Okkervil River @ Sound Control, Manchester 20.11.11

Recreating the gargantuan number of contributors from I Am Very Far in a live setting can be a daunting task. Indeed, such a dense sound seems a distance from their first Manchester gig at the Star and Garter (they nostalgically reminisce about that tonight), but as the line-up proves tonight, Okkervil River can do it all in their original number.

Nov 20th, 2011 at Sound Control, Manchester / By Alex Yau
Okkervil River Opener ‘The Valley’ is as gargantuan as its name suggests: Will Sheff’s vocals sound demonic – a scree of warped anguish – whilst hypnotic drums match with a ritualistic pounding. ‘Rider’ is equally as rambunctious – an anthemic shuffle of screams only Arcade Fire’s ‘Win Butler‘ could match. Meanwhile ‘Piratess’ is a calculated stride of Spoon-ish bass lines and Roxy Music sexiness before tripping out on a scree of schizophrenic frenzy.

Much of the set tonight relies on newer material, but with a catalogue as big as the Texan’s, it’s only a matter of time until fan favourites are unravelled. The acoustic version of ‘No Key, No Plan’ is no less captivating than the original, whilst ‘Song of Our So Called Friend’ brings proceedings to an intimate setting. All eyes are focused on Sheff – a balladeer of sorts telling tall tales of hopelessness – evoking the echoes of Elliot Smith and Neutral Milk Hotel throughout Manchester.

The set almost ends and as the poignant funeral organs of ‘Your Past Life as a Blast’ signals to this, their encore is preceded by the joyous, ‘Stand By Me’ country twangs of ‘Lost Coastlines’ – it’s hip shaking beats simply moving the crowd into a dancing frenzy. Finally, ‘It Ends With a Fall’ is an idiosyncratic love song that’s just as captivating live as it is on record, and as ‘Unless it Kicks’ ends the set with its rickety melodies, we’re reminded that they’re more than just Americana romanticists.