Tuesday, 22 November 2011
833 OKKERVIL RIVER, A Classic Education, Bristol Trinity, Monday 21 November 2011
Unable to persuade Tim to join me, I took a drive down the M4 on my own after Grandma arrived to help me put the kids to bed (Rach on Governor training), and, having taken local advice, parked in the cavernous Cabot Circus car park about 5 minutes from the venue. Not the most pleasant of walks, but arrived at this dilapidated old church venue in the murky Autumn dark – very haunting and evocative! After a slight ticket-mare, got into this elegantly run-down large pillar-fringed hall, just as support A Classic Education were taking the stage at 8.15. They played a tough and resonant brand of laconic US surf pop, with some nice hooks and occasional noisy guitar wig-out middle eights, and some 60’s “ooh-aah” melody to flesh out their muscular jangle. They’d sound good on a Summer Saturday drive with the top down...
I took a superb viewing spot stage left, two rows back, and watched a very fiddly stage set-up, particularly on the guitar pedals, before the 6-piece Okkervil River came onstage prompt at 9.15, vocalist and inspiration Will Sheff bounding onstage last, looking like a geography teacher in glasses, beard and tweed, but enthusiastically launching into opener “Wake And Be Fine” a baroque chuntering Tom Waits like procession of a song. And they were off, like a firecracker…
This performance was a real stunner. On record, Okkervil River are a slowly congealing mixture of quiet, backwoods landscapes and swirling, sweeping epics of cinemascopic range; the missing link between “Deserters Songs”-era Mercury Rev and The Arcade Fire, if you will. However, I certainly wasn’t expecting the strident, powerful and dynamic “live” agenda they were setting! Sheff was certainly the main focus, a bundle of nervous energy giving an impassioned yet open and personable performance throughout, but this was also thanks in no small part to guitarist Lauren Gurgiolo. Frail looking in a scruffy pink dress, she nevertheless played her chops like a demon. “Rider” was magnificent, thundering and strident (particularly the “Rock, Rockaway Beach!” line), before a touching and indolent “Piratess” introduced some light and shade.
A brilliant “We Need A Myth”, starting off all Scott Walker-esque lush and sweeping, then building to an epic crescendo, followed some inter-band banter about the lack of personal hygiene on the road (!), then a slew of mid-set technical problems saw Sheff off on a Steely Dan covers band tangent, killing some time prior to the creepy, Violent Femmes wheezing march of “The Valley”. But really, every one was a winner, the “live” performance really adding an unexpected extra dimension to the material, none more so than the penultimate “Our Life Is Not A Movie Or Maybe”. For me the high watermark of their canon, this was greeted with rapture by this reverential crowd, and delivered as stridently, passionately and dynamically as possible.
The pedal steel of encore “A Girl In Port” cleared the air before the final, crashing “Unless It’s Kicks” rounded off a, “crikey, never saw THAT coming!” performance. Adding power and passion to their intelligence and craft, this was WAY better than I’d expected or hoped, and ultimately – and unexpectedly – one of the gigs of the year, from a real find. Magnificent!