Okkervil River, Broken Records

Helen Newbery 03/02/2008

Edinburgh's Broken Records seem to have been getting a lot of attention recently, and on the basis of this support slot at the Cabaret Voltaire, it's not hard to see why. The band comprises seven multi-instrumentalists, and although yes, there's a violin and an accordion in there, it would be facile to dismiss them as simply another one of those folksy indiestompers, as they have taken this as a starting point and twisted it in a direction all of their own.

With a considerable local following, expectations for the night are clearly running high. And we are not disappointed, with the band playing as a seamless unit throughout. They are clearly keen to move on, as they showcase a new song (“so new it doesn't have a name yet”), which is the perfect showcase for singer Jamie's haunting voice, with its slow build up and almost eerie instrumentation finally giving way to an all-out sonic assault. However, perhaps unsurprisingly, it's their more familiar songs, such as 'A Good Reason' and the sublime 'Nearly Home' which get the best audience reaction. The former, certainly, has the air of a hit-in-waiting, with its singalong chorus that it's impossible not to dance to. And by closer 'Slow Parade', it's clear they are a band to catch now if you can, whilst they are still playing smaller venues.

Safely hidden in the bowels of Edinburgh, we're nonetheless reminded how foul the weather is outside as we learn Okkervil River almost didn't make the gig due to an eventful ferry crossing from Dublin. And this bad luck continues into the gig, with its myriad technical problems and seemingly endless techie-tinkering. This doesn't seem to solve the problem, however, as the resultant sound is distinctly muddy. There's a more serious problem, however: there are six of them onstage, and things just don't seem to gel. Singer Will Sheff is clearly a consummate performer, and a formidable stage presence, but at times it is almost as if he is the only person up there. Occasionally, a moment of sublime beauty reminds us of just what this band are capable of, especially during the second half of the set. 'Okkervil River Song', for example, is a welcome dose of bluesey Americana. However, for most of the set, it's impossible to shake the feeling that sadly, here is a good band having a bad night.