Elvis Perkins – Rough Trade NYC – October 20, 2017
Family reunions can be planned or impromptu, times of joy and nostalgia or pain and remembrance, barbecues or funerals. Elvis Perkins’ music has always been a mix of melancholy and jubilance, and so it was perfect for a “reunion” on Friday night in Brooklyn at Rough Trade NYC. The appearance was one of two anniversary shows (the other in L.A.) celebrating the 10th anniversary of Perkins’ breakout album, Ash Wednesday. For the show he assembled most of the original musicians and more, musical cousins and brothers and sisters joining together once again to make music and share memories and maybe make some new ones as well.
Like the album—and, really, like most gatherings of old friends—the show began with its most powerful, emotional moment. “While You Were Sleeping” started, as it always has, with Perkins solo, singing, “Time flew, the phone rang/ There was a silence when the kitchen sang/ Its songs competed like kids for space/ We stared for hours in our maker’s face.” One by one the musicians came onstage and began playing, bass and drums and backup singers and then horns and a four-piece strings section, the family together again and a wave of emotion swelling inside the room. To me, the album was always one of the more poignant responses to 9/11, but its happiness-from-sadness energy resonated just as strongly on Friday. The full complement of strings seemed to generate much of the emotion, at times eerie or chilling or sobbing.
With the massive band and the range of feelings coming from the stage, the centerpiece was still Perkins’ songs—lyrics as poetic and meaningful as ever—like “It’s Only Me”: “The white noise falls away to reveal the perfect day/ Where roses bloomed out of thin air and music rose from down the buried stairs.” After closing with a penetrating version of “Good Friday,” Perkins introducing the full band, goodbyes imminent, they added an encore of “Doomsday” from the Elvis Perkins in Dearland album, an unplanned moment, perhaps not everyone knowing the song but happy to linger and enjoy one another’s company for just a bit longer. Like most reunions, the event felt all the more significant by the uncertainty of when we all might meet again. —A. Stein | @Neddyo