I admit, I first heard a Joe Purdy song, “I Love The Rain The Most,” on “Grey’s Anatomy”—12 years ago. It gutted me to the core the moment I listened to those lyrics. For 12 years, I’ve listened to this wise soul’s songs as he released album after album after album (seriously, how does he seemingly finish an album quicker than it takes me to write a longform article?). I was almost nervous to see Purdy in a live context: What if these songs didn’t sound the same, or have the same emotive effect in a venue space, rather than through my headphones in quiet solitude?
A packed house filled City Winery Friday evening, where we were dazzled with a night of singer-songwriter ballads. Amy Vachal opened the show, a former contestant on “The Voice,” and I was immediately struck by her dynamic. Such a dainty, delicate, soft-spoken human seemed to transform into a big band singer of a bygone era, with serious Billie Holiday vibes. The crowd remained hushed as she played acoustic sets on guitar, piano, and some accompaniment by the harmonica. Her debut album is set to be released soon, and she ran through her catalog of songs, running the gamut from her time in New York to time on the road.
Then, Joe Purdy set foot onstage. And he was everything I hoped he would be and more. Full of not only lyrical wisdom, but also wit that gave the crowd belly laughs time and time again, Purdy conversed with the audience like it was a big reunion party, sharing stories, memories, personal anecdotes, political rants, you name it. It was an insight into his world, a precious glimpse that the audience got to see beyond the lyrics of his songs.
He opened with a ballad on the banjo to annoy his audio engineer who *may* have been over-served during his birthday celebration, Purdy noted with a jovial grin. He weaved through many songs off of his latest album, Who Will Be Next, which were utterly personal and vulnerable. “New Year’s Eve” laments on years past, hoping that next year will be different. And don’t we all, to a degree?
The album is hyper-focused on the climate of America right now—and there’s a lot to be said. He made his feelings very clear, which elicited hoots and hollers from the crowd every time. An extremely pivotal moment occurred during “Maybe We’ll All Get Along Someday,” a spoken word song with a chorus that urges unity above all else. The crowd was welcome to sing along to a variety of his songs, which spurned the message of unity throughout City Winery.
He didn’t play a ton of his old material (hey Joe, next time, can you please play “Mary May & Bobby? Thanks!), but that was okay, because he did dazzle us with two standout favorites. Soft song “Canyon Joe” was beautifully performed, while “Only Four Seasons” left us all stunned with its sobering lyrics.
My main takeaways for this show center on one idea: more than a show, it was an experience. Purdy not only showcased his musicianship, but also invited us into his world, with glimpses of his life, emotions, and sentiments on the world. It was intimate and personal, and I’m so happy I got to hear him sing those songs that had first impressed me 12 years ago.