's latest album, Away,
comes from loss and emotion. The opening track "Okkervil River RIP" is also the first song Will Sheff chose to play tonight in Philadelphia, a song that serves as a reminder that the entire band, besides Sheff, has turned over since 2013. Union Transfer is dead silent except for the gentle strumming of Sheff's 12-string guitar, an instrument that has seen better days. The finish of the wood has been scraped off one strum at a time until the gouges formed as they are now, the equivalent of tire tracks on a dirt road for a well-traveled guitar. Sheff leaned over the mic with thick John Lennon glasses and a stringy mop of hair and sang the first line, "hey my little baby, pointing at the sky's amazing / In the lake now..."
His voice is gentle but strained, textured by a tender croak in the first few words of the phrase before it smooths out for the second line. This song is a magical moment in their performance, and the audience's silent reverence allows the lyrics to soak in. Okkervil River lyrics balance somewhere between poetry and private thoughts, and Sheff mentions during the concert that he often writes lyrics before any melodic lines.
The rest of the set mixed the acoustic sounds of "Call Yourself Renee" and ballads like "A Girl in Port" with songs that edged towards rock like the catchy "Down Down the Deep River" featuring a saxophonist. "Days Spent Floating (In the Half Between)" was both beautiful and disjointed, a song created when Sheff wrote down the first line that came to mind when he woke up every day for a month, with lyrics ranging from Halloween to "floral Jesus" and warm toast. The songs made me think of something Sheff wrote back when Lou Reed died, an obituary that explained what Reed's music did for Sheff's
. "That music changed something in us and changed what we wanted to be. We didnt want to make people happy. We wanted to make people hurt. We wanted to make music for adults, music that didn't lie to you and feed you a line of shit. And then if we did make happy music, that happiness would have a genuine impact on people because it would be real happiness, happiness that coexisted with the real knowledge of pain. That happiness... wasn't false. It was something you could really hold on to."