The first time I saw Elvis Perkins in concert was about two years ago at The Echo on March 23, 2007 shortly after the release of his first CD, Ash Wednesday. That was a remarkable night of music that was something of a family affair. The Echo had set up tables and chairs in front of the stage in a cabaret format and the reserved spots were taken up by, who I thought were, friends and colleagues of his late parents, actor Anthony Perkins and photographer Berry Berenson.
It was a decidedly older and more Hollywood-professional type of crowd. But the enthusiasm for the artful music of Mr. Perkins was genuine and movingly heartfelt. It was easily one of the most emotional concerts I've ever attended. He performed material off that first CD, which was an intensely personal look at some tragic circumstances that affected his life, told with honesty, clarity and an amazing absence of self pity.
The music was also excruciatingly beautiful. Joined onstage at one point by his brother, Osgood, the whole affair was defined by a feeling of kinship between band and audience. It was often difficult to fight back tears, especially during the song "Ash Wednesday", about his mother and the ill-fated 9/11 flight from Boston she was on. I saw him a second time later that year, on September 18, 2007, as part of his three day stint, opening for Clap Your Hands Say Yeah at The Troubadour.
Now touring in support of his recent release, Elvis Perkins in Dearland, the new material pulls away from the intensely personal and goes for more universal themes, still dealing with loss and acceptance, but perhaps more accessible to a wider audience. There's a definite thematic similarity with Mark Everett's remarkable work with The Eels and I find it all surprisingly life-affirming.
In the meantime, since I last saw them, they've all turned into hippies, and, although the music is still really serious, their whole demeanor was more upbeat on Thursday, March 12, 2009 at The Troubadour. If there's any sacrifice it may be in the emotional area, but who can blame Elvis for not wanting to spend years turning his heart inside out night after night in front of an audience.
They performed mostly material from the new CD which was enjoyable, though I wish I had been better acquainted with it, but when he sang "Ash Wednesday", the shift in tone and mood was so powerful a hush fell over the crowd. Pull out the Kleenex. He ended the set with "While You Were Sleeping" which was nice to hear in a new arrangement.
I enjoy his band and they all have strong performing and vocal skills. A highlight was when Becky Stark of Lavender Diamond stepped on stage to sing backup vocals on the new song "Hey". She's also on the album, but her presence is always uplifting and her voice truly beautiful. Of course she ended with her trademark Isadora-leap of joy. If I had any complaint it's that I don't think the new material shows off Elvis Perkins' unique and interesting voice enough. Many of the new song employ a talk/sing style, which is fine, but his voice has more variety than that.
Small quibble, it was still a fine performance. Opening was the Tim Eriksen Shape-Note Extravaganza which is Tim Eriksen and his fiddle. He played a wonderful kind of mountain folk music that hearkened back to another era and ably set the stage for Elvis Perkins in Dearland.