Monday, May 21, 2007

Elvis Perkins in Dearland


I’ve been writing a fair bit in the past few months about young singer-songwriters. Now many of these are good. Very good even. But lately, I’ve been listening quite a bit to Elvis Perkins, and there’s something about him which just feels a bit more, well, substantial I guess. The youngsters are fine, but sometimes songs about having a good time with your mates, and jumping the barriers at tube stations say less about the bigger stuff of life and feel a bit flimsy when heard alongside someone who’s experienced a bit more and has something a bit weightier to say.

Elvis Perkins is no spring chicken. He’s also experienced the downs of life as well as the ups. For anyone who doesn’t know, he’s the son of the late actor Anthony Perkins (most famous for his role as Norman Bates in Psycho) who died of AIDS-related illness in 1992. His mother Berry Berenson was on one of the planes that crashed into the World Trade Center. Elvis (that’s his real name) isn’t one to go into detail about the meaning of his lyrics, but you can’t help think that some of the heartache he has experienced has informed songs like It’s a Sad World After All (“Follow the sound to the table underground / there will be plenty tears going round”) and Ash Wednesday (“No one will survive Ash Wednesday alive / no soldier, no lover, no father, no mother / not an only child”)

There’s also something quite subtle about his music too. It doesn’t have much in the way of singalongs (except maybe May Day!) or even catchy tunes. But that’s not what makes it great. The greatness is to be found in the less obvious parts. A chord change here. A slight vocal inflection there. Then some well-employed strings. And maybe a little touch of harmonica. It’s not even something that it’s easy to put your finger on, but once you’ve listened to his debut album Ash Wednesday a few times, you’ll know what I mean. It just feels, erm, substantial. And soulful. Heartfelt. Brimming with thought-provoking lyrics. And often, like on Moon Woman II and Emile’s Vietnam in the Sky, pure gorgeousness.


I wrote all the above before I saw Perkins supporting Willy Mason at Shepherd’s Bush Empire last Thursday, which I think just helped to underline the point. His set was both poignant and joyous, as he and his fine backing band (called Dearland) played songs from the album as well as the odd cover version. It was stirring stuff, with all the heart and soul that I’d hoped for. So much so that when the (younger) Willy Mason came onstage, it was a bit of an anticlimax. I actually like Mason, but too much of his slightly lacklustre new album didn’t make for a great show. For me it was all about Elvis Perkins, Dearland, and these wonderful songs.

Download: Elvis Perkins – While You Were Sleeping
Download: Elvis Perkins – Moon Woman II

The UK release for Ash Wednesday isn’t until July, but it’s out in the US, so if you're over here and you really can’t wait, you can get it from amazon.com

More photos from the gig at my Flickr.

Update: Elvis is playing his biggest headline show in the UK so far at The Luminaire on 28 May. That's Monday! Surely the perfect way to end the bank holiday weekend.

3 comments:

andy said...

completly agree with the post. elvis is something special, as are his band. i thought he was much better than willy when i saw them in oxford. nothing wrong with willy's set, but elvis' band seemed to be alot tighter all round. definatly recommend him to anyone!

The Daily Growl said...

This seems to be the general opinion everywhere I've read so far...

Lily said...

Indeed. I saw them in Norwich, I hadn't heard of Elvis but I thought he and his band were absolutely fantastic. Willy's set seemed to plod... disappointing as his first album was so strong.