All the signals were right for Okkervil River at the Islington Assembly Rooms on this cold winter’s night in late 2013. The ornate former theatre, re-opened for live performance in 2010 and now one of the better mid-size venues in the capital, seemed the perfect stage for the literary rockers to share their careworn tales, while their latest album - 'The Silver Gymnasium' - recently achieved the group's highest chart position to date. It seemed an evening of cosy intimacy awaited.

Sadly, it was not to be.

Main man Will Sheff is somewhat miscast as a rock star, but that doesn’t stop him trying. Sure his weaving narrative lyrics are eloquent on the page, and even on record, but on stage he comes across as a drunk at the bar, rushing through the words, smudging their meaning. With so much focus on him, and his song writing prowess, the decision to shout each lyric fatally wounds what could have been a meandering walk through the group’s detailed back catalogue.

He is not helped by the cavalier stage set-up - with everything seemingly at maximum volume. This might work for a stadium rock act, but the bookish songs of Okkervil River lose their dynamism at higher volumes. All the kinks, left turns and surprising segues are lost under a flat deluge of thin sludge. The band built their name as a lyric-centric folkish act, spinning sepia tinted tales of long-lost hometowns. Strange, then, that when playing live they forego this subtle intrigue and present their poetry through a megaphone.

Of course, none of this matters to the devoted. The geeky frontman shouting out what should be whispered secrets and the one dimensional backing band are of no concern to those hanging on every word. But they made their decision before they arrived – this would be their night. Geeky couples sing the songs they sang that night they had one too many glasses of boxed wine and ended up in bed together while bespectacled men note down the set list. The rest of us are just left to wonder where the band from the record went…












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