You should know that the pleated, bejeweled part of Paisley Yankolovich's costume in this photo is a vibrant, mother-of-the-groom royal blue. The rest of his clothing is black. This combo, in the manner of Proust's madeleines, will recall the ubiquitous leggings, baggy sweaters, and big hair of 1985 for anyone old enough to have been saturated with those images.
Like Madonna, as well as all the girls debarking the R train to go to Greek Orthodox high school, Paisley blends punk and glam in his public style, which, like his Christian faith, is omnipresent and undeniable, and both of which, like his singing voice, are deliberate, strong, and almost immediately comforting.
It's because he's achieving exactly what he wants, and wherever he stands emotionally and/or spiritually at any given moment, he's compelled to share what he has available and grateful for the opportunity. That's a very cool attribute for a performing artist of any stripe.
The Liberal Soul, the song cycle Paisley's currently presenting at PHX:fringe (and other places), differs from much of his work up until now, in case you're familiar with any of it, in that it's performed without instrumental accompaniment and he didn't write most of the songs himself. Most of the songs are from the historic Negro spiritual genre and, as Paisley noted last night during his performance, the lyrics are intentionally repetitive. Returning to some of the roots of American Christian music with these songs is a challenge he set himself to keep growing as an artist.
Though Paisley spends occasional brief moments in the show witnessing and expressing his desire that all humankind practice love and be saved, I don't see anything here that should particularly bother the non-churched. (I'm 99.88% non-churched, myself, but I believe in the marketplace of ideas and choose to find other people interesting.)
Paisley's ministry (which, ideally, comprises his every moment) is about acceptance and outreach to marginalized and alternative communities and individuals, so even if you're avidly, strictly atheist, his message contains useful information if you're at all motivated to co-exist with your fellow beings. He knows none of us is flawless, but he's not fond of hypocritical self-proclaimed Christians, either, so you'll have that in common. And the serene confidence of his posture, his eye contact, and his guileless smile will soon dispel any fears you have of a crafty agenda.
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Though the music is powerful and moving, the effect of sitting through Paisley's performance can feel like the aftermath of a meditation or massage. Analysis may be counterproductive.
The sad news is that you have only one more chance to see him at this year's PHX:fringe. The good news (independent of the Good News) is that Paisley Yankolovich is a Valley institution and if you want to find him in the future, he's pretty easy to find.
The Liberal Soul closes tonight, Saturday, March 10, at Warehouse 1005, 1005 North First Street. (Enter from the alley.) Admission is $10 at the door, or call 602-254-2151. See the full PHX:fringe schedule here.