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Photo courtesy Sub Pop

Orville Peck brings the yee-haw to Commonwealth

By Troy Hasselman, May 30 2019 —

Country music star Orville Peck rode through Calgary on May 23 for a show at Commonwealth Bar & Stage. The masked troubadour played his outlaw tunes to an enthusiastic audience that skewed left-of-centre of a typical country show, with beanies and Vans high tops mixing in with the cowboy hats and boots found throughout the crowd.

This was no ordinary country show and Orville Peck is no ordinary country artist. His songs are firmly rooted in the tradition of classic country music, with artists like Waylon Jennings, Roy Orbison, Johnny Cash and countless others lending influence to his work. However, Peck’s background is in the Vancouver punk scene and he draws influence from a wide well of music, adding tinges of dream pop and psychedelia into the textures of his songs. It is a testament to his skill as a songwriter that these elements are added in so seamlessly. His songs never feel like a pastiche of elements from different genres but rather make the mix of styles in his work sound unforced and effortless.

Edmonton’s The Bobby Tenderloin Universe served as the opening act, faithfully playing traditional honky-tonk country music with a large band consisting of a dedicated group of backing singers and a slide guitarist. The band looked the part as well, with cowboy hats, large fringes and massive belt buckles giving them the look of the sort of long-haired bandits that would have fit in perfectly on the Grand Ole Opry stage in the 1970s. Their opening set got an enthusiastic reception and the highlight was a duet with Peck, that garnered a loud ovation from the Commonwealth crowd.

After this came the headliner. Peck came out in his leather mask, cowboy hat and red-and-white fringed rodeo shirt to a rapturous ovation. Peck was backed by the full lineup of Toronto post-punkers FRIGS who looked the part as well — dressed uniformly in 60s-style fringes, cowboy hats and belt buckles with bassist Lucas Savatti wearing a haircut that looked straight out of a Sears’ catalogue from the era. The set opened with the single “Big Sky” with Peck’s strong vocals on full display, sounding just as crisp and velvet-deep as on record but when compounded with the live setting, having a visceral punch that weighs you down with its power.

Peck proved quite the capable showman as well by displaying Elvis-like moves to complement his crooning – he pointed to audience members, gyrated and moved his hands around to accentuate the line, fully embodying the role of the outlaw crooner that he plays in these songs. The set drew from his recently released debut, Pony, an album about heartbreak where Peck takes on the persona of the lonesome cowboy. Peck and the band passionately and enthusiastically tore through the songs on the album with the crowd singing and two-stepping along throughout. The night ended with a fiery cover of Bobbie Gentry’s “Fancy” to a huge ovation from the audience.

The show had the feeling of catching a rising star on the way to a long and fruitful career. The growth in Peck’s career and his crossover success with non-country audiences follows the trend of country music gaining popularity outside of the realm it traditionally exists in. Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road” has proven to be one of the most popular singles of the year and is currently on its seventh week at the top of the Billboard Hot 100. Kacey Musgraves’ Golden Hour took home the Album of the Year award at this year’s Grammys. Peck is part of this country crossover too. Being openly gay and signed to the legendary indie rock label Sub Pop, Peck is bringing country music to new audiences and is a key part of the growth the genre has made in the last year.

Peck will perform again in Calgary on July 5 at the Calgary Stampede’s Coca-Cola Stage where he will be opening for Feist.

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