Last night I went to see Will Sheff of Okkervil River play a solo show at St. Pancras Old Church. I had a spare ticket, and I thought I'd found someone online who wanted it, but he called at the last minute to say he couldn't make it. So I went to one show with two tickets. Both times, it was great.
When I arrived the pews were full of about 100 Okkervil faithful so I leant against the upright church piano at the back against the wall. This turned out to be a pretty great decision in the course of things. Will Sheff played some Okkervil songs, new and old, and was joined by bassist Zach Thomas for a few of them on another guitar and vocals. Their versions of 'Lost Coastlines' and 'Wake and Be Fine' were highlights, as were Will's solo renditions of 'A Stone' and 'The President's Dead'.
For his encore, though, he came out to a wall of applause and whoops and headed straight for the piano I was leaning on. He sat down and started playing 'For Real', as gasps and purrs of recognition came from the audience, who now gathered around in a close circle. His long-limbed body looked too big for the tiny piano, but the song was measured and intense, with squares of light and shadow from a window falling over him in the dim room, and camera phones flashing occasionally, or recording the whole moment. Maybe only a few of us could see his face. Me, and another girl leaning on the other side of the piano, and maybe two people next to me. He had a neat rusty beard and sang with his eyes closed. He matched his strong, tremulant voice with a simple piano figure, and it was very moving.
Afterwards one or two very excited people shook his hand and looked as if they wanted to die for him in some heroic and self-sacrificing way, such as taking a bullet or throwing themselves on top of a grenade. Such is the adoration of the lonely for their poets.
Later I got the train home and I felt happy, thinking it was one of the best performances I'd seen for a very long time.