The framed black-and-white Alfred Hitchcock portrait mounted on a wall inside Great Scott, not 40 feet from where Elvis Perkins took the stage Tuesday, was pure coincidence. From his perch, Perkins likely didn't see the tribute to the director who made his dad, actor Anthony Perkins, an icon as Norman Bates in "Psycho." But the connection was there nonetheless.
So seemed to be the spirit of his parents, swirling inside the songs Perkins performed with his three-piece band Dearland. The title of Perkins's debut CD, "Ash Wednesday," refers both to the anniversary of his father's passing in 1992 and the day after his mother died nine years later at the hands of the hijackers who flew jets into the World Trade Center.
Perkins may have been awarded a measure of celebrity by birthright, but on the first date of his first headlining tour, the 31-year-old singer-songwriter demonstrated an artistic endowment all his own. With an acoustic guitar and a harmonica fastened, Dylan-style, across his narrow shoulders, Perkins blew the gust of notes that opened "Good Friday"; the song soon built to a humming, thrumming fray.
The rest of his 60-minute performance was no less commanding, especially the cordial, waltz-time blues of "Emile's Vietnam in the Sky" and the darkened rooms and paper moons that inhabited the lyrically rich "It's Only Me."
Like Neutral Milk Hotel's Jeff Mangum (whose searching, angular voice Perkins's strongly resembled), Perkins is cut from a folksinger's cloth, but embroidered with a touch of the fantastical -- a depressed Donovan, perhaps.
Ultimately, his performance was one of contrasts: starkly confessional and direct, yet veiled in a poetry of wh irling images and benedictions that darkly dazzled.