REVIEW BY KELSEY WHIPPLE
From the looks of things last night at the Gargoyle, Dearland seems like a nice place to be. Transformed by the beards and spirits of upstate New York's Elvis Perkins in Dearland, the midsized crowd experienced what that place sounds like, at the very least -- like the O Brother, Where Art You? soundtrack met Rufus Wainwright and the two got along swimmingly. There might just be hope yet in Elvis's jokes that the band's "dear land" is real. (AA Bondy, last night at the Gargoyle)
The quiet (and often quaint) night started with, floated around and quietly ended with. folk influences -- a comforting common denominator between Elvis and his easygoing opener, A.A. Bondy. Bondy, backed by two musicians, opened the evening with a bit of a lull -- albeit a soothing, sway-inducing one, with gentle melodies about life's ifs sung in a gusty, lilting singsong. A few choice curse word merited enough humor for Bondy to joke that the venue "is not a church," a sarcastic and rather foreboding warning of events to come. Near its end, Bondy's set devolved into somewhat of a musical wild rumpus, with both Elvis and the "in Dearland" part of his band flocking to the stage to add layer upon layer to a final instrument solo that sounded as fun as it looked.
In keeping with his slightly peculiar sensibilities, Perkins took to the stage alone for his own set, while the Dearlanders added to his vocals in stages: standing bass, then drums, then trombone. Dressed for the most part like extras out of There Will Be Blood, the band drew immediate attention with "While You Were Sleeping." The powerful song from his first album, Ash Wednesday, makes up for in power what it lacks in immediacy. Wednesday chronologically details some of the events in Elvis' life before and after his mother's death on September 11, 2001. In that sense, the song translated perfectly to the stage, his first song in chronological order serving as his first introduction to the crowd.
Despite his frequent lamentation of the label, Elvis is (and has been since 2007) one of the more refreshing singer-songwriters in a genre that delves too often into the "meta" level. The majority of the night's songs -- the concert rarity "All The Night Without Love," a sassy "May Day!," a sing-along version of "I Heard Your Voice In Dresden" -- came from his first two albums (although the band visited its recent EP with an acoustic version of "Doomsday" on which Bondy played a crisp, if overwhelming guitar solo).
Elvis's songs are nothing if not straightforward, taken directly from his daily life, spun into prose and then spread through his gentle, well-trained vocals -- which at different points in time move through a range of comparisons: Devendra Banhart, Paul Simon or Bob Dylan. If it wasn't from New York, the band would sound deceptively like down-home guys singing here-and-now music -- a good thing, if an occasionally puzzling one. However in the end, the trip to Dearland is well worth the ticket price.