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Orville Peck At Las Vegas’s House of Blues, Friday April 22nd 2022

Orville Peck
Orville Peck

Plenty of Orville Peck’s fans entered Las Vegas’s House of Blues wearing fringed masks, western shirts, cowboy boots, and hats, I saw a lot of hats! But it was a Las Vegas experience, and this came with a few surprises that I never had to deal with in LA: surprises like a V.I.P. crowd who had access to everything (early entrance and special merchandize) before everyone else and who hijacked the best spots inside the venue before ordinary people were allowed to get in. House of Blues, located inside the massive Mandalay Bay casino, had just a floor with general admission but thankfully, there also was a mezzanine where I could get a good spot on a rail/bar, way above the heads and especially way above these many hats.

The crowd was young and LGBTQ-oriented (as expected) with a lot of sexy cowboys who had really dressed up for the occasion. The pandemic is still raging at its own pace, but you would not tell in Vegas as nobody was wearing a mask anywhere. However, last night was an exception as there were a lot of boys and girls wearing a copycat of Peck’s trademark fringe mask. However, it was less than certain there was a real KN95 below these black, red, and white fringes.

And since it was Vegas there was an insufferable drunk who harassed me before the show. He started pushing me and told me to leave when he saw me using my phone to note some early impressions, an hour before the beginning of the show. For some reason, this enraged him. Really drunk, he insulted me many times (I don’t think I have ever been called cunt before) and dropped a glass on someone else’s head. A nice guy standing next to me, who was also enduring this guy’s obnoxiousness, called a security guard, but it took a “two strikes and you are out,” for him to be finally escorted to the exit by two security guards. Thank you, House of Blues.

Teddy and the Rough Riders, a band from Nashville, Tennessee, opened the show with some pedal steel country. They sounded authentic with a combination of excellent country-rock rhythms and some slower songs with touches of psychedelic pop and Americana folk. Interestingly, their moniker is a nod to history, as Theodore Roosevelt’s Rough Riders was a nickname given to the 1st United States Volunteer Cavalry.

Orville Peck arrived on stage looking fabulous and the crowd’s acclaims were so loud that the screams almost destroyed my eardrums. It was a total success before he had even sung a note, and, at this moment, he probably knew he didn’t have to work very hard to own this crowd.

Loyal to his legendary fashion style and his man-of-mystery persona, he was wearing a shiny black and white western outfit, a large cowboy white hat, and a matching long fringed mask covering most of his face. Right away, he looked like a country legend, introducing himself in a very Johnny Cash manner: “Hello, I’m Orville Peck.”

In just a few years, Peck went from indie to mainstream, from “Pony” (released via Sub Pop) to “Bronco” (released via Columbia), while adding a few cylinders to his vehicle… will he call his next album Mustang or Stallion? We’ll see, but I can proudly say I have followed him since his humble beginning. Injecting gay culture into country music has been in vogue since “Brokeback Mountain,” or the famous Ned Sublette’s song, and more recently Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road,” but Peck takes a step further. His show at Las Vegas’s House of Blues on Friday was the perfect demonstration of his talent, panache, and his newfound popularity.

Since it was the “Bronco” tour, the setlist obviously consisted of many songs from his new album, that he sang with his dark baritone, and crooning more like Presley than Cash. “Daytona Sand” was the perfect thunderous entrance, immediately followed by a cut from “Pony,” “Turn to Hate,” showcasing all the facets of his rich deep voice. Meanwhile, the crowd, which seemed to be more familiar with the new songs, was drunkenly singing along and responding to anything he was saying. People were so loud that I could barely hear what Orville was saying between songs, I just understood a “We are so excited to be here tonight!” and the rest was covered by deafening shrieks. I know it was Las Vegas, a city where people are drunk all night, but I would have gladly done it without the loud out-of-tune chorus behind me. It became completely insane during “C’mon Baby, Cry,” a song that will surely become a Peck classic.

Although very theatrical, Peck’s entire performance looked effortless, covering a lot of country grounds with tales of vulnerability, abusive relationships, lonely cowboys, and rodeo queens. “I can tell you’re a sad boy just like me/Baby, don’t deny what your poor heart needs” he crooned during “C’mon Baby, Cry”… “I’ve been hiding out, running from the curse of the blackened eye,” he charmed us during “The Curse of the Blackened Eye” … “This is a song about truck drivers in love,” he announced before the slow and charming “Drive Me Crazy,” that he dedicated to a certain Chris in the crowd… “This next song is about a drag queen,” he told us before performing “Queen of the Rodeo.”

Although he performed “Legends Never Die” in duet with one of his musicians, the talented Bria Salmena whose husky vocals completed very well Orville’s, I was hoping for Shania Twain to show up, but it was a month and a half ahead of the country star’s Vegas residency, which will take place in June. He told us that the song had a direct connection with Las Vegas since they recorded the vocals there –Shania owns a ranch in Las Vegas where the two spent some time together to polish the song. He followed with a Gram Parsons’s cover played on fast cylinders, the very appropriate “Ooh Las Vegas,” and I must say that the song fitted him like a glove.

Switching between different guitars, Orville even sat down behind a small piano for “Let Me Drown,” a tune that let his impeccable powerhouse shine even more. “Outta Time” became a big sing-along chorus with the crowd… although there actually were a lot of them. I would certainly take the fast tempo songs – such as “Any Turn” and its Cash-like whipped rhythm – over the languid ballads like “All I Can Say,” but Orville Peck has a lot of catchy songs with very distinct personalities, which is certainly a sign of great artistry. “Hexie Mountains” brought some banjo action over a beautiful melody, his crooning vocals truly shone during “Kalahari Down,” and the band was on fire for the muscular titled track “Bronco,” while three other personal favorites off “Pony” (“Queen of the Rodeo,” and “Dead of Night,” and “Take You Back”) made the cut for everyone’s pleasure, accompanied by Orville’s sincere laugh during the whistling part of “Take You Back.”

With the combination of an effortless charisma and a booming baritone that can morph into a pretty falsetto and reach impressive heights, it’s not difficult to buy the Orville Peck myth. For a guy born and raised in South Africa, he has cleverly made good use of America’s greatest mythology.  A true performer, Orville Peck feasts upon country music’s history with great style and an unruly queer flavor. From thought-out hand movements, to leg kicks to elaborated outfits, the show was a celebration of his identity, and if such a theatrical performance could easily turn into an old cliché, his flamboyant showmanship, gracious moves, poignant vocals, which were as expressive as they were extensive, have brought new energy to music’s most conservative genre.

Setlist
Daytona Sand
Turn to Hate
The Curse of the Blackened Eye
Lafayette
C’mon Baby, Cry
Legends Never Die
Ooh Las Vegas
Drive Me, Crazy
Let Me Drown
Outta Time
Any Turn
All I Can Say
Hexie Mountains
Queen of the Rodeo
Kalahari Down
Dead of Night
Bronco
Encore:
Take You Back (The Iron Hoof Cattle Call)

 

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