Like millions of others, I can't live without my iPod, but I still place a great amount of faith in radio. After all, what are the chances that you've tuned in when that song goes out over the airwaves to catch your attention and arrest you in place, whether you're driving, doing laundry, or trying to work? It's even more amazing when you think about all the songs that wash over you on any given day without making any sort of impact. It's a feeling I've yet to experience from downloading any MP3 or reading a review or blog entry. "Ash Wednesday" is one such song that came to me thanks to (Internet) radio, and it led me to Elvis Perkins.
Elvis Perkins in Dearland, Cafe du Nord, March 25, 2007: I've frittered away a ridiculous number of opportunities to see Elvis Perkins live, even after I figured out that he was kinda based in Los Angeles, came up to San Francisco relatively often, and was responsible for perhaps my favorite song of 2006. On a number of occasions, I've absentmindedly checked his Web site to find that he had played, for example, 12 Galaxies a few days earlier. My typically hairbrained rock tourism plans are also to blame, as they've taken me away from this city quite a few times when he and his band swept through on--more often than not--a decent to amazing multiple-band bill (Cold War Kids and Pernice Brothers, to name just two).
I'm just grateful that the stars aligned last summer when they opened for World Party, though I gotta admit that I wasn't bowled over by the band that night--at least, not compared to the impact that the song "Ash Wednesday" had on me. Nonetheless, it was impossible to ignore their charm or Elvis's distinctive songwriting stance. And though this isn't meant to excuse my earlier slacking on this band, maybe all those missed dates were actually a blessing in disguise, prepping me for this show on their first-ever headlining tour. (Throw me a bone!)
It's not hard to draw comparisons between Elvis Perkins and his predecessors; I don't think it's a stretch to see the resemblances to Dylan, particularly, with his acoustic guitar, harmonica, and opaque lyrics, while the backing band's cargo of thrift-shop-find instruments brought to mind Tom Waits. For me, at least, as gorgeous and moving as his more unvarnished tunes are, the undeniably intriguing aspects of Elvis's sound and performance popped up when he detoured from the typical singer/songwriter script, such as on the songs that could've doubled as boisterous drinking anthems. Also, a large chunk of that credit goes to his spirited and solid backing band.
The bass player moved around so much in time with the tunes that I couldn't take a decent picture of him. The drummer came out from behind the kit on three different songs to play a big marching drum on du Nord's tiny stage, as well as add percussion (in the form of a corrugated metal thermos and a hair pick, based on my very nontechnical estiimation to Maudie). The remaining member of the band mostly manned the piano and harmonium, but he also threw in electric guitar on a few songs and, at the end, picked up a trombone too. They all contributed harmonies as needed.
One of the surprises of the set was a song called "The Weeping Pilgrim." Elvis said he didn't know who wrote it, and I take it to be a traditional folk song, though you wouldn't have guessed it from the band's arrangement. They started off the song gathered around the drum kit, as if ready for takeoff, in a formation more often associated with, say, Van Halen's "Jump" video than any folk-inspired act I can think of. And when the rollicking rock beat kicked in, they were truly off to the races: crossing the tiny stage to play next to each other, hopping around like jumping beans, and simply grinning in their enjoyment.
They played a bunch of songs not on the album. One of the new tunes without a title adopted a very slinky, reggae-ish beat and included some lyrics about "setting sun." I think it was a song called "Shampoo" that featured a white-noise-inflected intro, which saw the members of Dearland messing with their instruments in unusual ways (playing the guitar on the floor, rubbing the rim of the cymbal, blowing into what looked like a child's plastic toy horn, adorned with a tiny birdcage). I only wish I could remember what song came after Elvis's comment about losing a girl to Rivers Cuomo! [Edit: The song is "The Night and the Liquor," as determined by copious further listenings.] In all, it was completely refreshing and a very welcome antidote to your average singer/songwriter shtick. I can't wait to see this band again.
The openers, Let's Go Sailing, were also from Los Angeles, and they played a familiar blend of bright, catchy, but ultimately melancholy indie pop, as epitomized by their song about panic attacks. They got off to a somewhat slow start, but once the double guitars kicked in, the show picked up. However, they could probably use a little more practice in developing their stage banter and presence (admittedly, very trying and difficult skills to master).
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