Okkervil River, Landlady | Cat's Cradle | Clubs & Concerts | Indy Week
This is a past event.

Okkervil River, Landlady 

When: Tue., Sept. 20, 9 p.m. 2016
Price: $18-$20


Some two and a half millennia ago, the Greek philosopher Heraclitus quipped that no man ever steps in the same river twice. Enough time passes, he mused, and it's not the same river, and more to the point, it's not the same man, either. Okkervil River's Will Sheff can relate.

In 2013, the scruffy folk act released The Silver Gymnasium, a seemingly autobiographical concept album about nostalgia and innocence and youth, set in the eighties in Sheff's hometown of Meriden, New Hampshire. The record was Okkervil River's first since jumping from Jagjaguwar to ATO, ostensibly in a bid for a wider audience. Conceptually and lyrically, it's one of the band's finer records, but musically it's perhaps the weakest, buffing away most of the band's charming eccentricities. It received fair to middling reviews.

Then, Sheff's life more or less fell apart. He lost his grandfather, who was his idol; Sheff spent the better part of two years by his bedside in a hospice. Familiar faces in the music industry disappeared. Sheff's backing band began splitting, and by the time he was ready to make a new record, the entire lineup had turned over. When Sheff retreated alone to a cabin in the Catskills to clear his head, songs started coming to him quickly.

"Eventually, I realized I was writing a death story for a part of my life that had, buried inside of it, a path I could follow that might let me go somewhere new," Sheff wrote for ATO.

That path led to Away, the new Okkervil River record released last week that opens with a track titled "Okkervil River R.I.P." It's a requiem for the previous incarnations of his band ("They had some great songs," Sheff sings, "Must have been a great time so long ago"), but the song references several deaths—Sheff's grandfather, three members of the R&B group The Force MDs, singer Judee Sill—in its plaintive, deliberate ramble.

But Away isn't an album about death. It's about finding new life. Here, after working through his personal tumult, Sheff sounds less strained, less disquieted than he has on past albums. His singing is softer and sweeter, his surrounding instrumentation—guest players include Marissa Nadler, members of the excellent new music ensemble yMusic, and former Okkervil River member Jonathan Meiburg—sounds more subdued and spacious, stuffed with ideas and vertiginous embellishment. It is the sound of the purge that accompanies rebirth.

Sheff wrote that Away is him "taking my life back to zero and starting to add it all back up again." If he is, and Okkervil River is changed for it—well, he can't step twice in the same river, can he? —Patrick Wall

9 p.m., $18–$20, www.catscradle.com

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