Real Life Super Hero: Orville Peck
By Edward Wallace • Staff Writer
Ever wish more rock stars could excite your imagination like comic book characters and that more songs could feel like movies instead of ditties?
The connection’s stronger than I first thought. Elvis Presley based his caped look on Fawcett Comics' Captain Marvel Jr., KISS got their own Marvel comic tie-in, and by now you’re way ahead of me remembering movies based on song titles and lyrics, or songs based on films. Which brings me to introduce Orville Peck.
It’s a pseudonym. He keeps his real identity a secret - for now the music industry is playing along. Orville Peck wears various Lone Ranger domino masks with fringed sequins as he struts onto stage or into videos on cowboy boots and western gear.
When he opens his mouth there’s a booming, calming, Johnny Cash baritone with stabs at the nigh operatic high of Bryan Ferry and Roy Orbison. Not to be overlooked are the jingle-jangle slide guitars whose steady, rhythms ensure the ballads are as catchy and dream-like as they are longingly sad. "Fell in love with a boxer/Stayed awake all year/ Heartbreak is a warm sensation/ When the only feeling that you know is fear,” he croons on "Big Sky," which makes a great monologue from Daredevil’s Karen Paige as well the intended openly gay love song. “You wake me up, you say it's time to ride/ In the dead of night/Strange canyon road, strange look in your eyes/ You shut them as we fly” on "Dead Of Night" would sound at home in whenever Marvel does another Ghost Rider or a David Lynch outing.
In his music videos, he finds gay subtext in his beloved Western tropes from bull riding to high noon shoot outs, even as the songs are delivered earnestly and invest us in their characters. Peck ‘s 2019 debut album Pony (Sub Pop) was not just the year’s best country album, and a giant leap for gay acceptance in that genre, it also works as a Modern Rock / New Wave masterpiece from the age of R.E.M. and Boys Don’t Cry. Delayed from a planned June release to show respect for the Black Lives Matter protests, Peck’s new EP Show Pony (Columbia) was released in August. It features six songs including the singles "Summertime” and “No Glory In the West,” truck diver tale “Drive Me Crazy,” Shania Twain duet “Legends Never Die,” “Kids,” and a cover of Bobby Gentry’s “Fancy” (popularized by Reba McEntire) that honors and repurposes the original.
With a secret origin playing with punk bands in the Pacific Northwest, Peck’s current base is somewhere in Canada. An Alphaville for Alpha Flight? As the pandemic permits, he’ll be back tour fighting for justice in Europe, Canada, and the States.