James Vincent McMorrow headlined a sold out Bowery Ballroom last night in support of his 2014 release, Post Tropical (Vagrant). The Victoria, Canada, act Aidan Knight opened the show with a rousing, introspective performance. Most of the set was so silent, so unnervingly reticent, that the sound of floorboards groaning could often be heard above the music. The four-piece band layered synthetic textures over organic instrumentation from the cornet and violin, but they were at their best when they melded these disparate pieces into one glorious whole. Knight saved some gusto for the latter half of their set, inviting a few guest musicians on stage for a fuller, more complete sound. The set ended as a solo performance from Knight with the tear-jerking acoustic balladry of Margaret Downe.
A few minutes after 10, McMorrow’s band emerged among large, pyramid-shaped light fixtures. The initial lustrous notes of The Lakes spilled out from the monitors before the frontman could be seen. His voice opened up and cracked flat-tones bellowed from his mouth. His sparse melodies were rounded out by occasional harmonies from a female backup singer/keyboardist, doing much to replicate the aesthetic integrity of McMorrow’s recorded works. The set alternated between his most recent album and its predecessor, Early In The Morning (Burning Rope). The earlier numbers were performed with minimal stage production and mostly faint instrumentation from acoustic guitars and mandolin on fan favorites like From The Woods and This Old Dark Machine.
While these songs were well-received, McMorrow garnered the best response from Cavalier, which fuses his gloomy folk-mindedness with lethargic, hip-hop undertones. When McMorrow’s crackling alto reaches the utmost limits of his vocal range with lyrics, “I remember my first love,” young girls fidget excitedly and grown men get teary-eyed. McMorrow is at his best when all other distractions are eliminated: the pyramid light fixtures, the laser projections, the supporting band. With nothing but a keyboard, he crooned out a blueprint rendition of the last track on Post Tropical, Outside, Digging. When he articulated the hard-sounding syllables, flecks of spit dance above his head like swirling dust motes in the spotlight. McMorrow awkwardly stammered a genuine thank you to his audience, confessing that his orangey beverage is merely coconut water—he’s made a point of staying sober for this tour. The group finished the set with If I Had A Boat, soaring to clamorous, swooning heights before departing the stage.
Photos by Angel Eugenio Fraden.