photo: Huger Foote
05/01 Workplay Theatre Birmingham, Alabama
05/02 Eddie’s Attic Decatur, Georgia
05/05 Dallas, TX - Sons of Hermann Hall
05/06 Parish Austin, Texas
05/09 Phoenix, AZ - Musical Instrument Museum
05/11 Irenic San Diego, California
05/13 Masonic Lodge At Hollywood Forever
05/16 The Chapel San Francisco, California
05/18 Doug Fir Lounge Portland, Oregon
05/19 Triple Door Seattle, Washington
Duluth musician Toby Thomas Churchill proved to be the perfect opener; engaging and armed with a falsetto that’ll break your heart. He and his accompanying drummer (decked out in sweet sunglasses) warmed up with a set of what has been described as “funeral pop,” joked around with the crowd (“I could listen to woos forever”) and confessed to being a huge fan of Elvis Perkins. Where Is My Rumspringa, Darling? is Churchill’s long-awaited second full length album and was released this past November on Chaperone Records. If you are out and about at the Duluth Homegrown Festival this weekend, catch him at Rex Bar on Saturday night. He’ll be opening for those bluesy badasses, the Black-Eyed Snakes.
The normally boisterous Icehouse fell into a hush as Elvis Perkins (who was dressed earlier in the coolest jacket I’ve ever seen: think David Bowie Earthling-era, that Union Jack jacket) took to the stage with keyboardist Mitchell and bassist Danielle. I think he was a little surprised by the revered silence and asked, “Are you there?” It’s hard to blame the audience reaction; Perkins’ music is a delicate, beautiful, almost mystical thing - something requiring a respectful zip of the lip. And as the band kicked into the first song of the night, the moody “I Came For Fire” off the new album, hearing lyrics like, “I came for fire/I stayed for love” it’s impossible not to think that this is a guy who understands more about life than you do and that you should probably pay attention.
Aside from the gift of writing haunting melodies and thought-provoking lyrics, Perkins is blessed with a voice so pure, it’s otherworldly, like it descended from the heavens. And the control he has over his voice is impressive; he carefully maneuvers it around songs and shows restraint when necessary. Two more new tracks followed, the lullaby-like “& Eveline” and “It’s Now or Never Loves,” songs that seem a little overwhelmed by the array of sounds on the album, but were totally stripped-down live and stunning. The renditions of “A Night Without Love” and “It’s Only Me” from Perkins’ first album Ash Wednesday were equally gorgeous, but things really came alive with a fantastic version of “Hey” from 2009’s Elvis Perkins in Dearland that sounded almost carnival-esque thanks to the expert keyboarding of Mitchell, whose keys brought great color to the entire set. On “Gasoline,” Mitchell sought out a curious contraption pieced together on what looked like a walker to provide the bass drum sound. And when she wasn’t providing the low end rumbling with her bass or the whisper-soft tinklings of an autoharp, Danielle got crazy with a harmonium, creating a cloud of fuzzy noise as an outro for “2 Dollar Bill.”
For “Doomsday,” Perkins proposed a group singalong - not an easy task. But with gentle persistence and patient guidance he got every vocal chord in the venue to vibrate with his. Perkins is certainly not as serious as some of his material suggests; he’s a warm and funny person, on and off stage. While debuting a brand new song, Perkins relayed a story about digging up an old box of Dearland-era tote bags (which immediately sold out, of course). And when a table of people near the stage got up to leave before the closing song “Hogus Pogus,” one of them waved to Perkins and explained that they had to return home to their baby. Perkins agreed, “That’s a good reason!”
Although the entire night had already exceeded expectation, the band’s encore really shot it into best-show-ever territory with an astounding selection of Perkins’ most beloved songs: “Shampoo,” “Chains Chains Chains,” “Sleep Sandwich” (a song very close to my heart) and the epic, sweeping “While You Were Sleeping.” This time, the audience was quite loud, yelling and applauding their appreciation as the band bid them good night.
It was definitely a glorious return to the Twin Cities for Perkins and a golden opportunity for fans to see a musician of rare talent as he enters the next phase of his artistic journey.
Elvis Perkins at the Icehouse, Minneapolis (26 April 2015)
left to right: Mitchell, Elvis Perkins and Danielle