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All photos by Chris Svetlik.
All words by OW Bussey.

As much as I enjoy listening to these guys, I was prepared for a snoozefest. Bowerbirds and Elvis Perkins in Dearland is a bill that sounds less likely to rock your socks off than to just go ahead and tuck you in.

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I can’t say I was completely wrong about Bowerbirds. Reverberated, harmonized, and two-thirds bearded, they played their mystical campfire odes to Mother Earth just as they appear on the band’s two full-length albums. I snuck in a few minutes late, and I couldn’t believe how silent (and large) the crowd was. Shock #2 was how dynamic Bowerbirds were. The infinitely gentle strumming threatens to drone into mellifluous mush, but Bowerbirds’ surprising stage presence drew us in for singer/guitarist Phil Moore’s solo segments, and the band went in for the mellow kill by introducing some moderate percussion.

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On Bowerbirds’ records, I find Moore’s vocals thinner than Jim James’s (My Morning Jacket), less graceful than Robin Pecknold’s (Fleet Foxes). But Moore, accordionist Beth Tacular, and drummer/synth-man Yan Westerlund were all strong, pitch-perfect, full-bodied singers. And as if his honey-drenched harmonies aren’t enough, Yan—the newly acquired (French-Swiss?) mystery man—is the Keith Moon of folk rock. After a full hour of solid, though subdued beat-keeping, Yan showed off his stellar chops in the (relatively) raucous closer.

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Enter Dearland. With much horn-blowing and bass-drum-thumping mysteriously emerging from the behind the audience, the four multi-instrumentalists marched toward the stage like a New Orleans funeral band. Looking much more like Leon Trotsky than I recall, Elvis Perkins joined his supporting cast onstage for more than an hour good, old-timey jams. A complimentary duo of charismatic mountainmen (plus one normal dude) provided masculine harmonies as the band ran through a slew of, according to Perkins, “old chords, new songs.” Perkins even talks like a speed-speaking Vaudeville star, spouting phrases like “That’s the ticket!”

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Elvis Perkins in Dearland have obviously got the folk thing down pat, but the Americana-heavy set list traversed the last century of popular music via selections from Perkins’s most recent album and EP. With “Weeping Mary,” Elvis Perkins In Dearland gave gospel a serious kick in the pants, and the band cranked the dial to 11 and got the crowd riled up with the bluesy, roadhouse rocker “Stop, Drop, Rock & Roll.”

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For the encore, Perkins returned onstage to begin strumming “While You Were Sleeping,” and his bandmates reappeared one by one. After a wild, sweaty, impassioned show, Perkins’s monumental masterpiece felt both inevitable and completely earned. I was hoping he would end on that note, but he wisely chose to move on to a much more festive, brass-filled finale. Perkins invited Bowerbirds onstage for a glorious rendition of “Doomsday,” wrapping up a delightfully surprising night at the Rock & Roll Hotel.

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