Joe Purdy plays songs from his latest album, “Who Will Be Next?” at the Troubadour on Friday night and proves he may be too much for snowflakes.
With more than thirteen albums and hit songs on shows like Lost and Grey’s Anatomy, Americana artist, Joe Purdy, has the luxury of sitting back and waiting on the muse to appear, but she has always been relentless with him. His most recent album Who Will Be Next?, a political lament about the times we are living in, was a different direction for the rumpled jongleur more known for his romantic folk songs. The record paints Purdy as a cultural idealist, a prophetic storyteller with a lot to say, for those with the heart to listen.
Purdy isn’t the social media-made artist we are used to seeing now days. He writes about the life he lives and the things he is moved by, and if no one ever hears it, he probably wouldn’t care. That genuine vulnerability is what people love about him. He is no stranger to the legendary Troubadour in West Hollywood and has built a reliable, local following over the past ten years, giving him the freedom to try new things and giving this audience the honor of hearing it first. One gentleman had driven up from Orange County, leaving his wife at home with the new baby because she was too nervous about leaving it for the first time. “Last year, I drove to San Diego to see him,” he says. A couple from Phoenix tell me they make the five hour drive every time Purdy plays this venue because they love the intimacy of the place. He has built a trust with his audience that allows for a lot of improvisation but tonight, people seem more curious than demanding.
In typical LA fashion, most of the audience arrives only seconds before Purdy takes the stage. He opens with some humor and a brand new sing-along on his banjo, keeping things light-hearted. But after a few jokes, he moves right into “My Country Is Strong” from his recent album. Couples hug and sway until complete stillness sweeps through, creating the kind of ghostly ambiance where a single piece of falling dust can be a distraction. Purdy manages to constrict his audience in this tense anticipation for most of the evening.
A man in the audience quietly mentions that political music doesn’t sell well, but looking around the crowded venue, knowing there is also an enormous festival going on in the desert, it seems to be doing just fine. Purdy moves us right into “Who Will Be Next,” a gorgeous, old-west style song about a world spinning out of control. People freeze as they hang onto every lyric, partly in amazement that he is able to keep the wholeness of the song with only his guitar. He beats on the strings and stomps his foot as if he is trying to pound the message into our hard, comfortable heads. Purdy is clearly a man who has had enough and wants us to catch up. It’s hard not to wander if we ever will.
“New Year’s Eve” seems to be a crowd favorite as some started to sing along. That is, until the momentum of the song builds and his voice takes over the room the way a Baptist preacher takes over his congregation when the Spirit drops in. The audience shifts from singing to listening, almost childlike. If only for a few minutes, a utopia is created and our hearts are all at peace. He then rewards our silence with his humorous tale “Kristine,” a song about choosing to get stoned with a girl over changing the world.
Much of the night is filled with new songs that none of us have heard yet, including one he wrote the day of the Women’s March this year. “It was two days after the inauguration and I was in a bad fucking mood,” he says. We all laugh in awkward empathy. He teaches us the chorus “People, what will we do? For judgment day is coming,” and just as I began to feel like this may be plagiarized, he lets us know he lifted it straight from the Bible, which makes us all laugh with relief at his honesty.
He also does a beautiful cover of “Hear The Wind Blow,” and closes the show with “Children of Privilege.” I notice that half the audience has emptied out early and begin to wonder if the man is right about political messages in music. Maybe it is just too much for some people, though Purdy didn’t even play the songs that are more controversial like “Cairo Walls,” or “Cursing Air.” Those of us who stayed got one more new song that left us all comparing Purdy to the folk greats like Tom Waits, Leonard Cohen and James Taylor.
Joe Purdy has put out some unforgettable music over the past two decades and he is still very young so hopefully, there is a hell of a lot more to come. In the meantime, catch him near you through June.
by Bylle Breaux / photos by Matt Stasi