Okkervil River

Tues April 6

Berbati's Pan

10 SW 3rd

Okkervil River's material isn't exactly party fodder. Take "Dead Dog Song," the first tune the trio wrote together just weeks after its formation in 1998. Over a whorl of bluegrass, Will Scheff moans, "Now the branches scratch my face/and I can't hold back my tears." "Dead Dog Song," unlike most of Scheff's creations, is largely autobiographical; his other characters--a lonely ballerina estranged from her daughter, a forlorn soul listening to Otis Redding alone on Christmas day--take elements of his experiences and magnify them for maximum melodramatic effect. The resulting tales are turbulent tearjerkers, emotionally exhausting numbers that combine hope, helplessness, love, loss, bitterness, and epiphany.

"We try to write songs that have a certain intensity that's beyond sad or happy," Scheff says. "We want to make ecstatic music."

In the song "The War Criminal Rises and Speaks," the title character is a disgraced wreck who slaughtered children. And when he wishes he could "restore their lives and then give back my own," the song approaches devastating documentary realism. Singer/guitarist Will Scheff's lyrics might be complex and contemplative, but they're never ostentatious or obtuse. He uses simply stated progressions such as "red is my favorite color/red like your mother's eyes after awhile/of crying because you don't love her."

Though at least as talented as peers such as Bright Eyes' Conor Oberst, Okkervil River has yet to ascend to that level of recognition. But if one of the tracks from 2003's brilliant Down the River of Golden Dreams --perhaps "It Ends With A Fall," which releases a cathartic afterglow sigh after each climactic chorus--smuggles itself onto the airwaves, Okkervil River could quickly outgrow its cult status. In the meantime, Scheff isn't complaining about his outfit's relative obscurity.

"I would hesitate to bitch about anything that's happened to me when it comes to music," he says.