Down by the river

Texan based indie-rockers Okkervil River mine the country landscape.

okkervil river music band 88 (photo credit: )
okkervil river music band 88
(photo credit: )
Any band that names itself after a short story by a Russian author (Tatyana Tolstaya) is likely to have something going for it besides good looks. And Austin, Texas-based indie rockers Okkervil River certainly prove that point, with their alternative folk-rock sound encompassing musical flashpoints as diverse as Joni Mitchell and Nirvana as interpreted through mandolins and accordions, and articulate lyrics worthy of the band's literary name. And they're not bad looking, either. Since forming in the late 1990s, the band, led by New Hampshire native Will Sheff, has built up an increasing buzz-cult following, sparked by mainstream pushes via appearances on The Conan O'Brien and David Letterman shows. Along with the recent Tel Aviv shows by Calexico and MGMT, Okkervil River's upcoming concert on September 15 at the Barby Club cement Israel's new-found reputation for bringing in non-chart topping, critically acclaimed acts at the top of their games. However, it took years of sleeping on couches and driving all night in vans for Okkervil River to achieve any kind of financial security, Sheff recently told a reporter in Ireland, where the band appeared this summer. Despite great reviews for 1999's debut, Stars Too Small To Use, 2002's Don't Fall In Love With Everyone You See and 2003's Down The River Of Golden Dreams, he was on the verge of quitting, as his founding band mates gradually left the fold. "I was completely broke, I hadn't a place to live, I was crashing on other people's couches. I was sick and sick of being broke and being worn down. I will always write for fun, but could I do it as a career?" he said. Luckily, 2005's country-tinged Black Sheep Boy proved to be the band's breakthrough album, followed 2007's The Stage Names and last year's The Stand Ins. Now, people like Norah Jones are asking Sheff to write songs for them, and the guitarist presumably has his own bed to sleep in. If you're tired of standing for six hours to watch a superstar on a video screen from 100 meters away, head down to the Barby Club on September 15 for some of the best rock & roll America has to offer.