In this post-modern musical landscape we live in there are no rules. A Canadian ex-punk rock drummer can forge a solo career as a country and western crooner, resplendent in rodeo western wear topped with a tasselled Mexican wrestling mask obscuring his face.
Orville Peck has had an almighty 2019. Signed to Sup Pop – a label more inclined to release grunge rock than country ballads – he dropped his debut album ‘Pony’ in the summer and has caused an industry and audience buzz since. Obviously, there’s ‘the look’ – the gay cowboy with the flamboyantly hidden face is certainly a talking point – reminiscent of some kind of character dreamt up by David Lynch is one of the first thoughts I have when he appears on stage. All of this could easily distract from the songs and performance though thankfully this isn’t the case. Peck’s voice is rich and baritone and really lovely indeed, avoiding caricature and melting hearts at the same time.
‘Dead of Night’ is all sultry slow Roy Orbison drawl and a real highlight of the set. As Peck tells it’s romantic tale of two men on the run a cowboy costumed couple to my right sing every word as they gently sway side to side. Looking around the venue there’s a real mix of people who have turned up. Those in cowboy/girl attire, the indie kids and old rockers create one of the most varied crowds I’ve been a part of in a long time.
Peck’s band look the part too with keyboardist Bria Salmena joining Peck to sing on a couple of numbers. Introduced by Peck as his ‘right-hand woman’ Salmena adds another layer of country-tinged sass as they duet on a rollicking cover of Gram Parson’s ‘Ooh Las Vegas’. It isn’t all retro country and western though – ‘Turn to Hate’ stomps along menacingly whilst ‘Roses are Falling’ is 70s crooner Elvis at his heartbreaking best though there’s a deeper sense of malevolence there. Peck explaining to the subject of the song during the spoken word bridge that ‘Sometimes, when I’m around you, I feel like pure evil’ sends a delightful shiver through the audience.
The set finishes with ‘Take You Back’, it’s lonesome whistle at the start making way for another rocking, head bobbing country number and that’s it. There’s rapturous applause from the crowd but the band sadly don’t return for the obligatory encore, leaving us like one of those characters from his songs, alone on the periphery of that post-modern landscape this troubadour roams.
Photo: Chris Horton