Saturday, May 2, 2009

Show Review: Elvis Perkins in Dearland @ der Raskeller

In the minimalist folk tradition, Elvis Perkins stepped on stage Friday a lone troubadour. He immediately launched into "While You Were Sleeping," lyrically one of his best songs. The song speaks for itself and its metaphors are best left to personal interpretation, but is generally a quietly haunting tale of what happens when we aren't paying attention to the important things in life. It also begins as one of his quieter songs, and was consequently drowned out by the young crowd swooping in from the wings and finding their places in front of the stage.

As the song progressed, his backing band appeared and helped fill out the song until fading out into quietly sung "Oh oh's." I really, really wished he didn't open with this song, as it was the only song I wanted to hear, and its meaning has changed for me depending on my mood, so I was interested in seeing how it resonated live. But once everything settled, the highlights were not the ones I expected.

For one, I liked the band more than I thought I would. An upright bass is always a welcome addition to the usually high sounds of too many guitars. Also, while Elvis stayed stationary, the band bopped, swayed and strolled- whatever the particular song called for- and claimed their place in the songs. Especially off Ash Wednesday, Perkins' first album, where the band did not figure in prominently, they tried to find their place. It worked better in some places (the appropriate "May Day"), than others ("Emile's Vietnam in the Sky," best left simple). Other highlights included the range of music they presented. They switched from a bluesy bookish feel to a Chuck Berry sensation within the same song, the unrecorded, "Stop, Drop, and Rock and Roll." The more traditional three guitar lineup on "Lonleyville" also formed a nice contrast, as did their rendition of an old untitled folk song.

However, the low lights felt like the aural equivalent of painting over a already completed piece of art to save money on a new canvas. The tacked-on feeling could have been due to the sound also. The trombone didn't need to be mic'ed in such a small surrounding with low ceilings. But again, Perkins' voice, which was surprising in its range, tied everything together as he stayed focused behind his glasses. In the rotunda the band played under, they perhaps couldn't hear the chatter of the crowd, only a small percentage of whom seemed like they were there for the show. Perkins' commented that they couldn't hear each other speak under it, which seemed a slight jab at the crowd.

Before the show I asked my boyfriend if he though bands enjoyed playing free gigs like this. It is some new exposure to that ubiquitous "younger audience" that everyone is trying to market to and instill a brand loyalty in for life. He replied that bands were probably used to being the opening act on a bill and not the main reason the fans were there. I felt a little differently, that once you get past that, it would be nice to feed off the audience; after all, if you believe in your music, it has to be a little vindicating to see other people who do too. You don't make the music for other people at first, but to connect over it in a live setting is a great reason to go to shows.

It's the artists statement attached to a painting, or the deleted scenes and extended features on a DVD. To see what didn't make the cut or a glimpse of some intention enhances the artwork. But I'm getting off track, because this ideal relationship between artist and audience holds no relevance in a student union, on a campus known for being a party school, in the state that consumes the most beer per capita.

This new, still bespectacled Perkins, looks like he stepped from the 60s into the 70s, which seems like a dangerous move musically, but he is pushing forward, bringing his material to new fans, and singing his songs for all who want to hear.

Set list

While You Were Sleeping
Chains, Chains, Chains
Send My Fond Regards to Lonelyville
I Heard Your Voice in Dresden
Emile's Vietnam in the Sky
Untitled old folk song by anonymous
May Day
Stop, Drop, Rock and Roll
I'll Be Arriving
Stay Zombie

Doomsday (see below)