Chicago IL
Sat 10/5/19

The Psychedelic Cowboy Orville Peck live from the sold out Lincoln Hall in Chicago.
Had to bolt at intermission with Steve Hackett from the Copernicus Theatre on the northwest side of town to
make it in time to see this show.
There was no way I was going to miss this.
Orville Peck – a musician who is laser focused on flipping conventions, in the familiar sounds and landscapes of traditional country music and cowboy lore.
Informed, he says, by the genre’s full spectrum, from traditional male and female leads in all things “country”, and having an acute and keen ear in embracing both, all the way from Merle Haggard and even some of the Dixie Chicks.
The songs on his debut which was released last year- “Pony”, traipse through “strange canyon roads” and visit freely backwater towns, through “rodeos”, and are less taken into the easy lore of gun battles and such, and are more about the emotional struggles of wrangler life, with a hefty dose of love stories that speak of ex- lovers, inevitable heartbreak and alienation.
As Orville says: “It could seem new for people that have one idea of country music in general. To me, the type of music I make and the imagery in my music is reminiscent of the old country songs I listened to religiously as a kid. They might be more subversive in a way, but that’s probably more to do with my specific experiences rather than a conscience decision to try and do something new”.
And so you technically have it- Orville’s embrace of traditional, and doing his best to making it his own, and with value.
Refreshingly, even in live performance, draped in traditional country gear from the ten gallon hat, the choice of flamboyant jacket, the intricate masks with fringe, and even the type of big bodied white guitar, speaks volumes on presentation and immersing yourself in a dusty honky tonk vibe, even if the venue is Lincoln Hall in Chicago.
And that falsetto voice of his- otherworldly and frail, yet so emotional and embracing.
The masculine definition of traditional country is thrown out the door- no cliches are evident in Orville’s songs- no “country pop”, no bullshit.
Instead, Orville Peck the country rocker concentrates on intimacy, tenderness and ambiguity, all the stuff too subtle or nuanced to make the edit in an old fashioned western.
So when performing live, Orville is permanently masked / anonymous, clad again in a flamboyant fire engine red cowboy suit with matching ten gallon hat, all of which is intoxicating, especially for a live music photographer like me.
And his devoted audience at Lincoln Hall: embracing his ideals and matching cowboy fashions as well.
Clearly at the packed Lincoln Hall- this was a night to celebrate cowboy lore.
Even with his music and choice of traditional backing band, all equally decked out in silver / grey matching suits with hats- everything is designed to provoke a response.
Even up close to Orville for the first three songs, literally three feet in front of him, and looking straight into his fringed mask, you’re compelled to see eye to eye with him, and capture that piercing gaze.
Orville is cast for most of the night in lurid blue and purple lighting, heavily lit to give the feel of forlorness and desolation.
He seeks to capture the American West the same way Lana Del Ray captures California: by peeking at, and glamorizing it’s seedy underbelly.
His songwriting is based  and performed on a foundation of uncompromising queerness that’s largely absent in his form of country music, but with a take that makes it all his own.
His songs are steeped in gay culture and troubled souls, broken relationships, where memories have lingered and lingered.
So when you factor in the sordid mini- movies with the eyes peering out beneath the fringed mask and cowboy hat, it all seems a bit out of my league.
I guess since I’m one of the few straight guys in the room- it is what it is- unless you’re Orville Peck, for whom the songs and appearances performing live is a natural outgrowth of his own personal experiences and interests.
It’s not like he’s making a conscience decision to shock fans into paying attention, he isn’t even constructing a character or persona.
Orville’s aware of the unintended predicament, to set things straight.
“I have time for everyone’s perspective, and if you’re a middle- aged white male living in the Midwest, and you hear my songs, and the fact that I’m singing about love between two men exhilarates you- well I’m all for that”.
To some extent that’s true, but let it be known by this photographer, who’s covered music for well over 40 years- it always has been “music first- photography second”.
So over the late spring / early summer of 2019, when first hearing Orville’s music on Sirius XM’s Download 15- which is a show that comes once a week on Saturday’s- digesting the 15 most popular indie songs downloaded from the previous week, and the song “Turn to Hate”- I was taken aback.
Just wondrous- Orville’s singing and musicianship. Just so refreshing to hear amidst all the synthpop and solo vocals of other bands.
All of it was/ is fascinating.
So that’s why I bolted from Steve Hackett to the the other side of town in Lincoln Park to make it in time for this show.
I had to witness firsthand if Orville Peck is the real deal.
Have to say- Orville Peck is the real deal. That he sings about lost relationships with men is secondary-  an afterthought.
It doesn’t matter. Heartbreak is heartbreak, no matter what the genre of music.
It all comes down if you have the chops, the songs, the musicianship to back up said songs.
It’s clear that Orville Peck does, which also tells me that we’ll be hearing more form him for quite awhile.
Cheers- Bobby Talamine – Music Photographer

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