Elvis Perkins: Live last night

elvis perkins in dearland

Live Last Night

By Patrick Foster

Elvis Perkins does not rock. The wiry recording artist -- and son of Anthony "Psycho" Perkins -- and his band played rockabilly, New Orleans swing, rustic folk, gospel, heck, they even played raucously, but at no point during their charming hour-plus set Wednesday night at the Rock and Roll Hotel did they rock.

And that was a good thing. This Elvis is above the obvious.

(Through the crowd and through a variety of styles, after the jump.)

Perkins has dubbed his flexible, gifted backing quartet Dearland and they began the show in appropriately unusual fashion: entering as a marching brass band, horns and bass drum snaking through a surprised crowd. They proceeded to employ everything from electric guitar and harmonica to upright bass and harmonium to follow their leaderĀ¹s wide stylistic swath, alternately channeling The Staples Singers, Carl Perkins, The Mountain Goats and the Band.

The songs of the bespectacled Elvis were the real focus, of course and the stuffy, sweaty room was often rapt as he judiciously balanced selections from his two albums and new EP. Perkins's recordings are models of detail; poem-string lyrics dancing precisely over carefully crafted arrangements.

That sense of precision was evident, but emotion and drive rightly took precedent on such songs as "Chains, Chains, Chains," "Shampoo" and "Hey." But Perkins is an intense inward-gazer, his best songs are dark, smolderingly poetic and melodically tangled. "Doomsday" (offered as a rustic half-waltz and then reprised with opening act Bowerbirds as a celebratory howl) and "I Heard Your Voice in Dresden" are prime examples and were the set's highlights. Both tunes wound down highly personal paths while simultaneously drawing the listener in. And as Perkins proved, it often takes more than ordinary rock to accomplish that trick.

By Chris Richards |  December 3, 2009; 2:11 PM ET Live Last Night
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