by Chris Familton
Mike Noga was up first, playing primarily on his lonesome which suited the mood and opening slot perfectly. His songs were stripped back to their bare essence of guitar, voice, harmonica and on a couple of occasions some wonderful cello courtesy of The Gin Club’s Bridget Lewis. Noga was in fine form – chatty, cheeky and seemingly undaunted to be standing alone onstage without his backing band or the safety of his drum kit when playing with The Drones. This year’s album The Balladeer Hunter featured heavily with particular standouts being the ominous swell of M’Belle, the muscular folk of Ballad Of An Ordinary Man, the traditional Eileen and the influence referencing Piss On A Butterfly. Noga shares many vocal traits with The Drones’ Gareth Liddiard but he possesses less of a demented howl and a stronger melodic trail through his lyrics. To keep a growing Metro crowd relatively hushed with a solo set is no mean task and Noga showed he has the ability to pen engaging and poetic songs that can captivate an audience.
On previous visits to Australia Okkervil River have slowly built their audience, progressing up the ladder of venues on the back of an unwaveringly strong run of albums and a reputation for passionate shows. Tonight was no different other than it was their best Sydney gig by a long shot. The buildup for this tour felt fairly low key in terms of the media chatter and the lack of any real buzz around their recently released album I Am Very Far but from the outset they put the Metro on notice that they were here to perform with gusto, verve and a widescreen literate approach to indie rock probably only matched by Arcade Fire.
Led by the exuberant Will Sheff, Okkervil River focused the bulk of their set on the new album, taking the songs to another level of attack and release, drama and brilliant musicianship. Guitarist Lauren Gurgiolo is now firmly ensconced in the line-up and showed she is the perfect artistic foil to Sheff’s emotive stage manner. He is all passion, twisting body shapes and keening exhortations whereas she appeared to operate in a slower and more controlled time zone. She darted between instruments creating everything from noise to gentle shimmering chords without missing a note.
Of the new songs it was We Need A Myth which reiterated the strength of comparisons between Sheff and Jarvis Cocker both vocally and physically, the seductive disco-lite groove of Your Past Life as a Blast and the urgent dispatch of Wake Up and be Fine. The band have clearly expanded their americana-tinged indie template to now include more playful grooves and some ornate string and brass touches that gave the music its expansive quality.
Of course an Okkervil River show would be incomplete without some of the gems that have appeared on each of their records. Lost Coastlines was was eminently danceable and uplifting, Our Life is not a Movie or Maybe had the Metro quick clapping in unison and finally letting themselves cut loose and celebrate the music and the final song of the evening Unless it’s Kicks felt positively religious with that shuffling beat, chugging guitar and Sheff preaching positivity from the pulpit. It was the perfect way to end a set that was brilliantly paced, sincerely delivered and felt like an endless treat. Long may the music of Okkervil River continue to flow.
this review was first published on FasterLouder