Joe Purdy Live at The Borderline (2016)

Don’t bother with potentially heart-breaking relationships when you could just get a dog.

There’s an oft-mentioned idea amongst comedians that to be funny you have to suffer; you have to be sad or have sadness. The suggestion is that the funniest person is the one most trying to smile or laugh in the face of something upsetting. Perhaps it comes from wanting others to be happy and laugh, having seen how upsetting things can get. Joe Purdy showed in his first London gig since the late 2000’s that it is an idea not only restricted to comedians. While Joe Purdy may have songs with titles that run from “Ode to Sad to Clown” to “I’m Not What You Need,” and while he may sing lyrics such as “I used to hear the children play/ I used to hear the birds sing/ One day they just stopped/ I don’t hear them anymore,” the man is funny. Sad though his songs may be, and sad is definitely the first word I use to describe his songs to people who’ve never heard him before, the gigs are light-hearted and humorous affairs. Presented, as Purdy’s songs are, with a weary vocal delivery, lyrics about relationships breaking up and ending don’t seem too funny. But when the lines are delivered with a wry smile and glint in the eye, we see the implied humour in Purdy telling us not to bother with potentially heart-breaking relationships when we could just get a dog.

It is Purdy’s talent as a lyricist and story-teller that first draws a lot of his fans in, and it’s his easy way with words that pervaded the gig and made it so satisfying an event. In between songs Purdy would stand on the stage strumming and picking at random chords as he tuned up his guitar, and crack jokes with the audience or tell them the stories behind certain songs. He told us about the impact his mother – “the most beautiful human being in the world” – had on his last album, and described a recent break-in at his house in which the thieves packed up his guitar in its case and then left it by the back door. He then wondered why he was going to play his next song, “Outlaws,” which “glorified thieves – the assholes,” following that story. During a particularly lengthy tuning break he may have described the gig as “the least professional gig ever” but instead his easy way with the crowd belied how professional and experienced he was as someone who has toured plenty in his native country of America, and written some fourteen albums in the past fifteen years.

Purdy’s songs are beautiful, and were wonderfully presented. Instrumentally they are simple, with only two instruments ever played at a time: a lapsteel or mandolin accompanying Purdy’s acoustic guitar. It was not a raucous affair that I look back on and wonder how it all went down the way it did. It was not exceptional, but, damn, it was fucking good.

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