Elvis Perkins Entered the Cosmic Parish

elvis perkins-13Last week, I had the opportunity to see Elvis Perkins perform for the first time. He’s touring in support of his third album, I Aubade, an organically rich long play that showcases Perkins at his cosmic peak. Over thirteen tracks, Perkins explores himself with less pretension and obligation to any he may have obeyed in the past. In a statement on his website, Perkins describes how he came to title the album: “I was led to consider whom and what man-made I have obeyed in lieu of natural and supernatural law […] My previous releases had for the most part been made with steady players in studios and overheard by engineers and producers, so this was for me both a novel approach and a return to the 4-tracking solitary self of my early 20′s.” The record is an amalgamation of sounds both created and found. Credits include players and producers from the ever-popular John Congleton, to Jocie Adams of Arc Iris/The Low Anthem who is credited as playing “resurrected clarinets.” And then: “Unknown humans: ghost voices accidental.” Other credits to Perkins himself include, but are limited to: gourd, charango, telephone, harmonium, Swarmatron, farm animal toy (courtesy Tommy Stinson), mirror, light switches, unicorn palace flute, and waves. As one listens through the record, strange noises come floating in and out of the left and right channels, elvis perkins-6filling the aural spectrum and disappearing like their ghostly inherence suggests. Anchoring the songs while native flutes blow dissonantly are Perkins’ consistently poetic lyrics, rife with surreal imagery.

Perkins came to Austin last week to the Parish on a gloomy Wednesday evening. Though unable to recreate the collage of sound on his record, Perkins still tapped into the metaphysical cosmos as a singer-songwriter. “This is an extraterrestrial love song — it sounds like this,” Perkins said before delicately strumming his nylon string guitar. He’s come a long way from his earlier days as a singer-songwriter who “fit the mold” as a well-dressed, folkster in fedoras and suspenders. Don’t get me wrong, Perkins has always set himself apart from yer standard fare. His playful lyricism and aloof interview persona has always given Perkins an enigmatic presence keeping him from the bright lights of the mainstream that would burn the fog and uncover elvis perkins-8the secrets of the inner Elvis.

His live performance was complemented by two multi-instrumentalists on synthesizers, Wurlitzer, Omnivibe, harmonium, and hollowbody bass. Perkins himself remained on guitar until the end when he grabbed what I thought up to that point to be a decorative tribal stick, but what turned out to be an Indian flute. The Parish stage managers very appropriately decided this to be an ideal time to set off the fog machines, bring down the bright lights, and bring up the hazy blue gels, casting the stage in a murky underwater blur.

Opening the night was Delta Spirit’s Matt Vasquez, a Texas native and currently an Austin native who played (what seemed to be) his first solo set as an Austin resident matt vasquez-2playing his hometown, opening for touring bands. He was giggly and obviously exhilarated, becoming a bit looser as the set went on (perhaps that was the whiskey). His set was made primarily of Delta Spirit songs that took on a different level than the recorded versions we’re familiar with. The band recorded gets a big sound and instrumentally deep. But Vasquez solo revealed his mature lyrics and clever rhymes. Playing harmonica and a wide-brimmed fedora, he became a new performer to a crowd of less than 50, an interesting journey to witness after watching his band rise to national acclaim, playing some of the largest festivals.

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