all hail the sheff
    • WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 17, 2008

    • Posted by:

    See more photos HERE.

    For the artist who dare dabble in acrobatic prose, a thorny path is often his/her reward. Say too much, he/she runs the risk of being smacked with that damn-pesky, elitist label. Say too little and it's down an unwelcome path blazed by previous wannabes and charlatans. It's a tricky tight rope for I've never been completely convinced Okkervil River's Will Sheff tip toes accurately enough across on a consistent basis.

    Here's the dilemma. From listen one on a blurry, boozy night in Pittsburgh three years ago, I have always fallen hard for the emotional melodrama Sheff and his Okkervil band mates overwhelm their rustic rock and roll tunes with. Theirs' is an ability to authenticate a certain type of undeveloped emotion that I'm often ashamed to admit appeals to my soul. It's semi-emo sentiment, without...well, the emo. Then there's Sheff's outrageous ability to deliver the kind of slaying single line (ex. "I hope your new man thinks of me when he sees what a number I did on you" ("Love to a Monster") that no doubt knocked the intended target they were written for dead upon reading. But his bulky songs have also provided me with more than my fair share of "I get it" kind of moments...i.e., "I get it. You read books."; "I get it. You have great fucking taste" get the idea.

    So, it's with such conflicting preconceptions bouncing 'round my brain that I ventured through one of the more miserable rains in recent memory to catch Mr. Sheff perform at the Music Hall of Williamsburg, sans Okkervil. Yes, this would seem the perfect opportunity to resolve this clash of ideals. And from the moment he stammered down the Music Hall's stairs - looking lanky and Lennon-esque (suit, beard, spectacles...check!) - I knew the cards would eventually fall in Sheff's favor.

    Presenting lonely versions of some of Okkervil's more memorable, recent cuts, Sheff drew upon a heavy batch of material from last year's The Stage Names, and its' '08 companion piece The Stand Ins. "Unless It Kicks", "Savannah Smiles", "Plus Ones", "Love to a Monster", "Lost Coastlines": Sheff turned collaborative, recorded Okkervil efforts into a handsome, tell-tale, solo affair. And wouldn't you know what happened? Stripped of any ornamental instrumentation, the behemoth lines of verse which often bore a semi-obnoxious hint finally hit their ultimate mark. Sheff's verbal flood was a semi-nuisance no more. Instead, the singer's stories dug their roots deep, and his importance as a contemporary songwriter bloomed. Oh...and that certain Okkervil mood and emotion I've always appreciated? Turns out it's the result of a suffering set of lyrics, a desperate, anxious wale, and a disregard for the well-being of his guitar strings.

    Everything I ever loved about Okkervil? It belonged to Sheff all along. Which leads me to one more question. Are Okkervil's other handymen really that handy (of course I don't mean this, do I?)? I suppose that's an argument for another day. - David Pitz

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