Donnelly: Joe Purdy at the Bottleneck, May 14, 2011


Apparently, sensitive guys can also be kind of militant.  In an indignant  – not agressive – way. 

As I wandered around the Bottleneck taking in the crowd and listening to Joe Purdy’s soulful drawl from every angle, some guy tapped me on the shoulder.

"Hey man, you’re standing right in front of us."

Startled, I turned around to find a 20-something Grad Assistant-looking dude with a girl sitting in one of the back booths.  This guy was serious. 

"What?" I thought to myself.  "This is a fucking bar.  Sit, stand, crouch, lean, it’s all fair game, right?" 

I did the polite thing, though, and took a step to the side of the guy and his girl who were sitting behind the damn sound board anyway.  Weird.

But that’s kind of what the half-full crowd was like for Joe Purdy, the sensitive balladeer who will tell the audience to shut the fuck up if he thinks they’re not paying close enough attention.  That actually did happen at the end of the show. 

The Bottleneck was set up with rows of folding chairs down in front of the stage where people normally stand.  I’m not sure if that was at the request of the band, or if the bar just decided to do that based on the type of music it was.  I have a feeling Joe Purdy requested it since I’ve seen tons of intimate and quiet shows there without the seats set up that way. 

Anyway, the rows of seats were packed as Joe Purdy came onstage with his huge beard and acoustic guitar in tow.  By the end of the night he had played almost every song off his new album, "This American," mixed in with a bunch of older tunes.  I mean, the guy has like 12 full albums out.  He releases one it seems every six months or so.

Purdy played solo with just an acoustic guitar, he played harmonica and piano, and he also had the opening act, "The Milk Carton Kids," accompany him on many of the songs.  Overall, the show was strong, with the vocals and vocal harmonies standing out as the highlight musically.  At times a barely audible growl of a whisper, and at times a powerful sustained bellow, Purdy’s voice is the perfect blend between young and old, innocent and crafty.   

Also noteworthy was the ghosty pedal steel that added just a hint of warmth to the sparse arrangements that define most Joe Purdy songs.

But since the lyrics are really the star in his songs, the instrumentation acted more as an accoutrement to the story and characters Joe weaves in and out of his musical universe.

If the night started off strange it ended stranger. 

I felt like I was in a Joe Purdy song when my girl told me where to go and stormed out of the bar as Purdy crooned through "The Admiral’s Daughter":

"Things I left behind like the Admiral’s Daughter, She was the one that just got away…"  

And I knew it wasn’t going to get better.  It never does in Purdy’s longing world of vagabonds, lost loves, and bandits. 

A big girl came stumbling out of the "sensitive seats" covering her mouth.  I knew that look. 

No.  Don’t do it.   

She let her lunch loose, splashing my buddy’s shoes and missing others nearby by a fraction of a half digested hot dog. 

What’s next, I thought?  What would Joe Purdy do?  Whiskey

When his set ended Purdy thanked the dedicated Lawrence crowd for their attention.  Only a few bad audience members at this show.  As he gets more and more popular, but not yet big enough to play the true sit down venues, I get the feeling that Joe Purdy will continue to fight with those in the crowd that are too drunk, or just along for the ride instead of being Purdy die hards that hang on every slurred syllable. 

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