AA Bondy and Elvis Perkins made for a perfect lineup, with both of their music fitting into a similar country-rock sort of feel. I’m terrible with genres, so there’s probably something better than that, but I don’t know what it is. Both of these men make everything sound so easy, with lyrics delivered in a laid-back, perhaps lazy fashion and the music itself sounding stripped down — despite the drums and the horns and the strings that pop up sometimes, you can easily imagine it all falling away, leaving just a man and a guitar.
Based on their recorded work, it would be easy to slot both men into that sensitive-guy-with-guitar category. Not being familiar with the live shows of either Bondy or Perkins, I’ve got to say that I’m guilty of coming in with expectations of it being a sort of sedate night.
I couldn’t have been more wrong. Not only do they make everything sound easy, but they make it easy and loud in a live show. Though the music clearly has roots in folk and country and Americana, there is nothing traditional about the show that I saw last night. Bondy brought noise to his set, and Perkins fleshed out his sound with trombone and string bass and one completely awesome drummer/one-man-band. There was an intensity to the show that kicked in with the very first notes and didn’t let up until the very end.
Saturday night’s show was the end of the current leg of the tour, so it had an almost bittersweet feeling. This was a group of guys who obviously had grown close during their time on the road, so the show felt more like a gathering of friends who happened to be playing music more so than anything else. Performing with Ben Leister on drums and Macey Taylor on bass, Bondy’s set drew from both of his records (the new release, When the Devil’s Loose, and his first album, American Hearts), and he even threw in the most depressing cover of “My Funny Valentine” that I’ve ever heard in my life. “Watch, I’m going to fuck this one up,” he said before starting. Just a few measures in, he botched a cord, making it a self-fulfilling prophecy. Anyhow, there are very few people who can make me like that song, but I think I could listen to his take on it again. I’m not sure why he threw it in, but it was interesting nonetheless. “It is February, right?” he asked afterwards. Other songs in the set were “Mightiest of Guns”, “Slow Parade” (which some poor drunk soul called out for as a request… several songs after Bondy had already played it. “Thanks for letting me know you weren’t here for the beginning,” Bondy pointed out.), “There’s a Reason”, “I Can See the Pines are Dancing”, “When the Devil’s Loose”, and an incredible take on “Killed Myself When I Was Young”. Elvis Perkins and Dearland came out and joined Bondy for part of his set, bringing the noise up to new levels. You haven’t heard anything until you hear Bondy tearing it up on guitar while a trombone and soprano sax come in and begin the destruction of the entire song.
Perkins’ set started out with his three-man band (trombone, soprano saxophone, and drum) traipsing throughout Lincoln Hall, playing as they strolled across the balcony, then back down through the main floor to make their way back up to the stage. Quite an entrance — definitely not something that I’ve seen before. It also tested out the great acoustics of the venue, with the band being heard loud and clear as they walked about.
A few years ago, when I first heard Ash Wednesday, Perkins’ first CD, I thought it was a simply devastating piece of work. It truly is one of the most gorgeous albums I’ve ever heard. Perkins’ own past certainly informs his songwriting; his father, actor Anthony Perkins, died of AIDS in 1992, and his mother, photographer Berry Berenson, died in the September 11th attacks. There certainly is an element of heartbreak in his music that can’t be wiped away. Even his new album, the self-titled Elvis Perkins in Dearland, while perhaps sounding more upbeat, has an underlying sense of sadness that you just can’t shake.
Perkins’ set drew largely from the new album, as well as the recently released Doomsday EP, and much like Bondy’s set, despite there being some low-key moments on the albums, even the low-key moments live were absolutely electric. He played a lot of the show on a 12-string guitar which absolutely fascinated me. I don’t think I’ve ever seen one up close before, so I spent a good amount of time watching just how you play one of those things. It was pretty cool, but then again, I’m a pretty big music nerd like that.
Here’s where I take a moment to give Elvis Perkins and his band a huge compliment, which will sound like no big deal to everyone else: I actually clapped along with several songs. In a huge side tangent, for various reasons, I hate clapping along with songs. I don’t mind that other people do it, but I can never bring myself to do the whole rhythmic clapping thing. Not this night. The enthusiasm of the band and the crowd was infectious, and I found myself gladly clapping along. So, congratulations, Elvis Perkins, your depressing-yet-perky music made me clap.
Perkins was joined by AA Bondy on guitar for what I think was “Doomsday”, where he pulled off some absolutely intense solo work. Macey Taylor came out for another song, joining the band on bass; Taylor had to be summoned from backstage with the audience shouting his name. He said that the only reason he remembered to come back was because he heard the audience calling for him. (I was just glad to see that Lincoln Hall actually has a backstage; no more awkward standing about by backing bands when they’re not playing, as it is at Schubas.) The setlist also included “While You Were Sleeping” (just as beautiful as I’d hoped it would be), “It’s Only Me” (solo by Perkins, by audience request), “Stay Zombie Stay” (a zombie love song, just awesome), “Stop Drop Rock and Roll”, “Shampoo”, “123 Goodbye”, and “Weeping Mary”, an extraordinary gospel-influenced track that gave me goosebumps. Go look it up, it’s amazing.
The moral of this here story is to never underestimate a man with a guitar and a harmonica. You’ll be glad that you’ve given it a chance.
Check out my photos from the show here at Flickr.