The Art of Soul | An Evening With James Vincent McMorrow

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“Don’t let fear control you,” James mutters, his eyes scrunched and his neck craned, the guitar neck in his palm surely sweaty from the evening’s humid heat. “Don’t let fear control you. Don’t let fear control you,” he admonishes, each repetition a little louder, a little more forceful.  “Don’t let fear control you!” He’s screaming it now; his eyes ablaze, his mouth wide. The moment rings out, its sonority visceral, its reiterations virtually militant. There’s no question James Vincent McMorrow can sing – his vibrato is rich, his breath never short of economy. But this rendition of ‘Lost Angels’ isn’t lost on the considerable audience in front of him, their voices railing to meet McMorrow’s in a rousing cheer. It appears most of the songs we’ve witnessed here tonight have been extrapolated from their recorded counterparts. In a live setting they’re more affected, raw, even aggressive in their delivery.

The normally soft-spoken McMorrow isn’t one to shy aware from a little crowd banter between songs, finding the humour in the ‘take your shirt off’ shrieks from the crowd. “It’s funny you should say that, actually,” he laughs. “I’m really not the kind of person you want with their shirt off,” he downplays. “Really. Only in Australia do people ever yell that out.” The humour quickly ends however as McMorrow and his cohort dive into the next song, returning to the sincere figure we know from the albums.

And what a figure that is! Almost shadowed under a wide-brimmed hat, his eyes peeking out from atop some serious beard cultivation, McMorrow looks as though he would fit right in cradling an acoustic sitting upon an Australian veranda. The show had begun with a robust reinterpretation of ‘Red Dust’, a song that, in my eyes, is his crowning achievement. If you know of the song’s last ridiculously elongated falsetto note, try doubling it, with a touch more vocal aerobatics. There’s the live version for you. While the crowd wasn’t particular sedentary, the song definitely signalled the singer-songwriter’s arrival, if not purely just to stun.

Seeing the stage decked out with keyboards, drums, sample pads and other sorts of musical paraphernalia, it felt particularly fitting, with many of the songs utilising scattered percussion and warm, summery synth plateaus. For many of the songs, McMorrow is joined on stage with four our musicians, drummers, keyboardists, bassists; all evidently talented in their own right. Cherrypicking songs from each of his three albums, fans of either his older, folkier stuff or his newer, downtempo R&B would be suitably satisfied. Dynamically the songs were rousing and then intimate; with a fair part of the night McMorrow’s band left him to play solo for a little while. The sounds cascaded from warbled synths-mimics-electric-guitar line (I have one particular memory of a synth sounding like a cross between an ambulance siren and bagpipes – whatever it was it sounded wicked) to steadfast and traditional weighted piano melodies.

If I had to pick a negative (which, truth be told, was a little difficult), I’d suggest that the show was a little too professional, as ridiculous as that sounds. Originally McMorrow had left the stage without playing ‘Cavalier’, arguably his most popular song. When the band came back on for an encore it felt a little too predictable, a little too pre-prepared. Still, you can’t fault a man capable of playing for an absurdly long hour and forty-five minute show.  Ultimately the show was an artist feeling comfortable in his own sound, evidently inspiring and captivating, as one would expect of such a prolific artist; this far into his career I still don’t think there’s an end in sight for McMorrow. With each record seeming as inventive and creative as the last, I hope he returns again to our side of the country soon enough.