On June 7 Denver, CO’s Bluebird Theater was the scene of Okkervil River’s latest stop on a true international globe trotter of a tour that will take them across the pond soon, all in support of their new album In the Rainbow Rain. The evening kicked off with Brooklyn duo Star Rover, who’s particular brand of mathy instrumental jam often drifted from spacey to progressive, warping into breakdowns then back to crunch-heavy bangers that kept the crowd on their toes and guessing as to where the duo would mellifluously meander next.
As Okkervil front man Will Sheff ascended the stage with his current touring band in tow and kicked into the new tune “Pulled Up the Ribbon”, it was clear that the band has turned in a new direction as of late, moving away from the somber, often mournful tones of their last album Away and towards a much warmer, more playful sound. Sheff reflected this shift in looks and vibe, channeling John Lennon-esque locks and playful patter as the band bounced between classics and new album material. By artfully balancing the tone and interweaving their new material (and it doesn’t hurt that the new stuff packs a positive punch few can resist), Okkervil managed to avoid that typical drop in excitement of the crowd as a band of such breadth shifts past a pack of fan favorites into their ‘new stuff’, before returning to the favorites.
Instead, audience members were treated to a melange of melody both poignant and upbeat, with new wave-esque crooning and floating synthy backbeats that often felt reminiscent of the indie scene in its heyday of the early 2000s. One moment that stood out was a story and subsequent song about how our bodies can fail us, which then lead to an oral retelling of famous tracheotomies in the song titled of the same, followed shortly by arguably the best song on the new album, “Don’t Move Back to LA”, something I think we can all agree nobody should ever do. The night continued to build momentum and excitement, eventually culminating with a raucous version of “John Allyn Smith Sails” and an extended jam in “The Dream and the Light”, before ebbing the tide and letting Sheff shine in a set of solo tunes, after which the band returned for a three song encore.
Ultimately, it has been interesting to see Okkervil and Will Sheff’s evolution as performer and performance piece, going from indie belter to emotional shelter, torn and stripped down to banding together to take positive turns when the world itself has gone in the opposite direction. It’s been a long, winding river, and I for one can’t wait to see where we’ll end up next.