"Buy it or we'll slit your throat," threatened Crooked Fingers front man Eric Bachmann at Webster Hall last night, plugging his band's new album, Forfeit/Fortune, like someone who has plugged too many new albums. (Still, he gave up a treat: “Web in Front,” a song from his first band, alt-rock royalty Archers of Loaf.) Like Bachmann, Okkervil River's Will Sheff writes songs about the loose community of folks squandering their lives for independent rock and roll. It's a dark and often depressing venture for Bachman, who recently made a flamboyant stab at normalcy by setting up shop as a sandwich vendor in Denver. Sheff's vision is funnier, looser, and more hopeful — it's still populated by exes, plus ones, and parasites, but his characters' fates have yet to be sealed.
Sheff opened the set singing and quietly strumming an acoustic guitar and was joined mid-song by the rest of his sprawling ensemble, who do not just lumbering sadness but also bouncy, exuberant sadness. They moved quickly to "Singer Songwriter," a send-up of Sheff's overly cultured, well-heeled fans and this year's Most Likely to Be Unironically Rocked Out To by Those It Mocks Song. By night's end, Okkervil River had transformed Webster Hall into a full-on indie-rock prayer meeting. When they returned for an encore, there was a twinkling night sky projected behind them, a fitting close to a bill featuring a rising star shining brightly and an older one refusing to fade.