Country music is hot, but queer country is all the rage. Imagine the cool Western outfits reimagined by a gay eye, and you got fashion galore. It has been done before (Village People?) but probably not to this extreme, and the three 2020 Grammys cowboys (Orville Peck, Diplo, and Lil Nas X) are a sign of these times. I am not saying that people go to an Orville Peck gig for the fashion, but it’s a big part of the show! In the pit, there were only 2 kinds of people, young women, and gay male couples, and many of them had dressed up for the occasion. Going to an Orville Peck show is also showing up your new cowboy hat or your DIY fringed mask, and when the man himself notices you, it’s heaven on earth. But many were here for the music, and the voice, that deep baritone that reveals some Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash shades… “When I heard that voice for the first time, I said to myself, who is that?” a nice young man told me. For most fans, it’s the same story: one day, they discovered Orville and they haven’t been able to get enough of the guy since. I kind of miss the time when he was still a sort of curiosity, signing his first album, “Pony” at Amoeba after an acoustic set. He has now become a sort of cult figure on the mainstream road, making appearances everywhere, duetting with one the biggest country stars (Shaina Twain) and celebrating his annual rodeo at the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles – the last time he played in town, it was at the much smaller Troubadour. He is an icon who still cultivates mystery – we don’t know much about his private life – and still hiding his face behind a mask. Even if you think it’s over-the-top stupid theatrics, it works. Last night, Orville was the king of his own rodeo… or should I say the queen?
I really didn’t need to see Orville Peck another time: I caught it during a trip to Las Vegas last April and he was also part of the Palomino festival in June. I have had my Orville Peck fix for the year, but when I saw he was having his 4th annual rodeo in my close neighborhood, I could not resist… because of the music of course, but also because of the fans, the atmosphere, and the fashion, Orville (in his hot country suits) must be the most photogenic performer I know. There were special guests who made the night just very special, plus, it’s always interesting to witness the birth of a cult.
Drag queen Jaida Essence Hall, the winner of the twelfth season of RuPaul’s Drag Race, was hosting the night. She obviously looked fabulous, covered with silver from head to toe, and she was a such shiny vision that the sight was hard to sustain without sunglasses.
Texas singer-songwriter Vincent Neil Emerson opened the show with a collection of songs mixing different country genres and styles. His set was a throwback to another time of country, with even a Buffy Saint-Marie cover in the mix. Orville told us a bit later that Emerson reminded him of a young Willie Nelson, which must be the ultimate compliment. Molly Tuttle and Golden Highway followed with a high-energy bluegrass set, a very rootsy, virtuosic demonstration that charmed the crowd with wild violin, banjo, mandolin, and upright bass solos. Her debut album, “Crooked Tree,” named after a Tom Waits quote, features a lot of special guests, from Margo Price to Sierra Hull, Gillian Welch, Billy Strings, and Old Crow Medicine Show, while her songs honor the bluegrass tradition while pushing boundaries with freewheeling lyrics. Orville Peck praised her guitar skills and she has captivated him enough to invite her as an opener.
After his Cash-like signature introduction, “Hello, I am Orville Peck,” the new country icon started with an almost a-cappella “Big Sky” and his booming voice soaring above the sparse instrumentation. Then, Orville didn’t waste a minute, he launched the set with songs from his albums “Bronco” and “Pony,” and from the galloping rhythm of “Daytona Sand” to “Turn to Hate,” Orville was moving like a wild animal in his cow-print chaps and yellow suit. He sounded like a gothic Presley and crooned his way into the heart and mind of the crowd. The audience chorus during “The Curse of the Blackened Eye” was sweet while Peck’s vocal prowess was received with constant acclamations. If I had to pick one hit song it would be the catchy “C’mon Baby, Cry,” as this one was such a foot-tapping/crowd-pleaser. I was hoping for Shania Twain to come up for “Legends Never Die” but it didn’t happen. However, guitarist/vocalist Bria Salmena always does an excellent job when singing Shania’s part, and she also surprised the crowd when she took the lead vocals at the beginning of “All I Can Say.” Talking about surprises – and I knew we would have one for this epic rodeo – Noah Cyrus (Miley’s sister) made an appearance during the encore for a duet on “Let Me Drown.” Noah and Orville’s voices blended with grace as they tenderly hugged at the end of the song.
Behind the theatrics and the mask, Orville certainly has good looks and charisma to spare: when he was not strumming the guitar, his hands and arms were often in the air, pointing at the crowd, catching stage light, while the fringes of his mask followed each of his moves. If all this could sound like a pastiche, the sincerity of the songs never escaped anyone. “The concepts of authenticity and theatricality are not mutually exclusive,” Orville has declared in an interview, and I would agree, as plenty of artists have proven it before.
Despite the upbeat ambiance, Peck’s lyrics often weave loneliness, desolation, and heartbreaks into the narratives of the songs that never hide his sexual orientation: “Drive Me, Crazy”is about truckers in love. But if you wanted more authenticity, he and opener Vincent Neil Emerson covered George Strait’s “All My Exes Live in Texas” with a slight modification in the lyrics to fit Peck’s intimate life. “I don’t want to scare anybody, but I don’t keep the company of women if you know what I mean,” Orville joked before singing.
A hot number of Jaida Essence Hall dancing on Carrie Underwood’s “Before He Cheats,” allowed just the right amount of time for a costume change, and Orville (and his band) reappeared wearing shinier and dreamier outfits, with silver stars all over his hat.
“So many presents tonight!” Orville said after getting gourmet pop tarts, red roses, and even an inflatable horse from the adoring crowd. “I like to hand out roses, like the bachelor, it’s just as gay!” he said while giving back some roses to a happy few.
The night offered a bit of everything: there was the raucous, fast-speed, Johnny Cash-inspired “Any Turn” contrasting with the intimate “Hexie Mountains, “a song about depression” he said, during which the sound of Kentucky Banjo Champion Jordan Riehm backed up Peck’s deep voice. Orville also reconnected with his former punk nature during a bluegrass-ed cover of Rancid’s “Olympia, WA” with the help of Molly Tuttle.
Between loud crickets (during “Dead of Night”), the red roses, and the numerous duets, the night was as fabulous as the main host and the crowd surrounding me in the pit… should I mention the fabulous fashion once again? There’s no doubt that Orville Peck has forged his own way into modern country music, becoming a cult figure in just a few years, finding a special niche, and reinventing the image of the sexy cowboy that has in fact always existed.
Turn to Hate
The Curse of the Blackened Eye
C’mon Baby, Cry
Legends Never Die
Drive Me, Crazy
All My Exes Live in Texas (George Strait cover) (with Vincent Neil Emerson)
No Glory in the West
All I Can Say
Olympia, WA (Rancid cover with Molly Tuttle)
Dead of Night
Let Me Drown (with Noah Cyrus)
Take You Back (The Iron Hoof Cattle Call)
the same sentimental vintage formula
the incomparable daughter of Lagos
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“The Beast Inside” Red Carpet Industry Screening, Friday, December 2nd 2022 at Fine Arts Theatre, Beverly Hills Pictorial
Here are red carpet pictures from last Friday…
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a mini-meet of first rate rap-dance performers