Thursday, April 26, 2012

James Vincent McMorrow @ Toff in Town, 12/4/12

It feels good to sit and listen to folk music, even on the bandroom floor at the Toff in Town. On stage a double-bassist alternately plucks and bows away beneath Emily Ulman’s fragile voice and guitar work – but, despite a neat cover of Springsteen’s “I’m on Fire”, the songs don’t quite cut through.

It’s standing room only by the time James Vincent McMorrow steps into the spotlight, and from opener “Sparrow and the Wolf” it’s clear the direction this solo show will take. Slowed down, what is a rollicking song on record now hinges on the lyric “Seen no joy in this world”, and the “oh-oh-oh-oh” singalong becomes an evocative lament.

A stark version of Roy Orbison’s “In Dreams” is an unexpected reminder of McMorrow’s roots in the post-hardcore scene – it’s just that, these days, his voice alone provides the dynamic shift from quiet to loud and back again. And this voice is definitely the bedrock of his appeal. The falsetto is almost Buckley-esque, and sounds even purer live and bathed in chorus. The lyrics are poetic but not cloying and, when he finally speaks to the audience three songs in, McMorrow’s banter is endearingly humble.

A story about food poisoning, passports and airports breaks no new ground, but people still hang on every word. Later he abandons “This Old Dark Machine” halfway through the first verse, explaining he can’t bring himself to sing the whole song with his guitar out of tune. This draws laughter and applause, and he is moved to share the tale of his only other experience stopping a song mid-performance – politely shooshing an obnoxious bunch of drunks in Philadelphia. The Melbourne crowd might not be so rambunctious, but whoops of delight greet the opening lines of “We Don’t Eat”, and the country-folk feel of “Breaking Hearts” gets toes tapping.

Wishing the audience a nice evening and a good life, McMorrow sings “If I Had a Boat” off the mic at stage left. It’s a fine gesture, but one those beyond the first three rows have cause to regret. Thankfully he returns to the stage and the mic for a heartstopping and clearly much-anticipated encore of Chris Isaak’s “Wicked Game”. With rest, studio time and greater stardom now beckoning him after three years of constant touring, it has been a pleasure to spend this intimate evening with James Vincent McMorrow. And his beard.

(published in Inpress 25/4/12)

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