All photos: Greg Szeto
Not to be reductionist by any means, but if you’ve ever wondered whether riot grrl attitude would mesh well with honky-tonk country, look no farther than Tennessee’s Those Darlins. Much more than that simple formula, they now stand as one of my top 5 favorite finds in an opening act over the past few years. A commanding presence, immensely catchy music bolstered by tight playing. A country-fried approach that goes beyond a simple aesthetic, something clearly oozing out of their pores and roots, they present a vital take on country that is fresh and electric.
My ears have suffered far too long under sterilized country radio, and clearly, they feel the same way: their sound is rooted in that of traditional country pillars like the Carter Family, and reflects the common bond that first brought them together and fueled their musical mission. Their stage chemistry is phenomenal and exudes a perfect mix of sassy sexuality and confidence. Their sound has grown greatly from their simpler roots, embracing blues and garage rock swagger and riffage to make their music deadly and more immediate than a boot to the nuts. They just released their debut LP and it’s a rollicking good time. I would say they are a don’t miss act if ever you see them coming through your neck of the woods.
Elvis Perkins is now, in my mind, one of the unquestionably great singer/songwriters to emerge in the past decade. He is as affecting and intimate as he is versatile and showmanlike. My first exposure to him was opening for Okkervil River the last time they stopped by the Ottobar. He made them look like amateurs. Perkins then was on the heels of his mournful LP Ash Wednesday, and was moving beyond words. Effectively, an emotional demolitions expert.
His latest, self-titled LP, is a more balanced and lush affair, bright but only in contrast to Ash, and never excessively so. He truly wows with his gorgeous aural textures and penchant for diverse instrumentation and sounds. What’s more astounding is that he manages to effectively transport all this to the live experience, his backing band rallying about him as they hop around the stage with horns and drums in tow, blaring (highlights: “Shampoo,” “Doomsday”). An ebullient and engaging affair that feels like going to see the musical equivalent of an acrobatic circus. The show brought to mind the magnitude of childlike wonder that Sigur Ros effuses, but with a heaping dose of world-weary maturity and sagacity.
It would seem that Perkins has traded in some of his crushing emotional weight for a more whimsical bent, and it is a welcome bit of leavening. Some his earlier work suffers with these changes, losing much of their resonance (“While you were sleeping”); thankfully, others take new life (“May Day”). From all this, the overall impression you walk away left with is that you’ve witnessed something undeniably special, and you can’t help but wonder where Perkins will take us next.
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