Although I haven’t firmed up my faves of 2007 list, I can already guarantee you one thing about it: Ash Wednesday will be on it. In fact, if I were to rank the 11 albums (which I don’t), there’s a 99% chance that it would be number one on the list. Truth be told, I could have told you that about eight months ago when I first wrote about the album. Yea, I liked it that much.
That being said, you can imagine how excited I was to see Elvis Perkins when he rolled into Northampton, MA last night. Having missed him earlier in the year (which I kicked myself for as early as that very night), I vowed not to do the same given another chance. Providence delivered, so as a birthday present to myself, I bought a pair of tickets about a month ago.
I’m not going to reiterate what so many people have said about him. I’m not going to throw salt into the wound by repeating his tumultuous life. I will however repeat what I wrote about him earlier: his album was one that struck such personal chords that I could not ignore it. No other release this year came close to feeling as soul-baring as his. No other felt so genuine.
That being said, how does an artist replicate such a personal exhibit night after night in front of a crowd? Well, he did, and he didn’t.
The set opened up with two of my favorite tracks from the album: It’s Only Me and Good Friday. Elvis and his band Dearland then continued to play most of the rest of the album, with a few new songs mixed in to boot: Hey!, Shampoo, 1-2-3, Goodbye, and Doomsday (which appropriately ended the evening). And to show how atypical his style is, the lone cover song of the evening was Weeping Pilgrim, a gospel song written in 1859 (listen to another version of it below – one that’s only about 80 years old!).
Listening to the album gives one a feeling of melancholy, a sense of enduring sadness. In concert, the songs took on a different feel to them. Part of it was the bountiful harmonica work (very Dylanesque) provided by Elvis, but it went beyond that as well. Perhaps it was the complete band behind. Perhaps it was the live setting that dictates a sound to fill the hall. Perhaps Elvis has come to grips with some of the emotions behind the songs. Regardless, the music lost some of the intimateness and confessionary flavor it conveyed on the album. In its place is something else: maybe hope. All of the new numbers carried an upbeat current in them (even with the instrumentation that they employed). In some ways, the concert was almost a chance to experience the album in an entirely different way. Think about where the album starts, how it developed in his Daytrotter Session, and now project out a few more steps in the same direction to get an idea of what I mean.
Other notable numbers during the night included a new version of All the Night Without Love (available on iTunes – with something like a Flamenco feel to it almost), The Dumps (the B-side to All the Night Without Love, listen to it below), and a bluesy rendition of It’s A Sad World.
A wonderful evening of music - in many ways new music.
Elvis Perkins - While You Were Sleeping : Daytrotter Session (Studio version on Ash Wednesday)
Elvis Perkins - The Dumps : All The Night Without Love Single
Allison's Sacred Harp Singers - Weeping Pilgrim : Heaven's My Home 1927-1928