John Saint Pelvyn is one of the singular voices of underground music in the Twin Cities. A regular tourmate of legendary denatured banjo exorcist Paul Metzger, Pelvyn is someone who sounds unmistakably like only himself the second he picks up his instrument. His combination of behind the bridge picking, rapid whammy bar shaking and churning feedback is a subtle dance that rivals the abilities of many greats, from psychedelic improvisational noise to piedmont-picking fingerstyle acoustic—but one he alone inhabits.
His recent outstanding solo release A Clerical Error In Shasta County Shouldn’t Have to Ruin a Saturday Night is brimming with guitar inventions that are contained in their own musical vernacular. It was one of my favorite releases of last year, and features a handful of other musicians including Ka Baird, who did an amazing set with Paul Metzger which you can check out here. The set below was at Pelvyn’s record release show at Dead Media, a fine seller of records, tapes and books.
It was a noisy, hot summer night in an alley of a neighborhood full of life and loud children, and John had fallen from a ladder earlier in the day setting up some stringed lights. His shoulder was hurt and he was having a bit of trouble supporting his guitar. But as he always does, he walked around and hurled his guitar around his amp while he played, alternatively lifting it to his face to amplify his voice. Pelvyn’s vocals sometime contain words, and sometimes come out as a proto-language cry that becomes indistinguishable from his guitar. Either way they evoke a foreboding and ineffable story.
When I listen to this set now, I forget that I'm listening to one person playing a single guitar, or singing, or even a performance that ever happened. It sounds like flowering shapes moving in my minds eye, a soundtrack to a closed-eye hallucination. There’s also something undeniably wintery about it to me, like Pelvyn is scoring a tundra-western, following a lone icicle-covered gunslinger across a barren, frozen landscape, punctuating the crunch of snow underfoot with harmonic string plinks and riding the howling wind with distant feedback.
Half a year later, looking out my frosted window into a snow dusted street, this music feels as at home as it it did on a hot night in a dusty alley. But maybe more than that it feels placeless, and it asks you to go somewhere in your head, somewhere you haven’t been in a while and maybe somewhere you’re not sure you want to be. But like all good trips, it’s best to just let your guard down and follow where it leads.