NEW YORK -- The last time we saw the Band Perry perform was before an audience of millions during the Grammy nominations concert in December. On Wednesday night, we saw them perform for about two dozen people in a large living room, eight feet in front of us.
We were one of the lucky few to be invited to a special preview of the band’s new album, Pioneer, at the Norwood Club in Manhattan. It wasn’t a full set -- the band admitted to us, when asked afterward, that they finished the album so recently that most of the songs are not yet tour-tight -- but instead they played one song with their band, then introduced playbacks of each track on the album, and concluded by performing another song with the band.
From left: Neil Perry, Big Machine CEO Scott Borchetta, Kimberly Perry, Reid Perry, Big Machine's Jimmy Harnen, Band Perry manager Bob Doyle and Doyle Management's Erik Peterson (Photo: Ben Krebs)
The group was introduced by Big Machine founder/CEO Scott Borchetta, who said how impressed he was with the group’s creative growth, especially when a band has their entire lives to create a first album but just 18 months to create a second. He was followed by Republic Nashville president Jimmy Harnen, who told a story about waiting for the SoundScan numbers after the band’s first release, being elated at their 55,500 total. He talked about other highlights from the past couple of years and concluded with the group’s recent appearance on the March 23 cover of Billboard – “such a thrill.”
After a rousing version of the album’s second single, “Done,” the four accompanying musicians left the three Perry siblings -- Kimberly, Reid and Neil -- onstage. “Pioneer is a journey into the unknown, it’s about not knowing what you're going into,” Kimberly said. The band talked at length about the album’s creation, how a cross-country drive to work with Rick Rubin was the first time they’d really had a chance to decompress in years (and provided the opportunity to write several songs along the way), and noted that although he did not ultimately produce the album, Rubin was a brilliant “song doctor” who drove them to dig deeper into their songs, both melodically and lyrically. They referenced his extensive work on the album’s closing track, “End of Time.”
Big Machine CEO Scott Borchetta introduces the band (Photo: Ben Krebs)
A priceless story arose when Kimberly talked about their early years, recalling that brother/mandolinist Neil (originally a drummer) was rocking out to Led Zeppelin during the day but wearing Superman pajamas at night. (They also compared his youthful Zep fanaticism with Kimberly’s love for the Judds, and said one new song was like a “love child” between the two groups.) This led to a dedication to their mother, and how there would be no wars "if the world had a mother like mine," because she decreed that no matter what, the siblings must remain friends – the song, “Mother Like Mine,” premiered on Billboard.com earlier this month .
Obviously, the evening’s highlight was the two songs the group performed live. We’ve seen plenty of bands in rehearsal and in intimate settings, but the sensation of seeing an arena-ready band playing full-throttle in such a small room for such a small crowd was a new one. Particularly impressive was Kimberly, whose tasteful singing -- she can belt, but she does so sparingly -- and subtle flourishes have come a long way in the past couple of years; she’s truly a world-class country singer. She also noted that producer Dann Huff picked up on the little “noises” she makes when she sings and worked them into the songs -- particularly the combined groan/eye-roll toward the end of “Done.”
From left: Neil Perry, Billboard's Jem Aswad, Kimberly Perry, Billboard's Silvio Pietroluongo, Reid Perry (Photo: Ben Krebs)
The bandmembers and manager Bob Doyle were almost preternaturally nice throughout the entire evening, which is a harrowing experience for even the most confident musicians: Playing and performing your new album -- the challenging sophomore effort -- in front of nearly all of the biggest execs at your label and A-list members of the media. We sympathized with them afterward but they all pshawed the situation, “Ah man, we’ve done it so many times there’s nothing to it anymore,” Neil said. “Plus, I know the first time I hear a new album I’m not jumping around – I’m sitting and taking it in.” They also thanked us multiple times for coming.
Sitting in the front row – before they had to leave, presumably for Taylor Swift’s set across the river  at the Prudential Center in Newark -- was a murderers’ row of Borchetta, Republic chairman/CEO Monte Lipman and Republic EVP Charlie Walk. Also in the house were band manager Bob Doyle and associate Erik Peterson, Big Machine publicist Jake Basden and BB Gun Press’ Brian Bumbery. Among the other media elite were Rolling Stone’s David Fricke and Jonathan Ringen, Guitar World EIC and Zeppelin biographer Brad Tolinski (who bonded with Neil about guess-who); Brian Siedlecki and Melanie Malone from “Saturday Night Live,” Mesfin Fekadu from the Associated Press, Anthony Mason and Ramon Parkins from CBS Sunday Morning; Jordan Hancock from Interview; and Natalie Bubnis from "The View."
From left: Associated Press music editor Mesfin Fekadu and The Band Perry manager Bob Doyle (Photo: Ben Krebs)
Among the many things in store for the group in the coming weeks are appearances at the Academy of Country Music Awards in Las Vegas on April 7, multiple TV appearances and a series of headlining tour dates before a long summer tour with Rascal Flatts launches at Jones Beach outside New York City on May 31.