Live Review

Elvis Perkins In Dearland, Music Hall Of Williamsburg

Perkins’ greatest strength is his ability to play heartbreakingly sad songs in a way that makes the listener feel uplifted.

If you just looked at the song titles on the set list for Elvis Perkins in Dearland’s show at Music Hall of Williamsburg, you’d probably think the audience was sobbing by the end: ‘Slow Doomsday’, ‘I Heard Your Voice In Dresden’, ‘All The Night Without Love’, ‘Ash Wednesday’ and ‘Chains, Chains, Chains’. And indeed, many of those songs do have melancholy lyrics. But for all his talent as a musician and songwriter, Perkins’ greatest strength is his ability to play heartbreakingly sad songs in a way that makes the listener feel strengthened and uplifted, like a New Orleans jazz funeral (it’s no coincidence that the band’s next scheduled engagement is at Jazz Fest in New Orleans in 2010).

And while Elvis Perkins in Dearland is only a four-man band, they are often accompanied by a jazz-funeral-worthy ensemble of musicians from opening act The Himalayas, including violins, trumpets, trombones, and saxophones. Perkins even employs the crowd as an impromptu “gospel choir” on ‘Slow Doomsday’, reassuring us, ‘You don’t need to know any words, just sing vowels.’

The band play music from across Perkins’ span of recorded material: 2007’s melancholy ‘Ash Wednesday’, 2009’s richer ‘Elvis Perkins in Dearland’, and every song from the band’s new EP, ‘Doomsday’. The emotional climax of the set is ‘Weeping Mary’, a song from the new EP that is an interpretation of the traditional gospel song ‘He Arose’, which has been recorded by blues great Blind Lemon Jefferson and many others. Alongside so many songs dealing with death and loss, this simple piece comes across as a powerful assertion of victory over sorrow.

Perkins emphasizes toward the end that this is to be the band’s last show for the near future, and the end of the show certainly sounds like a farewell. The first encore opens with Perkins playing his own composition ‘1 2 3 Goodbye’, and the second encore is another interpretation of a traditional song, ‘Bye Bye Sweet Rosey Anna’.

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