07 December 2014

Review: James Vincent McMorrow Live at The Fillmore, San Francisco

posted by: Lydia Album Reviews | Reviews

Let me start by saying that I was recently convinced to start watching The Voice. For seven celebrated seasons I had managed to stay away from this reportedly addicting television show, but I finally hit my breaking point and gave in. Likely what drew me in first was Pharrell’s presence on the show. If we’re going to be straight with each other for a minute, let’s just put it out there: Pharrell is the epitome of cool. After all, “cool” in the music industry in 2014 calls for us to be a little weird, for weirdness depicts creativity, and creativity lies at the center of cool. So Pharrell, the weirdo himself, had me at hello.

But let me stop talking about my crush Pharrell and focus on the focus of the show: the voices. The other main attraction for the show for me has been the incredible voices of the contestants. (Yeah, duh. That’s the point.) I know, I know. But really, it’s been cool to see music discovery on such a big scale while this is something I’ve been doing on a smaller scale for so many years now. We’re all in pursuit of the same attraction: beautiful voices.

One of the artists who I’ve been able to get the most excited about in my six years of music blogging is James Vincent McMorrow. I discovered his name in 2011 and was immediately attracted to his whispery falsetto and intriguing lyrics. If there could be a Power Rankings in the indie music industry at the time, surely newcomer McMorrow was creeping up on fellow falsetto crooner Justin Vernon.

I’ve been lucky enough to interview James Vincent McMorrow and critique his music ever since, but not until November 19th of this year did I get the chance to see him perform live.

A friend of mine sent me a message saying his friend recommended that he check out this artist performing at the Fillmore in San Francisco in a few weeks. He asked if I had ever heard of him and would I want to go. So we made a night of it and parked ourselves in the second row for what turned out to be what I would guess was a 90-minute performance by McMorrow and his band.

While I get goosebumps from watching performances through the television on The Voice, the feeling from seeing such a spectacular singer perform live — and from about 15 yards away — takes the chills to a whole new level. While he sings, you can visibly see his throat quivering as his vibrato carries through his vocals. It’s a beautiful sound and sight altogether. McMorrow and his band sang a large collection of his songs together, and I was impressed with each of them. I particularly love when musicians showcase their abilities to play multiple instruments, and the band did just that. McMorrow sang, played keys, played piano, and even played the standing drums at one point. I was equally as impressed with the lone female member of his band, who provided backup vocals and played both the keys and the bass guitar. She hardly looked the part of a band member, but she certainly proved herself to be a critical member of the band.

It’s hard for me to pick out a single highlight of the show, though my giddiness would likely lead my concert buddy and any surrounding fans to believe that it was when he played “Higher Love,” “We Don’t Eat” or “If I Had A Boat.” But I think I’d have to say that the true highlight came when McMorrow came out during an encore and said he would be singing a solo without any microphone accompaniment. The room, which I should note was pleasantly though surprisingly spacious, got quiet and James took it away. Do not be fooled into thinking the falsetto prohibits any force; the room practically shook along with the power and volume of his vocals. Beyond that, he was able to prove the range of vocals that he can hit, which would seem naturally for only two voices – male and female —  to create together. It was a truly stunning experience, and one that I could only stand there witnessing with a dropped jaw.

To say I enjoyed myself would be an understatement. The whole thing was beautiful, even the galactic backdrop. If I had to critique anything, I would pin the venue for its inconsiderate staff who were inappropriately loud and rude during the performance. But that’s no fault of McMorrow’s, so I’d rather not focus on it. Perhaps I could argue that McMorrow needs to focus on distinguishing his songs from one another, as several of them sound the same. But sometimes all I want is to allow myself to let go of criticism, enjoy the moment and get lost in the art of the voice. So that’s just what I did.


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