Click the photo for an audio slideshow of Perkins' set at SXSW.  

Elvis Perkins in Dearland, with Let's Go Sailing
Where: The Tractor Tavern


Tonight: Elvis Perkins in Dearland


Click the photo for an audio slideshow of Perkins' set at SXSW. 

Elvis Perkins in Dearland, with Let's Go Sailing
Where: The Tractor Tavern
When: Tonight, 8 p.m.
Cost: $10 

Mumbles and Melodies
By Drew Bixby

The neo-hippies and indie-rockers gathered en masse inside Denver’s historic Ogden Theatre are too busy ordering $5 Guinness tall boys and waiting anxiously for My Morning Jacket to even notice that Elvis Perkins in Dearland has already launched into the slow, beautiful build of “While You Were Sleeping,” the opening track of Perkins' latest, Ash Wednesday. Enter mumbled thanks and polite, drowsy applause. Then everything changes.

Perkins is peeling off his sweater and tightly-knotted scarf and bellowing with a mysterious sense of enthusiasm. Drummer Nicholas Kinsey is on his feet, simultaneously shaking a tambourine and beating a marching bass drum; and a roomful of uninterested hipsters are suddenly paying attention.

Eyes remain enraptured as the Dearlanders introduce a host of accomplices – a dusty harmonium organ, a cumbus guitar, xylophones and an array of horns. For forty minutes – in moments that are alternately Dylan-meets-Cohen pensive and Neutral-Milk-Hotel-meets-Neil-Young boisterousness – Denver’s cold and tired collectively gaze upon Perkins as if upon a lover.

Three weeks later I catch up with Perkins to talk about horseback riding, his hair-metal upbringing and what it takes to throw down a commanding opening set.

How do you explain the drastic difference between the tempo and energy of your live show and the subdued nature of Ash Wednesday?

Perkins: Well, the record was made before the band was formed, so the live show is a whole new environment that wasn’t in existence when Ash Wednesday was being recorded. But I think there has been some sense as an opening act and playing in front of audiences who are largely there to see the next band – there’s some tension and there’s some need, it occurs to me, to, I don’t know, both have some sort of shield up and to be a little more aggressive in terms of protecting oneself.

Also, it’s a means to reach an audience that is primarily there to see something other than what you’re giving them, so I think all those things make for a slightly more energetic or kinetic show. I’m not sure how that’s going to translate when we start playing for people who come wanting to hear the record. It may be possible and feel good to tone it down slightly and let the songs breathe instead of sometimes feeling like I’m shouting them out and hoping and trying to get the attention of a passive audience.

Do you prefer touring alone or with support? 

Perkins: Most of the touring we’ve done has been as a full band. But whenever I get the chance to play solo I’m just as comfortable with that. I suspect in the future some balance of the two. My band is great and they’re great guys and we have a lot of fun. And so far it’s made much more sense to be a full band opening for My Morning Jacket and Clap Your Hands Say Yeah than it would to be just a guy and a guitar. That would probably confuse and upset certain audiences that would be there to rock out.

What were your musical influences growing up?

Perkins: I aligned myself with some funny things in my early, passionate days. I was taking what MTV had to give to me, so I was into a lot of grand hair rock back in the day that doesn’t really read so much into what I do now. (Laughs.) But I also took a liking to Tracy Chapman and that band Living Colour and Milli Vanilli. I think maybe even before that – and during and after my bridge into the other world where I feel more comfortable now – I was into Simon and Garfunkel and that spoke to me pretty heavily. I learned what it was to deal with a song – to sing a song and play a song – by playing Leonard Cohen and Cat Stevens and those dudes.

Do you have non-musical aspirations for when This is all over?

Perkins: I don’t know. It’s been a long road getting here, and now that I’m here I’m not really thinking about where else to go – just probably to a sunnier state of consciousness more than anything I might be doing. I hope to, I don’t know, be more freed up in the mind and otherwise. I don’t have any great plans for horseback riding or painting or anything. I think that so far this is pretty time consuming and energy consuming and I’m satisfied with that for a while.

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