Published Dec 06, 2019Orville Peck played his 120th ("or something like that") and final show of the year on Thursday night in Toronto, ending his explosive 2019 on a high note by selling out the Danforth Music Hall. The December 2019 Exclaim! cover star spent Wednesday in Miami at a Christian Dior fashion show, mingling and posing for pictures with Kardashians and the like. Back on home soil, Peck and his backing band (all of Toronto-based band FRIGS) were clad in tasselled suits, cowboy hats and ready to follow the footsteps of other breakout Canadian acts like Daniel Caesar and Alvvays, who have done successful homecoming shows at the Danforth in past holiday seasons.
Peck's set felt urgent, present and vital, like a historic performance referenced in a biopic that's decades away. Opening with "Big Sky," off this year's breakout Pony LP, his croon was unwavering, an authentic and brooding visitation of the baritone of Johnny Cash and Elvis Presley. The song's climax, coupled with strategic use of a spotlight on Peck, felt momentous. He continued with "Queen of the Rodeo," a song about a drag queen from Vancouver. Peck paid respect to Toronto's drag scene. "How many of you have been to a drag show before?" he asked. "Well, you do live in Toronto. Go down to Church Street tonight and see a drag queen."
Peck's persona unlearns the conservative nature of country music in every facet imaginable. The cranky, drug-fuelled attitudes of past country heartthrobs is completely unlearned, instead coupled with charming banter and flirty sass. He fittingly threw roses into the audience for the gorgeous ballad "Roses Are Falling" and introspective cut "Turn to Hate." Parting ways with the guitar, he swayed his hips and modestly tattooed arms for highlight "Kansas (Remember Me Now)" and the sad-and-twangy "Nothing Fades Like the Light." He transitioned into an enticing cover of "Something to Brag About" by George Jones and Tammy Wynette, accompanied by guitarist Bria Salmena. "Buffalo Run" was larger than life in its all-encompassing tempos. The beat was felt throughout the once-civil Danforth audience, inciting them into hoedown madness.
Opting for another cover, this time of Gram Parsons' "Ooh Las Vegas", Peck attempted to "summon the ghost of Gram tonight" to objective success. Bellowing a lengthy note and concluding it with a sleazy cough and a "Thank you very much," Peck and company most certainly did its originator justice. "I actually wrote this one," he joked before the chilling "Dead of Night." It is the first song he ever wrote as Orville Peck, debuting it only last year opening for King Tuff at the Horseshoe Tavern. "We begged, borrowed and stole to play that show. We didn't even get paid. I just wanted to play my songs for people," Peck reflected.
With ruminations of old, Peck also welcomed the new. He debuted an unreleased track that demonstrates a further-ripened ear for country balladry. It is not totally clear whether country music's moment in pop culture is something we will appreciate in decades to come or scratch our head like ghosts of trends' past. The forthcoming song alludes to a promise of growth and continued commitment to his masked queer icon status. Initially ending his final set with solidarity-rooted "Take You Back (The Iron Hoof Cattle Call)," but revisited the stage for an encore of "Hope to Die," a song that written "in a really low place in my life, but there are things to celebrate now, so we'll bask in it together."