I jumped onto the Orville Peck train a little late, only having discovered him on Twitter a few weeks ago. It wasn’t even his sound that lured me in, but rather a photo of someone cosplaying as him. That leather face mask with fringe falling far and long from the bottom of it looked utterly iconic and subversive in a way that few artists present themselves. So went I went to check out his music I was utterly delighted with the result. Peck’s debut album Pony is a blend of traditional country balladry beautifully intermingled with modern instrumentation, often times giving off vibes of shoegaze and dark folk. His sound and story thrives in a hazy air of mystery that is just irresistible. Last Friday at Empty Bottle I got to experience the live Orville Peck and was delighted by the genuineness, the oddity, and the entertaining aura that surrounds him.
As Orville Peck and his band stepped up to the stage a little after midnight, it was impossible not to be mesmerized by the ensemble. An air of surrealistic mystery follows the band (which features a good chuck on the Frigs) from the second you see them. Decked out in cowboy threads and resting such a strange sound, the group felt like they were pulled out a David Lynch film (or more accurately the Roadhouse stage from Twin Peaks season threee). This was especially true of Peck’s all black fringe-masked face revealing a voice that evokes the likes of Roy Orbison and Chris Issak, yet addressed the crowd in soft spoken and gentle, but proudly confident, way.
Orville Peck started the night off with Pony’s leading track “Dead of Night” and practically played the entirety of his debut album throughout the set for a packed Empty Bottle. The first section of the performance felt like a barrage of songs so good that it was overwhelming. “Winds Change” to “Roses are Falling” to “Turn To Hate” to “Big Sky”. That’s the sort of run of songs that most artists envy to have, let alone play right at the start of the night. Each one of the songs built on each other so wonderfully, pulling their themes out with a pristine touch.
His songs focus on subjects that are typically ignored by more traditional country artists. There are of course exceptions throughout the country(ish) genre that explore LGBTQ themes, but Peck definitely exudes them throughout his set. “Big Sky” and the drag queen ode “Queen of the Rodeo” in particular blurs the lines of ideas that are typically represented with little nuance. Bi-sexuality, masculinity, femininity, commitment, difficult relationships and so much more are handled with Peck’s interesting voice, making them feel more powerful and affecting.
The second half of the night ramped things up quite a bit. Peck performed a new song much to the joy of the crowd followed by the big and full “Kansas”. “That’s my Garland number! The gays know what I mean” he exclaimed with a bright smile peaking through the fringe. A cover duet with the Frigs’ Bria Salmena of “Something to Brag About” followed, really emphasizing the talent of his backing band throughout the track.
The final few songs fell together in a wonderful way. The bouncy “Buffalo Run” with its boisterous and genre bending end led right into the melancholy “ Fades like the Light” before letting the fcrowd know that there was noly one song left. Usually this garners a stereotypical groan, and while there were a few, I think the late night crowd knew the Peck had given us all he had and more. “ We call this one “The Iron Hoof Cattle Call”” he exclaimed and was met with loud reaction. “Ah, so you know it.” “Take You Back (The Iron Hoof Cattle Call)” is easily Pony’s most anthemic track, especially with the band going in full force. It was the sort of ending you’d want from a mysterious cowboy, full of vigor and bite back candor.
He and the band came out for a single song encore, presenting it the crowd with all the humble sincerity that could possibly exude from him. A childhood favorite that he thought he could never perform due to its content, the Bobby Gentry via Reba McEntire “Fancy” song filled up the venue with such gusto and appreciation. It was just one more highlight in a night teeming with them.