After some time in show hiatus, Okkervil River brought their alt-country, emo-fied indie-folk to Castle Clinton (which is literally the gutted edifice of a castle) in Battery Park last night. The River 2 River Festival show had a loose feel — as most any free summer show does — and it suited Okkervil’s bleeding heart jams well. Alternating between brush-stick snare shuffles and outright backbeat, drummer and band alike sat ready with all the dynamics Will Sheff needed to bleat his point home.
Sheff sees his melodies in rough contours, not fixed endpoints. With each aria he’s after something beyond the notes, meandering microtones off course. And I dig that. ‘Cause when it’s on the line, he’ll pierce his money note and remind you. The passion comes in the imperfection.
“For Real” was this aesthetic in action, and it fucking rocked. With the breeze picking up off the river, Okkervil gave us a classic summer moment. “Black” brought even more, as did “Black Sheep Boy” and “A Stone.”
But on “The President Is Dead,” it was all in the lyrics. This bit of “hypothetical fiction” wasn’t the inflammatory rhetoric the title would suggest. That’d be too easy, like singing on pitch. Instead, Will used a president’s assassination to tease the small moments that define our lives (the vivid recollection of the little things you were doing when something so big went down) and the human tendency to provide a rose tint to the emanations of tragedy. Suddenly this slain person wasn’t such a bad guy. At least, not that anyone was willing to admit. In avoiding the politics, he nailed the humanity. And all this for free on a Thursday night!
Enjoy this track, from Okkervil to you.