Williamsburg
Thursday, December 11

Rare are the days where you find yourself at a record release party–a true record release party, where you’re celebrating an actual piece of vinyl, which is what Will Sheff of Okkervil River and Charles Bissell of the Wrens did last night. The event’s pretense was a Jagjaguwar seven-inch, where Sheff covers Bissell and vice versa. At its peak, the room was maybe half full–which is a surprise, considering how well Okkervil has done here over the years. And Sheff’s smart-guy, bookworm, troubadour persona is both likable and hard to resist. But again, it was nasty out, rain pouring down from all angles, cold and dreary; yet, the perfect storm for the type of songs he writes, especially Black Sheep Boy.

Mostly, Okkervil’s last two albums are upbeat, country-noir-rock affairs. But they work great without a band, and that’s probably the sign of a strongly written tune. Last night, “Plus Ones” and “Unless It’s Kicks,” both rhythmically commanding on record, downshifted into long-winding ballads. In between songs, Sheff paused, espousing a theory about how high musicians hold their shoulder-strapped instruments: for example, the higher you hold the bass up (akin to how high you jack your pants up), the less masculine you think you are (e.g. Krist Novoselic from Nirvana, way low; Paul McCartney, way high). He then proceeded to run through “Savannah Smiles,” with his guitar resting above his hip; dorky, but since he just called himself out, it somehow seems not dorky at all.

The evening’s highlight came when Sheff shifted from solo to duo, grabbing Bissell to back him on some loopy guitars during “Our Life Is Not A Movie Or Maybe,” the poignant opener from The Stage Names. Sheff deliberately slowed this down so much, it became a different song all together; Bissell added some screechy layers, while Sheff teased his deliberations, through the song’s tricky, metaphorical realities.

When Sheff returned for the encore, the die-hards were yelling out song titles, demands which he turned down, explaining he’d vowed not to take requests after a drunken solo show in Tucson years ago, where his liquidly courageous “performance” cleared the room. He likened himself that night to a sorority girl, who keeps getting more toasted as the night goes on, dancing on the bar, oblivious. “Slut!” someone shouted, all nasty-like. –Michael D. Ayers

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