This evening’s show is a sell out and UK fans are clearly embracing the spirit of the genre that Orville Peck straddles, as all manner of cowboy hats and cow hide attire are on display underneath the low-ceilings of Manchester’s premium small venue. Paste Magazine recently placed the Canadian’s debut record Pony in its best country records of the decade list and it really, really is. The surprise is what kind of fan is also in agreement with this sentiment here in Manchester because it’s certainly not your usual country devotee in attendance tonight. This is an audience of generation zedders if you will, post-millenials with an appreciation for the offbeat perhaps, and Orville Peck delivers all the way from left-field with aplomb this evening.
There is obviously a bit of mystery surrounding Orville Peck. Who the heck is this masked cowboy? There are theories and the man himself provides some clues when he informs us that he lived in the UK for several years. On tracks like ‘Winds Change’ there is certainly a distinctly British timbre to his vocals, particularly during the Morrissey-esque croon of the song’s chorus, but for the time being, the mask remains firmly ensconced. Despite this seeming discord, the whole package before us is distinctly American and the brooding ‘Queen of the Rodeo’ underscores this. What makes this track particularly distinctive is the inclusion of the forlorn synths which give it a cinematic, widescreen demeanor worthy of the most iconic teen movies from the 80s.
The Paste article compared Peck to that archetypal country crooner Merle Haggard and ‘Roses Are Falling’ is perhaps the song to confirm this comparison. It bears all the classical country facets before the revisionist alt-country sub-genre came along, but the tattooed and mysterious package it is delivered in is perhaps why this is lapped up by the crowd this evening. If the tempo of this is a tad lugubrious for some then the brilliant ‘Turn to Hate’ shakes things up with gusto! The sonorous country chime of the track’s guitars ensures that we’re never too far removed from the genre but when Peck sings “Don’t leave, don’t cry. You’re just another boy caught in the rye”, there’s a suggestion that we hearing the kind of candour that traditional country is not necessarily prone to attempting.
There is an easy-going humour running through the entire performance (Old River!) and when the discordant tones and repetition of the chorus from ‘Kansas (Remembers Me Know)’ concludes, we’re drolly informed that this was a song about Kansas. If the tempo has dropped again with this song it returns with a vengeance with the insanely entertaining ‘Buffalo Run’. Once again, the distinctive country tones seem to be complimented by an equally recognisable cadence from closer to home as Peck’s vocals and the dynamism of the instrumentation begins to resemble Joy Division of all bands. The combination is inspired.
As if reinforcing his credentials we get an immaculate version of ‘Las Vegas’ by Gram Parsons’ and Emmylou Harris before the whistle-tastic clatter of ‘Take You Back’ concludes the evening and with that this troubadour is gone, mask still in place but perhaps some of that mystery has receded because he has proved to be such a gregarious performer this evening in Manchester.
Words & Images by Iain Fox