Okkervil River / Torres Phoenix Concert Theatre, Toronto ON, September 28

Okkervil River / Torres Phoenix Concert Theatre, Toronto ON, September 28
Photo: Carrie Musgrave
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The action began sleepily on a Saturday night with opening trio Torres. Singer/guitarist Mackenzie Scott channelled PJ Harvey in a short, intense set moving between delicate folk and pummelling rock.

As the stage cleared, antiquated synth-pop chirped from the sound system. The stage displayed a map of Okkervil River frontman Will Sheff's hometown, the same map included with their latest album The Silver Gymnasium. The scene was set for a trip into Sheff's '80s childhood and the band did not disappoint.

The impatient crowd roared when Okkervil River took the stage, opening with Gymnasium tunes "It Was My Season" and "On A Balcony." The Austin, TX six-piece conjured a cinematic, baroque vision of rock'n'roll with keys and a violinist/trombonist. Over a lengthy, impassioned set, Okkervil River blazed through highlights across their 15-year career, backed by the shifting projected backdrops.

The band led the crowd through sing-alongs on Black Sheep Boy anthems "Black" and "For Real," drawing the most excitement of any of the numbers. The nightmarish trip of "John Allyn Smith Sails" cued waving hands, before Cully Symington's shotgun blast drums fired up "The Valley," the closest thing to hard rock in Okkervil River's catalog.

Sheff brought lights down for a solo acoustic take on "Yellow," followed by a folky duet with bassist Patrick Pestorius. The Motown backbeat of "Lost Coastlines" got the crowd moving while "Our Life Is Not A Movie or Maybe" started an energetic clap-a-long. Will Sheff's throaty warble soared above the band's ornate instrumentation, as he swaggered and swayed in time with Symington's agile percussion. Starting out in a jacket, Sheff gradually disrobed as the band upped the enthusiasm. He was down to a t-shirt once Okkervil River bowed out, following a three-song encore and surrounded by a host of new fans.